The crew of Star Trek: The Original Series are as iconic as it gets. Ever since the show wrapped, the actors who played Kirk, Spock, Uhuru, Bones and the rest have been indelibly associated with it and adored by generations of fans. Now, in a new interview with The Guardian, George Takei has explained what it meant to him to play Lt. Hikari Sulu on TOS.
He first spoke about the impact of being an Asian-American actor cast in a non-stereotypical role, saying:
“Getting cast as Lt Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek was life changing. The show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, told me the idea was a metaphor for the fact that the earth’s strength lay in its diversity; people from all over the world, working out their problems and being a team – and boldly going where no one had gone before.”
Takei also went into his earliest memories, including being imprisoned with his family in a US-run concentration camp set up in the wake of Pearl Harbor.
“We were innocent Americans who happened to look exactly like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor. And for that we were being imprisoned.”
Later, he discussed why he had to remain in the closet for the majority of his career. Interestingly, it seems he spoke with Roddenberry about the possibility of a Star Trek episode that dealt with homophobic discrimination by way of a metaphor. Unfortunately, though Roddenberry seems to have been sympathetic (that he knew Takei was gay says a lot), the topic appears to have been a bridge too far, even for a show as progressive as Star Trek.
“I only came out in my 60s. I’m an actor of my times. In the 20th century, if I wanted to be an actor, I couldn’t be out – although I did have a discussion, when I was in the closet, with Gene Roddenberry about the issue. I said: “Why don’t we have a script that metaphorically deals with the inequality of our system to people that are homosexual?” And he said: “All my characters have to be straight if I want to be on television.””
Takei is still working, of course, recently appearing in The Terror and in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Could it be too much to hope though that he might one day play Sulu once more in Star Trek?