'Star Trek's George Takei Beams Into 'Heroes'
When it comes to TV adventure, George Takei is O.H.--Original Hero. As
part of the legendary crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the
groundbreaking sci-fi series Star Trek, the once-ratings-impaired
program that went on to become a pop cultural phenomenon, Takei played
the intrepid helmsman Sulu, one of the first Asian characters depicted
on American television in a leadership position and without
stereotypical ethnic characteristics.
And now Takei is joining a new generation of champions, joining the
cast of the hit NBC drama Heroes as the enigmatic Hito Nakamura, the
wealthy and powerful father of the show's fan favorite, the
time-bending Hiro (Masi Oka). But as Takei tells Hollywood.com, this
time around his character might not be as heroic as the show's title
Hollywood.com: When were you approached about joining the cast of Heroes?
George Takei: It was in November of last year. They wanted to know
whether or not I could speak Japanese, and I told my agent, "Of course
I do." I've made speeches in Japan. I've received a decoration of
Japan at the Imperial Palace from the Emperor himself – The Order of
the Rising Sun, with gold rays and rosette. So I speak Japanese, but
they didn't believe that I really could and so they had me come in to
audition, but the audition scene came in English and so I had to
translate it myself [Laughs]. I walked in and I did it and it blew
them away. As a matter of fact, my nephew's son name is Marcus, but
his middle name is Hito, which is the name of the character that I'm
playing in Heroes. So the stars are aligning.
HW: Were you aware of the show? Were you already watching it?
GT: Oh, yeah, yeah. I was first alerted when I was told by a fan over
email that there was a character, a Japanese character, who was a fan
of Star Trek. I thought, "Well, Japanese? Star Trek fan? I have to
check this out." The thing with Heroes is that it's full of surprises
for me. First of all, a Japanese playing a character who is a Star
Trek. fan? I checked it out and he was speaking in Japanese and there
are English subtitles. That's a tremendous commentary about American
popular television on prime time network TV – whole scenes played in
Japanese with English subtitles.
HW: Do you think that Trek had something to do with that openness to
the kind of multicultural ensembles that we're seeing on shows like
Lost and Heroes?
GT: I think so, and I think that Star Trek paved way linguistically,
too, because we had the Klingon language. This is another amazing
thing about Gene Roddenberry. He didn't want just gibberish. He hired
a linguist to create the Klingon language and Paramount being the good
marketers that they are, they developed an English-to-Klingon
dictionary, which sold like hotcakes. Then they sold an audio cassette
on the correct pronunciation of Klingon words, and now you know that
there are conventions exclusively held in the Klingon language. I
can't go to that convention because I don't speak that. So Star Trek
blazed a trail for that kind of linguistic diversity as well ethnic
and cultural and racial diversity.
HW: How many episodes are you going to be doing?
GT: That's another thing about this show: Everything is a surprise. I
mean, I was surprised that I was cast. My character is a surprise. We
don't know quite who he is. We know that he's Hiro's father and we
know that he's a powerful industrialist, but is he a good guy or is he
a bad guy? Why is he doing the thing that he's doing? Where is he
going with it? There are all these questions and they won't tell you.
They reveal it to you in little bits and pieces, and you start putting
the puzzle pieces together.
HW: Is it hard to play a character who's ultimate intentions are unknown to you?
GT: Well, I know that I'm Hiro's father, that I'm a powerful
industrialist, I have great aspirations for my son. I know that I come
from a distinguished family and that I was brought up by my father in
the same way and I'm bringing my son up by letting him learn the
business from the bottom up. That's why he was in that cubicle. I
mean, he could've started from the top, but I learned the business
from the bottom up and I want him to learn the business from the
bottom up too. I'm discovering though that he's not the son that I
used to be for my father, and therein lies the rub.
HW: What's something intriguing that you've done for the show?
GT: Yesterday I did a scene with poor Jack Coleman. I told you that
all of my scenes are in Japanese. I did a scene with Jack Coleman in
Japanese. When he showed up on set he goes, "I'm the deer. There's the
headlight." But he did a great job. He doesn't know what he's saying.
He just memorized it phonetically and he has a very strong American
accent with his Japanese.
HW: Does the show deal with the fact that Hiro worships Sulu and that
you're playing his father? Is there any nod at all?
GT: I think that there should be a line somewhere down the road where
Hiro says in Japanese, 'Papa, you sort of look like Sulu.' [Laughs]
HW: Did you talk with Masi Oka at all about your impact in breaking
down walls for Japanese actors?
GT: Oh, he's well aware of that. He said, and many Asian Americans
tell me, that when they were growing up the only image that they saw
that they could feel proud of was the image of Sulu. There were other
Asian characters like Hop Sing, but they were all either buffoons or
menial or the enemy, and here was Sulu who was a member of the
leadership team on the Starship Enterprise. He was a full professional
and speaking without an accent. In Heroes I'm speaking without an
accent, but in Japanese.
HW: Can you talk about your first meeting with Masi? He's actually a
huge Star Trek fan.
GT: Yes, he is. It was in the dark of the night, my first episode. It
was a night scene and we were there at Sunset Gower and I knew what he
looked like and he knew what I looked like, and so immediately got
together and we started chatting and he told me how excited he was and
I told him how excited I was, and I said, 'They expect me to be doing
all these scenes in Japanese.' Somehow we revealed to each other – my
minor in college was Latin American studies and I speak Spanish, and
he said to me, "I speak Spanish too." So about two or three minutes
into our conversation we started speaking to each other in Spanish and
we had a delightful conversation in Spanish. So we could do a scene or
two in Spanish in some upcoming episodes. With Heroes you never know.
HW: Did you give him any pointers at all about how to deal with a show
that has such a concentrated and intense fan base?
GT: Well, I told him—and I'm sure that the Heroes cast is going to be
going to these soon, too—but I do Star Trek conventions and Heroes is
already popular and it's already developed a cult following. So I know
that there will be Heroes conventions and when he goes to these
conventions there will be these dedicated fans who will know every
detail and nuance of the show and they'll ask you to explain why such
and such happened in episode three and why that contradicts what
happened in episode sixteen. They'll ask why and what's the reason.
So, I told him that what I do at Star Trek conventions when I get
questions like, "If you were going from Alpha Ceti II to the Andorian
Capital and you were going at Warp Three, how come it took you so
HW: What do you say to that?
GT: I say, "Well, I come to these conventions prepared for questions
like that. I've come with my consultants. Consultants out there, raise
your hand." And a dozen hands will go up. "You—Consultant. Answer that
HW: Speaking of all things Trek, how is your relationship with William
Shatner these days? You attended his Comedy Central Roast, even though
you and other members of the cast have made it clear his behavior
during the original series and films—stealing scenes, appropriating
your dialogue, etc.—frequently offended you. Are you friends now, and
has he gotten to a point where he's made whatever amends he needs to
make with you guys?
GT: Well, Bill is Bill. I don't expect him to change. I mean, he is a
charismatic and charming guy, but he has his blind spots. He is
completely self-obsessed, self-possessed, and the role of the Captain
was ideal for him. There he was in the center seat with all of us
circling around him and he was the star of the show and he had a lot
of clout, and it cost us certain close-ups that we cherished, certain
activities that we wanted to do that suddenly became the Captain's.
He's totally oblivious of what he's doing, and so that makes working a
little bit difficult, but he is an interesting guy, a relentless guy,
a driven guy.
HW: What was it like for you to go to the Roast after you'd just
recently come out as a gay man and all of the comedians kind of went
to town with that information?
GT: They sure did. I thought that we were roasting Bill. I mean,
that's what they told me [Laughs]. Oh, it got very hot there!