For years, Star Trek and Star Wars have maintained a safe distance from each other, only meeting up in fan-made mash-up videos on YouTube. But in this new age of hope, a bridge has been built, and that bridge's name is George Takei. The actor who played Sulu in the original Trek series and in six feature films will be voicing a character in this Friday's episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a first for both franchises. We sat in on a Q&A with the actor to find out what it was like on the Dark Side of sci-fi, as well as what's coming up for him on Heroes.
So how did you end up going to the Dark Side, and agree to do a role in a Star Wars project? Are you worried Trek fans will see it as jumping ship?
George Takei: I guess I'm the only actor associated with Star Trek to have done anything with Star Wars, but no, I don't consider it jumping ship. The Star Trek philosophy is to embrace the diversity of life, and Star Wars is a part of that diversity. I think Star Trek is science fiction, and Star Wars is more science fantasy. But with the episodes of Star Wars: Clone Wars that I worked on, I think there's a merging there, because it does deal philosophically with certain issues of the time, which is what Star Trek was known for: war and peace, technology and humanity, sacrifice and courage... So I found that engaging.
What do you think of the look of the character?
Takei: They showed me a drawing of the character I was supposed to voice, and I said, "Oh, no, not again." Because I did the voice of the first ancestor in Mulan, the Disney animated series, and that was a huge, enormously obese character. Lok Durd is also immensely obese, so I suppose that's how they think of my voice. And then, when I saw the finished animation, it's amazingly well-done. When Lok Durd moves, you can see his stomach and his entire flesh jiggle. You see how fat and flabby and loose he is. So I'm wondering, why do I bother doing all my sit-ups and push-ups, when they think my voice is fat?
It's a good thing it's not a costume.
Takei: Thank God. Think how hot and uncomfortable it would be in that fat suit.
Now, Lok Durd is a Neimoidian. Were you familiar with the controversy surrounding the Neimoidians' speech patterns and appearances when they first appeared in The Phantom Menace? There were many who felt they came across as a negative Asian caricature.
Takei: I had no idea. Maybe this [casting] was in response to that kind of criticism. Some people are very sensitive about finding racism and stereotyping where it wasn't intended. Star Trek first came on the air in the 1960s, when the civil rights movement was in full swing, so society was very aware of racial issues. But Gene Roddenberry's philosophy -- and he would remind us of this regularly -- is that the starship Enterprise was a metaphor for starship Earth, and the strength of the starship lay in its diversity coming together and working in concert as a team. I think it's in how you deal with differences, and how you look at them, that the negatives come out. Obviously I'm of Asian ancestry if you look at me, but I'm an Anglophile. I love England, and I go at least once a year. But I think too many people are trying to look for the negative.
How did the experience compare with doing the Star Trek cartoon years ago?
Takei: When we did the recording [for Clone Wars], the entire cast was there, so we were able to bounce off of each other. And you get an idea of the characterization and vocal rhythms of the other characters. When we did the Star Trek animation, they accommodated each of us in our various schedules, so we came in individually. As I was coming in, Leonard [Nimoy] was leaving. I'd come into the recording booth, and they'd have the script with my lines underscored with a colored pen, and I would just read my lines according to how that scene was supposed to play, but not really playing with Leonard. And then, when I was finished, and I'd be leaving, Jimmy Doohan might be coming in, and he'd step into the booth and do his lines. So I think the Star Wars way of doing the recording is much more fun as an actor.
Are you looking forward to interacting with a whole new fan base?
Takei: Any work that ones does that catches on with the public has a way of expanding your access to the audience. I'm a recurring character on Heroes, so when I do conventions, I've noticed that there are a lot of Heroes fans who come with pictures of me as Kaito Nakamura to have autographed. Last year, I did a British reality show called I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, where they got 12 celebrities from many different arenas -- the only one I knew was Martina Navratilova -- and we were sent to the rainforest of Australia for three weeks, living on beans and rice and facing various challenges. This show is enormously popular; it's on every day in Britain, and it was the highest-rated show for three weeks. I'm walking around London and people left and right are saying, "Hi, George, we loved you on I'm a Celebrity!" Perhaps now at Trek conventions I'll have Lok Durd pictures to be autographed. Or I may get invitations to Star Wars conventions!
Will you be involved in Volume 4 of Heroes?
Takei: With Heroes, one never knows what is going to be happening. Nothing on the surface is as it seems. When I was pushed off of that high-rise building at the very beginning of the second season, I thought, "Well, that was a fun run, but I guess that's it." But then other scripts started to come, and as it turns out, I'm the father of a man who has the ability to go back and forth in time, so I've been making many, many appearances. So who knows what's going to happen with Volume 4. Only Tim Kring's very imaginative mind -- and the writing staff -- can determine Kaito Nakamura's fate.
How did you initially get involved with Heroes?
Takei: The reason I started watching Heroes is because I started getting a lot of e-mails from Star Trek fans who alerted me to the fact that there was a Japanese kid who's a Star Trek fan on the show. And so I started watching it, and I became hooked on it. And then I got a call from my agent saying that they were interested in me to play the father of Hiro, so I went and talked with Tim Kring, and I got cast in it. Then, on the set, I chatted with some of the crewpeople, and found that a good number of them are wildly dedicated Star Trek fans, and the propmaster was the most avid of them all. He gave the license plate for my limousine the number "NCC-1701," which is the registry of the Enterprise. Then one of the guys on the writing staff said, "George had a great sword-fighting scene on Star Trek, why don't we work in a sword-fighting scene for Kaito Nakamura?" And that's how that first samurai sword-fighting scene in the first season came about. So there's a lot of tie-ins.
Will you be coming back to do more episodes of Clone Wars?
Takei: With Clone Wars, it's like with Heroes. You really don't know what's going to be happening in the future, and then the script comes, and you make discoveries. With Heroes, I thought I was cast as a powerful, influential businessman who is concerned about his weirdo son, who is going off to do weird things. And I thought it was a father-son relationship thing. And then a script arrives, and it has me carrying a baby that turns out to be baby Claire, who I'm handing over to HRG to raise. And that's when I thought, "Oh, my, there's more to this character than I thought. It's not just a father-son relationship." Then other scripts come, and I discover that I'm involved with another generation of those with powers. So with Clone Wars, it's the same thing. What the next script brings is what the next script brings. And Lok Durd is an absolutely fascinating character, and certainly a unique adversary with a unique approach to using technology. So I think anything can happen. I'm waiting for the next script.
Check out the Moviefile to hear how George Takei helped cast the new Sulu, then watch George Takei's episode of Clone Wars Friday night at 9 pm on Cartoon Network.
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