WAR-TIME INTERNEE, GROUND-BREAKING SPACE TRAVELLER, INTERNET SENSATION AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST – GEORGE TAKEI IS A TRULY STELLAR LGBTI HERO. ON THE EVE OF HIS LIVE SHOWS IN AUSTRALIA, HE CHATS WITH ANDREW CREAGH ABOUT STAR TREK, TRUMP, LUCILLE BALL AND IN
DNA: You spent the early part of your life in an internment camp for Japanese people in the USA at the start of the WWII. Do you see parallels between that experience and the treatment of immigrants in the USA today?
George Takei: There are aspects that are similar and others that are not. The WWII internment was of American citizens of Japanese ancestry – not of “Japanese people”. We were not immigrants. My mother was born in Sacramento, California, and my father was a San Franciscan. My siblings and I were born in Los Angeles. We were Americans. There were no charges against us, no trial, no due process. Just wholesale incarceration simply because of our Japanese ancestry. It was an egregious violation of the US Constitution for which President Reagan apologised in 1988, more than 40 years after the internment. Where there are parallels is with Donald Trump’s characterisation of immigrants today with the sweeping portrayal of certain groups of people trying to come to the US as “potential terrorists” or “drug dealers and rapists” and subjecting them to bigotry and exclusion by a twisting of the law. Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban Executive Order or the building of a wall between Mexico and the US to prevent Mexicans from crossing into our country is the modern day parallel to the internment of Japanese American 75 years ago.
What did you learn from your internment camp experience?
I learned that ours is a participatory people’s democracy. People can do great things but we are also fallible; that our democracy is existentially dependent on citizens who cherish the shining ideals of our democracy and actively engage in the process of governing ourselves. That’s why I’m an activist. President Trump is a divisive figure, but it could be said that he’s uniting the country – against him. Exactly. But, as we say on Star Trek, there is “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” and there is a small and shrinking core group of knuckleheads that are still devoted to their deity, the Donald. But they remain a small and aberrant minority. You’ve said that one of your favourite Star Trek scenes involves you, shirtless, sword fighting! Can you tell us the context of that scene and why it’s your favourite?
The entire crew of the Enterprise was infected by a virus that broke down our sense of decorum and unleashed our most hidden desires. Spock is overcome with long suppressed guilt and grief, Nurse Chapel openly exhibits her secret love for Spock, and Sulu reveals his hidden passion for fencing bare chested. I loved that scene because, at long last, Sulu was unchained from that damn helm console. He was liberated! And so was George Takei to swashbuckle his heart out.
You’ve worked with Richard Burton, Jerry Lewis, Alex Guinness, Frank Sinatra. You must be the best dinner party guest with all the stories you can tell? So invite me to dinner!
You studied at the Desilu Workshop and worked for Lucille Ball’s production company? Did you ever meet the legendary Lucille?
Desilu Studio was owned by Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz. Later, Lucy bought out Desi’s share and became the owner and President of Desilu. Star Trek was a Desilu production and Lucy was our ultimate boss. She dropped in on our soundstage periodically to check up on and supervise her studio’s show. When she was on our stage, she was the unquestioned boss lady and a dominating presence. You and partner Brad were the first gay couple in West Hollywood to apply for a marriage license – yet another mention in the history books!
Yes, we were the first couple to get our marriage license in West Hollywood. But, to be frank, it was not by happenstance. We knew the political leadership of West Hollywood and they wanted Brad and me to be the first to file for our marriage license in West Hollywood.
You and Brad have now been together 30 years – congratulations!
We’ve been together since 1986, back in the 20th century, so this year is our 31th anniversary. We had been together 21 years when the California Supreme
Court ruled for marriage equality. So we up and got hitched. We’ve been legal now for nine years.
Are you surprised that Australia – home of Dame Edna Everage, Priscilla Queen Of The Desert and the speedo – has taken so long to legalise same-sex marriage?
We are astounded! We love Dame Edna and only an enlightened society could have produced such a fantastically witty social commentator. And your legendary Mardi Gras parade in Sydney is renowned throughout this planet! We hope you have wonderful news waiting for us when we get there later this year. Do you get invited to a lot of LGBTI weddings these days?
I wouldn’t say a lot but I have been the officiant of a few – including one for the producer of our Broadway musical, Allegiance.
What song will always get you out on the dancefloor?
Anything by Nat King Cole.
You have, in the past, run for political office but on one occasion had to withdraw from the race because of Star Trek… can you explain what happened there? Yes, I have a chequered past! I’ve run for political office, a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, but I have never withdrawn from any race. When I threw my hat in the ring, Star Trek was running daily on one of our local TV channels. There were 14 candidates running against me for the council seat. The local channel ran an episode of Star Trek in which I was on screen exactly 17 minutes. Every one of my opponents claimed “equal time” based on those 17 minutes. That poor station had to give free time to all 14 candidates for a night of boring political speechifying for 17 minutes as themselves on their issue positions based on my 17 minutes playing a fictional Sulu saying words written by scriptwriters. Because of this grossly unfair so-called law I can never run for public office. After that, the channel withdrew Star Trek from airing during the campaign.
You went boldly into the unknown world of social media and conquered it. Were you surprised at the social media world’s response to you?
I’m from Star Trek in the 23rd Century. If I can handle the complexities of driving the Starship Enterprise, dealing with ancient 21st Century communications technology is a piece of cake. And the response of the social media world was delicious.
Did you realise you were so loved?
I love my fans and the fans love me back. We have a galactic love affair going.
Humour seems to be an integral part of your genetic make-up. When events and certain people make mere mortals hopping mad, you response with humour and grace. Does that take incredible strength?
It takes being George Takei.
Is comedy good for one’s mental health?
Humour makes our fallibilities seem so ridiculous and the laughter is great for hearty breathing and filling our lungs with healthful good air. Comedy is good for both mental and physical health.
You’ve been called “the funniest man on Facebook,” what makes a great Facebook post?
Truth put in the context of fallible human beings trying to be something they are not always makes a great Facebook post.
I’m from Star Trek in the 23rd
Century. If I can handle the complexities of the Starship Enterprise, 21st Century communications technology is a piece of cake.
Many LGBTI people are troubled by trolls on social media and could use your advice on how to deal with them. Would do you suggest?
We have in our midst, alien life forms filled with envy or jealousy or anger who inflict their hateful evil on others under the cover of anonymity. I suggest the only way to deal with these cowardly trolls is to completely ignore them. They will eventually go away for lack of response. You have millions of social media followers. Do you feel that comes with some responsibility?
Most certainly. Those followers have given me the gift of an amplified voice. With that gift comes gratitude and the acceptance of respect and accountability for my statements.
Who do you enjoy following on social media?
My hubby, Brad Takei.
You’ve experienced a lot of negativity in life – racism and homophobia – do find you are now experiencing ageism?
I myself have not been on the receiving end of ageism, thank God, but know of incidents where senior citizens have experienced discrimination because of their age. President Barak Obama said, “Justice grows out of the recognition of ourselves in others.” The fact is, we are all on the same road to eventually becoming elderly. Ageism is the stupidity of not recognising one’s own future.
You are still making film and television and doing voice-overs – do you love your job?
I passionately love acting and feel blessed to be able to continue working. In the performing arts there will always be roles for “old codgers.”
Is it true you can do 100 push-ups?
Two weeks ago, I had a hip replacement operation and have been making good progress getting back on my feet. I work with my physical therapist conscientiously and look forward to getting back to my daily 100 pushups and 50 sit-ups.
What can we expect from your live shows when you come to Australia?
In show business, we never give away our act before the performance. Stay tuned and hold your breath. You’ve seen some profound social and cultural changes during your life. What do you think are the most remarkable?
The election of an African-American as the President of the United States; the legalisation of marriage for LGBT people in the US; the elevation of Scott Bakula as the first white, male Captain of the USS Enterprise with a full head of hair.
Finally, what kind of underwear would Sulu have worn? Briefs, boxers or maybe thermals? Starships look a bit cold!
Do you know what Scotsmen wear under their kilts? Yes.
Do you know what “going commando” means?
Do you know what “none of your business” means? Yes! Thankyou George!
MORE: Catch George in Australia in The George Takei
Phenomenon: Melbourne Nov 16, Sydney Nov 20, and Sydney Cocktail Party Nov 18. Go to Ticketmaster to book.
MR SULU, WE LOVE YOU! GEORGE IN THAT FAMOUS STAR TREK FENCING SCENE!