SPOILER ALERT: This Q&A includes details about last night’s episode of Heroes. If you’re planning to watch it later without knowing what happens, stop reading now.
When somebody gets thrown off a building, chances are they won’t survive the fall. Even in the superhuman world of Heroes, this law of physics is true. Kinda. (Claire the Indestructible Cheerleader did leap from a skyscraper last season and has lived to tell the tale.) So one would naturally assume that Kaito Nakamura (George Takei) — the billionaire super-daddy of time-warping Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) — shuffled off to the big Hall of Justice in the sky following his deadly plunge in last night’s season premiere of Heroes. Indeed, according to multiple sources in the Heroes camp, Kaito’s a goner — the first victim of what could be a series of murders perpetrated by a phantom menace targeting the older generation of ordinary people with extraordinary abilities.
But when we caught up with George Takei for what was supposed to be an exclusive exit interview, the actor indicated that we were somewhat misinformed about the status of his Heroes employment, which returned Star Trek‘s legendary Mr. Sulu to the pop culture limelight, however fleetingly. ”Nothing is what it seems on the surface of Heroes,” he told EW. When asked if this was wishful thinking on his part, or if he was trying to suggest that some kind of wicked twist looms in the future, Takei hinted that ”a larger plan may be at work,” but declined to comment further. ”I haven’t told you a thing,” he said with impish glee. ”Chortle, chortle, chortle.”
Whether Takei’s departure is permanent or temporary (our sources tell us that we will see Hiro’s pop again…but only in flashbacks), we’ll miss his energizing presence on the show. Takei, 70, plans to spend his time acting, doing the sci-fi/fantasy convention circuit, and continuing his widely praised work as an activist for Japanese-American and civil rights causes. EW had the chance to speak with Takei on a couple occasions during his Heroes tenure, including a summertime chat for our annual EW100 issue. The following Q&A comprises highlights from those conversations.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get hooked up with Heroes?
GEORGE TAKEI: I got an e-mail telling me that there was a show called Heroes that had a Japanese character who was a Star Trek fan, so naturally, I was intrigued. I started watching it and was enjoying it thoroughly when I got a call from my agent saying they wanted me to audition. The reason they wanted me to audition was they wanted [to see] if I really knew how to speak fluent Japanese. See, when actors are asked if can do something, we always say yes, and if we don’t know it, we go out and learn it — we’re all a bunch of bamboozlers that way.
But in this case, you didn’t have to bamboozle anyone, right?
As it happens, I’m third-generation Japanese American, but my parents wanted me to speak with my grandparents, so they sent me to Saturday Japanese language school — which I hated as a child, because all the other kids were off playing. But as a result, it has opened a lot of doors in my life, including Heroes, which requires speaking Japanese throughout the entire scene, with subtitles translating for the audience. That this is even happening on television today really reflects the globalization of media and the growing sophistication of the American TV audience. This used to be something only for the art house crowd. My parents’ good guidance got me cast in this role, as well. Everything one does with gusto, there will be a payoff at some point in life.
Over time, we’ve learned that your character plays an important part in the mythological backstory of Heroes. For example, we learned that he was a member of a secret organization of superpowered people, and that he was the one who entrusted Claire to Noah Bennett, a.k.a. Horn-Rim Glasses. Did you know they had this big vision for your character when you auditioned?
I had no idea. I thought it was father/son relationship thing — I’m a concerned father, a wealthy powerful magnate who had his way with everything in life except my son, my wayward, wastrel son. I thought that was going to be the relationship. I had no idea I was so deeply intertwined in the world of ordinary people with extraordinary powers.
NEXT PAGE: ”I feel like I’m the bridge between the future of the ’60s and the present of now…. Masi is a personification of all we in the Asian community have been working for.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In one memorable scene last season, your character taught Hiro how to fight with a samurai sword. How did you prepare for that?
GEORGE TAKEI: Well, if you remember that scene from the Star Trek episode ”Naked Time,” when I whip off my shirt and accost everyone on the Enterprise with my fencing abilities, you’ll know I have some on-screen experience with swords. Sword fighting has been a thing for me ever since I was a child, when I saw Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood. l was absolutely transported by that. I came home, had my mother make me an outfit, my backyard became Sherwood Forest , my friend Martha was my Maid Marian, and my best friend Gary was my Friar Tuck. But samurai sword fighting was something I had not done, but fortunately, about two months before I got the Heroes job, I did an independent film called Ninja Cheerleaders, like Charlie’s Angels with cheerleaders, and I was their ninja master. So I had to learn sword fighting for that. That was my preparation for being able to legitimately say, ”Yes, I can do Japanese sword fighting.”
You helped pave the way for other Japanese-American actors like Masi — do you take pride in his accomplishments?
Absolutely, I take great pride. I feel like I’m the bridge between the future of the ’60s and the present of now. What Masi is experiencing is one of the things we’ve always lobbied for — more Asian-American faces in films and TV, more multidimensional depictions of Asians and Asian-Americans on film and TV. Masi is a personification of all we in the Asian community have been working for.
One of your Heroes co-stars, Zachary Quinto, has just been cast as Spock in J.J. Abrams’ feature film reboot of Star Trek —
Yes, and I’m very happy for him. The physical resemblance he shares with Leonard Nimoy is uncanny. I told him, ”Now you know what you’re going to look like in 40 years.”
J.J. has also cast Leonard in his Trek film. Might you be appearing in the film, too?
I wouldn’t be too surprised if I am. [To be clear, Takei means this in a ”You never know what the future may hold”-kinda way, not in a coy, ”I may or may not be dead”-kinda way.]
Finish this sentence. ”I’m going to retire when…”
Never. The blessing of aging in Hollywood is that they’re always going to need old codgers to play the old codger roles. My body will tell me one day when it’s time to retire, but until then, I’m going to play the grandfather roles and the old codger roles. My grandfather passed away at 105. I intend to be around a long time.