George Takei is an actor, Star Trek legend, LGBT rights activist, Howard Stern announcer, author, voiceover artist, real estate mogul, Internet sensation and so much more. And, oh my, he’s enjoyed a career and cultural renaissance over the past decade, thanks in large part to his Stern association, a great role on Heroes at the peak of its popularity, his having come out of the closet in 2005, and an acclaimed role in a Broadway-bound musical (Allegiance, a musical about his experiences at a Japanese American internment camp during World War II). Takei’s life sounds like the stuff of movies and so it’s no surprise that producer-director Jennifer M. Kroot convinced Takei and his husband, Brad Altman, to participate in the making of a documentary about all of the above. That documentary, To Be Takei, will open in theaters on August 22 and, that same day, be available on all VOD platforms, including iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.
Among those in the film commenting about Takei are his fellow surviving Star Trek co-stars: Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols and, semi-shockingly, William Shatner. StarTrek.com ventured into New York City last week to chat with Takei about the documentary, his other current projects and the upcoming 50th anniversary of Star Trek. He was in good spirits, impeccably dressed and as talkative as ever. Below is part one of our exclusive interview, and visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two.
How and when were you approached to do To Be Takei, and what was the initial reaction that you and Brad had?
TAKEI: I think it was 2010, and we didn’t know Jennifer at all. We’d never heard of her. So we immediately did some homework on her, her past works. We thought so many actors get vanity projects done about them, which make them look more glamorous, more intelligent and more charming, and we didn’t want that. We saw the idea of a documentary as being a vehicle to help us with our advocacy for LGBT equality, and also to demonstrate the normality of our relationship, as well as the craziness of my career. We wanted to trust the documentarian, but we didn’t know her, so we had many, many meetings and meals together with Jennifer, to get a feel for her, for why she wanted to do a documentary on us. And we found that we shared common values and common aspirations. She’s a strong supporter of LGBT equality. So we said, “We don’t want a vanity project. We will not censor you. We will not ask for final cut approval. You have carte blanche. We trust you, and please honor that trust.”
The reality is that you’ve always been a public figure and have been in the public eye for decades, but what was it like to have cameras on you pretty much 24-7, even in your car, for such an extended period of time?
TAKEI: This was three years. I’m used to cameras, even in our private moments. And I walked into this knowing that’s what it was going to take. For Brad, that was not so easy. He liked to know when filming was beginning and when it was finished. There’s a bit they kept in the movie, where we went out for a walk from our house. Brad didn’t want our front door shown because there are fans who drive around looking for people’s houses. He went hysterical... “No! Turn off the cameras!” I said, “It’s all right, it’s all right.” So, Brad was very uncomfortable with it. Now, in retrospect, I kind of wish we could have asked her to excise certain parts.
The audience will take away whatever it is they take away from To Be Takei, but what did you learn from the film -- about yourself, about your relationship with Brad?
TAKEI: I was delighted with the way it came off. It’s been shown at festivals and we were pleased with the kind of audience reaction it elicited. You get a sense of us. The laughter came at the right points. The laughs come because it’s edited well. It’s like a comedian setting up a joke. You need certain facts to be presented and then you zing them with the punch line. Bill Weber did a fantastic job of editing this movie.
How pleased were you that Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig participated, and how shocked were you to get your frequent sparring partner, William Shatner, to participate, too?
TAKEI: We wanted everybody. The Star Trek family is a family, even if we squabble. I was very happy to have Leonard, Nichelle and Walter, and Bill… he demurred. Then Bill found something that he needed from me. He was doing that one-man show that he traveled the country with, and he wanted to use that clip of me from the (Comedy Central) roast. So I told Jennifer, “We have some bargaining chips.” She’d approached him (initially) and was turned down. She came back to us and said, “Is there any way you can persuade him?” We said, “No, no, there isn’t.” Then when he came to me to sign a release for that roast footage, I said to Jennifer, “You want to dicker with him?” So we used that release as the commodity. He said, “No more than 10 minutes.” And then how he used that 10 minutes was silly. “I don’t know the man.” Well, why did he make such a big fuss about not being invited to our wedding two months after the wedding if he really doesn’t know me? It’s crazy, his carryings-on. Then we found out two months later why he made that big fuss. His talk show, Raw Nerve, was coming out and he wanted publicity. Just announcing that you have a new show won’t get you that kind of publicity… unless you have a little whoo-ha.
Follow us for more news at StarTrek.com
and via our social media sites.