Actress Kate Mulgrew breaks with her past in new memoir

NEW YORK — The biggest challenge for Kate Mulgrew in writing about giving up her daughter for adoption was getting beyond herself.

“I’m Irish. We’re private people,” says Mulgrew. “We keep it close to the vest. We keep it quiet. That’s how I was raised.”

But Mulgrew, who played Capt. Kathryn Janeway on “Star Trek: Voyager” and now plays Galina “Red” Reznikov on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” says she has no regrets about what she calls the loss of privacy in telling that story and other personal highs and lows in her new book, “Born With Teeth: A Memoir” (Little, Brown and Co.).

“Without it I couldn’t have shared what might be met by some people as a very important piece of information; not only the experience of it but how I survived and how I went on,” says the Emmy-nominated actress.

The book, released this week, follows her life from growing up in an unconventional Irish-Catholic Iowa home to 1999, when she was reunited with the daughter she gave up for adoption at age 22 — and reconnecting with her now-husband. Mulgrew says she ended the memoir there because she saw it as “the perfect resting point in happiness.”

“I had found my daughter after 21 years of searching for her and the great love of my life, Tim Hagan, who had dropped out of my life for five years, came back into my life and both happened in the same week.”

She also writes about deciding to become an actress at age 12, with encouragement from her mother, after Mulgrew brought a group of nuns at her Catholic grammar school to tears with her reading of a 50-page poem about a World War I romance.

She recalls that her mother said to her afterward, “‘You can either be a mediocre poet or a great actress. Now which do you think you’d rather be?’ And that was the switch,” Mulgrew says.

She shares painful moments as well, including the childhood deaths of two of her sisters, the breakup of her first marriage and the first sign that her mother was developing Alzheimer’s disease.

She says when it got to be too much, she’d take a break.

“I’d stop writing. I’d go out to the beach and I’d sit on the sand and I’d cry for two hours, and I’d go back in and go on. That’s what I think it is to write a memoir.”

As for the title of the book, Mulgrew, 59, was born with teeth: two on the top and two on the bottom. She says, however, that it’s also symbolic of how she’s made her way in the world. Noting that she had just returned from a trip to Africa where she went on safari, Mulgrew said she observed that the big cats there used their teeth to kill their prey quickly.

“They kill instantly because they’re not interested in torture but they’re interested in survival. They kill to eat and only when they’re hungry and that’s the metaphor. I used my teeth the same way.”