HFPA in Conversation: George Takei, Beyond the Final Frontier

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros July 17, 2019
Actor George Takei

slaven vasic/getty images

Comic-Con 2019 begins tonight and our podcast guest is a veteran of the sci-fi world.  George Takei became known around the world as Sulu, the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) starship's helmsman.  Now he is starring in The Terror: Infamy, playing Yamato-san, a former fishing captain and community elder who is imprisoned with his family in two Japanese-American internment camps during the Second World War.

The Terror is a landmark in television in that it is the first time that a story is being told on this scale: ten episodes, ten hours aired over a ten-week period and also the depth of detail that it goes into,” Takei tells HFPA journalist Anke Hofmann at the AMC office.

The Terror: Infamy begins before Pearl Harbor and shows the impact of the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service’s military strike’s on the Japanese American community and the evacuation and life in internment camps.  Takei grew up in these camps, first in Arkansas and later in Oregon. “After a year of imprisonment and impoverishment - because they took everything from us -, the government comes down with a loyalty questionnaire demanding loyalty.  It was preposterous. One of the questions that would turn all camps into turmoil asked, will you bear arms to defend the United States of America.  This being asked of my mother, our baby sister was now a toddler, I was by that time six years old, my brother was five, she was being asked to abandon us and bear arms to defend the country that’s imprisoning her family.  It was preposterous.  It was very poorly thought out.”

He tells the story of his Japanese American experience to try to raise the awareness of this chapter in American history. “With no evidence and no due process we were characterized as potential spies, saboteurs, fifth columnists.  I think the story of the internment of Japanese Americans is an object lesson that we’ve got to learn so that we don’t repeat it again.”

The series mixes reality and ghost stories.  “The internment was harrowing but we are a television show and we intend to engage the audience’s interest and hold it and hold it we do.  In Japanese literature, there is a genre called Kaidan, which is a collection of ghost tales.  So we take our inspiration from that and also from the horrors of the internment and we amplify and intensify that horror by fusing the ghost tales.  And there were people in the internment camp that held superstitions but superstitions become real in how we lived them and so that is there to intensify the horror of the internment camp, spirits, evil spirits that harm a community.”

Let’s geek out a bit.  George Takei will be at Comic-Con this coming weekend. Does he sneak into a costume and a mask and walk the floor at the convention? “You know, I’ve never done that because I enjoy being me.  Most people that are in costume they really become those characters.  They’re enjoying that character.  I feel very privileged to be me because they love me for me.  If I were in costume and disguised I’d be just amongst them, I love reveling in their love, their friendship, and their adoration.  I’m an actor, we have egos, we respond to that.  And it’s an opportunity for me to thank them because I know that I would have been an activist without my career but Star Trek and its success, its longevity and popularity has amplified my voice, given me that opportunity to speak at these microphones and cameras and stages.  But without Star Trek, I doubt if I would have that kind of huge megaphone.”

Listen to the podcast and hear why he is named after King George VI; why he likes English culture; what he got as a graduating gift from his father; what inspired him to write his upcoming graphic novel They Called Us Enemy; how he remembers his childhood in prison camp, in the swamps of Arkansas; what was the question that enraged everybody in the internment camp; what kind of conversations he had with his father regarding the time before, during and after the prison camp; when and how he met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., how he remembers his early years as a closeted gay man and the beginning of the Gay Liberation movement that started 50 years ago; what Arnold Schwarzenegger had to do with George’s first public appearance as a gay man; how he describes his husband Brad; and why his Star Trek character was named Sulu.