Star Trek’s George Takei has been the ultimate outsider for much of his life. Interned in American “war relocation camps” during the Second World War, Takei later dealt with racism and the Hollywood closet during his Tinseltown years.
Takei is currently advocating for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics to be relocated to a country that respects gay civil rights.
“I remember the terrible morning when [I was five years old in 1942] my parents got my younger brother and baby sister up early, and I saw two soldiers with bayonets on their rifles flashing in the sun stomp up the porch and knock on the front door,” Takei, now 76, says. “They ordered us out of our home. My mother was the last to come out, and she was carrying the baby in her right arm and held a huge duffle bag in her left hand and tears were rolling down her cheeks. I remember that vividly.”
By the time Takei got to Hollywood in the 1950s, he was relegated to playing stereotypes. But Takei told his father, “I’m going to change that.” Today, Takei says, chuckling, “Ah, the arrogance of young people.”
When TV executives threatened to cancel the original Star Trek TV series after the second season, Takei — who played Sulu in the series and in six Star Trek movies — says, “My father wrote a letter to NBC that said, ‘I’m George Takei’s father, so I am biased. But I think Star Trek is making an important contribution to diversity. Please renew this show so this message to America can continue.’ I was deeply touched by his letter. My father told me he was proud of me for doing what I set out to do.”
As for coming out, Takei — who knew he was gay in grammar school — admits that, as a teenager, “I wanted to be — in quotes — ‘normal,’ and so I played the game. I wanted to be an actor in Hollywood, where they find all sorts of reasons to say, ‘I’m sorry, you’re not right for the part.’ You’re too fat, you’re too tall. Being gay wasn’t going to help, so I hid that part.
“Today we have a whole different climate, with the US president supporting LGBT equality and the US Supreme Court supporting same-sex marriage. There still are closeted matinee idols [who still] have too much of an economic gain at risk. They won’t come out.”
Takei — who knows a thing or two about being an internet sensation (“I never thought my being on Facebook would become such a big deal!”) — also has a few words about Star Trek pop icon and Montreal native William Shatner.
After Takei wed his partner of 26 years in 2008, he says, Shatner claimed he had not been invited to the wedding. “We sent him an invitation, and all my Star Trek colleagues RSVPed except for Bill,” Takei says. “No big deal. The wedding happened, and then two months later he goes on YouTube and rants and raves about not being invited. Then my husband [Brad] and I were driving down Sunset Boulevard and there was this big billboard promoting Shatner’s new talk show. To promote it he needed controversy, so that’s why he complained. Whenever Bill needs a little publicity, he revives the wedding-invitation controversy.”
Besides attending comic conventions across North America, Takei is also campaigning to take the Sochi Winter Games out of Russia because it is a dangerous place for LGBT people and their supporters.
“They are literally being killed,” he says. “I think Vancouver would be ideal to host the next winter Olympics.”
In the meantime, Takei is looking forward to appearing at Montreal’s Comiccon but admits he’s never been to any of that city’s famed gay strip joints. “Can you give me an address?” he asks.