Film, TV & Animation
George Takei goes boldy into the jungle
George Takei, better known for his role as Mr Sulu in Star Trek, has entered a new frontier in the celebrity jungle. Rather than fighting different species from space, George is focussing his efforts on finding food in 'Bushtucker Trials'.
As George Takei finds his feet in the jungle on the hit show I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, many fans will be more interested in his past than his current antics.
On Sunday, 14 May, 2006, George gave an exclusive webTV interview with BBC Norfolk, where he discussed equality for the gay community, his childhood in a detention camp and four decades of Star Trek.
Fans of sci-fi were beaming when George Takei, aka Star Trek's Mr Sulu, made a visit to Norwich in 2006.
The event, organised by Norwich science fiction store Kulture Shock, marked the Star Trek star's only UK appearance this year.
George Takei was part of the original Star Trek cast, working alongside William Shatner (Captain Kirk) and Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock).
George Takei as Mr Sulu in 1966
Whilst he's best known for his role of helmsman aboard the USS Enterprise, more recently George Takei has become a leading voice in the campaign for gay equality.
In an exclusive webTV interview with BBC Norfolk, Mr Takei talked to Martin Barber about his work as a campaigner for gay rights, his childhood in an American internment camp and of course, 40 years of life with Mr Sulu.
MB: This year marks four decades since you landed the part of Sulu.
When you took the role, did you have any idea you and the series would become such an icons in television history?
GT: Yes, because I'm a visionary.
When we were filming in 1965 I said 'Yes in four decades time I'll be in Norwich, England talking to the BBC about the future of our civilisation and how Star Trek, and so much of what we envisioned of the future, will be a reality. Yes I knew that. [He laughs]
Truthfully - I was just so happy to be regularly employed. I had no idea back then Star Trek would turn out to be a four decade phenomenon. We have lived long and prospered.
MB: We'll talk more about Star Trek later as I want to know your thoughts on the development of Star Trek XI and your work on Star Trek New Voyages.
The show is never far from the headlines, but last year you stole front pages around the world by revealing to the media that you're gay.
George Takei campaigning in Minneapolis
Why did you decide the time had come where you needed to declare your sexuality to the media?
GT: I'd been with my partner Brad Altman for almost two decades and we'd been out with friends and family for many, many years. The only think I'd not done was talk to the press.
There was an historic event in California – our California state legislator passed the same sex marriage bill. This was something that has happened in no other state legislator's in the United States. All that was required was the signature of our governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
When he ran for office he made all these moderate statements. That he's from Hollywood, that he’s worked with gays and lesbians and that he's perfectly comfortable with them.
When he did an interview with one of our late night talk shows and he was asked directly 'If our legislator passes the same sex marriage bill, would you sign it?' he said that he would.
When it was passed and on his desk to sign, he vetoed it… and that's why I felt I needed to speak out and to do that my voice needed to be authentic – so I spoke to the press for the first time about being in a partnership with another man for 19 years and that's when the Pandora's box opened.
MB: You now speak for the Human Rights Campaign, an organisation which speaks on behalf of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered communities.
You've just finished a tour across America with them, how did it go and what do you feel it achieved?
GT: It was an enormous success. I drew the parallel between my childhood behind the barbed wire fence of an American internment camp... and the invisible, but legalistic barbed wire fence that is keeping gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered (GLBT) people from our full American citizenship rights.
I talked about how those abnormal conditions that I grew up in as a child are equal to the abnormal situation that the GLBT community is now faced with.
It's normal for two people who love each other, who take responsibility for each other, to be able to be married.
It's normal for committed couples to be able to share their pension, insurance and property. What is abnormal, is that the GLBT community cannot – simply because of our sexuality.
MB: Attitudes towards a gay lifestyle vary in different states across America, what was the reaction on the tour as it progressed?
GT: It might have been a selective audience made up of the GLBT community, but it was also of Star Trek fans who may not be of the community, or George Takei fans.
I think that by sharing our lives, discussing the history that we have and the normality of our relationships, people will come to understand what we're talking about.
The GLBT community has been stereotyped… and the more we flesh out who we are - company executives, teachers, policemen, soldiers, part of our families - then we cease to be stereotypes and from that comes an understanding.
MB: Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek is celebrated for his vision of bringing different races and cultures together.
GT: The strength of the Enterprise, which was a metaphor for earth, lay in its diversity. To be able to tap various different ways of looking at issues, different experiences – the ship was better for it.
George Takei talks to bbc.co.uk/norfolk
In a similar fashion, by incorporating the diversity of sexual orientation, we broaden our ability to see that common challenge from many different vantage points.
I see those that oppose equality for the GLBT community as being in the same category as the racist who put us into those internment camps, the same as those people who resisted equal rights for women and for equal rights for African-Americans, the descendants of slaves.
Historically America has been expanded access to equal rights and this is our generation's struggle for equal rights.
MB: During your recent speaking tour of America, you took some time to visit Los Alamos in New Mexico as part of a Star Trek 40th anniversary event.
It was the home of America's developments in atomic power during the Second World War. The visit must have stirred many personal memories.
GT: It has a personal history for me. My maternal grandparents sensed the winds of war blowing before the outbreak of hostilities. They returned to Japan, they came from Hiroshima. They took with them their youngest daughter, my mother's sister.
We were in an internment camp in northern California near the end of the war when we heard that a terrible new bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima.
We heard on the short-wave radio that was smuggled into the internment camp, we got no more information than that. My mother went hysterical with anxiety.
It wasn't until after the war and we were released from the internment camp that we heard my grandparents, my mother's parents, miraculously had survived the war, but her younger sister, my aunt, perished carrying her newborn baby.
When I got the invitation from the Los Alamos people, the place where the Manhattan Project was carried out, it made me think very deeply about it.
Today they are doing research and development in a whole different area. Finding new ways of developing nuclear energy and trying to produce that in a safe way so that society can benefit.
Science is neutral, what’s important are the people who are involved in it and the policy makers.
And so with my personal history, having lost and aunt and a baby cousin in the holocaust that followed the bombing, after the atomic bomb that was developed there – I went there carrying that message.
How important it is that we, the people who make decision about it, make decisions with principle and morality.
We have to learn from history and too often our education mutes the chapters where we stumbled and faltered and I think those are the chapters that are more important to know about that the glorious chapters.
MB: Do you remember much of your childhood in the internment camp.
GT: The remarkable thing about children is that they are amazingly adaptable. I was five years old when we went into the camp and we adjusted very quickly.
The barbed wire fence became part of the landscape, the sentry tower with the machine guns pointing at us were no more intimidating than a telephone pole would have been if I'd not been in an internment camp.
They were fun days of discovery for this Californian kid and it wasn't until we came out that we realised that it was something like a jail and only bad people go to jail – so there must be something bad about being a Japanese-American and you grow up feeling ashamed of who you are.
Then in my early teenage I discover my hormones are reacting in a different way from the other guys. They all think that Janie is cute, and yeah she's alright… but [what about] Jimmy!
So you find [in growing up] something else you want to suppress and hide and feel ashamed.
I had this dual sense of shame until I start reading about American democracy. The principles that it's supposed to stand for and that what happened to American citizens of Japanese ancestry during the war was wrong.
I became active in speaking out about that, but society pressure was strong then and teenage years are when you most want to belong and be part of a group. So yes, I dated girls and went to the prom, but knowing there's another reality inside of me.
The social pressures have changed now. Today's gay teenagers are going to be the voters of tomorrow, and then the leaders and policy makers.
I'm optimistic – young people are so much more sophisticated, more aware and informed than the older generation has been.
MB: In a way your own life echoes the themes of Star Trek's futuristic ideals and celebrations of cultural diversity.
Mr Sulu in Star Trek New Voyages
Coming back to the show, which has been with you for so many years, what is your favourite moment?
GT: [The episode The Naked Time] it was great fun, thoroughly transporting. I was beaming and sparkling with no help from Scotty. [He laughs]
As a kid I was a let's pretend Robin Hood, so to have the opportunity as an adult to relive your childhood fantasies was more than an actor could wish for – it was great fun.
There I was, sweaty and bare-chested. Some people thought I'd greased down my body – but no, in between takes I was doing my push-ups.
I'd worked up a genuine sweat and provided my own shine there. It was a great swashbuckling opportunity to show off.
MB: And what about the films?
GT: Star Trek VI should have been subtitled 'Captain Sulu To The Rescue'.
It begins with that brand new starship, the Excelsior - with Captain Sulu sipping confidently his cup of tea and all hell breaks loose.
At the crucial point when Captain Kirk is about to be blown away by the Klingons, who comes out of the darkened galaxy sky but Captain Sulu and the Excelsior - he blasts the Klingons and saves the day.
The classic ending – but this time a great full and humble Captain Kirk looks at the view screen and says to Sulu, in essence – thank you for saving my ass.
MB: I know you're a keen blogger on your own website.
The internet has changed so much the ways we develop communities, in giving people a voice and Star Trek fans have used this in a new and exciting way with Star Trek New Voyages.
GT: Isn't that amazing.
Star Trek has always been surprised me, but this latest transmogrification is something we didn't even dream about when making the TV series.
I'm beginning work this September on Star Trek [New Voyages], as Captain Sulu in an episode which is going to be webcast. We'll be playing on your local computers and laptops – we never dreamt of such a thing.
And Paramount have just announced they'll be working on a major new Star Trek motion picture, out in the theatre in 2008 - so I'm fully looking forward to celebrating Star Trek's golden anniversary.
MB: I'm glad you mentioned the new film.
Empire Magazine has reported that producer JJ Abram is a huge fan of The Original Series, quoting him as saying 'Those characters are so spectacular. I just think... you know, they could live again'.
Own up, have you had any approaches as yet to appear as Sulu in Star Trek XI?
GT: [He smiles] Science fiction has endless possibilities and I too am very much intrigued as to what Sulu would now be doing. It's fascinating, Star Trek has always been full of surprises.
George Takei appeared at the Norwich Puppet Theatre on Sunday 14 May, 2006.Star Trek and related names are trademarks of Paramount Pictures and are used
under 'fair deal' guidelines. Star Trek images with permission of georgetakei.com
last updated: 04/12/2008 at 16:18