Q&A: Star Trek, Heroes' George Takei

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It's no secret that Star Trek fans are among the hardest of the hardcore. There are Klingon weddings, Star Trek cruises, and of course, the spectacle that is a Star Trek convention.

Supporters of the show have long immersed themselves in the lore imagined by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, with many putting pen to paper and crafting their own fan fiction. This week, the first studio-sanctioned online fan-fiction event kicked off at FanLib.com, and George Takei, the actor who played Sulu on the original series, helped launch the event.

Takei, who also has a new gig as the enigmatic father of Hiro Nakamura on the hit show Heroes, took time out of his busy schedule to speak with TV.com. In this Q&A;, Takei talks about his excitement for the fan-fiction event, how Masi Oka is a prankster on the Heroes set, and why Richard Nixon would make a terrible spaceship captain.

TV.com: Can you tell me a little bit about FanLib.com's Kirk-versus-Picard event and how you became involved with it?

George Takei: Well, I was asked by the people who were putting that together. It sounds like a really exciting event, a participatory event where the fans themselves write the stories suggested by the ideas, pitting Kirk and Picard together. This is something that we never even dreamed of when Star Trek first came on the air back in 1966. It's going to be done over the Internet, so we're using this "sci-fi technology" to write a Star Trek story, and you can win some wonderful prizes.

TV.com: Sounds great. Looking at the tête-à-tête, Kirk's always been kind of feisty, and Picard is more laid back and logical. So why is this Kirk versus Picard? A competition to see who has better hair?

George Takei: Neither had the hair, actually...there was some artifice with one of the two [laughs].

Well, they are two different characters but also from two different generations. And the only time they kind of science-fiction-wise crossed paths was in the seventh film, Generations. But they had very distinctly different styles of operation based on their personalities. Kirk was passionate, spontaneous, and sometimes impetuous, whereas Picard was much more coolly rational and organized. So, you know, they're two different personalities. And how the fans take these two personalities from two different generations and craft a story is the challenge here.

TV.com: If you were going to wager on the outcome, who would your money be on?

George Takei: Well, I'm loyal, and I know Kirk much, much better than I know Picard. So I would put my money on Kirk.

TV.com: Fair enough. So this is the first officially sanctioned Star Trek fan fiction, but it's not the first fan fiction by any means.

George Takei: No, it is not by far because the writing of Star Trek stories began shortly after fans started getting involved with Star Trek. I think it began as early as in the late '60s, when fans started publishing their stories.

As a matter of fact, Star Trek was able to reach a very creative audience, and when I went to the early Star Trek conventions, they had certain rooms set aside for the creative work of fans. For example, they had art shows where fans created art based on the inspiration that they got from Star Trek.

Others created clothes, costumes--alien costumes as well as very good replicas of the Star Fleet uniforms--and we had fashion shows. And, of course, those that had a literary bent created their Star Trek stories, and they peddled them...they self-published and peddled them in the dealers' rooms.

So the conventions already reflected the fact that our audience was one, creative; two, very initiative-taking; and three, entrepreneurial. They were making money off of it.

TV.com: Well, that's kind of one of the things that seems to have really kept Star Trek so popular...how it's embraced the fans that have embraced it.

George Takei: That's right.

TV.com: The conventions, the Star Trek theme cruises, and now you've got this officially sanctioned fan fiction. How come more shows don't take this approach?

George Takei: Well, I do think fans have become very participatory now. As you know, I'm involved with a new series called Heroes, and it's very participatory with the fans particularly because Heroes is filled with twists and turns and magical things that happen. You know, powers that come and invade and so forth. So they speculate on it. And they have available this sci-fi device called "the computer," and they're in touch with each other, not only domestically, but globally now. So I do think that fans today--depending on the kind of show and the kind of audience that they're able to reach--have become very participatory.

TV.com: As you said, both shows are very participatory and have fans that love to speculate. Do you see any other similarities between Star Trek and Heroes?

George Takei: There are. First of all, Star Trek personified diversity. Gene Roddenberry used to tell us that the Starship Enterprise was a metaphor for Starship Earth, and the strength of both starships lay in its diversity, coming together and working in concert.

Well, on Heroes, you have that same theme: diversity of people from certainly the US but also Haiti and Japan and India endowed with powers of one kind or another working sometimes together, sometimes in opposition to each other, for good or for evil. So there's that similarity there in the stories.

And they both whet the imagination of the viewers, so they start creating their stories as well. I span the two generations, one of the '60s and another one that's 21st century, and in different ways and shapes and forms, they reflect similar values.

TV.com: You mentioned diversity earlier, and you play the father of Heroes' time-traveling Hiro Nakamura. Did you ever imagine that one of the most popular characters on American television would speak most of his lines in Japanese?

George Takei: Isn't that amazing? Again, this is a commentary on the global nature and the diverse nature of our audience. People used to go to foreign language films and read subtitles, but they were the elite. You know, the intelligentsia, [the cinemas] that used to go to foreign films. But here now on primetime network television, you have whole scenes playing out in Japanese with English subtitles. I think in my own professional career lifetime, I've spanned quite a few changes, and I think it's all for the better.

TV.com: Definitely. All right, so just between you and me--and I guess people reading this interview--what's your character's superpower?

George Takei: Well, we've insinuated at some powers that Kaito Nakamura may or may not have. And I'm just like the fans watching the show because they keep actors in ignorance...because we do interviews like this, and we have a tendency to have very loose lips, and we don't want to sink any ships.

So to help us out, they inform us by each script that we get. Until I get the script, I don't know what my character's powers are or where he might be going or what he might be doing. So I'm sitting on pins and needles just as much as the fans are. But as all the fans who have seen the final two shows know, there has been a hint that Mr. Nakamura comes from a long line of people that have been endowed with unique powers. Does that not answer your question?

TV.com: I think it entices people to watch season two.

George Takei: That's precisely the thought behind all this.

TV.com: So this isn't a superpower, but through your many appearances on The Howard Stern Show, you've shown that you've got a great sense of humor. How are you enjoying your role as the show's official announcer?

George Takei: Well, I'll be visiting him next week or partying with him next week. It's a hoot to do the show. But his shows begin very early in the morning, and that's the challenging part of doing his show--getting up at ungodly hours. And in the wintertime, even a one-block walk becomes a piercing challenge. But it's also an opportunity to reach an audience that I don't ordinarily get to reach, so I have fun and at the same time, I do a little soapbox proselytizing.

TV.com: My girlfriend is younger, 22 years old, and she knows you from The Howard Stern Show. She thinks you're great. I told her about this interview, and she said, "Oh, that's so awesome." It's great how you've been able to reach so many different people in so many different avenues.

George Takei: I'm an activist. I've been active in the political arena, as well as community and social and civic arenas, and I guess it's a congenital reaction I have. I have to do a little proselytizing wherever I go.

TV.com: Well, you do all the Star Trek stuff, you're doing this Kirk versus Picard thing, and you're a spokesman for the human rights campaign on the issue of equal rights regardless of sexual orientation. How do you find the time and energy to stay so active and involved?

George Takei: Well, they're all parts of my life. I combine them too. At Star Trek conventions, I advocated the impeachment of President Nixon and got applauded on that. And last year at a Star Trek convention--I think it was in Seattle--I advocated the firing of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and I got the majority of applause, but I got a few hecklers as well. But then, those who supported my position booed down the hecklers. So I turn even Star Trek conventions into a lively political debate.

TV.com: Always entertaining.

George Takei: I think we shouldn't constrain ourselves into one box. I mean, if you're doing a Star Trek convention, you don't just talk about Star Trek. As a matter of fact, Star Trek did talk about issues of the time disguised as science fiction. And so I think it's eminently appropriate, and in keeping with the spirit of Star Trek, to discuss issues of current issues, current events at Star Trek conventions. And I do try and put them in a Star Trek context.

You know, the captain of a ship is vitally important, and he's got to have integrity, and he's got to be thinking of the well-being of the entire ship. And when the captain is someone like Richard Nixon, Captain Richard Nixon, he's putting into jeopardy the very integrity of that ship. So I try to put it in that kind of Star Trek context; however dealing with an issue that is of current importance.

TV.com: When you get unsolicited George Takei impressions from people on the street, what phrase do you hear the most?

George Takei: "Oh my," which is a phrase that I used once a long time ago to my regret on The Howard Stern Show. That's the phrase that people use. When we were filming Heroes, I heard my voice coming from one of the anterooms off the sound stage, so I followed what I heard and walked into a room where Masi Oka was carrying on an interview in my voice, talking about Masi Oka, and George Takei. In my voice, he was praising Masi Oka to the stars. Oh, he's a rascal.

TV.com: That's hilarious! Well, we look forward to seeing how this Kirk versus Picard turns out.

George Takei: I'm very eager to read the stories that the fans write and how creatively they bring two captains of two different generations together because that's part of the challenge--how cleverly they bring Kirk and Picard together for either a confrontation or a mutual working in concert. So I'm going to be reading the stories with great enthusiastic interest just as much as the fans will be.

TV.com: Thanks for talking to us!

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