Exclusive Interview: George Takei (Part Two)
Yesterday, in part one of our exclusive George Takei interview, he talked in great detail about Star Trek. Today, in the second half of our conversation, it’s all about everything else, including the upcoming Tom Hanks film Larry Crowne, a musical he hopes to stage on Broadway, and how coming out as a gay man has affected his life and career.
So, here goes:
You just wrapped production on the film Larry Crowne, which is directed by and stars Tom Hanks. Tell us about your character, Professor Ed Matsutani.
Matsutani is an economics professor at a community college. I did a cameo in another movie that Tom Hanks’ company, Play-Tone, produced, and that was The Great Buck Howard. Late last year, Tom called and asked me to do a reading at his conference room. We gathered and did a reading, and then he had another reading in January of this year. Then they announced the casting, and there I was. I have one scene with Julia Roberts and all of my other scenes are with Tom, who is one of my students, one of my best students.
You and Lea Salonga will be joining forces to star together in a Broadway show called Allegiance – A New American Musical. Last we heard, you were still seeking enough investors to make it a reality. Where are you at with that effort?
We are very, very close. We did a preliminary reading of it in Los Angeles with Lea and I and about half a dozen singer-actors, and there wasn’t a dry eye afterwards. We got a lot of input from the people gathered there and worked some more on it. Last February we staged another reading, this time in New York, and we were able to get Equity – for the first time – to allow a reading to be videotaped. And we’ve been using that videotape – with screenings in New York, L.A., San Francisco and San Jose -- as a device to get additional investors interested. We have gathered a good hunk of money and we’re hoping to raise $2 million by October. The game plan is to stage a West Coast production first and bring it to Broadway in 2012. So it’s very exciting.
Everybody on Facebook seems to want you to be the next Betty White. They’re lobbying hard to secure a spot for you as a guest host on Saturday Night Live. How interested would you be?
Very interested. I’m supportive of the campaign. These things just mushroom up. I have nothing to do with it. The fans took the initiative on it and I hope something comes of it, actually. I think it’d be a hoot.
Over the course of your career, you’ve had your peaks and valleys. Some of the valleys have to do with luck and timing, but also with you having been typecast as Sulu. You’ve discussed all that in the past. But the past few years, with your appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show and your role as Hiro’s father on Heroes, you’ve been working non-stop. How are you enjoying this remarkable renaissance?
It’s been wonderful. I think it really began when I got a call from Gary Dell’Abate from Howard Stern’s show, and he asked me to be the official “announcer” for the show. I still remember the day it started, January 2, 2005. I thought it was one of those pranks that he pulls and I said, “Call my agent.” He said, “We know your agent, but we want to feel you out for your interest.” I said, “Sure, but talk to my agent,” and I thought that was the end of that. But he did call my agent and my agent called back to say, “That was real. They really want to you to do The Howard Stern Show.” And I said, “Let’s give it a try.” The welcome they gave me and the welcome his listenership gave me, it was very exciting.
As a result of being on Howard’s show I started doing a lot of guest shots on TV and commercials and films, too. It’s a matter of visibility, I think. I was suddenly visible again and the casting people at Heroes thought of me for Kaito Nakamura. But that was not sight unseen. They weren’t sure whether I could speak Japanese or not, and Nakamura was Japanese and most of his dialogue, 95 percent of it, was in Japanese. So they asked me to come in and do a scene, which I did. I convinced them that I could speak Japanese and they cast me for the role. And everything else that’s happened since then has been – what was your word? – remarkable.
Around the same time you started The Howard Stern Show you chose to come out publicly as a gay man. And you’ve since married your partner, Brad Altman. How did that change the game for you?
I had been out, quietly, for a long time. I was going to bars and I had gay friends. I was a member of a gay running club, and that’s where I met Brad. But I didn’t go public until 2005, when I talked to the press right after Governor Schwarzenegger’s veto (of California’s proposed gay marriage bill). Then the Human Rights Campaign, which is a national lobbying organization, asked me to go on a nationwide speaking tour on coming out and the importance of people who are visible coming out. Now, I didn’t want to be a prosthelytizer for other people because I know what it was like for me before I spoke to the press. I think coming out is a personal decision that each person has to make. So I told them I would not prosthelytize, but that I would talk on the ideals of American democracy and I’d talk about my life experiences, starting with my childhood imprisonment in American internment camps or, more bluntly put, American concentration camps, and I’d relate that to the legalistic barbed-wire fences that imprison another group of Americans. And they agreed. So I went on that tour. That had ripple effects, and I had more and more requests from the media, from print and television outlet, for interviews. And it snowballed.
We had a big setback with Proposition 8, but nothing happens without people who are optimistic, who keep fighting for what they believe. And change can happen. Today we have an African American President of the United States. That was unthinkable at one time. We have a history, a heritage of slavery, and yet here we are. There were no roles for women in the institutions of American society at one time. We (now) have women on the Supreme Court of the United States of America, a Latina in fact. So I know that Proposition 8 will be overturned and it may make marriage equality nationwide a reality.