George Takei has been a working actor since the 1950s, but it seems that now, at age 76, hes busier than ever.
Theres the musical Allegiance, about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, that Takei stars in and is prepping for a Broadway run.
There are the recent guest appearances on The Big Bang Theory, Hawaii Five-O and Conan (on which he humorously proved that water is gay.)
Theres the advocacy for LGBT rights (Takei came out in 2005), the Facebook page with four million friends, and the book Oh Myyy! telling how the former Star Trek actor became a social media phenomenon.
And then there are the narrative performances with symphony orchestras, the latest of which, featuring Takei and the North Carolina Symphony in a program of music from sci-fi films and TV shows, runs this Thursday and Friday at Meymandi Concert Hall.
The whole narration thing began more than a decade ago, says Takei, when I was contacted by the conductor of the California Wind Orchestra, in Orange County, who had a piece based on Lord of the Rings. Because of my science fiction connection, he asked me to take a look. It was a real challenge, and turned out to be a great success. He got conducting gigs with other orchestras, and I did a series of LOTR concerts, and from that, the word gets around among the circle of symphonic conductors.
Takei, whose deep, announcers timbre has also been used in voiceovers, says he enjoys these gigs because the music helps you capture the mood and the intensity, or the softness of the portions youre narrating. Whereas in front of the camera, theres no music, you have to work very quickly. Working with music, which has the power to reach people emotionally, its wonderful.
The Los Angeles native, whose family was interned in Arkansas during the war, has also been trying to reach people and tell them about the injustices he and his fellow Japanese-Americans suffered during World War II. Which is how he got to social media in the first place.
We were developing this musical bound for Broadway, and we needed to raise awareness [about the internment], says Takei. I thought social media is the contemporary technology to reach a lot of people, but you cant do that straight on. My base was sci-fi geeks and nerds, so I began with funny commentaries on sci-fi itself, and when that was established I started broadening it a little. I started doing a lot of advocacy with the LGBT community, and my audience exploded, and then I started with the Japanese-American issue, and we built an enthusiastic following.
Takei has been lucky. As Americas most well-known Japanese-American actor, he has generally avoided stereotypical parts, and has seen the media image of Asian-Americans improve over the years. But, he says, theres still a long way to go.
Weve certainly come a long way from when I started in the 50s, but were not there yet, were far from it. We dont get to play leading roles, he says. However, the progress weve made, TV is now reflecting the diversity of American society, and you see a sprinkling of Asians together with Latinos, African-Americans. Its getting to be a more true reflection of our society. But we need a leading-man type. Particularly with Asian males, were not considered sexy or strong.