‘To Be Takei’ screens Friday at Laemmle Playhouse 7
By Jana Monji 08/21/2014
Back in the early 1990s, when AIDS Walk LA was young and people thought HIV/AIDS was a gay disease, actor George Takei was there with other celebrities, taking time for fan photos and flashing the Vulcan “Live Long and Prosper” salute. Back then, Takei was not officially out of the closet, even though many in the “Star Trek” world, as well as people in the Los Angeles Japanese-American community, knew he was gay.
But now everyone knows and a charming documentary out this week reveals just how sometimes delightfully normal it is “To Be Takei.”
As Director Jennifer M. Kroot (“It Came from Kuchar” and “Sirens of the 23rd Century”) shows, Takei and his husband, the former Brad Altman, are pretty ordinary for a celebrity couple with issues. Three years after George came out, Brad married George in 2008, formally taking George’s last name in 2011. Since then, George’s life has become one of causes: remembering the injustice of the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II, working with the Japanese American National Museum, and promoting LGBT rights, among many others.
The documentary starts by following the Takeis on a daily walk. We see them eating a meal at home and discussing George’s schedule. As we learn, George is always on the go and Brad always goes with him. Throughout we also see the minor disagreements and the quaint needling of an old, familiar couple.
Kroot takes us back through dated photos and some archival footage to show how George discovered he was gay and how George and Brad met.
The now 77-year-old George starred in the original “Star Trek” television series from 1966 to 1969 as helmsman Hikaru Sulu. The show went off the air after only three seasons, but was eventually rebooted into a number of TV offshoots and a movie series. He starred in six feature films and appeared in an episode of “Star Trek Voyager,” according to his website, georgetakei.com. The current big-screen Sulu, John Cho, appears in this film, discussing just how groundbreaking that role was, not just for George, but for the country’s Asian-American community.
From “Star Trek,” George remains close with Nichelle Nichols (Nyota Uhura), who was the matron of honor at his wedding to Brad, and Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), his best man. His relationship with William Shatner (Capt. James T. Kirk) is sometimes contentious, but all three, and Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), appear in the documentary.
Despite their differences, both George and Shatner are busier than ever. Shatner works hard at promoting himself and his place in “Star Trek” history, putting out two documentaries: “The Captains” in 2011 and “Get a Life!” in 2012. Unlike Shatner, George is a political activist, but that’s not a recent preoccupation.
After the original “Star Trek” TV series was canceled, George was a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention. In 1973, he ran for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council but lost by a small percentage. Then-Mayor Tom Bradley appointed George to the Southern California Rapid Transit District (RTD) board of directors, on which he served until 1984. In 1978, Takei was called away from the set of the first “Star Trek” film, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” in order to cast the tie-breaking vote for the creation of the Los Angeles subway system.
In the late 1950s, George attended UC Berkeley and later graduated in 1960 from UCLA, earning a Master of Arts degree in theater arts from that school in 1964.
In the documentary, he talks about his start in Hollywood and laughs about how his first role was doing English dubbing for a Japanese kaiju movie. He mentions taking on roles that he now wishes he hadn’t, and also what it was like working with film legends, such as John Wayne.
If not the most luminous star in the “Star Trek” series, George has become a major celebrity in cyberspace. His George Takei Facebook page has over 7,000,000 likes. His Oh Myyy Facebook page has 1,000,000 likes.
George’s Internet celebrity began as a publicity ploy for a musical on the Japanese-American internment, “Allegiance,” which had a wildly popular premiere run in San Diego. George, who sits on the board of directors of the East/West Players theater group, had hoped the documentary would end with the musical, “Allegiance,” opening on Broadway, but Kroot went with a different ending.
While George comes across as funny and irreverent but courteous, Kroot shows his less courtly moments. Besides the Takei-Shatner feud, we also see him on Howard Stern when he was denying his homosexuality, then after he came out, with Stern weighing in on the matter. Kroot provides glimpses of George giving thoughtless comments about weighty issues which are best left as something to be seen in the film.
“To Be Takei” hasn’t been easy, but George has surprised everyone by becoming a multi-dimensional celebrity who has lived long and prospered.
“To Be Takei" opens on Friday at the Laemmle Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (310) 478-3836 or visit laemmle.com.