Interview with Kate Mulgrew of Adult Swim's NTSF:SD:SUV and Warehouse 13

From Mrs. Columbo to Capt. Janeway of Star Trek Voyager, Kate Mulgrew is still commanding today's hottest shows.

By , Contributor

Adult Swim

Kate Mulgrew as NTSF:SD:SUV's Kove

It is pouring with rain on this particular Friday afternoon in New York City, but that is not about to put a damper on Kate Mulgrew’s mood. The always affable actress is eager to talk about her latest role as Kove, the no-nonsense eye patch wearing leader of a clandestine group of government agents who are charged with shielding the city of San Diego and its citizens from daily terrorist threats in the Adult Swim series NTSF:SD:SUV (National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle).

This character is quite a departure from her previous roles such as Mrs. Columbo in the 70s detective series of the same name, or Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, and she is very much enjoying herself.

“It’s insane. It’s a send up of everything I’ve ever done in my life, including my own life,” jokes Mulgrew. “I mean, Kove is just terrific. She’s madly in love with Trent [Paul Scheer], who she’s been married to as well as divorced from twice, and they have two children who do not speak but are karate champions. She’s also the head of this terrorist strike force, but all she really wants is to get her ex-husband back.

“So she’s obsessed with Trent, obsessed with sex, obsessed with plutonium, and obsessed with keeping San Diego a second-rate city. On top of everything else, I get to do my own hair with this character, which I think is absolutely divine. What more could a girl ask for? It’s all delish.”

 

In each 15-minute episode of NTSF (probably more like 12 minutes without commercials), the men and women of NTSF: SD: SUV risk their lives to stop terrorists from perverting the course of justice and interfering with the daily goings-on in San Diego. Led by Kove, the team is comprised of Trent and his two partners, the half Alaskan, half Eskimo Alphonse (Brandon Johnson) and Piper (June Diane Raphael) as well as Sam (Martin Starr), who shares NTSF communications duties with the robot S.A.M. (Sentient Automated Machine), and lab tech Jessie (Rebecca Romijn). It was actor/comedian/writer and NTSF creator Paul Scheer who wanted Mulgrew to share in this comedic adventure.

“I have played serious women throughout my entire career, and Kove is the complete opposite,” says the actress. “I’m at a point in my life where everything is funny to me. I’ve always found most of life absurd, so I was ready for NTSF, and I love the way it happened. In my experience when it only takes one or two phone calls and there’s no nonsense or mess, then it’s terrific.

“Paul Scheer called me up and said, ‘Can we send you an idea of what we’re hoping to do, but we really want you to be part of this.’ I told him, ‘Say no more, I’m there.’ The next thing I knew I was on a plane and treated just beautifully. Paul is not only organized and smart as all get-out, but he’s also very kind as well as creative and the atmosphere on the set is amazing. Everyone knows we’re there for laughs and that’s what it is.

“I have to say that I initially approached the role of Kove with some trepidation, because I am not a comedian by trade,” continues Mulgrew. “I’m a legit dramatic actress, so I quickly learned through Paul and the rest of the cast along with our guest-stars - and we’ve had a roster of very talented guest-stars - that you have to own this type of role as you would any other role.

 

“Just because Kove is insane doesn’t make her any less mine. So I have to totally believe in and love my character. Kove is great, Kove is true, Kove is deep, do you know what I mean, and Kove needs to have sex,” she notes with a chuckle. “Whenever anyone pays her a compliment, her head whips around and with laser-like focus she asks, ‘What did you say?’ It truly is the most narcissistic, nonsensical and heavenly stuff to do.”

Since coming to the small screen, the NTSF’s missions have included tracking down and stopping a dolphin serial killer (“Dolphinnegan’s Wake”), preventing Mexico from getting the jump on the U.S. space program after a stripper-astronaut steals the space shuttle plans and sells them to the foreign power (“Tijuana, We Have A Problem”), and even taking a cruise in order to capture an international terrorist in open waters (“Full Hauser”). Does Mulgrew have a favorite episode from season one?

“It has to be the one where Kove is not invited to the birthday party [“The Birthday Party That Was Neither”],” says the actress. “These agents are running around on a mission and killing various people, and all my character really cares about is the fact that she’s the only one who hasn’t been invited to this birthday party. That is the quintessential Kove.”

In “Twistin’ the Night Away,” the actress had the pleasure of being reunited with one of her former Star Trek: Voyager costars, Robert Picardo, who played U.S.S. Voyager’s Holographic Doctor. “That was my call. I was sitting next to Paul Scheer and [series executive producer/writer John Stern] and overheard them saying that they needed a guest-star who could play a really creepy character,” recalls Mulgrew. “I told them, ‘I know him. He’s one of my best friends - Bob Picardo.  They both said, ‘Yes! Can you call him?’

 

“I called Bob right then and there. He came in the next day and was perfect. The thing is, Paul will do that all the time, which is one of the reasons why I love him. Any idea is a good idea and he’ll embrace it. At one point I suggested to Paul, ‘You should get all the Star Trek guys in here. It would be a riot,’ and he said, ‘You’re absolutely right.’ It’s a very collaborative set. It has a wonderful old spirit, you know, because we’re not talking about trillions of dollars here. We’re talking about a collaborative effort to make people really laugh.”

While fans spent seven seasons traveling through the Delta Quadrant with Mulgrew on Star Trek: Voyager, there was no guarantee that they would jump onboard with NTSF with the same zeal. Apparently they have, however, and the actress could not be happier.

“I initially thought, ‘Oh, I don’t think the Janeway fans are going to go for this,’ but they have,” she enthuses. “If anything, I think there might have been a brief pause where they decided, ‘Oh, I see, the actress Kate Mulgrew has decided to change her dance step. Let’s go with her.’

“The reason that the Star Trek fans base is so extraordinary is because it’s so loyal. They love the actors as well as the characters that they’ve grown to truly adore, so they will follow you to the next project if they think that it’s good, and obviously they think that this is good.”

 

When she was not busy protecting San Diego against terrorists on NTSF, Mulgrew spent some time earlier this year in Toronto filming a multi-episode arc on Syfy's Warehouse 13. Her character of Jane Lattimer is a former schoolteacher who became one of the Warehouse Regents - the executive board of the Warehouses - and a Guardian. For the actress, booking this role was not unlike her experience on NTSF.

“It was, once again, seamless,” says Mulgrew. “The [job] offer came and I accepted based on my reading of the script, which I found not only sort of tongue in cheek but also smart and clever. When I then got to the set, the same thing happened that happened on NTSF - I loved everyone, which was probably due to [executive producer] Jack Kenny’s superb show running and my instant chemistry with Saul Rubinek [Artie Nielsen], Eddie McClintock [Pete Lattimer], Joanne Kelly [Myka Bering] and Allison Scagliotti [Claudia Donovan]. You don’t always get that. There’s usually one wobble in there, but not here. It was like they were missing that finger on the glove if you will, and it was great.”

Along with being a Regent and a Guardian, it is revealed in the third season Warehouse 13 episode “Shadows" that Jane is also Pete’s mother. It is somewhat hard to believe that Mulgrew is playing someone’s mom, but then again who else could possibly play her and in such a convincing way. As far as her onscreen son, the actress could not ask for a better one.

 

“I think Eddie McClintock and I have a natural chemistry, and, again, I’m knocking on wood because that’s a gift from the gods,” she says. “Eddie is naturally available and accessible as an actor and he’s a lovely guy, too. He’s also very funny as well as fast on his feet and is able to roll with it. I love an organic actor like that, and I also love that what they’re doing with our two characters is so true.

“Pete wants his mother to be safe and he wants his mother to be his mother. So the mother once again has to transcend her own maternity by becoming an important sci-fi figure. It’s a little bit like Janeway, you know? There is always this curious dilemma, this juxtaposition of character and a character within a character. Jane is a mother as well as a human being, but then she becomes the head Regent and her powers are extraordinary. Pete has to understand and accept this, and if not, it opens the door to so much wonderful familial as well as interpersonal conflict. My character is supposed to be very, very far away from him, but then she becomes not only integrally involved in his life, but also key to the salvation of the Warehouse.

“Story-wise, the opportunities are pretty endless and exciting. I’m hoping that they will have me back next season and that Jane’s storyline continues to develop because it’s a really good fit for me.”

Please note, all NTSF:SD:SUV photos copyright of Adult Swim, and the Warehouse 13 photo copyright of Syfy.

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