Star Trek Actor’s Famous Habit Turned Into An Onscreen Joke

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

star trek robert beltran

Thanks to the universal communicator, talking to aliens in Star Trek is usually as simple as speaking in one’s native tongue and letting the computer handle the rest. Sometimes, there are cultural obstacles to communication, like when Janeway insulted the Tak Tak aliens by putting her hands on her hips. As it turns out, this unexpected bit of storytelling was written into the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Macrocosm” as a way to make fun of Kate Mulgrew’s real-life habit of putting her hands on her hips.

A Long Tradition

Kate Mulgrew is, of course, not the first Star Trek actor to develop certain physical eccentricities regarding their performance. One of the more famous examples is that Riker actor Jonathan Frakes would always step over the low backs of seats in areas like Ten Forward before sitting down.

He thought it gave his character an aura of cowboy confidence, and he wasn’t wrong–the move instantly set his character apart from the rest of the cast.

Of course, before Kate Mulgrew and even before Jonathan Frakes, the most famous Star Trek physical habit was the Picard maneuver. Onscreen, this was the name given to a fancy warp-speed maneuver invented by Captain Picard.

Offscreen, this was the nickname the cast and crew had for Patrick Stewart’s habit of tugging his uniform shirt down whenever he stood up.


While they didn’t have a cutesy nickname for it, Kate Mulgrew’s tendency to put her hands on her hips while shooting scenes was well-known among Voyager’s own cast and crew. It was certainly known among the writers, which is why Brannon Braga wrote it into the episode “Macrocosm.”

The episode begins with Neelix apologizing for the huge communication faux pas that occurred when Janeway put her hands on her hips, considered to be the most offensive gesture to the alien Tak Tak.

First Contact

star trek quote

In case you’re wondering, Kate Mulgrew didn’t seem too offended by the Star Trek writer turning her famous habit into an onscreen joke.

That’s likely because this was the episode that transformed Captain Janeway into a cross between Rambo and Ripley as she ran around the ship with a giant phaser and saved the day by throwing a specially-rigged bomb into the holodeck. 

In a fun bit of parallel timing, this episode came out less than a month after Star Trek: First Contact, and it’s tough not to think about Captain Picard’s turn as an action hero when you see Janeway in her tank top fighting off a swarm of bad CGI creatures.

In fact, going back to their earliest origin, the Borg have more in common with bugs than bots, so this comparison is especially apt.

Hush, Voyager Style

kate mulgrew star trek

Considering what this episode became, it’s fascinating to consider what the writer originally wanted to do. Before setting out to make Kate Mulgrew into an action icon, Star Trek writer Brannon Braga claimed that he found Trek to sometimes be too “talky” and “moralistic,” so he set out “to do an episode with no dialogue.”

He was eventually forced to add “a couple of acts of dialogue” to the episode, but his original goal of an almost entirely quiet Voyager ep seems very reminiscent of what Joss Whedon did a few years later with the iconic Buffy: The Vampire Slayer episode “Hush.”

Communication Is Key

Kate Mulgrew captain janeway star trek

Looking at how Kate Mulgrew’s own simple gesture was turned into an onscreen joke in Star Trek, I can’t help but imagine how weird first contact with actual aliens could be.

Visitors from space might not think we’re really all that peaceful if they misinterpret something as simple as talking with our hands or blowing hair out of our faces as insulting gestures. Should that happen and we don’t have our very own Neelix to smooth things over, the end of the world may not end with a bang or a whimper–with fire or with ice.

With our luck, it just might end with the worst-timed air quotes in human history.  

Star Trek Newsletter

Subscribe For Bold

Star Trek News

Expect a confirmation email if you "Engage!"