Actor George Takei was 5 years old when his family was detained alongside thousands of other Japanese-Americans, first in Arkansas, and then at California’s Tule Lake during World War II. Takei grew up, went to Hollywood, and became part of one of the most beloved TV series of the 20th century when he created the role of Lt. Hikaru Sulu in the original cast of Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek”. But the next generation of fans first discovered Takei on Twitter. (His humor is too good not to share, but, sadly, too saucy for a family public radio station.) His impassioned advocacy for gay rights and epic troll takedowns have attracted more than 2 million followers.
Takei is still extremely busy. He’s maintained his acting career with roles in film, TV and on stage (including 2015’s autobiographical musical, written by former Portlander Marc Acito). And he comes to Oregon next week to join the Oregon Symphony for a performance of Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” a composition with spoken text taken from the Gettysburg address and other speeches.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
On fans, whose enduring passion for “Star Trek” have made Takei’s second and third acts possible:
They proliferate. They multiply like Tribbles. They now have children and grandchildren who are equally passionate about “Star Trek.” The convention scene is quite active. But because of that, I’ve received this gift of the amplification of my voice.
On his Twitter stardom and his own growing ambivalence for the form:
When I first started playing with social media I was really excited by it — the notion of the Town Square, a conversation binding us together. But it’s turned into a double-edged sword. Before, I used to make fun of the trolls and ignore them. But the power of the internet, its immediacy and its ubiquity, adults are able to deal with it, but teenagers are very fragile people. It’s become something we need to think twice about engaging with.
On performing Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” with the Oregon Symphony:
I’ve performed it twice before: the first time with the Honolulu Symphony and then the second time in Indianapolis with their Symphony Orchestra, conducted by a friend of mine, Jack Everly. The resonance of Lincoln’s word is so profound — not only to the incarceration that I experienced 75 years ago, but also to our times today. It begins, “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.” History, that incarceration innocent people, has important lessons to teach us.
On executive producing a film adaptation of Jamie Ford’s “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet”:
It’s a lovely, sensitive, tender love story that endures over the internment and the passage of time, in a backdrop of something evil. When I read the book, I said, “What a wonderful movie this would make.” The story takes place in the Northwest. Right now we’re in the preparatory stage, interviewing directors.
Listen to the full interview for more on Takei’s activism and what he thought of John Cho’s portrayal of Hikaru Sulu in the “Star Trek” reboot.