When George Takei came out in 2005, he brought Brad Altman into the public eye with him.
Nearly a decade later, Takei’s now-husband is fully ready for his close-up.
Beloved from his run as Sulu in the “Star Trek” movies, Takei’s career largely went silent in the 90’s and early parts of last decade, thanks in part to his age and the lack of quality roles for Asian actors. But when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a gay marriage bill in 2005, Takei, then 61, felt a responsibility to speak out. At that point, he had been with Altman nearly two decades, and the relationship was no secret to their friends and Hollywood colleagues; still, it’s a precarious time to be gay in America, with voters in many states having just passed anti-gay initiatives during the 2004 election.
Takei, though, had always been an activist, working tirelessly to promote awareness of the cruel internment camps for Japanese citizens in which he lived during World War II. So he made LGBT rights his next cause, and with the help of Altman — whom he wed in 2008 — he revived his career in the process, with TV appearances and a booming social media presence.
Now, the two feature in “To Be Takei,” a documentary about their advocacy work, George’s career resurgence, and their life of 27 years together. TheWrap spoke with the former Brad Altman — he changed his name to Takei in 2011 — about their relationship, his role as business manager in the Takei enterprise, and the film, which hits theaters in limited release on Friday.
TheWrap: Before George came out, in 2005, you were very much in the background, sort of invisible from his public life. How hard was that?
Takei: The way I looked at it, George and I, in the same way some married couples or committed partners, they share a lot of things in common, and all during this life journey together, George and I had been politically in touch, I’ve always been behind the scenes with the business side of his career, helping with bookkeeping and reviewing contracts, we’ve always shared where George wanted to go with his life and career, we’ve always been in total sync. So during those years, because of professional reasons, George wasn’t an openly gay person, I subscribed to that 100 percent.
We’ve always been in lock step with each other as other chapters unfolded, so now we’re at this stage where we’re not hiding anything. So that’s been interesting, what secrets could we possibly still have, and I think every secret has been announced after two days on the Howard Stern show. That’s part of our mission statement, too, because Howard’s audience is so diverse, so we truly appreciate the role Howard Stern has played in his activism.
TheWrap: This is your first real step into significant on-camera spotlight. How are you handling it after all these years?
Takei: You underscored the operative words, biggest moment in terms of video. The key is George and I had been legally married since 2008 and monogamous partners for 27 years, so we’ve been together all that time. Meaning all those dozens, maybe hundreds of “Star Trek” conventions that George has done, all his film work, I’ve always been behind the camera during his very public career.
I was actually not nervous because once George and I agreed to work with the director Jennifer Kroot, we knew that the working mission statement of the documentary was one that we really were 100 percent behind. The mission statement was to allow Jennifer and her film crew access into our private lives to show fair minded Americans that a same-sex couple, this is like everyone else in our culture dominated by opposite sex couple. Maybe if our doc showed we’re just like everyone else, just the same gender, maybe fair minded people will think twice about wanting to discriminate against the LGBT community.
TheWrap: Social media plays a huge part in George’s career now. How did that start, and how does it work now? You must have help.
Takei: Social media started out with a blank page. We thought to ourselves, George is co-starring in a Broadway-bound musical titled “Allegiance,” we don’t have a lot of money to buy full page ads in the NY Times, so we said let’s start a free Twitter account and Facebook account and talk about things that interest those audiences, and then over the months bring in marketing about “Allegiance.” And then it grew like gangbusters.
George does not run his social media alone anymore, because it requires a tremendous amount of technical skill set, staging, finding the content, and since we travel constantly, we have to find a team in place that helps to put the memes on the wall. The technical aspect of getting that stuff going. The real reason he started was to promote the play.
TheWrap: So what’s the status of the play?
Takei: The producers are hoping that “Allegiance” will find the right sized theater on Broadway as early as next spring, spring of 2015, and there has been an awareness that there’s so many Broadway shows right now, the producers are not finding the right sized theater right now. It’s sort of a waiting game to wait for the right sized theater to open up with the right number of seats. He’s hoping by spring 2015, he’ll be starring in eight performances a week. It’s been a long road to get to Broadway, and two years ago it had its world premiere at the Old Globe theater in San Diego and it broke the record for attendance. It has a good pedigree, the producers are just trying to find the right theater.
TheWrap: He’s certainly had a career resurgence. Why do you think that is, beyond the activism?
Takei: I always say George is the next Betty White. The middle years of her career, she was a very prominent American actor winning Emmys left and right and very well known to the American public, but she didn’t become “Betty White” until her very mature years. That path is what’s happening to George. He’s not that guy from “Star Trek” — which is not a bad thing to be, he’s proud to be part of it — he’s simply George Takei. The key principle is that George is a tenacious human being who likes to work, he’s super intelligent, he likes to take on challenges, he likes to take on new things, so at this stage in his life, he’s not content to go play golf. he likes to experiment with the offerings life throws his way.