George Takei - Activist & Actor - Talks 'Star Trek,' Trump & Being Gay
George Takei, actor and activist, takes to Boston's Boch Center Wang Theatre stage on Friday, February 3 to share behind-the-scenes stories from his days as playing the original "Mr. Sulu" in the "Star Trek" television series and movies to his recent stint on Broadway in his musical "Allegiance." That musical, which he describes his "legacy project," is based on Takei's own experiences and research into the Japanese American internment of World War II.
In the past few years Takei has become one of the leading LGBTQ voices on the web, developing a large social media following through Facebook and Twitter. He has used his sites as a forum to express his liberal political beliefs and his support of LGBTQ issues.
The evening will also include a screening of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and an audience-led Q&A.
A favorite 'Star Trek' movie?
EDGE: Did you feel any kind of pressure as a Japanese-American when you landed your role on "Star Trek?"
George Takei: Not at the time. I was just a young actor doing guest spots on a variety of TV shows when I landed the role on "Star Trek." I was over the moon to be getting a steady paycheck. I was not even a fan of sci-fi, but what I loved about the show was the substance of the story lines.
EDGE: Out of all the "Star Trek" movies, do you have a favorite?
George Takei: "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," because Sulu comes to the rescue. The movie titled was definitely given the wrong name, it should have been "Captain Sulu Comes to the Rescue." At the climax of the movie, Sulu saves the day and Captain Kirk. Now that is what I call a great end to a movie.
EDGE: When did you realize you were gay?
George Takei: Every gay person has their own amazing coming out journey, but mine started when I was 9 years old. That is when I knew I was different, but didn't know what to call it. I acted the way I was expected to act - like and date girls, when I really wanted to date my buddies. When I started acting, I knew I had to stay in the closet or I would never have a career. Tab Hunter was the actor who got my heart beating, he was a hunk. When it was found out that he was gay, his career ended and I didn't want that to happen to me.
Sulu being gay
EDGE: The storylines of "Star Trek" were about discovering new worlds, meeting new people, and cultures. How did this make you feel as a gay man who had to be in the closet?
George Takei: I was proud to be associated with a show that had such great content. Back then it was career suicide if you were gay. I would take girls to parties and movie premieres and then go to a gay bar. Gene Roddenberry also knew it would be the end of his career if he even made mention of a gay character. The lowest rated episode of "Star Trek" was in 1968 when Captain Kirk kisses Lt. Uhura. The network was very reluctant to air it. Since, I was being silenced about being gay, I become visible and active with other activist groups that were tackling the burning issues of the time. The only reason I came out in 2005 was because Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the gay marriage bill. I was so angry about it, I could no longer be silent and came out of the closet.
EDGE: I read conflicting articles on how you felt about Sulu being gay. What are your thoughts on Sulu being gay and finally having a gay character in the Star Trek world?
George Takei: I was not happy about Sulu being gay. When I got the call that they wanted to honor me and make Sulu gay, I told them no. Don't honor me, honor "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry. He was the real trail blazer and visionary of the show. He really pushed the envelope with the story lines back then. Well, they didn't listen to me and still made Sulu gay, but in a very discreet way. If you wink, you will miss it. If I was away from Brad (my husband) and child for that long, I would have grabbed him and gave him a big giant kiss.
EDGE: What does Hollywood still need to do to have more representation of LGBT characters and non-white characters both in movies and television?
George Takei: Hollywood has made great strides, but there is still more work to be done. Even in today's media, Asian-American characters are still made to be a big joke. We are more than accountants and good with numbers. Gay characters still seem to be ancillary to the storylines or made to be the funny sidestick.
EDGE: You have some pretty strong feelings towards the upcoming presidential administration. What are your thoughts when people say that celebrities should stay out of politics?
George Takei: We are all citizens regardless of our race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and job. I feel that because of our careers we have more responsibility to be more vocal. Just because we are actors doesn't mean we don't know the issues. Every American should be informed and have a voice. Recently, I have been concerned that the president wants to establish a plan for a Muslim registry and ban immigrants from "certain" Muslim countries from the U.S. I am chilled by his statements when he talks about this that is why I started a petition. You can sign it at this website. Something like this should never happen again.
A social media superstar
EDGE: How did you become a social media superstar?
George Takei: I have no idea. I guess people like what I have to say. I started posting to Facebook and Twitter to raise awareness of the Japanese internment camps. I am excited that "Allegiance: the musical" will be playing in theatres on February 19th.
EDGE: What do you think has stayed the same about you throughout life? What do you think has changed?
George Takei: For me, change has been the most constant in my life. I embrace it. I am always learning and growing as a person. Change and growth comes in stages. For me, it was being imprisoned as a child, to finding my identity as a teenager, to pursuing an acting career to becoming an activist. Our lives, my life has so many aspects to it. Very little has remained the same and I like it that way, because as I changed, I grew as a person.
EDGE: What would you fans be surprised to find out about you?
George Takei: I'm not sure! I am pretty transparent about who I am. I think that since I came out, there is very little that people don't know about me. I'm sure they are digging, so if they find something new, I would like to be the first to know.
For more information about George Takei, visit his website. To purchase tickets to "George Takei Live" at the Boch Center Wang Theatre on Feb 3rd visit the Boch Center website.