Star Trek‘s George Takei: Keep On Trekkin’

September 9, 2016
The first episode of Star Trek was broadcast on Thursday, September 8, 1966. In honour of the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest sci-fi franchises ever, we revisit our chat with Star Trek legend, George Takei.

What was your first impression of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry? “It seems so cliché to say, but it was memorable. The interview was for the Star Trek pilot, which meant that if it were sold it would become a series, and if I were cast I would be in steady employment. My agent told me it was science fiction, but that didn’t matter too much. When he said that my character would be a regular, that was what interested me! I met Gene Roddenberry and got off to a bad start. I mispronounced his name, and called him Mr. Rosenberry. Then he mispronounced my name, and that sort of balanced it. But he described the show and I was dazzled by it.”

Was it difficult to find your voice among such a large cast? “We created those opportunities. I lobbied the writers and whoever else whose ears I could bend. When you’re there with seven regular cast members, you have to be assertive and aggressive. Everyone else was the same; particularly with Bill Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, there was a real sense of competition.”

George Takei with the Star Trek cast

George Takei with the Star Trek cast

So what was it like when the network began to give the show fewer and fewer opportunities to succeed? “We would hear from the fans and that gave us a real sense of confidence. But because it was such an innovative show, the programming people at NBC were thrown off a little. They didn’t know where to put us and when those people get confused they take the easy way out, and they slot you into what could be considered the worst possible timeslot. And in our third season it was placed in THE worst possible time slot: Friday nights at 10pm.  We were big with young people, educated people, and people who were engaged with life. Those kinds of people are out being engaged and active on Friday nights at 10pm. So NBC had the numbers to justify the show’s cancellation. But once we were cancelled, the show went into syndication. We were on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday nights… at 8 or 9pm when our audience could tune in. And that’s when the ratings soared, but it was too late, and we’d already scattered to the winds.”

Have you found it difficult stepping away from the stereotype and finding respect for your work outside of Star Trek? “I think it’s been an asset. I did an Australian film with Bryan Brown, Blood Oath, and I was cast because of the bankability I had through Star Trek. I’ve done other work, but they don’t have that same currency that Star Trek has. Of course I’m sure there are certain producers who would not have cast me because of my association with Star Trek, but I don’t dwell on that. If you do, then it’s already lost. I’ve also been able to do theatre throughout Britain. As a matter of fact, Russell Crowe, who actually made his film debut in Blood Oath, happened to be in London promoting Romper Stomper and he saw an advertisement for a play I was doing. He took the train to come and see me in that play and afterwards we had dinner in London.”

George Takei at his best!

George Takei at his best!

Any thoughts on the direction Star Trek has taken with the numerous spin offs, and how they have continued or devalued Gene Roddenberry’s original vision? “Well, it’s actually gone backwards with Enterprise. The original Star Trek was Gene’s vision and philosophy. And after his passing I think it has veered off. Deep Space Nine was a polar opposite of his philosophy. Gene was always forward looking and he enjoyed the shock of introducing new civilisations, new life forms, new technology, and that is fundamentally lost when you go backwards. I think the franchise really lost what the original Star Trek and The Next Generation had first captured.”

How do you feel when you look back at the old episodes of the TV series? “I’m delighted! These episodes are what gave birth to the whole phenomenon and we look so youthful! Those are children running round that starship! Part of the charm of Star Trek is that the audience gets to experience characters in contrast to others like James Bond, who always remains that age. We in Star Trek have been on the screen for so long with the TV series and then all the films, and the audience gets to see the progression, the flow, the naturalisation of the characters, and that’s all part of the charm.”

This article was first published in 2004.

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