Exclusive Interview: Kate Mulgrew Finds Her Funny Side
The day Kate Mulgrew returned to her hometown of Dubuque, Iowa to receive the Pioneer Spirit Award at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival in April, it was almost her last day on Earth. After a calm takeoff out of Chicago O'Hare, the weather took a turn for the worst as the plane approached her destination. "We were flying in a soup!" the co-star of Adult Swim's NTSF:SD:SUV recalls, the memory of this harrowing experience still fresh in her mind. "Dubuque is in a valley. But when we got close to the landing strip,
there was zero visibility. The pilot tried to land and he couldn't get the nose
down. We hit the tarmac, but we then went straight up like a rocket with
the plane shaking side to side."
One can imagine how Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Starfleet Starship USS Voyager onStar Trek: Voyager,a role Mulgrew inhabited to much acclaim, would have handled such hideous turbulence: With steely eyed determination? Perhaps. But this was real life in the face of a massive storm, and the real Kate, who wasn't the Captain on this flight, was ready to meet her maker until the pilot gained control of the aircraft and landed safely. "Ten minutes after landing, I was on stage getting this award! But, then
to add insult to injury, I told the whole audience the story and said, 'Can you
believe it? I almost crashed on American Airlines!'".
Why "insult to injury?" The whole evening was sponsored by American Airlines. "Comedy of errors!" laughs Kate, obviously still shaken, but never stirred. (More on the Bond reference later.)
With forty years of hard earned stage and television work under her belt, (some viewers may remember her as Mary Ryan in the soap Ryan's Hope), it's a curious turn to see her join the ranks of alternative comedy on NTSF:SD:SUV, where she plays Kove, the eyeball challenged head honcho of the National Terrorist Strike Force in San Diego, a fun send up of the plethora of cop procedural shows that infest the network airways.
I spoke to Kate about working on NTSF and this new genre of niche comedy Adult Swim is championing. She was charming, hilarious, charismatic and open to the world of the absurd.
Paul Scheer and Kate Mulgrew in NTSF:SD:SUV
You've done everything from Shakespeare to Star Trek Voyager to portraying Katherine Hepburn on stage. What made you join the NTSF team at Adult Swim?
Paul Scheer. He's beyond wonderful. I keep saying it, and I can't say it often enough or emphatically enough. He's a singular human being in Hollywood. Kind, generous, funny. He called me, and I had no idea who he was. He watched me on Star Trek and had this idea that I would be "M" 007, and he said "What do you think?", and I said "Is it lunacy?", and he said "Complete lunacy", and I said "I'm in."
Alternative comedians have such a sense of the absurd, which opens an outlet of creativity that doesn't fit within the boundaries of mainstream entertainment.
Well, I think Paul is held in great regard because every time I turned around in the second season, there was another terrific comedian. Everyone wants to work with him and for him.
Is there a little Captain Janeway in Kove?
No. Paul was thinking of Judy Dench in the James Bond movies. He was thinking of a serious female figure, so of course, he put an eyepatch on me.(Laughs)
Is there a back story on how Kove got the eyepatch? I don't remember anything eluding to the reason why she has one.
We haven't examined the back story, but Paul and I are always laughing about it. I think that I should switch the eye patch to the other eye! Maybe we'll have an episode about the history of the eyepatch!
Does Scheer keep the door open for you to contribute to a scene?
Oh yes, he's collaborative. He knows the best work must be collective. He listens to you with every part of his being. He uses what he can use. Never once does anyone feel less than necessary. He has that fantastic gift.
Does the cast come to you for acting advice, or how they should approach their character?
No, but they often look at me and say "does anybody know you're funny?" (laughs) because they know I've had a 40 year career as a legitimate actress, and it's so much fun to play with them and be, in their eyes, a comedian. It's very freeing.
The show is so kooky, was there ever a time or a scene that was so over the top that you had to say, "Oh no, Paul I can't do this?"
I've never said I can't do it. I don't know how to say those words, but the chopping off of thumbs and appendages with a machete last season - that was very challenging. I did look at Paul and thought "Arrrgggh!" But you have to let it go. There is nothing precious. Nothing.
Trent and Kove have been married and divorced twice...
Right! And we have two children Jericho and Cherokee. Neither of them speak, but they are karate champions.
Of course! What else would they be? Do you think Trent and Kove will get married and divorced twice again?
Well, hope springs eternal! I think it would be brilliant, don't you? To be married and divorced twice in the same season - it would be brilliant. Someone actually does get married this season. But it doesn't last.
I hear that Kove now has a podcast? What kind of guests will she invite in for an up-close-and-personal interview?
We'll, she's less interested in sane people than she is in bizarre people. But Kove wants to be highly regarded by the team. She would give anything, her right hand and her left eye - her only remaining eye - to be part of the group. But she's so un-hip, and Kove is so desperate to be hip.
It's the whole aspect of her character, that off-center pattern of characteristics that make her so funny.
Right! And it's her self-importance. She just knows that she's never going to be invited to the party. Just like that whole episode in last season when they wouldn't invite her to a birthday party. She's obssessed.
Since NTSF and Childrens' Hospital pool of talent and producers are intertwined, has Rob Corddry ever asked you to make a guest appearance as Kove at Childrens? Perhaps in a NTSF/Childrens' Hospital crossover?
I don't know anything about that, but it sounds intriguing. It's the new wave, but I think Adult Swim has a pretty good idea what's amusing to every demographic. You should suggest that! (TVBlogster: If anyone in power is reading this...hint, hint.)
Any plans on returning to Broadway or the off-Broadway stage in the near future?
Yes, I'm doing a play in the Spring called Somewhere Fun, written by the very gifted playwright Jenny Schwartz, directed by Ann Kaufman. We go into rehearsals in April in New York. I've been working on this play, workshopped for them and with them, the last two years, and now we're going into the theater. I'm very excited. It's a dark comedy, but it's brilliant. The playwright is truly magnificent - a great, great mind. So come and see it if you can.
I would love to get back to New York to see it!
Well, Get your buddy pass and get on Jet Blue now!