Brazilian George Takei InterviewBy Christian
June 12, 2000 - 8:46 PM
Trek Brasilis, one of the major Brazilian Star Trek sites, has posted an exclusive interview with George Takei (Hikaru Sulu). Courtesy of Gustavo Leao, here is the full English version of the interview:
Trek Brasilis: There is a fan campaign in progress to convince Paramount to produce a series about the adventures of Hikaru Sulu and the USS Excelsior. What do you think of this campaign and its chances of succeed? When would you put a deadline for the campaign?
George Takei: The Excelsior Campaign is in keeping with the tradition set by Star Trek fans from the very beginning. After the cancellation of the television series in 1969, the fans began a campaign to revive the show. Despite the fact that Paramount executives said that Star Trek was dead, the fans began a "Star Trek Lives" campaign of letter writing and demonstrations. It took ten years but they won. In 1979 'Star Trek, The Motion Picture' was released. The Paramount executives were pessimistic about its box office potential. But again, the fans demonstrated with their huge support at the box office that there was indeed an audience for Star Trek. And once again, despite the fact that Paramount executives like to think that they know what is best for the fans, the fans have taken the initiative to tell the studio what they want. If history is consistent, the Excelsior campaign should prevail. The studio and networks should be making some decisions on a new Star Trek series by the beginning of fall for the season of 2001.
TB: What do you think of the Excelsior idea? What are their strongest points in your opinion?
GT: I would say that the strongest point with the campaign is that it is coming directly from the fans, the audience. If the producers are smart, they should respond to the marketplace --- their audience. The other point is that it could explore the 80 some years from the time of Star Trek VI to the time of the Next Generation. That is a lot of adventure tales to make many a series season.
TB: Do you think the Excelsior series would be a turning point for Asian American actors?
GT: I think Gene Roddenberry was pioneering with the original series in seeing the Starship Enterprise as a metaphore for Starship Earth incorporating the great diversity of the planet. Asians, as well as Africans, Russians, Scots and even a pointy-eared Vulcan were represented. Excelsior could continue that tradition by having an Asian American, for the first time, in the lead playing the captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior. This would certainly be a pivotal breakthrough.
TB:We now see a fresh campaign for Excelsior, but the idea is not exactly new. Back in 1996, when you were in Brazil, you were already talking about a Sulu series. What are the roots of this idea?
GT: When 'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country' was released in 1991 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Star Trek, we were first introduced to the new captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior, Captain Hikaru Sulu. When I saw the ending of that film with Captain Sulu having saved the day for Kirk, I thought the logical next step from that film would be some project centering on the Excelsior. It has taken a long time but the fans have decided it is now time for them to be activists again and launch an active campaign with Paramount Television.
TB: Again, when you were in Brazil, you've promised, if a Sulu series come out, it would have a Brazilian crewmember on the bridge. Do you believe you can keep that promise? Why do you want a Brazilian in "your" crew?
GT: As Gene Roddenberry believed, the diversity of our planet must be represented onboard the ships of Starfleet. Brazil is an important but much too under-represented part of this global diversity. I would like the Excelsior to be a shining example of affirmatively working to rectify the under-representation of such a significant part of this world. And I would certainly advocate for a Brazilian onboard the ship vigorously.
TB: Would you accept another proposal, such a minisseries or a telemovie about Excelsior, or just a series would do it?
GT: The important thing is to persuade Paramount that there is a huge audience out there waiting for the Excelsior series. Whether as a mini-series or a telemovie, once the studio is convinced, it seems to me, they will ultimately satisfy that audience with an Excelsior series. There are too many good stories to tell.
TB: Who do you think would be best suited for "piloting" the Excelsior series, from the production point-of-view?
GT: If you mean the helmsman of the Excelsior, you must remember that Sulu has had a lot of experience at that post and has some definite ideas about the kind of person to fill that seat. In addition, you might recall from the seventh Star Trek film, Sulu has a daughter who is also an expert helmsman. Making the decision on the helmsman of the Excelsior would be exciting as well as excruciating.
TB: What are your best and worst memories from the time of production pf The Original Series?
GT:My best memories of the original series is of filming the episode,'The Naked Time,' where Sulu displayed his swash-buckling prowess. I wrote extensively on that experience in my autobiography, 'To The Stars.' My worst memories are of those episodes in which Sulu did not appear.
TB: In the original series and in the movies, Sulu and Chekov were always like best friends. Does that translate into reality? Are you and Koenig are really friends?
GT: What you saw on your television and movie screens is also true in real life. Although most of my colleagues have remained good friends over the years, I think Walter is my best friend. We talk regularly on the phone. The great blessing from my work with Star Trek is that professional colleagues have become dear friends over the years.
TB: Many actors from the Original Series have expressed their reserves about Bill Shatner. What do you think of him, as a person or as an actor?
TB: I have written rather in depth about the difficulties we have all had working with Bill in my autobiography. I consider Bill a gifted actors but rather unmindful of the importance of the interplay between other actors in a scene to really make that scene work. He could have been so much better.
TB:Have you come to know the new daughter of Jimmy Doohan? What do you think of being a father at 80?
GT:Jimmy and his wife, Wendy moved up to Seattle, Washington a few years ago. A month after the birth of the baby, they brought the child down to introduce her to all of us. Alas, I was out of town at the time and missed out on seeing her. I did send a baby gift to her happy parents.
TB:Do you watch the new Star Trek series? What do you think of the current status of the franchise?
GT: The sense of many fans is that the recent spin-off Star Trek series have gone rather off-track. The bright, optimistic vision of the human future as represented in Gene Roddenberry's creation had gotten darker and more nefarious. Rather than the idea of tapping the best and brightest of the human diversity and working together as a team, the recent spin offs have examined the meaner, more avaricious aspects of man. It was Gene's belief that mankind would have - certainly should have - overcome these traits in the couple of hundered years that it took to reach the time of Star Trek. With the Excelsior series, we can recapture that shining future of mankind.
TB: What did you think of the Voyager episode featuring Sulu, 'Flashback'?
GT: I had a great time getting back into Sulu's old uniform and reliving that opening scene from Star Trek VI. What a wonderful entrance they gave me through the churning cloud of panic and hysteria! And working with Kate Mulgrew and Tim Russ was good fun. I only regret not having had the opportunity to work with the other members of that talented cast. I hope I get that opportunity before their series ends.
TB: Would you want to do another special appearance in Voyager or in a movie or another Star Trek series?
GT: I answered that above.
TB: Do you think it was a good choice to have Kirk killed in Generations?
GT: The death of Kirk in the seventh movie was so pointless and anticlimactic. Compared to the heroic death of Spock in 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn', Kirk's death was a real dud. If the decision was to kill off Kirk, much more thought could have been given to a death more in keeping with the kind of man James T. Kirk was in life. He should not have died win a simple accident.
TB: You once tried to get a chair in the Congress. Do you think you can do more for people in the Congress or in their homes through TV, inspiring them with your acting?
GT: Actually, I ran for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. Until about 8p.m on the night of the election, it looked as though I would have been the next City Councilman. But votes from a few other precincts came in and I lost by a heartbreaking percentage. One of the problems I had in that campaign was with the re-runs of the Star Trek television series. In the U.S. we have a federal ruling called the Equal Time Rule which penalized me for the exposure I had on the re-runs. It is very complicated but I do go into an explanation of its complexities in 'To The Stars.'
TB: Did you give up completely politics? Why?
GT: Most certainly not. I am a passionate political activist and believe my vote is both a privilege and a responsibility. I will be flying to Japan next week as a Commissioner representing President Bill Clinton on binational matters. In a participatory democracy, as our system is, the important thing is the participation of all qualified persons. Without it, democracy is lessened.
TB: What are your current projects?
GT: I am working on a sci-fi thriller directed by Tony Dow titled "Overload." In two weeks, I will be flying to Toronto to do a narration job on a documentary. I have been doing a lot of voice work in recent times.
TB: How would you define captain Sulu?
GT: My favorite captain.
TB: How would you differ the styles of command of Kirk and Sulu?
GT: Sulu learned his leadership style from Kirk. He was particularly impressed with Kirk's commitment to the bonds of friendship and the grace and courage with which he demonstrated that commitment. Sulu too demonstrated that when he went counter to Starfleet Command in coming to Kirk's rescue in Star Trek VI. He has more in common with Kirk than differences. Where they differ would be in the nuances of their personalities.
TB: When can we expect to see you in Brazil again? We miss you!
GT: I miss you too. I had a fabulous time in Brazil and look forward to my next opportunity to visit.
TB: How do you see the future of Star Trek?
TB: How do you see the future of mankind?
GT: I have confidence in our problem solving capabilities, our creativity and our inventive genius. Mankind will prevail.
TB: Any special message for the Brazilians?
GT: To the Star Trek fans of Brazil, thank you for the support you have been giving us throughout the years. To those who have been active with the Excelsior Campaign, thank you for the letters you have been writing to Kerry McCluggage, the president of Paramount Television. They are making a tremendous impact. And to all Braziians, let's join hands in building a bridge of friendship in the Americas that will serve as an example for the people of the world. That is the Star Trek philosophy.
Major thanks for this go out to Trek Brasilis and Gustavo Leao!