George Takei is an icon — not just in the Star Trek universe, but Hollywood itself.
As an actor, author, and activist, Hikaru Sulu is still the character that fans across the world celebrated Takei most for over the past 55 years. Now, he continues to delight with new roles and projects, and stays busy interacting with and mobilizing his more than 14 million strong army of social media followers.
Now, the Star Trek superstar brings his legendary status to a new frontier: voice acting in the upcoming video game, Yakuza: Like A Dragon. The new role-playing game boasts stellar voice performance and action-packed battles to tell a story of gangsters, crime, and mystery. He brings his trademark gravitas to the role of Masumi Arakawa, the boss of the once-feared Arakawa mob family.
But of course, when Takei sat down with StarTrek.com in honor of his latest role, we took the opportunity to look back, as well as forward.
He spoke to us about his fondest memories of making Star Trek: The Original Series, the spin-off that fans petitioned for, the Sulu series he wants to see happen now, and the real-life space exploration he wants to be part of.
StarTrek.com: Your role as Sulu is so iconic. Looking back, what's your favorite episode from The Original Series?
George Takei: Oh, well that's an easy one. It's the best one! It's ‘The Naked Time,’ the [season one] episode where a virus attacks the crew of the Enterprise through the palm of our hands, and destroys all inhibitions. Spock actually falls in love, and McCoy becomes lachrymose. And as for Sulu — deep down inside, he fancies himself as D'Artagnan, one of the Three Musketeers. I whip my shirt off, get my fencing foil and terrorize the Enterprise with it!
What did you love most about that episode?
GT: I loved being unchained from that damn console. Episode after episode, there I am. They may have given me promotions, from the Lieutenant, to becoming the Lieutenant Commander, and then Commander, but I'm still there at that same console, saying “Aye. aye, sir, warp three!” Well, at least in that episode, I showed them that I had a life beyond just “Aye. aye, sir, warp three!” I can fence.
That must have been fun to shoot. What’s your favorite memory from filming ‘The Naked Time’?
GT: Oh wow, you want me to go on!
Of course! What sort of prep did you have to do for it?
GT: Well, the fencing was an important scene, and I didn't know how to fence, either. I had to take formal fencing lessons a couple of weeks before we were to shoot that.
When it came to shooting, they were filming on this particular part of the soundstage, and there were flats [a piece of plywood used in stage design] all over it, and at the far end, there was a big flat. So, I found a space behind that flat, where I could practice my lunges. I was there fencing, and shouting “Aha!” to myself on each one. Jimmy Doohan, who played Scotty, was a very perceptive person. He heard the sound of my stamping and panting, and huffing and puffing, and walked all the way from the opposite end of the soundstage, over to the far end of the soundstage where I was. Just as I'm lunging, he appears behind the flat, and I miss him, literally by inches, from his nose. He was shocked and startled, and went rushing back to the set, complaining to the Assistant Director, “George just assaulted me with his fencing foil!”
He complained to the Assistant Director about you?
GT: Yes! And so the Assistant Director came shuffling over. Again, he also had a great sense of timing. He appears as I lunge and I almost stab him. So he puts me down in the report for that day, writing ‘George is assaulting people.’ I was not assaulting these people! Nosey people who walked all the way across the soundstage to check out what I was doing. I am an actor of integrity, preparing for the scene, and those nosey ones got in my way! I still think they put themselves in harm's way.
To change topics a bit, what do you think about America going into space again, with the recent SpaceX mission?
GT: I think it's thrilling; it's exciting. That is our new frontier. The human spirit is still hungry to boldly go where no one has gone before. Our new frontier... that is fitting, isn't it? We have an International Space Station and astronauts funded by the private sector… and there are even plans to have tourists going out in space.
Star Trek: Picard has been a big success for Amazon. Surely we need a Sulu solo series next?
GT: Good idea. As a matter of fact, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Sulu got his own captaincy. The first scene is a shot of this huge, magnificent starship called the Excelsior, and then it zooms in on the bridge, and there's a brand new Captain seated confidently at that center chair, elegantly sipping his cup of green tea: Captain Sulu. There's this huge explosion in the galaxy, and the sound waves come rippling over and turn the ship into turmoil, and I shoot shields and the drama begins. That's a nuclear explosion on the Klingon nuclear planet.
At the critical point when we're at the peak of drama, and Kirk is about to be blown up by the Klingons, to the rescue comes Captain Sulu with his Excelsior. He says, “Target that explosion and fire,” and then blows the Klingons to smithereens, thus saving the life and career of Captain Kirk. At the end, as all classic Star Trek episodes end, on the bridge of the Enterprise, Captain Kirk looks at the view screen ahead of him, and the giant image of Captain Sulu. And he stands up and says, essentially, “Thank you for saving my ass,” and Sulu looks down and says, “Good to see you in action one more time, Captain,” and he roars off.
Scotty and McCoy are looking at the big ship Excelsior and, McCoy says, “Wow, it's a great ship,” and Scotty chimes in, “Aye, but not so big of a Captain, I think.” That's a Captain Sulu movie — it shouldn’t have been subtitled The Undiscovered Country. It should be ‘Captain Sulu To The Rescue'. It’s the best of the Star Trek movies.
We all know that should have heralded a spin-off series...
GT: That's what the fans thought it was going to be. They mounted a huge tidal wave of letter writing, and by then we were in the email age, too. When we were on television, they were fan mailing us with pen and paper, but after that movie, fans inundated Paramount with email pleas for a new spin off series called 'The Excelsior with Captain Sulu'. Those executives at Paramount didn’t see and didn't hear, [so] they missed that opportunity. But the fans thought it was a great idea, and it surely would have been a huge, monstrous, galactic success.
We need a petition now to make it happen…
GT: Good idea. I’ll start by appointing you as the chair of that committee…
This interview has been edited and condensed. Yakuza: Like A Dragon will be released on November 13 2020 for Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
Bex April May is an award-winning, London-based entertainment journalist. When not writing for Star Trek, she can be found on The Guardian, MTV, NME, Yahoo, and more. Follow her adventures on Twitter @bexlectric and Instagram @bexaprilmay.