SFX Issue 7

December 1995


Bye, Bye Bujold

While Voyager fans are now well accustomed to the sight of Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway striding purposefully across the bridge, it wasn’t always meant to be that way. You see, Voyager was originally intended to have another captain, one the viewers never got to see...

After an exhaustive search for the right Janeway, the producers originally cast the well-known French-Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold as, if not the first female starship commander in Trek , at least the first to headline a show. Within just a few days, however, Bujold had resigned her commission, leaving the ship leaderless once again. As members of the cast and crew now recall, it was a rocky start...

The story begins with the much-publicised search for a suitably impressive captain...

“I think can safely say that we read, checked out and investigated every actress between the ages of 30 and 65 we could find,” says exec producer Jeri Taylor. “We read hundreds and hundreds of people – in LA, Canada, New York, Chicago, London and Europe. It was exhaustive and exhausting, and when you’ve heard the same scenes read over and over, your mind begins to turn to jello.”

But you didn’t give up, right?

“Actually, it was at the point where we were beginning to read men that Genevieve Bujold stepped on the scene. I knew she was a brilliant actress, and we got tapes of her recent projects, because no-one was quite sure what she’d done recently, and she was wonderful in them. So we asked her to read, but she refused to do that. She’s an actress who works very much in the moment, and reading without preparation just isn’t how she acts. We finally decided to take the risk, and cast her without reading.”

According to pilot director Winrich Kolbe, “My remark to Rick Berman at the time was, ‘This is either going to be a total disaster or a total triumph.’ He just looked at me, we put our arms around each other and walked out. I know the casting people weren’t happy with the choice, but I think she had a major supporter in Michael Piller. Jeri liked her too, but I was unsure – when I saw her sitting there, the word ‘fragile’ came to mind. I still believe she could have pulled it off, but she chose to stick with a way of working she was comfortable with, and that was her downfall.”

“We made it very clear to her that television was a different animal from features,” says Taylor, “and chronicled all the horrors for her. She asked for a weekend to think about it, and when that was over, said, ‘I’ve thought about this, I’ve decided to do this, and I can assure you that when I commit to something, I do it 100%.’

“But then we started into the whole process, and it became apparent that the realities of television were overwhelming her. The way she works requires a great deal of focus, so she was distracted by everything. She didn’t want people fussing with her hair on the set, she didn’t want photographers on the set, she didn’t want to do interviews. She had been allowed to work in a certain way on features, and that’s the way she worked.”

“We started filming with some scenes on the bridge,” says Kolbe. “It was the bit where Janeway introduces Paris and Kim to the crew. She needed to have a purpose, and it just didn’t work. We kept doing it and doing it, and after 15 takes, I knew we had a problem. I filmed it because she had the force to say that this was how she saw Captain Janeway, but I said, ‘I don’t see Janeway that way; I need more power!’ At that point, I knew we were in deep shit.”

The cast had similar problems...

“When we finished something on that first day,” recalls Garrett Wang, “Genevieve would run right back to her trailer, whereas most of us were so enthralled with our first day on the bridge together that we stayed on the set and talked. It just seemed that she wasn’t as excited about it as the rest of us were.”

“We got there on the second day, and the last scenes before she left were with me,” continues Tim Russ. “That particular day was very uncomfortable. Nobody was saying anything, and the atmosphere was very subdued and sombre. A sense of humour was not even in the book, and you can’t work 16 hours a day without being able to cut up and bullshit.

“I was off-camera doing my bit, so it wasn’t that difficult for me – but then, very quickly, it was over. The director was doing his best to keep her happy and motivated, but it was out of control and there was nothing he could do about it.”

“We reset the camera for the second part of the scene, and were getting ready for the lighting rehearsal,” Kolbe recalls. “She came on the set and in a loud voice announced, ‘I don’t think I’m right for this role!’ I looked at Jerry Fleck, my first, and said, ‘How much time before we go to lunch?’ He said about five to ten minutes, and I said, ‘Let’s go to lunch now.’”

“She called the three of us to her trailer,” remembers Taylor,” and said, ‘I’m so sorry, this has been a terrible mistake. It would be unfair on all of us to continue.’ To be honest, we were very grateful that she realised that after only a day and a half, as opposed to six weeks or six months. Then we would have had a big problem.”

In the end, the producers decided to re-cast the role with Kate Mulgrew, who had read for Janeway the first time round.

“On that Friday, after the first week of shooting without a captain,” says Kolbe, “Kate came down, and we were supposed to do a couple of tests. Jerry Fleck and I went to meet her in the hair trailer, and I think I fell in love with her at that time. It was just a few words, but there was that smile, that eagerness; she was ready to go. We talked for five minutes, and on my way back to the set, I nudged Jerry and said, ‘She’s it – we’ve got her!’”