It’s been almost 50 years since George Takei first played Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu on seminal sci-fi show Star Trek, but the 77-year-old actor is more popular than ever, thanks to his late-life roles as political activist, LGBT icon and social media crackup. He came out as gay in 2005, to oppose then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of the Marriage Equality Bill, and has since amassed more than 7.5 million followers on Facebook, all fans of his funny photos and jokey posts. Takei seems as at ease interacting with the masses as he is when relaxing at the home in Show Low, Arizona, that he shares with husband Brad Takei. We recently sat down to chat with the part-time Arizona resident, the day after he appeared at a dinner to support the Democrat candidate for Arizona governor, Fred DuVal.
Why do you support Fred DuVal for Arizona governor?
We love Arizona. In fact, Brad was born in Phoenix, and his mother lived up in a little town in the White Mountains, and we’d visit her regularly there. When she passed, we scattered her ashes on the Mogollon Rim, where Brad’s father’s ashes had been scattered. We have a place up in Show Low, because we love – we love – the ponderosa forest. Arizona is a wonderful state, and we have wonderful neighbors there. The people of Arizona are good people, and the politics of this state doesn’t represent what I know to be Arizona... We want the state that we love to be one that we can be proud of, as well. And you have a proud history: Bruce Babbitt, Janet Napolitano, Barry Goldwater... Mr. Conservative, but I had high respect for him, because he was a social libertarian. And that’s the kind of Arizona [I want to see].
How did you build your massive social media audience?
My base was essentially made up of sci-fi geeks and nerds. So I had to grow that and diversify. By trial and error, I found that the funnies got the most likes and shares, and then people share with their friends, and the base starts growing. So I started concentrating on the funnies, and as it grew, it became more than just geeks and nerds. Then I injected something about LGBT equality, and... again, it’s the ripple effect going out. Then I injected some information about having spent my childhood in two internment camps, and that brought in a lot of Asian-Americans. And it grew and grew. I was astonished.
Why did you not come out as gay until 2005?
I had been closeted up until then, because I wanted my career. And when I was starting my career, back in the ‘50s, it was unthinkable to be out and hope that someone was going to hire you. You were box office poison. What producer was going to hire you?
Were there even any other Asians on TV at the time?
There were Asians, but they were stereotyped roles, very ineffective and tiny roles at that. No real dramatic roles... so I had to be closeted, and at the same time, I was active in the political arena, because I grew up in U.S. internment camps, imprisoned behind bars.
No, in Arkansas. I’ll never forget that day. I’d just turned 5. It was a few weeks after my birthday [April 1942]... We were taken from our home, and the camps weren’t built yet, so they took us to Santa Anita racetrack, with other Japanese-American families. We were herded over to the stadiums and told that we were going to sleep in a horse stall – all five of us, three kids and two parents... but you know, I was a kid. I was excited. We get to sleep where the horsies sleep! My perspective was totally different from that of my parents. My parents remembered it as being degrading, humiliating and terrorizing. They put us on a train with armed guards at both ends of each car, and taken two-thirds of the way across the country, to the swamps of Arkansas... and that was my first exposure to Arizona. I remember the train going past the saguaros, and they just whizzed by our windows.
Is this something you recount in the documentary To Be Takei?
In part. I wrote my autobiography, and I really go into detail in that. It’s called To the Stars. And I’m on the cover. Wearing my Sulu uniform. Shameless hook, you know. Get all of the Trekkies to buy the book.
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