Here’s the second part of my interview with “Star Trek’s” George Takei, who will be at Motor City Comic Con this weekend. Scroll down for the first part. It may take a lot of scrolling “- we talked for a long time. He was great.
Yesterday was all about “Star Trek.” Today, we talk about his other projects. He hasn’t rested on his Sulu laurels, having done “Heroes” and now appearing regularly on Nickelodeon’s “Supah Ninjas.” He’s also working on a Broadway-bound musical, “Allegiance” (and an accompanying “Spider-Man” spoof video on Youtube). And he recently took to the Internet in an effort to get Warner Bros. to make “Akira” (based on the iconic Japanese manga and anime) the way it should be made: set in Neo-Tokyo with Asian and Asian-American actors.
Geek Watch: I loved the “Spider-Man” audition reel. How did that come about?
George Takei: “We’ve been developing a musical, ‘Allegiance,’ on the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II for the last three and a half years. That’s been my mission from way back.
“We wanted to get early awareness of that musical, which is not as acrobatic as ‘Spider-Man’ is. We wanted to grab people’s attention. The one that’s most vulnerable to spoofing is ‘Spider-Man,’ with all the falls and accidents that have happened with it.”
What drew you to “Supah Ninjas”?
(He plays a hologram teaching his grandson and the boy’s friends how to be ninjas.)
“The wonderful thing about it is I’m back on the old campus where I grew up, Paramount Studios. ‘Supah Ninjas’ is filmed on Stage 24. Two sound stages down is Stage 31, and that’s where the Enterprise was. Another couple down is the stage where the planets were filmed. That’s where I spent my youth. I’m reliving my youth and getting re-energized by teenagers.
“I showed it to my nephew and his two kids (ages 11 and 9). The kids thought it was awesome. But the parents enjoyed it even more than the kids did. Because this is enjoyable to both the parents’ generation and the kids’ generation, it’s bringing families together to watch TV.”
What made you decide to call out Warner Bros. on casting for “Akira”?
“That’s been another one of my missions in life from way back. When I told my father I wanted to become an actor, he said, ‘We’re playing either servants or villains or buffoons.’ I said, ‘Daddy, I’m going to change it. I’m going to challenge that stereotypical casting.’
“When there’s an opportunity for Asian or Asian-American actors, we don’t get it. In the early part of my career, too, I did ‘Majority of One.’ Mr. Asano was played by Alec Guinness with a grotesque mustache” and horrible accent.
When he saw who was being considered for the film, which is being relocated to a future New York with actors such as Robert Pattison and Justin Timberlake under consideration, “all the actors were Caucasian. I thought, ‘Not again.’ I thought I’d tweet on it and have a little fun with it. I hope that WB is paying attention.
“No. 1, they offend Asians and Asian-Americans, and that’s part of the big following. No. 2, they offend the very target audience they want to get in the United States. They love ‘Akira’ because of what ‘Akira’ is. It makes it totally unbelievable to have Caucasian actors.” The ones talked about are all great actors, he said, but “I hope that Warner heeds this. I want them to have a successful production and certainly not in this economy lose their investment with a flop.”
What has the response to that been?
“Fantastic response ” all supportive. It’s just simply dumb to continue in this way. The audience has changed, and they’ve got to change with it. The audience is global. Asia is an important market for their global earnings.”
“The story’s organically rooted in japan ” the aftermath of the flattening of Japan in World War III. European audiences, American audiences love ‘Akira’ because it’s a Japanese story.”
As an Asian-American actor, how was your experience when you got to Hollywood?
“I’m a native Angelino. As a child, my father used to take us out for Sunday drives. I used to ask him to stop at every movie studio we drove by. I remember looking through the glorious gate Gloria Swanson drove through in Sunset Blvd.”
“I started out in 1957. There have been enormous strides made. The roles are not stereotyped, though there are still some that come up occasionally.” Asian and Asian-American actors are playing detectives, doctors and other roles that don’t necessarily call for Asian actors, he notes.
“We still have issues like the problem we’re having with ‘Akira.’ Whenever there’s a major lead role, Asian-Americans do not get considered for it because we don’t have the opportunity to become bankable stars. There are no Asian-American actors that can be considered bankable the way Denzel Washington … can be considered a bankable star.”
How close are we coming to that?
“It’s still Asian actors like Jackie Chan or Chow Yun-Fat. We want to get Asian-American stars. John (Cho, who played Sulu in the J.J. Abrams “Star Trek”) is a very good candidate, I think.”
Many of your projects gravitate toward the sci-fi world. Is that because you’re a geek, too, or do you just know your audience?
“I know my audience, but the project that’s really my baby is ‘Allegiance.’ It’s a dark chapter of American history that’s important for all of us to know. We have enough glorious chapters in our history; it’s important for us to know where our democracy faltered in order for us to be a truer democracy. That’s been my core mission in life, to make our democracy a better democracy.”