By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
“You do not become an actor, you are born an actor,” informed the 77-year-old George Takei in his familiar baritone voice. Takei, known in his early days from his work as Star Trek’s Hikaru Sulu and later in life as a political advocate and social media darling, came to Seattle last week promoting his upcoming documentary and filming his popular web series, “Takei’s Take.”
In a whirlwind tour of the city, Takei made a stop at Seattle Central College to take “selfies” with fans and show a screening of his soon-to-be released documentary, “To Be Takei,” which was followed by a question and answer session. Takei also spent another day in Seattle shooting an episode of his original online series sponsored by the AARP, “Takei’s Take.”
Takei’s appearance at Seattle Central College was part of the AARP’s ongoing campaign “Life Reimagined,” which helps guide people through life transitions by helping them discover new possibilities and connect with a community of people pursuing similar passions and goals.
Takei was born in Los Angeles, Calif. and was named after King George VI, whose coronation took place in 1937, the same year that Takei was born. Takei notes that his brother was heavy and round and resembled King Henry VIII, and was thus named Henry. Takei was the eldest of three children.
Takei’s father was an Anglophile – an admirer of England and its culture. Takei has taken on his father’s admiration of England and considers himself an Anglophile.
At an early age, Takei’s family was forced to live in internment camps during World War II. After the war, his family returned to Los Angeles, where he attended school. Takei had a passion for theatre and acting at an early age. He became involved with the drama club in junior high school. Although he was not cast in plays in high school, he helped out as much as possible.
While his parents recognized this passion, his father also was a businessman that understood the realities of show business. “My father said, ‘You can’t make a living on that [acting]. But study architecture, that’s going to be a fantastically creative area for you.’”
“Like a good son, I began my college career as an architecture student.” Takei started at the University of California, Berkeley, but it did not take him long to realize he needed a change. “I just couldn’t see myself as an architect,” recalled Takei.
He returned to Los Angeles and sat down with his father with a plan. “I said, I had to be true to myself. I wanted to give myself a fair chance. I wanted to go to New York and wanted to study at the Actor’s Studio.”
In response to this pitch, his father gave him an option. “You have to be prepared to do it all on your own.” His father added, “New York is a crowded place, a very competitive place, and a very expensive place. You would have to be prepared to do it all on your own.” The implication was that Takei’s parents would not pay for anything if he decided to pursue acting in New York. Takei lovingly recalled his father thinking he was a “bullheaded kid” and that he would probably take the chance and head to New York despite the warnings. Thus, his father offered him a chance to go to UCLA to study in the fine arts department instead. If he stayed in town, his father informed him they would provide him financial assistance.
“New York on your own or UCLA with subsidy,” was the offer his father gave him. “He knew how to structure a deal,” recalled Takei of his father’s alternative proposal to his plan for New York. Takei glowingly reflected on his parents want for him to obtain an education and diploma, while still supporting his dreams.
After graduating from UCLA, as a graduation present, his parents gave him a summer session studying Shakespeare in England. Perhaps it was his parents’ present for holding up his end of the deal. It was his first trip outside the United States. It was an unexpected, great experience for him to study and immerse himself in his intended craft.
Takei recalls that his first big role was a Richard Burton film, “Ice Palace,” that he was offered when a casting agent saw him in a student play while at UCLA. The opportunity to work with such a legend gave the very young and eager Takei a chance to ask questions about acting from one of the greatest actors of all time.
Even though his most notable role as Mr. Sulu occurred in the late 1960s and was reprised in movies and other media in the 1970s and 1980s, he has kept a following through the years. He has also gained notoriety through his political activism as an advocate for Japanese Americans and the LBGT community. Takei served as the Celebrity Grand Marshall of Seattle’s Gay Pride Parade this past summer.
One of the biggest reasons why Takei is iconic today is his presence on social media. As of this writing, Takei has over 7.75 million likes on his Facebook page and 1.38 million followers on his Twitter feed. His YouTube series, which is entering its second season, caters to an older generation.
The subject matter deals with current technological breakthroughs, which appeals to the younger demographic as well.
At 77 years old, Takei looks 20 years younger and remains fit. “Eat properly, rest properly, exercise properly, and keep your mind engaged,” advised Takei of his keys to staying healthy. Takei stated he has a daily regimen of walking, exercising, and getting at least six hours of sleep.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.