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Friday, January 16, 2009

I Could Listen to George Takei's Sweet, Sweet Voice All Day Long.

Posted by Erik Henriksen on Fri, Jan 16, 2009 at 7:55 PM

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Tonight at 9 pm on Cartoon Network, the first installment of a two-part episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars airs. Normally, blah blah blah ZZZZZZZzzzzzZZZZZZ, no one cares except die-hard Star Wars nerds, right? But not tonight! Because this two-parter features the voice of none other than George Takei—"Sulu" from Star Trek, "Hiro's Dad" from Heroes, and "George Takei" from The Howard Stern Show! So now instead of just die-hard Star Wars nerds caring, now die-hard Star Trek nerds will care too!

In related news, George Takei is pretty much a total badass—super-friendly, smart, good-natured, and with a voice that's nothing short of magical and intoxicating. (I have an amazing audio clip from the interview that I'm going to post next Friday—but in the meantime, listen to this, and tell me you wouldn't pay good money to have him read you a bedtime story every night.) How do I know these things about Takei? Because I took part in a weird joint interview thing with him yesterday, wherein I and a bunch of other nerdy journalists had a conference call with him. (Normally I don't go for those crappy junket-style interviews, but c'mon—it's GEORGE MOTHERFUCKING TAKEI. Like I could say no.)

Hit the jump for Takei's take on "science fiction" versus "science fantasy," plus his thoughts on California's Proposition 8, the casting of John Cho as Sulu in J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Trek film, and why Takei thinks Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country should've been titled Star Trek VI: Captain Sulu to the Rescue!

In The Clone Wars, Takei plays a really unfortunately named villain, Lok Durd; for whatever it's worth, Takei's appearance is notable less for the episodes themselves (which are, like most Clone Wars episodes, so-so and childish, but more or less entertaining) than for the fact that this is the first time a Star Trek actor has appeared in the Star Wars universe. Sci-fi's two biggest franchises are usually thought of as being pretty different, but Takei considers these two episodes to be close to Trek in spirit.

I guess I'm the only actor associated with Star Trek to have done anything with Star Wars—but no, I don't consider it jumping ship. The Star Trek philosophy is to embrace the diversity of life, and Star Wars is a part of that diversity. And I think Star Trek and Star Wars are related beyond just the word "star." I think Star Trek is science fiction, and Star Wars is more science fantasy. But with the episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars that I worked on, there's a merging there—because it does deal, philosophically, with certain issues of the time, which is what Star Trek was known for: war and peace, technology and humanity, sacrifice and courage.

Probably the best question of the whole interview came from Zach Oat from Television Without Pity, who noticed that Takei's character on The Clone Wars is a Neimoidian. Ultra-geeky nitpicking? Well, sort of, until you remember that Takei is of Japanese ancestry, and that Neimoidians, when they first appeared in The Phantom Menace, were widely criticized as having stereotypical, outdated Asian characteristics. It was kind of an awkward question to ask, but a good one. Takei was unaware of the controversy about his characters' race (species?).

I must say I was not aware of that—and certainly I did not play it with a stereotypical accent. I don't know—we're in an age now where people have become hyper-sensitive about finding racism and stereotyping where perhaps maybe it wasn't intended.... Maybe [my casting] was in response to that sort of criticism.

He went on to talk more about the issues of diversity in science fiction, and what that can mean in a larger sense, particularly with the original Trek.

Star Trek first came on in the '60s, when the civil rights movement was in full swing, and so society at that time was very conscious of racial issues. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, used to remind us regularly that the Starship Enterprise was a metaphor for Starship Earth, and that the strength of the starship lay in its diversity coming together and working in concert as a team. And so we were conscious of differences, but it was those differences coming together—and working with each other, complimenting each other, and strengthening the areas where there might have been shortcomings, [and] filling the void—that made the Enterprise that much stronger.... Diversity, in terms of heritage, the way one looks, the [crew's] cultural background, was something that we were very conscious of, but [we were] also [aware of] the fact that that coming together made us better, stronger, [and] more effective. [That] was the philosophy, not to see that as a cause for division and conflict and strife. I think it's in how you deal with differences and how you look at it that the negatives come out... Too many people are trying to look for the negative. I actually pity those people who find diversity to be a negative.

Earlier this week, Ricardo Montalban died. Montalban's perhaps best known for his role as the villainous Khan, a role he originated in 1967 on the original Star Trek TV series and reprised in 1982's film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Takei called his performance as Khan that of "the quintessential adversary."

He represented the golden age of Hollywood. And he certainly was that when we worked together, both on the TV series and on the second feature film, The Wrath of Kahn. He was bigger than life, and he was very gregarious. You know, we'd shamble into makeup—it's early in the morning, and we're kind of sleepy and tired and [we're] not really awake, and we'd just plop into our makeup seats. But Ricardo would make an entrance into makeup. He would step in and say [and here Takei kicks into a disconcertingly good Montalban impression], "Good morning, everybody!" and "Oh, Nichelle, darling, you look gorgeous!" and "George, you're wonderful! I love you!" You know, bigger than life... And he was also someone who helped revitalize Star Trek as a series of feature films, because without The Wrath of Khan, I think the Star Trek movie series would have probably enjoyed its time in the sun, and the sun would have set on it.

That's not to say Wrath of Khan is Takei's favorite Trek film. Sulu became my favorite Star Trek character after I heard Takei's justification as to why Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is really all about him.

My favorite, I think, is the sixth one, where I got my captaincy! Sulu got his captaincy. That really is a Sulu film. When you're the captain, you move the drama along; when you're a helmsman, you're going with the movement of the drama as set by the captain. With Star Trek VI, I think that really should have been titled Captain Sulu to the Rescue!, because without [Sulu], Kirk would have been a goner! Kirk was about to be blown into smithereens by the Klingons when Sulu appears, out of the darkened galactic skies, and blows the Klingon captain, played by Christopher Plummer, into smithereens, and saves the day for Captain Kirk! That's the one I enjoyed the most.

"Out of the darkened galactic skies." God I wish I wish I could talk like that.

The 71-year-old actor, who officially came out of the closet in 2005, considers himself a "political activist" and married his longtime partner last September. "We got married when the supreme court of the state of California said there is a fundamental right to marriage by all people, including gays and lesbians," Takei noted, and when asked about the current state of California's anti-gay marriage measure Proposition 8, he seemed hopeful it'd soon be blown to smithereens. (Sorry about that, couldn't help it.)

As you know, it's being challenged. I'm confident that it's going to be found invalid, because it proposes to amend the constitution of the state of California simply by going out and gathering signatures and putting an initiative on the ballot, and then getting 50 percent plus one vote to amend the constitution. That's not the way the constitution is amended. There is a constitutional process where both houses of the California legislature have to approve it by two thirds—not 50 percent plus one—but [a] two thirds vote [by] both of the senate and the assembly, and then it goes on the ballot, and voters have to approve it by [a] two thirds vote.

Takei also spoke about Trek's upcoming resurgence with this summer's eleventh(!) Star Trek film—a reboot directed by J.J. Abrams, who consulted with Takei when he found himself having a hard time casting Sulu.

He told me he was thinking of John Cho, and I said, "John would be wonderful." I'm on the board of governors of the East West Players here, an Asian-American theater company, and John had done many plays for us. I said, "He's a versatile actor, and I've seen him do comedy and I've seen him do very serious drama," and that he would be wonderful. And so assured by that, [Abrams] went on to cast him. But John then seemed to have been somewhat awed by this new challenge, and he asked me to have lunch with him! And I told him, "Do your thing. I've seen your work, you're a talented actor." And I assured him that it won't be long before I'll be known as "The Old Guy Who Played John Cho's part." And assured by that, he went on to do his thing—and all the scuttlebutt I'm hearing is that John's done a great job. Sulu's gotten a new lease on life.

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