Sundance 2014: George Takei just wants peace with William Shatner
PARK CITY, Utah — George Takei and William Shatner haven’t exactly had a warm relationships in the four-plus decades since “Star Trek” went off the air, as anyone who saw the Shatner Comedy Central Roast in 2010 will remember.
But the man who played Helmsman Sulu wants the man who played Captain Kirk to know: he thinks Shatner’s resentment of Takei is ginned up. And he wants peace.
“‘Bill, ‘fess up,’” Takei said when asked what he would say to the actor if he were sitting in the room. “This is all an act. He complained about not getting invited to [my] wedding. Everyone knows we did send an invitation.” Takei added, “Why have this tension?”
Takei’s relationship with Shatner isn’t the only thing on his mind these days. The “Star Trek” veteran and outspoken gay-rights activist is the subject of a new documentary, Jennifer Kroot’s “To Be Takei,” which world-premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week. In it, the actor, 76, and husband Brad Takei can be seen going about their day in Los Angeles — there’s a haircut, there’s the watching of a Takei commercial, there’s a spirited walk through the neighborhood — as his colorful life story is told in a series of montages and flashbacks.
As a young boy, Takei was sent with his parents to a Japanese internment camp for several years during WWII, an experience that deeply shaped him. He would go on to become one of the first Asian American actors with a regular role on prime-time television and an early pioneer as a major celebrity who is gay, if for years not quite openly.
The actor, who in person has a similarly rich sing-song many will recognize from his roles, said he made the documentary for less the usual reasons than a desire to show that he and Brad have a life very similar to many straight couples.
“When you say ‘gay couple’ some people think champagne fountains and Liza Minnelli,” Takei said in an interview here this week. “We had a nice wedding but it was no different from ordinary weddings. This was an opportunity to change people’s perceptions.”
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The actor continues to subvert expectations in other ways. He has become a social-media hero, accruing 5.6-million friends on Facebook thanks to his frequent and humorous posts.
He said despite the fact that many posts were on sci-fi and other Comic-con-friendly subjects, he developed his social-media presence primarily to educate people about Japanese internment during WWII, something he says he’s shocked to learn that many younger people know nothing about.
Takei said he has few regrets in his life, though he wishes he and his partner, who’ve been together a quarter-century, had had children, and also wishes he had come out earlier. (It was not until the 1980s.) He explains it as a function of professional survival, but says in person that he does have doubts about whether he should have waited that long.
(If you’re curious, Shatner does appear in the documentary, but for just 10 minutes and apparently with a number of restrictions.)
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Takei continues to act — there have been numerous TV appearances, including the turn with Jimmy Kimmel a few years back that went viral as well as a scene-stealing part in “Larry Crowne“ in 2011. Right now his focus has been on theater — his musical about Japanese internment, “Allegiance,” is preparing for a transfer from San Diego’s Old Globe to Broadway. He said his dream role would be a stage version of “Death of a Salesman.”
“I’m a little past the right age, but there’s the illusion theater provides,” he said, with a sly smile. “The values in that play are very Asian — work hard for the family, have high expectations of your son, put your wife on a pedestal, make the ultimate sacrifice for family. You could even say Willie Loman committed hari-kari for the insurance.”
And, he added, “The surname could even be Asian. Lo-Man.”
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