Star Trek: Prodigy's Kate Mulgrew On Playing Two Versions Of Janeway [Exclusive Interview]

On "Star Trek: Prodigy," which returns for the second half of its first season later this month, actress Kate Mulgrew plays two roles. 

"Prodigy," to offer a brief rundown, is about a small group of teenagers who live far enough away from the known "Star Trek" universe that they have never heard of Starfleet or the Federation. Fleeing a wicked Emperor Palpatine type, the teens stumble upon an abandoned Starfleet vessel called the U.S.S. Protostar. Luckily for them, the ship is equipped with an emergency command hologram that has been programmed to look like the celebrated Captain Janeway (Mulgrew). Hologram Janeway instructs the central cast how to operate the ship, but, more importantly, she teaches them the power of Federation principles. Over the course of the show's first season, the teens eventually form an ersatz crew and learn to work together. For much of the show, audiences didn't know where or when "Prodigy" fit into the larger "Star Trek" universe. 

Halfway through the show's first season, however, it was revealed that the real Janeway, now a Vice Admiral, was still alive and searching for the U.S.S. Protostar, placing the events of "Prodigy" shortly after "Star Trek: Nemesis" and more or less concurrent with "Star Trek: Lower Decks." Vice Admiral Janeway is determined and even a little bitter. Hologram Janeway, meanwhile, has adapted to become warmer and more understanding of her teenage charges. Vice Admiral Janeway wants the thieves of the Protostar arrested. Hologram Janeway wants to know all about their adventures and to keep them safe. Mulgrew plays both roles. 

Recently, /Film interviewed Mulgrew to ask about her two roles, about her short-lived 1979 detective series "Mrs. Columbo," and why she, unlike so many of her "Star Trek" co-stars, never took to directing.

Hologram Janeway vs. Vice Admiral Janeway

Ms. Mulgrew, my goodness. I'm intimidated.

Don't be. Be dazzled.

Who was the better detective: Colombo or Mrs. Columbo?

Oh, you put me in a very difficult spot here, Witney, don't you? I mean, I want to say Mrs. Columbo. But we did love Peter Falk as Colombo, didn't we? Although Mrs. Colombo was a hell of a detective, wasn't she? Because she had a sort of her own curious eccentricity, her own odd approach, which I thought was quite novel. It was very well-written. It was very well done. I'm sorry it didn't get a longer run.

You play two characters on "Star Trek: Prodigy." You get to play the holographic version of Captain Janeway, and then you get to play Vice Admiral Janeway. In terms of performance, how do you separate the two characters?

That's the easy part. Also, the part for which I'm being paid. I mean, but the point is to distinguish between the two of them, too, to differentiate, and to do it as beautifully as I can. So I try to bring a great deal of nuance and subtlety to Hologram Janeway because she is, after all, a hologram. Whereas Vice Admiral Janeway, being sanctioned, allows for a much broader temperament. I mean that scope is much, much greater. So I have a lot of freedom in the booth while at the same time having to practice that discipline of going back and forth between characters.

A mind for writing

At last count, you have appeared in nearly 200 episodes of "Star Trek." Several long-time "Star Trek" actors, including some of your "Voyager" co-stars, have, throughout extended exposure, come to direct multiple episodes. You, however, haven't. Is it something you have ever considered? 

Yeah, of course I've considered it. And I've dismissed it. It's curiously just not my thing, Witney. I write. I'm a writer. So I think I'm — mine is an isolated kind of consciousness. I like to go in and down.

On stage, throughout your career, you've played Shakespeare and you've played Moliere and you've played Ibsen. Are there any notable stage roles that you've really wanted to play in and just haven't had a chance to?

Yes, it's a good question, because I have yet to play Chekhov. And I would love — I of course wanted to play Masha [from "Three Sisters"] all my life. I'm now too old for Masha, but Arkadina [from "The Seagull"] I could manage. I could still swing Arkadina if that chance ever, ever befell me. I've played Clytemnestra, played so many of the great roles. It's been a wonderful theater career.

I trust I wasn't too flustered for this interview.

But of course you're flustered. You're dazzled!

New episodes of "Star Trek: Prodigy" will be available to stream on Paramount+ on October 27, 2022.