Courtesy of George Takei
Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013 | 2 a.m.
George Takei remembers his first conversation with “Star Trek” creator Gene Rodenberry as the new show was being cast. A Japanese-American, Takei was to audition for the role of helmsman Hikaru Sulu on the USS Enterprise.
Takei came away from that talk knowing this was to be no ordinary TV series.
“He told me, ‘The Starship Enterprise is a metaphor for Starship Earth,’ ” Takei said during a Friday morning phone interview. “His vision was that the strength of the Starship lay in its diversity coming together and working in concert, as a team, and that makes us stronger. This was not a homogeneous Starship. … Gene’s philosophy was that the diversity is what makes the Enterprise strong, and he wanted the show and the characters to be groundbreaking.”
Though its original, self-imposed “five-year mission” was cut short by two years, “Star Trek” is likely more popular today than at any time in its 47-year history. A new blockbuster film, “Star Trek Into Darkness” was released in May, and actors from every version of the TV series and film franchise are in high demand from Trekkers around the world to make personal appearance and talk about the “Star Trek” universe.
Landing at the Rio this week and weekend is the largest gathering of Trekkers in this (or any other) galaxy, the 12th Annual Star Trek Convention. The show starts at 10 a.m. today and runs through Sunday. As always, stars from “Star Trek” series and films will appear onstage. Among them: William Shatner, Jeri Ryan, Kate Mulgrew, Joel Grey, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton and Judson Scott. Takei’s appearance is set for Sunday, as he poses for photos from 9:25-9:55 a.m., hosts a Q&A for an hour beginning at 10:10 a.m., and signs autographs from 1:20-4 p.m.
In addition to the celebrity appearances, “Trek” memorabilia will be on display and for sale, and such fan events as costume and trivia contests are scheduled. Tickets are $35 for Thursday and Friday; $40 for Saturday and Sunday (children ages 12 and under are $25, and children 6 and under are admitted free). For a full schedule of events, go to the convention’s official website or call (818) 409-0960.
When Takei talks of the show and its characters being groundbreaking, he also is referring to his off-screen role as a civil-rights activist who has long championed the legalization of same-sex marriage. He came out, or as he said, “came out roaring,” in 2005 to fight for same-sex couples’ rights to be legally married and was gratified when the Supreme Court struck down a key provision in the Defense of Marriage Act, the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states. Takei and his partner, Brad Altman, have been partners for 26 years and were legally married in Los Angeles on Sept. 14, 2008.
During the interview, the 76-year-old Takei showed that he is still vigorous in his social activism, saying, “My mission in life has been to make our democracy a truer democracy” and talked frankly of his relationship to the Sulu character and his fellow cast mates. As Takei imparted:
• He spoke privately with Roddenberry about “outing” Sulu during the series. “We had shows that used the civil-rights movement as a subtext — an alien who was black on the right side of his face and white on the other side, and another who was white on the right and black on the left side, and they couldn’t get along,” Takei says. “We had the first white-black kiss, Kirk and Uhura, in the history of television. But we did not deal with equality for the LGBT community. Gene said, ‘It’s really a struggle just to get on the air with these issues. I’ve got to keep the show on, and if I did something with the sexual-orientation issue, that would be the basis for cancellation.' " So we kept the show on to make the statements we were making.
• He kept his homosexuality concealed for years for fear he would be locked out of roles. “The gay part of my life was hidden and secret for most of my life because I wanted to be an actor,” Takei said. “When you’re a young actor, just starting out, you don’t let the world know you’re gay and hope to get cast.” He came out publicly in response to then-Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of that state's same-sex marriage bill, which had passed the California Assembly and Senate.
“That got me so angry, that’s when I talked to the press for the first time,” Takei says. “I’d been a member of all these gay organizations, but when Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed that bill, I felt I had to be vocal."
• He has frequently clashed with Shatner, as have other members of the original series’ cast. “He’s gone on YouTube and said I have a psychosis,” Takei says. “I calls ’em as I sees ’em, and the entire cast agrees — I mean, the others all have had run-ins with Bill, including Leonard Nimoy. If you read my autobiography (titled “To the Stars”), we lost a third of a day, an entire morning, because of an enormous and costly conflict that Bill and Leonard had.
“Jimmy (James Doohan, who played Scotty) has been vocal, too, and Walter Koenig (who played Pavel Chekov and was the best man at Takei’s wedding) was on Bill’s talk show, ‘Raw Nerves,’ and tore into him. Nichelle (Nichols, who portrayed Nyota Uhura) said in her autobiography, ‘We hate Bill.’ It’s been unanimous.”
Takei says he has often wondered why Shatner bothers to attend “Star Trek” conventions. “You should see his behavior at some of these conventions. I don’t know why he does them,” Takei says. “Well, I do know, because they pay him (laughs), but when he’s signing autographs, he doesn’t even make eye contact with the fans. At least I try to connect with the people I’m signing for.”
• He is advocating the removal of the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, because of that country’s hostility toward homosexuals. “The Soviet Union has crumbled, but we still have (Russian President Vladimir) Putin talking about criminalizing LGBT people, and if gay Olympic athletes say anything about being proud of their sexual orientation, they will be charged and tried. It’s outrageous,” Takei says. “The International Olympic Committee should take the Winter Olympics out of Sochi and transfer them to Vancouver for the safety of our athletes and their supporters. If Olympic ideals are going to remain true, the IOC has to take the games out of Sochi.”
• He is proud of “Star Trek,” it being rare among science-fiction stories for its optimistic perspective: “Some of the challenges may be daunting, but if we are confident in our inventive capacity, in our creative capacity, in our problem-solving capacity, we can overcome,” Takei says. “So much of science fiction shows dystopian, crumbled, ruined societies,” Takei says. “Look at the blockbusters, the Will Smith movie (“After Earth”) and the Tom Cruise movie ‘Oblivion.’ They show ruined civilizations with humans kind of groping around in the rubble. But ‘Star Trek’ was not going to be that. Gene said, ‘We can make our future a better future.’ ”
Carnival lasts all year at the Rio. With a float occasionally passing overhead and dropping beads while feathered dancers fire up the gamblers below, the Rio tries to keep its 120,000-square foot casino jumping with excitement. Special Brazilian mixed-drinks are also served throughout the casino. The hotel suites tend to be larger than similar priced rooms on the Strip and many offer excellent views with floor to ceiling windows.
The Rio offers some quality shows like "Penn & Teller" and "Chippendales." Many come to the Rio for the nightlife at the VooDoo Lounge, located on the 51st floor, or McFadden's Irish Pub on the casino level.
Others come for a bit relaxation at the Rio Spa or pool area and still others come to shop at the hotel's 60,000 square feet of shops. In each of these endeavors, the Rio attempts to make the experience a bit more fun and spontaneous.
The Rio also offers guests a variety of dining choices from all-American food at the All-American Bar & Grille to Gaylord India Restaurant for something a little spicier and even Carnival World Buffet for the indecisive.