Kate Mulgrew Contributes More Than Her Voice To Star Trek: Prodigy's Captain Janeway

"Star Trek: Prodigy" returns to complete its first season on October 27, 2022, and the teenage crew of the U.S.S. Protostar has already been through a lot. After having escaped the evil Diviner (John Noble) and freed hundreds of teen slaves, the main characters have all donned Starfleet uniforms and have set about their mission to return to Federation space. They have learned, however, that the Protostar has been armed with a weapon that would wipe out the Federation if returned, forcing them to enact a few benevolent Starfleet-like missions while also avoiding Starfleet pursuers. They receive the bulk of their guidance from a hologram of Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), who has become an empathetic mentor/parent for them. In a twist, their primary pursuer is the real-life Vice Admiral Janeway (also Mulgrew), who would rather see them apprehended. 

"Prodigy" bears a lot of resemblances to the 1995 series "Star Trek: Voyager." Not only does Janeway return — in two forms, no less — but the character of Chakotay (previously played by Robert Beltran) is missing and is being sought. Additionally, "Prodigy" takes place on the outer reaches of Federation space where Starfleet rarely treks. This mirrors the U.S.S. Voyager's quest to return to Earth after being stranded 75 years away from home. In many ways, "Prodigy" is a proper "Voyager" spin-off. 

In a recent interview with TrekMovie, Mulgrew talked about playing two different versions of Janeway, and how she — having played the character for seven seasons — was able to contribute a lot of character and even physicality to the role(s).

The nature of Janeway

Mulgrew makes the seemingly immodest claim that she invented the character of Captain Janeway, but one can happily forgive her immodesty upon watching early clips of Geneviève Bujold in the same role. The two actresses played the part completely differently, and Mulgrew brought Janeway all of her resolve and verve. After creating the part and playing her for over 180 episodes, Mulgrew said that she was in a position to act as a collaborator with Kevin and Dan Hageman, the show's executive producers. She said: 

"Of course. The Hagemans are completely collaborative. They know that I created Kathryn Janeway, so they're not going to tell me how to bring this hologram to life. But I think after I finished tweaking the animatics – here physical being, and I did play a big part of that. The humor. Not softness, not tenderness, but empathy. This hologram has empathy for these kids. I mean, they're all in trouble, especially Dal, who has suffered, arguably more than all of them put together. "

Dal (Brett Gray) has fallen into the role of ersatz captain on the Protostar, and has no knowledge of his parents, or even the name of his species. All he has ever known is slavery. Like many teens, he plays off his suffering with flip jibes and constructed "cool" confidence, but he constantly struggles with his identity. Hologram Janeway is a mere projection constructed of light and force fields and computer memory engrams, but observes that Dal needs extra care. Even in the first season, Hologram Janeway grows to intuit Dal's needs. 

Teaching what Starfleet means

The central conceit of "Prodigy" is, of course, teaching what Gene Roddenberry's utopian ideals mean to someone who had never previously heard of them, and who has already decided that the galaxy is a place rife with oppression and pain. When the central teens find the Protostar, they don't even know what it is. They had never heard of the Federation, much less their ethos of universal aid and benevolence. Characters like Dal and Gwyn (Ella Purnell) and Jankom Pog (Jason Mantzoukas) are going to require a lot more careful instruction than, say, your average Starfleet cadet who knows what they're in for. Mulgrew knew that her characters was going to have to reflect the main characters' ineperience. She said: 

"Hologram Janeway is going to have to really exercise her diplomacy and her wisdom when it comes to dealing with a guy like Dal, who is so sure he's going to die, that he does everything to upend it. Again, it's the personal investment. But it has to be always grounded in the fact that I'm there to teach them Starfleet skills. The Prime Directive. Take each other's hands and let's get going. I can't do this alone. If only we knew that as a species, but we don't know it do we? We cannot do this alone."

And indeed, by halfway through the first season, the kids are functioning more or less as a crew. They still have to overcome their innate selfishness, but the plentiful technological bounty provided by Starfleet's futuristic wonderments is slowly teaching them to not be alone. 

"Star Trek: Prodigy" is now airing on Paramount+.