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October 4, 2015

George Takei on 'The Big Bang Theory,' Being Revealing with Howard Stern, and William Shatner (Naturally)

by Joel Keller, posted Oct 13th 2010 3:00PM
George Takei and Katee Sackhoff worm their way into Wolowitz's fantasies on 'The Big Bang Theory' on CBSWhen I called George Takei for our scheduled interview on Monday, he was about to leave for the airport to go to New York. But he wasn't coming to do a week's stint as the "announcer" on Howard Stern's satellite radio show, a place where he's been revealing intimate secrets about himself and his husband Brad Altman for the last four years.

No, he was in New York to stage a reading of 'Allegiance - A New Musical,' a musical he developed about the plight of a group of Japanese-Americans that were held in internment camps during World War II. Much of the musical is based on personal experience, as Takei and his family were interned during this time."It was really one of the most scary days that' I've experienced in my life," he told me. "People say, you know, you were 5 years old. But you know, when soldiers with bayonets on their rifles order you out of your home, and my mother was crying, you know, a child doesn't forget that."

He is trying to get enough funding to mount the production on Broadway. In the meantime, though, Takei is continuing to pop up on our TVs. The main reason why I called Takei was to discuss his guest appearance on 'The Big Bang Theory' tomorrow night (8PM ET on CBS), which seems like it would be a match made in television heaven.

From there, our conversation turned to TV's latest "geek chic" trend, how he feels about being so honest with Howard Stern, and to what he attributes his latest career resurgence, which has taken him from Stern to 'Heroes' to a gig as the spokesman for Sharp's new line of televisions. Of course, the topic of William Shatner also came up, and as much as George tries to avoid it, he always has something interesting to say about his former 'Star Trek' co-star.

Did ('Big Bang' producers) Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, come to you and say, "Hey, we've been wanting you on the show for a while?"

No, it happened in an unusual... Well, you know, I'm a theater buff, as is my husband Brad Altman. And we practically live in the theaters when we're in New York. (There) I saw Johnny Galecki in 'Little Dog Laughed.' So we were there in the lobby, milling around, and Bill Prady came up to me and started a conversation. And he said, "You know, we've been talking about you in our meetings with 'The Big Bang Theory,' and how would you feel about doing a guest shot on it?" It was just an intermission conversation, you know. I said, "Oh, I think it'd be great fun!" Something like that. And sure enough, I guess it was like about 5, 6 months later, the call came through.

I'm surprised they haven't had your name on their board for the last 4 seasons. It seems to be natural that you would be on the show.
Well they're supposed to be 'Star Trek' fans and 'Star Wars' fans and all that.

You're playing yourself in this, right?
I am. Well, no, I'm playing a character named George Takei. You know, I've often done guest shots as George Takei, but, in 'Psych,' I played a puffed up, egocentric, self-centered George Takei, so I used one of my colleagues as my model for that one. But the character was named George Takei.

I wouldn't know who that colleague might be...
(laughs) Well, I think, you know, you have to really know 'Star Trek' to... it's a very subtle inference I'm making.

Very subtle, I can tell. Yes. Very, very subtle. I also remember when you were on 'Third Rock from the Sun' playing yourself as well. A long time ago.
(still laughing) Oh yeah. Why do they always see me as so ego-centric and pompous? I see myself as someone that's very down to earth, both feet firmly planted on the ground.

Are you speaking as yourself or are you speaking as that colleague?
I'm speaking as me. The real me. (chuckles)

Well look, anybody who listens to the Howard Stern show knows that your feet are on the ground. What you've revealed on that show would probably pretty much blow that notion.
(laughs) Oh my. Sometimes I'm much too forthcoming. I need to be a little bit more self-censoring.

Before we go back to 'Big Bang,' when you talk on the Stern show about the intimate stuff you and Brad do, does he get ticked off?

Well, (Stern) asks the questions, and I answer them, to my regret sometimes. (laughs) But the questions are asked by him.

And you don't dance around them, that's for sure. I will say that. I give you lots of credit for that.
Well that's my problem. I should learn to do a little dancing.

Well look, hey, you and Brad are still together, so obviously it's not too, too bad.
23 years. And actually, our relationship has been more solid and steady than some of our straight friends who got married way back then.

Let's talk a little bit more about 'Big Bang' and we'll get back to some other stuff. What could you say about this version of George on 'Big Bang?'

They use, well, you know, what I've revealed on Howard Stern. The audience's knowledge is bad. In other words, there's some question about Wolowitz's sexuality. And so I'm the personification of his confusion, his quandary there. (chuckles)

Is this one of Wolowitz's dreams, I guess?
Yes. Yes. I shouldn't reveal too much. I'm sure they would really appreciate my not being as forthcoming as I am on the Howard Stern show.

Right. I think what I've heard is that Katee Sackhoff is also returning in that area as well.
That's right. She's the straight side, and I'm the ambiguous side. (laughing)

Were you a fan of the show before Bill Prady came and talked to you?
Very frankly, not... you know, I'd seen it on occasion while kind of surfing, you know. But no, I wouldn't call myself having been a regular, dedicated fan.

Knowing your experience going to conventions etc, etc, how accurate has the show's portrayal of people who might be fans of 'Star Trek' or sci fi been?
There is the nugget of truth there. Of course, there's embellishment, some magnification, some embroidery around the side. But no, there's a lot of truth in those characters. In fact, I've met some that are really much, much more magnified than what you see in those characters, in fact. In fact they're all slim, if you know what I'm inferring. (laughs)

They would actually be able to fit in the costumes if they went to the convention...

Exactly. (laughing)

Were you able to meet with Jim Parsons and the rest of the cast, or was it just you and Simon Helberg?
Yes. No, I was able to meet the rest of the cast.

Jim's role is one of the more unique roles on TV in a long time. Do you see a kind of a "geek shift" towards people that are more everyday people on TV?
Exactly. Yes. I think, you know, TV is getting to truly reflect the rich diversity of our society. And it's legitimizing, in many respects, geeks, if you will. You know, that they are human too, rather than, you know, particularly now with this issue of bullying. I mean, geeks were frequently bullied by the jocks, you know? And now with that issue coming to the fore, but also the exploring the humanity, if you will, of people who are intensely into certain aspects of our civilization, whether it's science, or fantasy, or astronomy, or whatever.

What other television projects are you going to be working on in the near future? Has everything been focused on the musical?
No, as a matter of fact, I did a pilot earlier this summer, which has sold, and as we talk, my agents are in negotiation with them. So we shall see how that turns out. I also have Tom Hanks' newest film, 'Larry Crown,' with Julia Roberts, that should be coming out in the spring. I just did some ADR's last week.

Any word on what the pilot that you sold... anything you want to say about that?
Well, since we're negotiating right now, I should be discreet about it.

How did the Sharp spokesman gig come about?
Well, they approached me. I have to applaud them, because I've come out as openly gay, and for them to ask me to be their spokesperson... But also, you know, inevitably with me there's the connection with 'Star Trek,' with cutting edge technology, of forward-looking, high tech, all of that. So I think it's that that they were looking for. But I really applaud their adventuresomeness in asking me to do it. Because, well, I'm two minorities: I'm Asian American and I'm gay. So I think it's a reflection of our society becoming much, much more embracing of all of the diversity of our society.

What do you attribute this resurgence of your career? I mean, you've always been around, but this piece of your career in the last 5 years or so, what do you attribute it to? Do you attribute it to Stern, do you attribute it to 'Heroes?'

I think it's a combination of one, you know, I really had to think about my... I'd been out, quietly out, for decades, without blowing a trumpet about it. But in 2005, when both houses of our California legislature passed the same-sex marriage bill, I was elated. You know, it was extraordinary. Massachusetts had same sex marriage equality by that time, but that came through the judicial route. And for the first time in the history of the United States, the legislature passed such a bill, the representatives of the people.

And I thought it was really going to change America, beginning with the state of California. And all that was needed was a signature of man who campaigned for the governor's office by saying "I'm from Hollywood, I've worked with gays and lesbians, I'm comfortable with them." You know, and I thought surely Arnold Schwarzenegger would sign the bill. When he played to the reactionary conservative segment of his Republican base and vetoed it, I was enraged.

But you know, that night I was watching TV here at home, and I saw that rage pour out onto Santa Monica Blvd. And here I was at home, safe and comfortable. And I felt that I needed to speak out on that. And for me to speak out on it, my voice had to be authentic. So I spoke to the press (about being gay) for the first time in 2005, and I thought of the downsides of that, but you know, I thought "Well, I had a fun career, and maybe it's time for me to look elsewhere for the rest of my career." And I made that decision to talk to the press.

And that brought about an invitation from Howard to, he wanted me to be a regular on the show, as the "official" announcer. And I think it's the combination of those two that revitalized my career, regalvanized my career. And then, you know, 'Heroes' happened after that.

And a small amount of it also was the Shatner roast, too, I think. I mean, people knew about you and Bill, and we don't have to go into that because that's kind of old news, but just the act you had there...
(laughing) And I think that was exaggerated.

But the act that you put on at the roast kind of enhanced your image a bit.
(chuckling) Yes.

But you do say that that whole thing has been exaggerated, basically because why?
What, the Bill thing? Well, you know, that discomfort with Bill has been shared by the entire cast. So that was the standard feeling that we all had. But then it really got exaggerated when Brad and I got married. We sent invitations out to everybody, particularly because we asked Walter (Koenig) and Nichelle (Nichols) to be part of the wedding party. So we sent invitations out to everybody, every one of my colleagues from 'Star Trek.' Bill got an invitation. And he never responded. You know, Leonard responded, and he was coming, but at the last minute, he had something that he had to do in NY so he couldn't come. But Bill never responded.

And Bill's never, you know, done anything with us. That's part of the kvetch from all of us. Like when Leonard got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, we were all there. When Gene Roddenberry, or when DeForest (Kelley) or Jimmy Doohan, you know, Bill's the one that's always absented himself. Or when we would have a party, Bill would never come. So it wasn't surprising that Bill didn't RSVP.

But then a month and a half after the wedding, he goes public with this ranting and raving about our not having invited him. I mean, for one thing, you know, I never got any invitations to any of his many, many weddings, you know. So why should he, first of all, expect an invitation. But we did send an invitation, and he goes public complaining about it. And we were absolutely baffled by that.

So he's kind of continued on the whole...
He's the one that's holding it up. And then later on I realized, you know, we were driving down Sunset Blvd. and here's a billboard advertising 'William Shatner's Raw Nerve,' a new talk show, you know. And I said to Brad, that's why he's been making all that noise about not getting an invitation to our wedding. So Bill exploits situations for his own benefit. So we know that about Bill. But he's been playing it up. And then we went on YouTube, saying something about "George must have some psychosis," you know, "Hhe didn't invite people...what is this with George?" So whenever he needs publicity, he revives (it).

Will you go on 'Raw Nerve?'
He's asked me to. But you know, he is in charge of everything. He controls everything. Why should I subject myself to that? I've passed on it. And you know, he's relentless. He has his producer call, he has a woman call...I don't know who she is. And we've passed on it all the time.

(Follow @joelkeller on Twitter.)

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Funny how Takei blames Shatner for bringing stuff up to get publicity by actually doing that himself. It's also funny how most other actors that have worked with Shatner liked him. It's not his fault Sulu was such a pointless, flat character. You were a supporting actor and he was the star. Get over it! All this whining forty years later really comes across as pathetic.

October 14 2010 at 2:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

nice work.

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October 14 2010 at 1:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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