Oh, My! A Conversation With George Takei
Almost 50 years ago, he made his first voyage aboard the ''USS Enterprise'' on ''Star Trek''. Now the former Lieutenant Sulu is the subject of a documentary, ''To Be Takei''. In theaters and on VOD Aug. 22, the movie explores Takei's life, from his time in a WWII internment camp to his marriage to Brad Altman to his resurgence as an Internet geek hero. We spoke with Takei, 77, over peanut butter cookies in his Manhattan apartment.
The film captures how ubiquitous you are — on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, and interacting with your fans in the real world. What do people usually say when they meet you?
”Can I have a selfie?” That’s the most common thing! You know, I’m in trouble when they stop asking, so I immediately say yes.
I bet I can guess what they ask you to say.
”Oh, my!” I’ve been saying ”Oh, my!” my entire life. When my nephew’s kid spills milk on my expensive Persian rug, I say, ”Oh, my!” When I see a beautiful sunrise, I say, ”Ohhhhh, my.” When I see a shuttle take off, I’m awestruck: ”Oh my.” But when you do The Howard Stern Show, there are many causes for ”Oh, my!” There’s a voluptuous young lady with a very flimsy blouse on, and Howard will ask, ”Will you take your blouse off?” And I say, ”Ohhhhhh, myyyyy! What a question to ask a lady!” But then she does, and it’s ”OH, MY, OH, MY.” Two Oh, mys! Howard’s the one — the rascal! — who made it my signature.
How did this documentary come about?
The director, Jennifer Kroot, told Brad and me that she’s a Star Trek fan. She heard about my advocacy for LGBT equality and how I’ve been active in the political arena from way back. We didn’t know her from Adam — or Eve, as the case may be — but she was an interesting person. We gave her carte blanche. So many actors who are the subjects of documentaries are really interested in the vanity project — something that makes them look good. We didn’t want that. We had no final-cut approval.
The movie addresses your family’s time in an Arkansas internment camp after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. What do you remember from that time?
I had just turned 5, so my real memories, actually, are fun memories: catching pollywogs in the creek and watching them sprout legs and arms as they turned into frogs. I also remember machine guns pointed at us from the sentry towers, the searchlights following me when I made night runs to the latrine — although as a 5-year-old, I thought it was kind of nice that they lit the way for me to pee. But for the adults, it was invasive and intimidating.
It’s fun seeing your Star Trek costars, including Leonard Nimoy, in the film, but William Shatner is pretty dismissive and says he doesn’t even know you.
At least he did it. That’s Bill. He is that crazy uncle that every family has. [Laughs] And we are a family, the Star Trek family. When Brad and I got married, our best man was Walter Koenig [who played Chekov]. Our best lady was Nichelle Nichols [Uhura]. We sent invitations to all our Star Trek friends.
The doc also covers Allegiance, the musical about Japanese-American WWII camps that you starred in when it played in San Diego in 2012. Will we ever get to see you sing on Broadway?
By the time we closed, we had broken the Old Globe Theatre’s 77-year record for box office. So we thought going to Broadway would be a piece of cake. We got in line for a Broadway house, but we discovered this thing called the Broadway old boys’ network, where grizzled old-time producers who had great big hits can sail in from left field and say to the theater owners, ”Saul, old buddy, I have a great show for you…” We’ve been waiting for months and months.
Brad harps on your singing skills in the movie, saying you have ”a loud voice.”
Well, that’s Brad! He’s my worst critic as well as my best critic. I’m still angry at him for saying that on camera, but he took advantage of our no-censorship rule and steals the movie — shamelessly.
Your singing in Allegiance wasn’t that bad.
Come see it! I sing beautifully.