Kate Mulgrew talks Dragon Age: Origins

Q&A: Veteran actress and <i>Star Trek: Voyager</i> star discusses working with BioWare and acting in games versus television, film, and stage.

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Canadian developer BioWare made a name for itself with the classic Baldur's Gate fantasy role-playing games. The studio is now finalizing what it is billing as the spiritual successor to that game, Dragon Age: Origins. First announced in 2004, the long-awaited RPG will tell the tale of a kingdom besieged by dark forces.

Actress Kate Mulgrew.

As one might expect from a BioWare game, Dragon Age: Origins will be jam-packed with characters. These include Flemeth, a mysterious witch of the wilds and the mother of the equally mysterious sorceress Morrigan.

As revealed in a a recent cast announcement by BioWare, Flemeth is voiced by Kate Mulgrew, who is perhaps best known for her role as Captain Kathryn Janeway in the Star Trek: Voyager TV series. In 2006, she reprised the role in Star Trek: Legacy, her third game role after 2002's Run Like Hell and 2003's Lords of EverQuest, which also co-starred prolific voice actor Keith David.

Though David has had some plum game roles, including the Arbiter in Halo 2 and 3, Dragon Age will be Mulgrew's biggest part in a game to date. With its November 3 launch fast approaching, GameSpot caught up with the actress to talk about her experience working with BioWare and other projects.

GameSpot: You have very broad experience in TV, film, and theater. Tell us your thoughts on taking this different path of being a voice actor for a game.

Kate Mulgrew: Well, there's nothing more liberating, in a way. This is every actor's true dream. I've likened it to going into a dark room with a very smart child who demands an epic story on the spot--one that will change their life. And you have two flashlights, and you have that moment captured in time, and you get to just go, and the kid is going to go with you. So, it's a beautiful little journey you get to take.

In this particular case, the character of Flemeth would be just about every actress' dream because the vocal dexterity required is both challenging and very freeing…almost joyful to go that deep. She's dark. The game itself is epic, dark, and brutal, but it's very smart. So I'm always engaged. Everything that comes out my mouth is very important.

[The Flemeth character] is pivotal. She's a witch, but she's mysterious, and you have to stay with the game and stay with the character to discover just how mysterious she is. There are undercurrents and secrets to her, and when you understand that hers is a history rich in despair and loss, then you can grasp her fury and her power in a different way. And as an actor, being able to know that--and I know that people playing this game may not know that, and even our hero [of the game] doesn't know that yet--there's a sense of great adult play.

GS: Interesting. You suggest that being a voice actor is a bit more freeing than being an actor in a traditional production. There's no makeup, there's no costumes…

KM: That's exactly right. You've got the script in front of you, and you've got the [audio] engineer. And for some reason, it takes me back to the absolute core of who I am--as an imaginative person, as an artist--and that is to tell the story, in the moment. And being one of eight children, I often did this in the closet in my room, and it was better than being on Broadway! (laughs) It was great.

GS: But given that you've spent most of your career as a performer focusing on nuances like facial expressions and body language, especially on TV and in films where multiple cameras can zoom in for key shots, it must be a different experience…

KM: Yes, but you're still doing it. I found myself still absolutely owning her and endowing her with her hand gestures and her facial expressions. But it's very, very private. It's just me and the character. That could seem fracturing, but it's not. It's exactly what actors are. They really just want to tell the story in all its urgency and immediacy, and they want it to be realized instantly. And that's what a video game and a voice-over in a video game can do that no other genre does.

GS: Talking more specifically about the game, what are your thoughts on being part of a high-fantasy story, speaking pseudo-Victorian-era English, and playing a character whose problems and motivations are not necessarily the same as a more modern character (or, for instance, a starship captain)?

KM: Delicious. I mean, it's right up my street. It's classical, isn't it? I wouldn't say that it's Greek, but it's very smart, and it's all about mythology. It's better than fantasy--it's about a history, and from my own perspective, Celtic history. I think that these people at BioWare brought to bear on this video game just about every level of the imagination, and they have combined it with a high intelligence. So, I also think when I finish a job like this, "Ah, well, this is good." And whoever plays this game will find that it's good, and I'm proud to have been a part of it.

GS: About the character Flemeth. She's this very fearsome and mysterious witch of great power who lives off in the wilds. Have you done other roles or had other acting experiences to draw on to portray this sort of aloof character?

KM: I've done characters who touch on her, but they do not have her depth. They do not have her magnitude, and I don't think that they have her discipline. So, if you bring those three things together, it's a very advanced kind of character. She's much more than just a witch; she's more than just a mysterious witch; she's someone with a profound personal history, and she brings that to bear on every choice she makes…on every strange thing that issues from her mouth. And I think that whoever plays this game knows that, and they'll know to follow her very, very carefully.

The character Flemeth from Dragon Age: Origins.

GS: And another thing that's clearly notable about the Flemeth character is that she has a relationship with another character, Morrigan, who is treated as her "daughter," yet right when you meet those characters, you realize that this isn't just a simple mother-daughter relationship. There's another, more-complex story going on between these two characters. Do you have any thoughts on playing this role or other experiences to draw on to flesh out this relationship?

KM: Well, that was a very interesting part of doing this…to have that kind of co-mixture of acceptance and dripping disdain and fury…and the kind of sentiment about this daughter. And I think I live through this daughter in many ways. In many ways, this daughter stirs up my own past, in which I was beautiful and loved once. And the loss of that reality…I think this daughter Morrigan excites that and stimulates that memory in me, so that every time I'm with her, it's very tense. And one cannot know, ever, how I'm going to react to what [Morrigan] says because, I suspect, that I don't really know how I'm going to react. [Morrigan] taps into the emotional part of Flemeth more than anybody else, obviously.

GS: Switching gears a bit, you've played a variety of roles in your career, including starship captains and fantasy characters like Flemeth, but you've also played more real-life characters in realistic, modern situations. What are the differences between playing a role in a sci-fi or fantasy setting versus a real-world setting? Do you have a preference?

KM: No, I would say that I continue to be absolutely surprised at what evolves. I mean, if you had met me when I was 20, and you had said to me, "You're going to play these roles when you reach this certain age," I would've said, "You're crazy! That's not possible!"

But of course, they have come to be in a very significant way in my life, so I would say that, probably, these roles are tapping into something in my nature or my personality that is very important and must be revealed and probably couldn't be revealed when I was younger. "Epic" is too strong a word, but "powerful" elements reside within me, and they can probably only be contained in characters of this magnitude. Now, I'm very, very lucky to be able to play them, and they free me. I'm completely engaged in the work.

GS: To get a bit more abstract: When comparing classical media (theater, TV, film) and digital productions like this game, some might say that the former does a better job of telling stories and conveying emotion. If games aren't there yet, then what would you say are the missing elements in games that will bring them up to the same level of emotional impact and storytelling as, say, a really great TV show or movie?

KM: Well, it's interactive, isn't it? So the stakes are already much higher than they are even when you go to the theater. It's a very different approach. This is not what happens when you go to the movies or go to see a play. I mean, I just played Clytemnestra in [the theatrical production] Iphegenia 2.0, and we can't have people getting up on stage and responding in a physical way to what I'm saying.

I think that video games are a way for people to discipline their very large emotional needs…to discipline them and to direct them. And I think that if [the game in question] is as smart as this game is, it can be quite elevating. So there's a place for [games]. There's a very good place for [games]. [Games] will in no way replace theater, movies, or television, but [games] will have [their] own rightful place, I think, in the world, and certainly, technologically, in this new world we are coming to embrace.

GS: To wrap up, let's take a not-so-giant leap of logic and suggest that some of the same fans who enjoyed watching you on Star Trek: Voyager might also read a video game Web site. Is there anything in particular you'd like to say to your fans?

KM: I'd like to say to them that I found this to be a thoroughly compelling video game to perform in and that I hope that when [people] play it, they feel that from me. And just take the journey and understand that the excellence in this journey lies in the intelligence of this particular story.

GS: Outside of games, what have you been up to recently?

KM: I'm doing a series for NBC called Mercy. I play the mother of the leading lady…that's what it's come to (laughs). But she's an interesting character for me because I'm usually typecast as an upper-class, intellectual sort of person. And this is a working-class, alcoholic, Irish woman who is very concerned with how she looks and doesn't seem to have any interest at all in her daughter's post-traumatic stress disorder. [Her daughter has] just returned from a tour in Iraq. So it's a story about nurses and family, and it's very timely.

Other things in life are just as good. I love my teaching [at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting] and work with the Alzheimer's Association National Advisory Council. All of that, to me, is very challenging. And now, in my life, I do a good bit of writing and a great deal of reading. And [in terms of] my personal life--by that I mean, my intimate friendships, my children, and my sweetheart--all of that is very, very good right now.

Discussion

54 comments
Azuki
Azuki

@Wuglord Dood its not made by the exact same team, the team who made ME1 have been working on ME2 all this time. They share resources now and then but for the most part its like two different dev studios. More to the point this is a large semi-open world rpg with a camera that can be and is generally positioned far away from the player characters, considering that it looks amazing. In Me1 you had maybe 10, 20 characters on screen at once, in this you can have hundreds and hundreds. Its all about the polys man, you cant do super high poly models if you want to have massive scale too. And believe me I know, I do 3d modeling/animation myself. More polys = gameplay sacrificed for detail. This game is also alot longer and has alot more content than ME1, you cant compare the two. Hell they're practically different genres.

wuglord
wuglord

I'm sorry but when you have a great rpg like Mass Effect, that not only has an amazing story and good combat mechanics but looks great 2, made by the same company you can't help but wonder why on earth this game looks so, lets admit it, lazy when it comes to visuals. I'm not saying all great games need cutting edge graphics, but damn this stuff looks down right lazy -.- clothes look flat and faces show little to no emotion -.-

lightwarrior179
lightwarrior179

I think there's being a lot of emphasis on graphics when people are commenting this. Those who do so,should try to understand the type of crowd which is being targeted for such a game. The RPG crowd. And most of them don't care about such minor issues in the graphics. It's the plot,characters,immersiveness,combat which piques their interest.

dark_sith_
dark_sith_

This is shaping to be one great adult oriented RPG. It's a great thing to finally get something like this after almost a decade of fast. Graphics? I don't care that much about graphics in a RPG. Focus of these games lies elsewhere. While games like Mass Effect were great, and KOTOR was a masterpiece of storytelling, you could feel these titles were simplified for consoles, they were nowhere near as expansive or complicated as, for example, Planescape: Torment, Baldur's Gate I and II, or even Icewind Dale. This game seems to be aiming to rectify that shortcoming. This will be my buy list as soon as it is published.

philosophy666
philosophy666

This game will be awesome especially with Tim Curry's voice acting.

zaheer2020
zaheer2020

very interesting interview...love the star trek series....especially TNG

earlthecannibal
earlthecannibal

Why no multiplayer!?..I would have loved this game long time :(

Burst
Burst

I love interviews that don't make me feel stupid after reading them, thank you Gamespot.

bcfish
bcfish

dude, for gamestop that was an excellent interview! seriously, high quality, not dumbed down, most excellent! thanks a ton!

F1_2004
F1_2004

Great interview, she is a very well-spoken woman. I'm sure her VA work will be of really high quality.

gideonkain
gideonkain

Looks very interesting, but a bit too much like Gothic 1/2 - drab and sloppy. I think this could benefit from the 'Borderlands' treatment.

KelpsterD
KelpsterD

@majere PHOTON TORPEDOS!!!!!!!!

KelpsterD
KelpsterD

sigh..the graphics arent that great..ud think, it being 2009 and all, that they could look a little less choppy

Fate_L
Fate_L

Wow, excellent interview Gamespot. I'm impressed.

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

Before Bioware made PC game conversions from console, we had Balder's Gate and Neverwinter Nights, after Bioware went console first, PC conversion second, we have had Mass Effect and Jade Empire....This means I really really really really really hope this is a game that has been written for PC gamers as though consoles don't exist -then, just maybe, we get another classic Bioware RPG!

ParisSun
ParisSun

This game will keep me going until Mass Effect comes out next year. Hope there is tons of playing time. I'm may pick up ODST next week or Forza. I haven't decided. After that it's Borderlands, L4D and Dragon Age. All these games will keep me going into next year.

ZoeyClarke
ZoeyClarke

day one purchase here also. If there is one company that deserves fanboys it's bioware. I haven't played a single bioware game that didn't at least hold my attention from beginning to end. at best they redefine my expectations of games (see kotor or baldurs gate for additional details).

majere613
majere613

So we now know- whatever the heck you do, do NOT mess up Flemeth's hair! (If you don't remember, Janeway was always Ms Diplomacy 'till that happened, then it was Quantum Torpedo time...)

heysharpshooter
heysharpshooter

I agree with ZakMcKraken, GS has spent a ton of time with this game. And I don't mind at all, because this game is going to be brilliant.

ZakMcKracken
ZakMcKracken

GS certainly pays a lot of attention to this game. I wonder what makes GS spend more time on one game than another... Anyway, this game must and shall revive my RPG lust!

JustWiicredible
JustWiicredible

Day one purchase. At last a adult orientated fantasy RPG. Thank you Bioware. I don't even mind the graphics so long as the gameplay is there. I can now finally leave the Captial wasteland.

chaudman
chaudman

Seems Bioware enjoy picking up actors from the Star Trek pool, with Marina Sirtis cast in Mass Effect. Makes sense really as I bet there are lots of Trekkies who enjoy rpg's, I know I do.

shkar
shkar

as a BIOWARE fan I am waiting for this game to be released and it's a day one purchase.........But I must admit the graphics and character animations are so dated...........

Born_Lucky
Born_Lucky

Yeah - Kate Mulgrew is great - I'm a long time fan. Just wish I was getting better vibes about DA.

Erebus
Erebus

"I think that video games are a way for people to discipline their very large emotional needs…to discipline them and to direct them." Kate is one sharp woman. I had every intention of buying this game anyway, but this interview just reaffirms it.

ShootingPwnage
ShootingPwnage

I had this game reserved but had to cancel. In all fairness, MW2 and GoW collection are coming first, sorry

Innos007666
Innos007666

Sweet game and I can't with any longer for it. Graphic and textures are nothing special but we can pass over them because story and gameplay definitely rocks! Also user interface is a little bit boring. That Pause is nothing revolutionary, we saw that in BG and NWN... but anyway that game is MUST for every RPG lover and every BioWare fan!

TheGreyArea
TheGreyArea

cant help but notice the irony in Bethesda Softworks tapping patrick stewart for voice acting in Oblivion, and now Bioware nabbed another captain for Dragon age we all need to PRAY that Shatner isn't getting any ideas! ;) Bioware have basically thrown-down a MONSTER set of combo punches for their fans... Half of us aren't even going to have finished really playing-out all that Dragon age has to offer (ie, unlocking each class's story, possible dlc etc) before Mass Effect comes pummelling in to finish us off Bang with the right hook! Whack with an upper-cut! First round knock-out tto Bioware!

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

I am sure the story will be great. But as in anything to do with gaming, it's the gameplay that counts, and after the great story but little roleplaying of Mass Effect (compared to bg and nwn) it's! the roleplaying gameplay I worry about.

axhed
axhed

barf! read three little pieces of the interview and they all annoyed me to no end. i wish i knew why actors' blathering about ticked me off so bad.

gamerminds
gamerminds

hehehhe it seems to be new performance and tough one for her!

Joesocwork
Joesocwork

Good interview. Long before Star Trek, I remember Ms. Mulgrew as Mrs. Columbo (although I thought she was way too young for Peter Falk! :P) It was really enjoyable reading about professionals talking about the particulars of their craft and sharing their pride in it. I'm glad to see well known actors take voice overs as a serious part of their work. Hopefully they are beginning to appreciate that gamers have been growing up over the years (some of us anyway :P). It seems that she's taking her inspiration in the increasing interactiveness of the gaming media. And of course, one more reason to look forward to Dragon Age: Origins. 8)

AdamWriter
AdamWriter

This game is a must buy for me. Gameplay only makes the wait harder for me, but I can't resist watching the development and sneak peeks at the gameplay of this game. P.S. I've made my decision; Mage all the way for first run through!

jazilla
jazilla

i hope they deviate from the bioware formula a bit. while i love their games, they have a certain pattern that they haven't broken from. it would be cool if the story arc deviated from the other ones.

Bytor60150
Bytor60150

I soooo can not wait for this game! Glad I got my pre-order in on the limited edition when I did. Kate's awesome, glad she's lending her talents to this project, and Tim Curry ftw. Only 40 more days. =)

stevenskistg
stevenskistg

Hey, I met her. She came to my high school to talk to the seniors. This was maybe 8 years ago, conveniently when her husband, Tim Hagen was running for governor. You'll notice that she only talked to the students old enough to vote. Also, she was kind of b1tchy. Also, Voyager is my favorite Star Trek.

MERGATROYDER
MERGATROYDER

I could care less about the the voices in this title. The game has so many features I will be too busy caring.

method115
method115

@oneofthefall I hate to say it but yes I loved Voyager. Me and my dad would watch it together at a time when we had kind of grown apart as far as spending time together. On that note I'm sick and tired of all this dragon age crap being posted here. I don't need a constant reminder of how far away this game still is.

ironcreed
ironcreed

November 3rd needs to hurry....that is all.

Franko_3
Franko_3

Damn! I hate Kate Mulgrew voice. She sounds like Donald Duck. How can you guy say that she has a nice voice. In voyager it was terrible. Don't get me wrong, she is a nice actress, but not a voice actress

oneofthefall
oneofthefall

Awesome actress and Voyager is still a Series im still fond of today!

tclvis
tclvis

If I hadn't already wanted this game, this would have done it. Mulgrew is one of the smartest actresses around with an amazing voice. Bioware does it again! Is it November yet?

topsemag55
topsemag55

With actresses of the caliber of Kate Mulgrew, this game will go beyond epic to a masterpiece. I can tell she didn't flub any of her lines, the video of her and Tim Curry - plus her Star Trek performances - proved her abilities.

hibikino
hibikino

seeing so many high profile actor and actress, the game is probably going to be EPIC

mayatola
mayatola

What a thoughtful interview. Gives me a greater appreciation for Kate Mulgrew. I've always just seen her as Captain Janeway, but after this, I really see her as a person and an actor. Great interview!

MJoanne
MJoanne

It will be great to have such a talented actor as the voice of a video game character.

FlashCharge
FlashCharge

Hope this game lives up to all its hype and doesn't dissappoint like so many before it.

Born_Lucky
Born_Lucky

Yeah - Kate Mulgrew is great - I'm a long time fan. Just wish I was getting better vibes about DA.