“We went as slowly as we could,” Mulgrew says of reconnecting with daughter Danielle (with her in New York City on April 2).
The moment Kate Mulgrew first heard her daughter Danielle’s voice, “time stopped,” she recalls. It was early morning in her trailer on the set of Star Trek: Voyager when the star received the call she’d been desperately awaiting since giving Danielle up for adoption 22 years earlier. “I remember the notes dancing in the first light of dawn in the venetian blinds,” she says of that life-changing phone call in 1999. “I lowered my voice—hers was very high, and I could sense her anxiety.” Some 3,000 miles away, Danielle was pacing at her adoptive parents’ home in Boston. “It was like overload times a bazillion,” recalls Danielle, 37. “She said, ‘I need to come and meet you.’ I remember three questions came from her: ‘Are you pretty?’ ‘Are you happy?’ And then the third one was, ‘Do you believe in God?’ That is Kate in a nutshell. I love her to death, but she brings a lot.”
Stunningly candid about everything from the search for her daughter to aging in Hollywood, the actress—who turns 60 on April 29—brings it all in her arresting new memoir Born with Teeth. (Yes, she had them at birth.) “If you had said when I was 15, ‘This is what is going to happen,’ I would have been incredulous,” says Mulgrew, relaxing in her eclectic, art-filled Manhattan apartment as she reflects on her journey from ambitious Iowa schoolgirl to Emmy-nominated star of Netflix’s hit series Orange Is the New Black. “But when you’re actually set on the path of your life, you must take it. I had my walking stick, and I took it.”
By her own description, it has been “a crooked path.” The second of eight kids in an Irish Catholic family, she credits her mom, Joan, with instilling in her a fierce survival instinct. “I was as crucial to my mother as she was to me,” she says. “If you have that in your being from the time you’re born, you’re going to be okay.” At 19, Mulgrew nabbed a starring role on the ’70s soap Ryan’s Hope. Two years later she found herself single and pregnant. (The baby’s father was her ex-boyfriend David Bernstein.) Her mom declined to help her raise the baby. “I knew I couldn’t do it without her,” says Mulgrew, who signed adoption papers with Catholic Charities before delivering a girl on May 3, 1977. The baby was immediately whisked away (see excerpt), and in the days and decades that followed, “I could not have predicted the size of my regret, of my pain,” she says. “I immediately tried to find her. I did a lot of stumbling, a lot of crying.”
In 1982 she suffered another brutal blow when, after meeting friends for drinks, she was raped at knifepoint in the entrance to her New York City apartment building. Recalling the attack, she says, “I thought, ‘If I just keep my eyes on him he won’t cut me.’ And he didn’t.” Though her assailant was never caught, Mulgrew says, “I never blamed him. It was absolutely impersonal.”
Putting the pieces of her life back together, Mulgrew says, “I made it my business to try to heal.” She wed director Robert Egan later that year, and they soon welcomed sons Ian and Alec. In the thick of child-rearing, she also became a pop-culture icon as the first-ever female Starfleet captain in Star Trek history. “I was scrutinized a lot,” she says. “I know the studio was thinking, ‘If this doesn’t work, we’re gonna go right to a man.’ I’m glad they didn’t.”
Through it all, she continued to search for her daughter via a series of private investigators. “The pain was excruciating,” she says. “I thought, ‘How do I give this up entirely?’ ”
In 1999 Mulgrew finally got a break from Sister Una McCormack of Catholic Charities, when the two ran into each other at a Manhattan fund-raiser. Although McCormack had previously told Mulgrew she couldn’t be of much help, “she had a change of heart,” says the actress, and agreed to send documents to both mother and daughter.
Learning her biological mom was an actress of Star Trek fame, “I thought, ‘Please can I have a normal situation? Why does Star Trek have to be involved?’ ” recalls Danielle, whose middle-class Italian-American parents were supportive of her decision to connect with Mulgrew. When the pair met in Boston four days after their initial phone call, “I was utterly disconnected from my body,” says Danielle. “I was a zombie.”
But not a judgmental one. “One of Danielle’s great virtues is her compassion,” says Mulgrew. “She could look at me almost objectively and say, ‘This woman did the only thing she could do in the moment.’ ” Both women were astonished by their similarities. “We look alike, talk alike, laugh alike,” says Mulgrew.
Still, adjusting to the new relationship was challenging. “There were a lot of unexpected reactions and hurts,” says Danielle, who teaches yoga in Washington State. Now Danielle regularly sees not only her birth mom—who divorced Egan in 1995 and married her current husband, Democratic politician Tim Hagan, the same year—but also her half brothers Ian, 31, and Alec, 30. “We’re peas from the same pod,” she says. “When we’re together, the three of us just get each other.'”
As for Mulgrew, she focuses on her “amazing, rare relationship” with Danielle and refuses to dwell on regret: “She grew up loved. That is all that is necessary.” Currently enjoying a career high with her role as Russian inmate “Red” on OITNB, which kicks off its third season on June 12, Mulgrew has embraced the unglamorous role. “For most of my life, I was very pretty and played the heroine,” she says. “You’re very boxed in when you’re pretty. When I unlatched and let my vanity go, then [Red] came.” Both onscreen and off, “this is the most realized time of my life,” she says. “So by virtue of that, it has to be the happiest. I feel completely present. That’s something I couldn’t have said in the past.”