I can't believe I haven't posted this before! A couple of years ago I interviewed George Takei, aka Sulu from Star Trek. Unfortunately, I cannot find the full transcript, but here is the article more-or-less as it was published. Below is something I wrote about what it was like to do the interview, and below that is the Q&A.=====================================
Hours before the deadline, I still hadn’t received a call from George Takei’s people. I was nervous as hell: Sulu is my favourite character from classic Trek
, and I’d even written letters demanding he have his own series. I still can’t believe that the piece of shit Enterprise
was made over Star Trek: Excelsior
(that would’ve featured Takei as Captain Sulu). Then I got the call: it was on.
As soon as I heard Takei’s voice, I knocked a glass of water over a pile of comics I had just bought. It was a nightmarish dilemma: should I ask a legend to wait while I rescued my funny books or ignore the horror unfolding in front of my eyes? I chose the latter.
My paranoia set in. Was this really George Takei? Or was someone playing a cruel hoax to get me back for being mean to them? Exchanging pleasantries after years of seeing (admiring, wanting to be) him on telly was surreal almost to the point of disbelief.
I stumbled over some questions about his political career. George Takei ran for council in the 1970s (not as mayor as is often reported) and I asked about his policies. His own politics amazingly reflect the classic lefty liberal Star Trek
philosophy. He talked about how his childhood in prison camps in the United States during World War 2 had a profound effect and the parallels to the situation in Australia and the US.
All my questions were probably typical of a gushing fan. I had to ask him something challenging. I asked about the volumes of Star Trek
slash fiction. For the unfamiliar, “slash fiction” began as homoerotic Trek
stories between Spock and Capt Kirk written by fans, abbreviated to “Kirk/Spock”, hence the name. Star Trek
slash fic makes up roughly 60% of the internet and Sulu appears in a sizable share, so I had to ask.
He had never heard of it. I felt like a dickhead. Of course that kind of stuff was beneath him. George Takei is a man of high culture. He’s an artist who happens to have played roles attractive to nerds like me. Was I so dumb that I thought he’d surf the interweb looking for obscure fan fiction written by greasy masturbating trekkies? Of course, readers like to see me humiliate myself, so that’s what made print. Hopefully his graciousness and eloquence came through.
I changed the subject to his career, the Sulu character, pop culture as market democracy, etc. He retold a couple of anecdotes I’d read elsewhere, but it was still great because, in case you were unaware, IT WAS GEORGE TAKEI! On my phone. A phone that’s in my house! Surely I should get an extra pip on my collar for that. And what’s more, he was even more interesting than I could have hoped for. He was genuinely and deeply appreciative of fans, not at all cynical.
We’d clocked forty minutes when only twenty was scheduled. He didn’t seem to mind, even though he was tired. When our time was at an end, George said (get this) that I should introduce myself to him at Supanova because he had enjoyed our conversation. I suddenly felt like the greasiest of trekkies.=====================================I understand it was your birthday today. What did you get?
It was my birthday on the 20th [of April]. I’m here with my manager and we went roaming around art galleries here in Auckland and I found a wonderful painting, and he bought it for me. [laughs] So it was a very good birthday indeed.I think one of the most interesting things I read about you was that you were in an internment camp as a young child.
Yes, it’s a little known chapter of American history, a rather dark chapter. The United States government couldn’t distinguish between people of Japanese ancestry and the Japanese nation, with which we were at war in World War Two. They summarily rounded up Japanese-Americans on the west coast of the United States, appproximately 120,000, with no charges, no trial, no lawyers, because we happened to look like the enemy. They put us behind barbed wire fences and guard towers with machine guns pointed at us.Given that the government didn’t make the distinction, how were you treated?
Well, I was a child then, so I didn’t understand what was going on. I remember the barbed wire fence and the guard towers. I guess a child adjusts and that became normality. Everbody I knew in the camp lived the same way. We lined up three times a day for our meals, so that was something I thought was the way everybody lived. You can imagine how harrowing it was for my parents. My mother told me later on, when we were back home in Los Angeles, that the scariest part of the whole thing was the uncertainty. When they have machine guns aimed at you, you don’t know… well, you know that it’s there for a purpose. So it was a terrible experience for my parents.The same thing is happening now in Australia with refugees because they are accused of being a "security risk."
That's why my story, I think, is important because you hear echoes of that again. The issue now is terrorism. There are many people now who “look like” terrorists, they’re Arab-Americans. Thank god the wholesale imprisonment of people isn’t happening, but there are arab immigrants who are victims simply because they are of Arab ancestry. That’s why it’s important that these events in history are not forgotten and with have to provide people with [this knowledge]. Yes, we have to protect people against terrorism and [indistinguisable] the enemy, but there needs to be a legitimate rationale or the detention of people should not be because of race, ethnicity or nationality. There should be some legitimate rationale for the detention.When you ran for mayor [of Los Angeles in 1973], what was your favourite policy?
I didn’t run for mayor. A lot of people have asked me about that. I ran for city council.When you ran for council, what was your favourite policy?
What do you mean by “policy”?Well, when you run, you have a platform…
Oh yes, for city council it’s locally based. I was for improved public transportation, for better education and for the issues regarding homelessness.You’ve been described as the most aggressive practical joker on the set of Star Trek.
Oh really? I’ve never heard that. If anything, I think Bill Shatner [Capt. James T Kirk] was.What kind of jokes were played?
I have a sense of humour, but I don’t recall anything outrageous that would give me that reputation. I have been accused of “attacking” my collegues with a fencing sword when we did that episode ‘Naked Time.’ That’s a little distorted perspective, because when an actor prepares for a special scene, you rehearse. I was in the flats opposite the side of the sound stage, practicing my fencing, when these nosey collegues of mine, particularly Jimmy Doohan [Scotty], would look in. I guess I was making some strange sounds and lunging, and he poked his head behind this flap where I was rehearsing to find out the cause of all that noise, and went back to the others accusing me of attacking him. So I was there rehearsing my scenes and these busybodies were putting themselves in harm’s way.While researching this article I read a bit of slash fiction.
Slash fiction? What is that?Um, ah, it’s fan written stories but more, ah, um, erotic.
More what?Erotic. You’ve never read any?
No, I have not.What about straight fan fiction?
No, I must admit I have not. What have you read?There was a lot of stuff on The Excelsior. People had even written scripts.
And what was erotic about it?Oh no, the Excelsior stuff wasn’t erotic, but the erotic stuff does exist. Actually, most of the slash fiction is between Kirk and Spock [laughing uncomfortably]. I’m surprised you’ve never been asked about it before. It’s a major phenomenon.
I see. Well, I generally don’t read that [Star Trek
fan fiction]. Most of it is pretty amateurish. And I have enough reading to do with my work, so I don’t have that kind of leisure time.The Excelsior campaign, to get Capt. Sulu and his crew his own television series, was pretty amazing.
It was. Star Trek
fans are amazing initiative takers. They’re really activists, unlike these fans of other shows. The revival of our generation of Star Trek
in the series of motion pictures was a result of fan mail. When Paramount announced that Star Trek: Voyager
was about to be cancelled, the fans took that as their cue to start a campaign for Star Trek: Excelsior
. They had something that the original fans of Star Trek
didn’t have, and that was the Internet. It was a global phenomenon. They had people writing in from Germany, Latin America, Japan, England and Australia. But the executives picked Enterprise
. I don’t think [Star Trek
creator] Gene Rodenberry would have approved, because he was always forward thinking, and it goes backwards. Part of what made Star Trek
popular was the shock of the new; new technology, civilsations, alien life forms, “warp speed”, “beaming over”, other types of technology which have when you’re going backwards in time.What challenges do you think there would be left in the Sulu character?
Well, in Star Trek: Generations
, which I did not have a role in, I discovered that Sulu had a daughter! My questions was, “which one was her mother?” There are all these new discoveries. I always advocated to explore Sulu’s life fully; his family, his parents, his wife, his children and so forth. But with all the different Star Trek
characters, it’s hard to get Sulu his time in the sun. I saw the actress who played my daughter recently in the theatre in Los Angeles. It made a father very proud.You’ve played yourself several times on television in Futurama, Homeboys from Outer Space and 3rd Rock. How close do you stick to the script?
They call the character “George Takei,” but it really isn’t me. I don’t steal towels from hotels and I’m not so naïve as to let charges made in my name stand.What was the last movie you worked on?
I’ve got a sci-fi political thriller coming out, titled Patient 14.What do you think fans are looking for when they meet you in person?
Well, what I am looking for is an opportunity to say thank you to the fans for the incredible support they’ve given us, and for me. We shot the pilot for Star Trek back in 1965 and here we are, 39 years later doing conventions in New Zealand and Australia.This is because of the undying support of the fans. For the fans, it’s an opportunity to hear about the making of the show, annecdotes and to get autographs. That seems to be their driving desire; to get autographs.