George Takei's coming back to town and he's talking exclusively to Windy City Times before he gets here. Best known for playing Hikaru Sulu on the television series Star Trek, he has gone where no man has gone before on social media.
His TV resume is lengthy with shows like Heroes, The New Normal and Hawaii Five-0. Movies include Kubo and the Two Strings, Entourage and his own documentary To Be Takei.
Takei took home awards from the American Humanist Association, GLAAD and the Japanese-American National Museum over the years.
Windy City Times: George, how have you been?
George Takei: I had a hip-transplant operation two weeks ago so I was slowed down a little bit. I am rapidly on the mend. I discovered more people have had it than I imagined. It is a trendy thing to do. I'm very hip!
WCT: [Laughs] It will be so good to have you back in Chicago. Talk about this upcoming event.
GT: It is in connection with the Alphawood Gallery exhibit and their four-month-long program with speakers. It is called "Then They Came for Me." It is about the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans, American citizens who were totally innocent, but we happened to look like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor. There were no charges, no trial, and no due process. In the most unconstitutional way we were summarily rounded up.
I still remember that morning when soldiers pounded on the door and literally at gunpoint we were ordered out of our home. Can you imagine? My siblings and I were born in Los Angeles. We were American citizens. We had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had signed an order that all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast, approximately 120,000 of us [were] to be imprisoned in barb wire concentration camps in southeastern Arkansas.
I was five years old at the time. I remember the sentry towers with machine guns pointed at us. I remember the searchlight following me from the barracks to the latrine. I thought it was nice that they lit the way for me to pee. It was a five year old's reaction to a humiliating life. For my parents it was a terrible experience. Children are amazingly adaptable.
WCT: This has been your life's work to speak about it?
GT: It has been my life's mission to raise awareness. People are aghast at what happened. Many Americans don't know this chapter of American history. They say it was because of national security but it was national insecurity. We were at war with Japan, also Germany, and Italy. But Italians and Germans looked like the rest of Americans. We Japanese-Americans looked different and were the other. It was racial prejudice combined with war hysteria.
The same singular characterization still applies today. The president, I hate to call him a president, I will just call him Donald Trump, signed an executive order in February saying that all Muslims coming from those countries will be banned from traveling to this country. It is a mentality of saying that everyone is the same.
WCT: What is your opinion on military trans rights?
GT: We happened to be in North Carolina at a speaking engagement when they passed the bathroom bill. It was done with legal procedures but in the most twisted process. It was signed by the governor at night in the dark.
It is again making a sweeping statement in the name of national security. Donald Trump trying to do that with the military. Thank god for Secretary of Defense [James] Mattis, who wants to study this. Trump wanted it done in six months. It is political language for it will be studied to death and not going to happen.
WCT: For the event in Chicago, there will be songs from your musical Allegiance?
GT: Yes. Local singers will be singing selections from it. That is my legacy project.
WCT: I saw Allegiance in San Diego.
GT: I am always touched when people would come from far away to see it. Thank you very much.
WCT: My friend Telly Leung was in Allegiance playing the young version of you.
GT: He is enormously talented. He's playing Aladdin on Broadway right now. He has a steady job. That is going to be playing forever on 42nd St!
WCT: How was it being in Pacific Overtures?
GT: We closed that last month. It is the story of Japan being closed off to all foreigners, kind of like what Trump is trying to do now. This was during the Shogun period where the Japanese were forbidden to leave their land. If they left they could never come back. If a foreigner was shipwrecked in Japan they were either executed or sent away. United States Commodore Matthew Perry sailed in to break that ban. He impressed Japan with all of the technical advances made. In fact Japan thought their steel ships were black dragons. That was how closed off they were.
It is an important historical musical about Perry, and it's the same theme of characterizations of people that are different than you.
WCT: What are your future plans?
GT: I have a whole series on the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans throughout this country.
Lorenzo Thione, who is the producer of Allegiance, filmed it. It is not just a filmed stage play. We did one with a stationary camera with an audience then filmed with no audience and multiple cameras plus a crane that could sweep in and get an overhead shot, zoom in, or pull back. He used cinematic techniques. We opened with that last year on Dec. 7, on Pearl Harbor Day. It broke all the records of Fathom Events, a company that does one night only filmed operas or rock concerts. With that success we are taking the film to Honolulu, Hawaii and Tokyo. Then my husband Brad and I will be flying to Sydney, Australia to help in their equality campaign since they don't have marriage equality there.
We are reviving Allegiance as a stage musical here in Los Angeles in February next year. I will be recreating my roles both as the old Sam Kimura and Grandpa, the patriarch of the Kimura family. Fly into sunny California in February to see it. You don't want to be in Chicago in February!
"Spend An Evening with George Takei" will take place at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. on Thursday, Sept. 7, at 7 p.m. Visit www.AlphawoodGallery.org for tickets, where more than $10 of each sold will be donated to the Japanese-American Service Committee.