Ge­orge Takei in com­mand

Ac­tor-ac­tivist makes an im­pres­sion in cy­berspace and be­yond

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY DEB­O­RAH VANKIN

The orig­i­nal Mr. Sulu of “Star Trek” packs a so­cial me­dia punch that makes him a force still to be reck­oned with. Just ask In­di­ana and Arkansas.

Ge­orge Takei wears a fit­ted white space­suit, vinyl boots and stoic ex­pres­sion as he stands be­fore a green screen in a Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity.

He’s laser-fo­cused as he faces the cam­eras, but when he un­leashes his lines on a Mon­day af­ter­noon, it’s clear “Star Trek’s” orig­i­nal Mr. Sulu hasn’t lost his comic flair.

“En­joy the feel­ing of dig­nity and pride that comes with be­ing a space ex­plorer,” he bel­lows in that un­mis­tak­able voice, a deep, mel­liflu­ous, al­most vel­vety-sound­ing bari­tone. “And, oh — you get to poop into a vac­uum cleaner!”

Laugh­ter cuts through the room, and Takei breaks into an elas­tic grin, his white teeth shin­ing as he sur­veys his ef­fect on the crew, his own guf­faws ris­ing above the din.

Last week he was try­ing for a very dif­fer­ent re­ac­tion when he led the charge on be­half of the LGBT com­mu­nity in the heated de­bates over re­li­gious-free­dom laws in In­di­ana and Arkansas. Takei emerged as the face of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try on the is­sue, writ­ing opin­ion pieces for the Daily Beast and MSNBC, ap­pear­ing on nu­mer­ous ra­dio and TV shows, and mo­bi­liz­ing his ro­bust so­cial me­dia fol­low­ers — a mash-up of Trekkies, Howard Stern fans, LGBT peo­ple and other celebri­ties — into ac­tion.

Af­ter In­di­ana Gov. Mike Pence signed the Re­li­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act, Takei called for a boy­cott of the Hoosier State in a Face­book post that got nearly 85,000 likes. “We will not visit. We will not spend,” he wrote. Ac­tors Nick Of­fer­man and Megan Mul­lally, as well as the band Wilco, can­celed up­com­ing gigs in

In­di­anapo­lis, adding to the pres­sure that busi­ness lead­ers put on politi­cians in In­di­ana and Arkansas, where a sim­i­lar law was be­ing con­sid­ered.

“What In­di­ana still needs is pro­tec­tion for the LGBT com­mu­nity,” Takei said a day af­ter Pence signed changes in the law that saw the lift­ing of the #Boy­cottIn­di­ana charge. “In In­di­ana, gays and les­bians can be fired from their jobs with im­punity, and in Arkansas it’s the same thing. We need those protective laws to truly have an equal so­ci­ety.”

You can bet that Takei, who feels last week’s re­vi­sions were only a step in the right di­rec­tion, will con­tinue to push for equal rights.

And at age 77, with nearly 3.5 mil­lion Face­book fans, more than 1.6 mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers (@Ge­orgeTakei) and his own YouTube chan­nel, Takei is a so­cial me­dia force to be reck­oned with. Ac­tivist role

Once he may have been seen as “that guy from ‘Star Trek.’ ” Now the sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian, more fa­mous than ever among on­line-savvy young peo­ple, is known as Ge­orge Takei, ac­tor-ac­tivist.

He’s in the midst of an in­ter­na­tional speak­ing tour, with hus­band and manager Brad Takei in tow and this fall will star in “Al­le­giance,” a loosely au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, Broad­way-bound mu­si­cal about be­ing im­pris­oned in Ja­panese in­tern­ment camps dur­ing World War II.

A par­ody scripted “re­al­ity se­ries” for his YouTube chan­nel about life with Brad, “It Takeis Two,” pre­mieres Tues­day. And in­side the sound­stage on this par­tic­u­lar Mon­day af­ter­noon, the ac­tor is shoot­ing a pro­mo­tional video to help pub­li­cize direc­tor Paul Feig’s up­com­ing Ya­hoo TV se­ries, “Other Space.”

This whirl­wind of cre­ative projects, as Takei sees it, is largely about achiev­ing visibility in or­der to give voice to so­cial jus­tice.

“Ac­cess to the me­dia, in the way I have, is a gift,” he says. “And it comes with a re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Takei’s life­long pas­sion for ac­tivism — and act­ing — grew out of his child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences be­hind the barbed-wire fences of Ja­panese in­tern­ment camps. He was born in Los An­ge­les’ Boyle Heights to na­tive Cal­i­for­nian, Ja­panese Amer­i­can par­ents. Af­ter the bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bor, when Takei was 5 years old, his fam­ily was sent to an Arkansas in­tern­ment camp. They were later re­lo­cated to a higher se­cu­rity camp in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where Takei lived un­til he was 9.

“We were in­no­cent peo­ple, Amer­i­cans, but we hap­pened to look like the peo­ple who bombed Pearl Har­bor,” Takei says. “The cen­tral pil­lar of our jus­tice sys­tem is due process, and that dis­ap­peared for us. With­out charges, we were in­car­cer­ated.”

The ex­pe­ri­ence was alien­at­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing. But there were mo­ments of lev­ity — dance per­for­mances in the mess hall or movie screen­ings. An old Samu­rai film was life-chang­ing for him. Af­ter the movie’s sound­track broke, a Ja­panese res­i­dent voiced the char­ac­ters while an­other made sound ef­fects with co­conut shells, bamboo sticks and other ob­jects.

“I was swept away,” Takei says. “I told my fa­ther: ‘Those men are ma­gi­cians!’ I al­ways re­mem­bered that. It could have planted the seed of want­ing to act.”

Af­ter the war, the Takei fam­ily re­turned to L.A., but im­pris­on­ment left scars. In high school, Takei sec­ondguessed U.S. his­tory books.

“I was read­ing about the shin­ing ideals of our democ­racy — ‘All men are cre­ated equal’ — and I couldn’t rec­on­cile that with what I knew to be my child­hood im­pris­on­ment.” That led to an­ti­war and civil rights marches. What ini­tially drew Takei to the role of Sulu when he was cast in ’65 was the pi­o­neer­ing di­ver­sity of “Star Trek.”

But ul­ti­mately he al­lowed the show to im­prison him.

“I was pur­su­ing my act­ing ca­reer, but I was si­lent on the LGBT is­sue, the is­sue that was clos­est to me,” Takei says. “I knew if I came out then, I’d have had to change ca­reers.”

Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger’s veto of same-sex mar­riage leg­is­la­tion in 2005 was the turn­ing point for Takei. He and Brad — they’d been a clos­eted cou­ple since the mid-’80s — watched the news on TV at home, livid.

“Young peo­ple were pour­ing out onto Santa Mon­ica Boule­vard, vent­ing their rage. We shared that rage with them, but here we were at home watch­ing TV!” Takei says.

Sev­eral days later, Takei re­mem­bers, “I spoke to the press for the first time as a gay man and blasted Sch­warzeneg­ger’s veto.”

Takei and then-Brad Alt­man were mar­ried in 2008 at L.A.’s Ja­panese Amer­i­can Na­tional Mu­seum, where Takei is a found­ing trustee.

On May 2, the mu­seum will honor Takei with its Medal of Honor for Life­time Achieve­ment and Public Ser­vice.

“He’s a leader not only inspiring Ja­panese Amer­i­cans,” says mu­seum pres­i­dent Greg Kimura, “but all Amer­i­cans.”

Takei calls the up­com­ing mu­si­cal, “Al­le­giance,” in which he plays a rem­i­nisc­ing WWII vet as well as his own fa­ther, his “life’s le­gacy.” When it opens in early Novem­ber, it will be Takei’s Broad­way de­but.

“It’s im­por­tant for all Amer­i­cans to know how vul­ner­a­ble our Con­sti­tu­tion is,” he says.

Gen­er­at­ing buzz for “Al­le­giance,” which had its world pre­miere at San Diego’s Old Globe in 2013, is what sparked Takei’s so­cial me­dia habit.

“I no­ticed that the hu­mor­ous memes, par­tic­u­larly Grumpy Cat, got a lot of likes and shares, so I started em­pha­siz­ing that, and it grew,” he says.

Now, more than 1.6 mil­lion peo­ple have seen his YouTube short “Fifty Shades of Takei”: “Oh myyyy,” the ac­tor ex­claims, turn­ing the pages of E.L. James’ racy book. His “Happy Dance” to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” has got­ten more than a mil­lion views on the chan­nel. Helm­ing the USS En­ter­prise on “Star Trek” may have made Takei glob­ally fa­mous, but his quirky, some­times-satiric pres­ence on the In­ter­net has made him cur­rent. Web star

The new Web se­ries is a gay, mod­ern-day “I Love Lucy” of sorts, fol­low­ing the wacky tri­als and tribu­la­tions of a celebrity’s spouse — Brad — in roughly three­minute episodes. It’s as much about In­ter­net cul­ture as it is about gay mar­riage. “Don’t be such a Ya­hoo and go all Google-y eyed,” Takei scolds Brad in one scene. “Oh, why don’t you just shut up,” Brad quips, lov­ingly.

“We’re try­ing to make it top­i­cal and just show the way two men of the same gen­der, who love each other, live their lives,” Brad says.

Takei says the se­ries was de­signed to make Brad the star. “He was just so funny in the 2014 Net­flix doc­u­men­tary [‘To Be Takei’], he stole the show,” Takei says. “He’s a co­me­dian, and he’s not aware of it.”

Brad is non­cha­lant about be­ing thrust into the lime­light.

“Be­ing with Ge­orge for 27 years, hov­er­ing a few feet away from him on set and when he makes ap­pear­ances, I’m al­ready kind of out there,” he says. “I’ll still be car­ry­ing Ge­orge’s lug­gage at the air­port!” In­deed, the two were jet­ting off to Australia on Tues­day to con­tinue Takei’s lec­ture tour and at­tend sci-fi con­ven­tions in Bris­bane and Mel­bourne.

“I’ve been an ac­tivist since my late teens,” Takei says. “I take this very se­ri­ously and try to use the gift that’s been given to me — ac­cess to the me­dia — as pos­i­tively as I can.”

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

GE­ORGE TAKEI , in cos­tume to help pub­li­cize the new Ya­hoo TV se­ries, “Other Space,” gets a seal of ap­proval from hus­band Brad.

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

AMONG Ge­orge Takei’s many projects is help­ing pub­li­cize Paul Feig’s Ya­hoo TV se­ries, “Other Space.”

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