George TakeiBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 20, 2006 - 1:34 AM GMT
The Trek Nation spoke to Sulu actor George Takei about the DVD release of Star Trek: The Animated Series days before the news went public that Takei would join a new genre series, NBC's Heroes, on which he will play the father of Hiro Nakamura - the time-warping geek who is himself a Trekkie. Takei has had a very busy 2006, working on Howard Stern's radio show, several movies and TV episodes and reviving the role of Sulu in the internet series Star Trek: New Voyages. But he made news headlines most often for his support of gay and lesbian rights after publicly discussing his own sexual orientation in the press for the first time. Here he speaks on such diverse subjects as "More Tribbles, More Troubles", British theatre, how the recent US elections made him hopeful and his eagerness to appear in Star Trek XI if called.
Trek Nation: What's your overall impression of the animated series?
George Takei: It's wonderful writing. The scripts were classic Star Trek. I loved "The Trouble with Tribbles", and the same guy who wrote "The Trouble With Tribbles", David Gerrold, wrote another, a play on the tribbles idea called "More Tribbles, More Troubles". I hadn't seen them in ages, but they sent the DVDs over so I've been looking at them over the last few evenings.
Trek Nation: And how have they held up?
George Takei: It's classic Star Trek. I think where they left something to be desired is in the animation, because animation really frees the imagination to do some phantasmagoric things. The sets would no longer be bound by gravity, for one thing, and the budget, for another. You can really create civilizations that soar into space and float. You couldn't do that in the live action version. Same thing with alien life forms -- we had to have humanoids play all the aliens, and they all spoke English. With the animated format, you have the possibility of letting your imagination really soar with gossamer life forms, polymer intelligence like lightning flashes, that sort of thing. That was a potential of the animated format that wasn't quite taken advantage of.
Trek Nation: I know these days when they animate movies, it's just you and a microphone. Was it the same way then -- did you have a cast reunion or did you do your lines one at a time?
George Takei: That was the other down side: when I'm walking into the recording studio, Leonard is walking out, and they hand me a script with just my lines highlighted with markers, and I walk into this solitary booth and start reading those lines. They'll say, 'Say it with more urgency,' or 'Say it a little bit more relaxed,' so you get guidance on how the scene is supposed to be, but you're literally acting in the closet! And then as I'm leaving, Jimmy Doohan is walking in. So it wasn't like working on the TV series where there is that on-set camaraderie, and as actors, to be able to bounce off of each other...we didn't have that with the animated series.
Trek Nation: Let's talk about 'World Enough and Time' - I had read an interview where you talked about working with the crew and I know that Sulu has a daughter in the story.
George Takei: Yes. Sulu and another crewperson, a woman, get sent out in a shuttlecraft and get caught in this galactic time warp storm, and they find themselves on another planet. Over the years, they are isolated, it's a dead civilization there but there are a lot of savage alien life forms, survival is a struggle, but they survive and they have a daughter. The mother dies, and Sulu and his daughter get caught up in another time warp storm. They are beamed back to the Enterprise; they've been gone for 30 years, but 30 years their time has only been something like three minutes Enterprise time, and everybody is the youthful Star Trek characters of the 1960s. Here Sulu comes back grizzled and with a beautiful twenty-something daughter. I provide my own thirty-year makeup. Saved on the budget a little bit!
Trek Nation: I remember the last time I talked to you, you said that you were friendly with your Star Trek daughter, Jacqueline Kim [who played Demora Sulu in Star Trek: Generations], through an Asian theatre group.
George Takei: Yes, the East-West Players. I did Equus, Peter Shaffer's play, which Leonard did on Broadway way back when.
Trek Nation: And Harry Potter -- Daniel Radcliffe -- is doing in London next year.
George Takei: Yes! Though he's playing the boy and I played the psychiatrist. You really bare your...soul! And everything else! I go to London regularly and now that you remind me of Equus being done in the West End, I just may go. Do you know when it's opening?
Trek Nation: I think in March. Richard Griffiths is playing the psychiatrist there. I think he won a Tony Award last year...
George Takei: That's even more reason to go. We saw him in History Boys at the National Theatre in London. He won the Tony here in New York. We also saw the new Mary Poppins, with Matthew Bourne as the choreographer, who did the ballet Swan Lake with an all-male cast. The choreography is fantastic.
Trek Nation: On election night, how did you feel? A lot of Republicans were voted out of office but bills opposing gay marriage passed in several states.
George Takei: There was a lot of good news for a Democrat. The anti-gay marriage bill was defeated in Arizona, and that's extraordinary - the only one out of about six or seven anti-equality measures on the ballot throughout the country to fail. I see this all in a larger historic perspective. This nation was founded on incredible ideals, fantastic, shining ideals, but the men who articulated those ideals kept other human beings as slaves. The men who founded this country established the institutions of American society where women had no role. And look where we are today. We have African-Americans in the halls of Congress. Two African-Americans have become Secretaries of State. Women are in every area, they're corporate CEOs, they're astronauts...a woman is now the Speaker of the House! It's a long process, sometimes generational, as with the civil rights movement, the Jim Crow years. We are making progress with the GLBT issues.
Trek Nation: I see the subject debated on the Star Trek bulletin boards and I assume you have heard from people on all sides of the issue since you made a public statement about your own life earlier this year. What do you think it is it about this particular issue that makes people who are supporters of equal rights in every other area, who believe in separation of church and state, pull a lever to stop gays and lesbians from marrying?
George Takei: I think people don't really think about it. There are so many demands on the time of straight people that they don't really examine the issues involved. Ultimately it's the issue of equality, and there are people of faith who have their beliefs but they don't have the right to make the laws of this country. We're a diverse country, with many different people of many different faiths. Religious extremists seem to think that they need to prevail in making laws for everybody in this country. When people start thinking in those terms...what are we as a nation, what do we really believe in? We believe in dignity for each individual and equality in terms of the law. Yes, we respect all of the various faiths and those people who believe that the Bible says such-and-such, they're entitled to their beliefs. But to desecrate the Constitution of the United States and state constitutions by writing in inequality and discrimination...
I think people go by the slogans. 'A man and a woman, oh yeah, marriage is a man and a woman.' They don't stop to think about what marriage is really about. Look at all these marriages where there's infidelity, there's abuse, there's all sorts of horrible things happening. What marriage really is...it's two people who love each other and commit to taking care of each other, to be responsible for each other through thick and thin. To make that exclusive to a certain combination of genders is unequal. Two people who may be of the same gender but love each other profoundly and have maintained that deep love over the years...that's what a marriage really is. When people really start thinking about it, I think their voting will change. Arizona is known as a conservative state, but they are libertarian people, and the more people really give some thought to it... The Bible was used to keep races apart, the Bible was used to keep women in their place. The Bible was used by the Ku Klux Klan. It's been used as a tool throughout to fit people's prejudices.
Trek Nation: I saw you and Nichelle Nichols on the roast of William Shatner on Comedy Central and I was struck by what a sense of humor you both had to have, not even concerning Bill particularly but racial jokes, jokes about sexual orientation...
George Takei: Well, I have forty years of material on the guy! But they gave me only five minutes. And I had no idea it was going to be a two-way street. I think I got just as singed as Bill.
Trek Nation: Shatner's story this week is that he talked to J.J. Abrams and Abrams wants him to be in the next Star Trek movie. Have you talked to J.J. Abrams? Are you dying to be in the movie?
George Takei: I have not talked to J.J. Abrams. I don't know what he's planning, but I certainly would want to be a part of the revival of Star Trek as a movie.
Trek Nation: Leonard Nimoy said in a recent interview that he believed he had the right to approve any actor cast as Spock -- some sort of image approval. Do you know whether you have any clause like that in any of your contracts, where you would have a say in who might play a young Sulu?
George Takei: I don't know about that. In the webcast version, New Voyages, the character of Spock is being played by a very interesting young actor. I don't think there really is that [clause].
Trek Nation: The other thing Shatner keeps saying is, 'How could they cast a young Kirk? Who else could be me?' But I wonder how they can recast Uhura or Sulu or any of them.
George Takei: Well, Bill certainly cannot play a young Kirk. I knew he was egocentric but I didn't think he was delusional! [laughing] Let me remind you that there is no more iconic or indelible James Bond than Sean Connery, but there's been a slew of James Bonds, and Daniel Craig I think is going to be a fantastic James Bond and just as iconic as Sean Connery. I've seen Casino Royale and Daniel Craig is a magnificent presence. He has the agility, the masculinity, the grace and suavity and the power that James Bond has to have.
Trek Nation: I gather you and Nichelle and Walter have remained very friendly?
George Takei: Yes, and Jimmy was a dear friend, Leonard is a good friend and political compatriot...Bill is about the only one, we don't keep in touch.
Trek Nation: I don't know how Bill could have time to keep in touch with anyone. He's doing Denny Crane and commercials and the game show...
George Takei: He has no bottom to his taste. He does everything and anything!
Trek Nation: It's hard for me to watch Show Me the Money and wonder what happened to shows like The West Wing.
George Takei: But West Wing was NBC.
Trek Nation: Who's having a terrible year -- everything very well reviewed but not enough people are watching, except Heroes. But that was the story of Star Trek, wasn't it?
George Takei: That's right. We were cellar dwellers when we were on first run and it wasn't until we were cancelled and went into reruns that the ratings soared.
Trek Nation: It amuses me to see the CBS logo on Star Trek now.
George Takei: That'll learn NBC!
The DVD set of Star Trek: The Animated Series may be pre-ordered from Amazon.com; it will be released on Tuesday.
Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.