Captain's Log, Star Date 2014, and Lt. Sulu is on the line, talking about his legendary role on Star Trek and his equally legendary hipness that keeps 76-year-old actor and civil rights activist George Takei on every teenager's Facebook feed these days.
"I shattered the stereotype of Asian drivers, didn't I?" Takei said in a phone call from his California home that he shares with his husband, Brad, whom he's been with for 27 years.
These days, he is the overlord of an Internet following of more than 6 million Facebook and Twitter fans who revel in his impish humor ("Pot legalized in two states, and the maker of Twinkies shutters its doors? Now that's irony"). With a staff of interns helping, Takei (pronounced Tah-kay) passes along everything from hilarious cat memes to grammar lessons, Star Trek references, brain teasers and everyday wisdom with a heavy dose of social justice thrown in.
He will be in Tampa on Tuesday to give the keynote speech for the National Tutoring Association, talking about "the most egregious violation of our Constitution" when as a 5-year-old, he and his family were faced by soldiers carrying bayonets who ordered them out of their home and into a camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.
But of course it all began for sci-fi fans when in 1965 producer Gene Roddenberry cast him as Hikaru Sulu in the Star Trek television series. He was at the helm of the starship Enterprise, the best Asian driver in the galaxy, fully embracing the show's revolutionary model for diversity.
Here's some excerpts from our wide-ranging talk. at tampabay.com and click on Links in today's Times.
On the Japanese internment camps:
"We started every school day with the pledge of allegiance to the flag. I could see the barbed wire fence and sentry tower right outside my schoolhouse window as I recited the words 'with liberty and justice for all.' It was just something they taught us and I memorized by rote not understanding the stinging irony behind those words."
He lived in the camps for three years.
On building his social media profile:
"It's the funny that keeps people coming back," he said of his adventures in social media, such as the election season meme of Capt. Kirk shouting "Yes we Khaaaaaaaan!" that went viral. Once he had grown his audience, Takei said, he started slipping in his pleas for social justice and was astonished at how rapidly they took off, too.
"I, too, am astounded by the rapidity of growth and size of the growth (of his social media profile). On Facebook I have more than 6.3 million friends; isn't that amazing?"
On the death of Fred Phelps, founder of the notorious gay-bashing Westboro Baptist Church:
"I take no solace or joy in this man's passing," he wrote on his Facebook feed. "We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding 'God Hates Freds' signs, tempting as it may be. He was a tormented soul, who tormented so many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end."
On William Shatner:
His relationship with his former starship captain has been prickly over the years, with Shatner once implying that his marriage was a publicity stunt, with their ex-castmates who played Uhura and Chekov in the wedding party.
"Bill is Bill," Takei said of notoriously self-involved Shatner. "Fred Phelps may have been a tortured soul, but Bill is a self-possessed soul. So you recognize people for what they are and you carry on."
His greatest hero is his father:
"He summed (up his humiliating internment experience) to me by saying that both the strength and the weakness of American democracy is in the fact that it is a people's democracy. And it can be as great as a people can be but it's also as fallible as people are. ... It's dependent on good people, and that's why I'm a political activist."
Where to begin? This fall the musical Allegiance, inspired by the Takei family internment, is slated to hit Broadway with Takei playing both the narrator and his own grandpa.
The documentary To Be Takei about how he and his husband, Brad, have become the poster couple for marriage equality premiered at Sundance and is slated for release this summer.
He spends a week at a time at the Howard Stern radio show every couple of months. He's done it for more than a decade, forming an unlikely kinship with the shock jocks there.
His unisex cologne Eau My was a hot seller on Amazon this Christmas ("Set your phasers to stunning").
He will do a speaking tour this year at universities in Japan and Korea, organized by the State Department, to talk about his life, his family's internment and his career as an openly gay Asian-American. And he will lead the Seattle Gay Pride parade in June.
"What a blessing each day is," Takei said. "I'm sitting here looking out at a flawless blue sky, golden sunshine, a beautiful green garden. What a gift that we have. And when you see the news and watch stories like the Malaysia airline, all of this could be taken away that quickly. Enjoy your life and don't spend it hating."