The starship Enterprise’s helmsman, who is no longer exploring the depths of “the final frontier,” has been boldly going somewhere new — the concert hall.
Actor and activist George Takei, known across the universe for the role of Sulu on the original Star Trek television series, appears Saturday at Bass Hall with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in the program “Sci-Fi Spectacular.” Takei says he has been doing six to eight of these concerts per year for close to a decade, and that they have proved to be a good way to combine his natural fan base of Trekkies with the music of the masters.
“Many in the sci-fi and geek community come to these sci-fi concerts and discover that they love classical music and the sound of a symphony orchestra,” Takei says. “So they graduate from that into Mozart and Beethoven and Bach.”
Calling his involvement in this kind of musical career “an unexpected gift,” Takei adds: “Music has always been an organic part of sci-fi movies.
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“All these epic adventures into the future, like Star Wars, E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind have been accompanied by great music. And Star Trek, too, has incorporated the music of gifted composers in all its various generations.”
Takei describes his role in the presentation as “a narrator of, specifically, Star Trek history,” but he also brings other sci-fi classics into sharper focus for the audience.
“There is a speech from near the end of the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still where [the benevolent robot] Klaatu delivers a powerful and moving message for us earthlings about our future survival. And I do a dramatic recitation of that speech,” says Takei, who began his acting career more than a half-century ago.
On the podium for this concert will be the show’s creator, Jack Everly, the principal pops conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony and the Baltimore Symphony. He is known for creating themed programs intended for pops concerts presented by major orchestras. In addition to the film scores, the program includes some classical music that is closely associated with sci-fi films, such as Richard Strauss’ powerful and majestic Also Sprach Zarathustra, which is forever linked to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
But that doesn’t mean that they don’t also use the concerts as an excuse to get their geek on.
“Many of these fans come as sci-fi characters. You will see Storm Troopers and Star Fleet officers, as well as alien beings [at the concert],” Takei says. “And it’s not just the boomers. It’s the millennials, too.”
This side trip to the concert hall surprises no one who keeps up with the seemingly tireless Takei, who is also known for his numerous appearances as a guest or host of Howard Stern’s radio program, and for his use of social media.
“I have over 5 million fans on Facebook and almost a million on Twitter. To the younger generation, I am probably more known as someone on Facebook than someone on Star Trek,” says Takei, whose frequently humorous postings have led him to be called “the funniest guy on Facebook.”
While his social media usage is often lighthearted, Takei has been much more serious about his support of gay rights.
“I was closeted throughout most of my life. I was out to my family and close friends. And I must say that my Star Trek colleagues also knew I was gay, except for Bill Shatner himself. He was so oblivious to everything around him. He was the only one who didn’t know,” says Takei, with a good-natured laugh. “They were all very discrete about it because they didn’t want to ruin my career.”
Takei says he was ultimately forced out of the closet by a fellow movie star.
“It wasn’t until 2005 that I came out, and I came out then because of another actor — Arnold Schwarzenegger. At that time, only one state, Massachusetts, had marriage equality. In California, it came through the legislative process and passed both houses, and all that was needed was the signature of our governor,” says Takei, who is a California native.
“I thought surely he would sign it because he was from Hollywood and was comfortable with the LGBT community. But he vetoed it because he played to his conservative Republican base. And at the very time that he vetoed the marriage equality bill, he himself was carrying on with his housekeeper. I mean, talk about immorality. That got me so angry that I was willing to sacrifice my career and come out and speak out on that veto,” he says. “And for me to speak out on it, my voice had to be authentic. So I told the press, ‘Yes, I am gay.’ ”
Rather than viewing his Star Trek past and the enduring fame it has earned him as a burden (how would you like to be regularly stopped and asked for an autograph in Klingon?), Takei is gracious enough to be thankful for all the good fortune that legendary television series has brought him.
“I am proud of my association with Star Trek, and grateful for the many doors it has opened for me. I think it’s been a blessing in my life. As a young Asian-American actor way back then, my opportunities were rather limited. And those limited opportunities were uninteresting stereotyped roles. For me, as an actor and as an Asian-American, it was a breakthrough opportunity, and it broke a lot of stereotypes.
The 76-year-old actor says he isn’t the sort to consider fame a burden or a liability.
“To have this kind of longevity is a blessing,” he explains. “I am still working as an actor. A lot of actors of my generation have retired. This is a very youth-oriented industry, so I think it is important for us to say thank you to the fans. Because when they stop asking for autographs and selfie photos, then you are in trouble.”
Takei’s fan base is likely to increase in 2014, given a new project on the immediate horizon.
“A documentarian has been following me for the past four or five years,” he says. “That film, titled To Be Takei, was just accepted by the Sundance Film Festival and we will be going there next month for the premiere. And I think it will show people that I am not just a Star Trek actor.”
Certainly not, but his presence at Bass Hall will surely kick the “Sci-Fi Spectacular” into warp drive on Saturday.