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Q&A with "Star Trek" star George Takei

Staff Writer

George Takei is a bigger star today than when he appeared in the '60s TV series "Star Trek."

It may be argued that he's even bigger now than when he co-starred in the six feature films based on the sci-fi cult classic.

That's because of social media. He has something like 5,035,966 "likes" on Facebook, where his irreverent and eclectic posts are managed by a team with the "kewl" efficiency of the Enterprise's bridge.

"Time" magazine named his Twitter feed one of the 140 best, as he is fond of saying, "between Obama and Levi Johnston."

His YouTube channel videos get tens of thousands of views ("The George Takei Happy Dance" went viral last year).

The actor, author and social justice activist will receive the "2013 National Leadership Award" from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Saturday, Nov. 9 in Miami Beach. The "17th Annual Miami Recognition Dinner" will take place at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach.

After taking care of some "reporting housekeeping" stuff in a telephone Q&A Wednesday morning with Takei, I asked him - appropriately enough - some questions from his fans on my Facebook page:

Rod: Where are you now?

George: "We're in Orlando right now. I was at Elliot Masie's Learning [2013] conference. I did a speech on social media. This was preceded by a narration with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. Tomorrow I'm heading to Miami for a wonderful whoop-ti-do."

Rod: I must know and I must know now: did you get to keep a Tribble?

George: [Laughing] 'No, as a matter of fact I didn't. I didn't get to do that episode. During the hiatus between the first season and the second season I was off in Georgia filming 'The Green Berets" with John Wayne and David Janssen. I was suppose to be back in time but we went way over-schedule because of bad weather. All of my lines were given to the new guy, this Russian character named Chekov. He got my lines and he got my Tribble."

Rod: Another fan on Facebook wanted me to ask if you thought the movie 'Galaxy Quest' was an homage to your post-cancellation 'Star Trek' lives?

George: [Laughing] "An homage? I thought it was a documentary. I recognized every thing in there."

Rod: Do you think there was one turning point for LGBT rights, a cultural bookmark moment? Or is it an evolution of events?

George: "Oh I don't know. I think it began in 1969 when the LGBT community began to galvanize...and the [National Gay and Lesbian] Task Force is one of the wonderful organizations that formed shortly after Stonewall. Then in the '80s the AIDS plague hit and that was a tragic period.

Because of the, at first, lack of attention paid to such a tragic crisis, attention had to be paid by the LGBT community. Then there was a backlash to that attention with institutionalized homophobia in the form of legislation. Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act were legislated, institutionalized homophobia. But that galvanized rational and fair-minded people who started to become our allies and supporters, a continual growth of pressure to get us where we are today with marriage equality happening.

I don't like to say 'evolution' because that sounds like it is natural. Our turning points have been driven by one crisis after another. But I maintain that a majority of America is fair-minded and decent. The more people see how normal our situation is, the more normalized the attitudes to LGBT people will become."


Rod: You're a monster when it comes to social media. How did that start?

George: "Well, there is a profound ulterior motive. It goes back to my childhood. I grew up in internment camps, two of them, with guards pointing machine guns at us and search lights following me during night runs to the latrine. It was a concentration camp and we were totally innocent. That was the irony: these American people were taken from their homes in American cities because they happen to have a mother or a father who was Japanese and they looked like the enemy. We looked suspicious simply because of our ancestry.

This failure of our democracy is still unknown to our democracy. I wanted to raise awareness about this dark chapter. We learn more where our democracy stumbled than all these triumphant episodes. To not know is to plant the seeds for it to happen again.

The most powerful way to connect to people is by humanizing that story and the Broadway musical is a powerful way to do that. And that's 'Allegiance' [the 2012 musical inspired by and starring Takei]. So we invested our talent and energy and money and so we've got to insure that we've got an audience. And I thought that social media was the most economical and powerful way to accomplish that.

We noticed that when I said funny things or made funny comments on things it got a lot of likes and shares. And then came the social justice issues. I made comments about the LGBT community and that expanded our audience. Then I started talking about growing up behind barbed wire in prison camps and that got another kind of audience."

Rod: Being in an internment camps when you were 5 years old had to have been like a stain throughout your whole life, right?

George: "Children are amazingly adaptable. What would be grotesquely abnormal became my normality. It became routine to line up three times a day to eat lousy food in a crowded mess hall. It was routine to shower in a community shower with my father. I went to school and said the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, saying, 'with liberty and justice for all' in complete innocence. We could see the barbed wire and the gun tower through the window of the school.

When they took us to the camp, they took everything from us. They released us with a one-way train ticket to where ever we wanted to go and $20 each. We went back to Los Angeles. Our first home was on Skid Row. My baby sister said,' Mommy, let's go back home.' And she meant the camps."

Rod: Do Asian LGBT people have it harder than other racial minorities? Someone on my Facebook page felt that they have it harder than black gays or Hispanic gays.

George: "Black LGBT people have it hard because of the power of the Bible in the African-American community. They have a horrific time. I think every community has unique circumstances. As for the Asian community...I can speak most knowledgeably about the Japanese...we're a Buddhist community, which is more of a pantheistic religion. But the Japanese-Americans have an overlay of what happened in World War II to innocent people.

Because that generation went through internment camps, they are so wounded and also traumatized by that and shamed by that. They don't like to talk about issues. There is silence. In the Japanese-American world if they are under 50 they know their parents were in camps, but that's all they know. They don't know the horrors of what was experienced...because of the silence. So if a child is gay, they equate that with hurting the parents, who have been hurt so much already.

Rod: I grew up in Nashville where everyone knows a little bit about country music, so it's not really weird that a black kid like me growing up on Motown, Philly Soul, Pop-Rock and Disco could love that music. But how did a Japanese kid from Cali learn to love singing Country/Western?

George: [Laughing] I heard country music when we came out of the camp. One of the first things my father did was he bought a radio. I became addicted to the radio. I heard this song [Takei begins to sing in his melodious basso voice] 'Oh give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above. Don't fence me in. Let me ride through the wide-open country that I love. Don't fence me in.' I fell in love with that attitude, but also with that kind of melody. That led to other country songs. I loved [he sings again] 'Seven lonely days make one lonely week. Seven lonely nights make one lonely me.' "

Rod: I know you have a Master of Arts degree in theater and attended the Shakespeare Institute in England and the Sophia University in Tokyo. But you started out at Desilu Workshop Theater in Hollywood. What was that like? And what was your first acting job?

George: "A Desilu. Today it's the cafeteria at the studio. It used to be a little theater on the lot. That's where the aspiring actors were taught. We did various plays, 'Streetcar Named Desire,' "Death of a Salesman,' 'Glass Menagerie' - all the great ones. And we received critiques in terms of film acting. We did Shakespeare. We got acting lessons for both kinds of acting: acting for the camera and acting for a large audience.

My first gig was a voice-over gig. My father was reading the newspaper and he said, 'This looks interesting.' And he showed me that they were looking for a Japanese voice to dub in English dialog for a Japanese sci-fi. My father said, 'You're a ham, why don't you audition?' Being a sci-fi fan, it was this Japanese movie you might know. It was called 'Rodan." It was also Paul Frees and Keye Luke. That was my first gig so I watched when they breathed and how they phrased things and how they broke up the sentence into little phrases and matched lip movement and breath. And it was a lot of fun. That was done at the legendary and glamorous MGM Studios. Can you imagine what that was like for a star struck and movie struck kid? I walked through that gate to tell the guard who I was  and where I was headed. And he gave me a stage number and a little map. And you know the MGM Lion in the circle? That was up there on the side of the wall. As soon as you came down Washington Boulevard you saw that. That was a heady experience. When Sony took over they removed it. I thought that was sacrilege.

Rod: We've gone way over out allotted time. I just want to close by telling you some other things that people wanted me to tell you. I thought I'd end with these because if you slammed the phone down I would still have my interview. One friend asked, 'How are you so fucking awesome every single day?'

George: [Laughing] I love that. That's very nice. Thank you.

Rod: Another asked, "Have you ever done drag as Sue Loo?"

George: [Laughing] "Nooooo. Too funny."

Rod: Have you ever twerked?

George: [Laughing] "Not intentionally."

Rod: And finally, "Have you and Nichelle Nichols ever shared a man?"

George: [Not laughing] Hmmm. I'll have to check with her and get back to you."

Rod: Oh, That was not what I was expecting.

George: "Make sure you introduce yourself to me Saturday. This was fun".


"17th Annual Miami Recognition Dinner"

When: 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 9

Where: Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Ave., in Miami Beach

Cost: $250 general admission and $350 V.I.P. (The event is sold out, but you can add your name to the waiting list by visiting the website)

Contact: 305-571-1924 or

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