This Saturday, 75-year-old George Takei will boldly go where no man has gone before – by playing both a dead-ninja-turned-hologram and his own evil twin on the second season of Nickelodeon’s Supah Ninjas.
Sure, the dual parts might sound a little ludicrous to anyone over the age of 13. But if there’s one person who can make them work, it’s Takei. After all, the man has already won the hearts of geeks everywhere as Star Trek’s original Mr. Sulu, conquered social media with his incredibly popular Twitter and Facebook pages, lent his life story to a new musical about Japanese American internment during World War II – hopefully coming to Broadway next season – and cemented his status as Howard Stern’s favorite guest. At this point, tackling both “Hologramps” and his wicked brother should be a piece of cake.
But don’t take our word for it – Takei is more than happy to speak for himself.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about Supah Ninjas.
GEORGE TAKEI: Well, it’s a “supah” show, and I’m having a great time working on it. As you know, it’s about my grandson and his two cohorts. I selected my grandson to be a ninja. However, I’ve died recently. This is the 21st century, so there are many ways we can come back from the dead – particularly on television, and particularly on Nickelodeon, and particularly when you have a background in sci-fi, as I do. And so I come back as a hologram, and I give them guidance and wisdom and training.
At the end of last season, we learned that your character’s twin brother is leading a rival gang of ninjas.
Right. I may have died and become a hologram, but there is a twin who is alive, and eeeevil. And guess who plays him? None other than yours truly!
So that’s the fun part, because I get to be the good me – and I have to search hard, but I manage to find the evil in George Takei. In an upcoming episode, the evil me and the good me confront each other in a terrific swordfight.
How did you like working with George Takei?
George Takei can be very exhausting. When I finished that scene, I was completely spent. I couldn’t do anything but take a shower and eat a room service meal and go to bed.
How did you get involved in the show to begin with?
I like working with youngsters. I don’t have children of my own. My nephew lives only 5 minutes away from me, and his kids, Marcus and Hannah, have become my new surrogate kids. Marcus and Hannah are rabid Supah Ninja fans. The second season can’t happen soon enough. They keep nagging me – “Hurry up, Uncle George!” I love to burst out into song and dance, and it embarrasses them to no end. When I start up, they try to suppress me. They’re the apples of my eye. I love them to death.
What TV shows did you love when you were a kid?
Well, when I was a kid – you sound pretty young, you might not know – I had my ears glued to what they call a “radio.” Do you know what that is?
Sorry, I’m unfamiliar.
[laughs] Cisco Kid, the Green Hornet. When I was a little bit younger, they had a show called Happy Theater. That’s what I used to grow up on. We didn’t have this thing called “television” yet. And when we got our first television, I was about 12 or 13. The television screen was round – which was, we thought, better than the square screens that my friends were looking at. We had a sci-fi TV program then called Space Patrol – Buzz Corry and his cohorts Happy and Carol. The evil regular was a female called Tonga. She was a brunette, and Carol of course was a blonde. That was my introduction to sci-fi. That was the Supah Ninjas of my childhood.
Do you think it’s important that Supah Ninjas gives Japanese kids a place where they can see their heritage on TV?
I think it’s important for all kids. Mike Fukanaga [Ryan Potter]’s best friend is an African-American called Owen [Carlos Knight], and they are really tight buddies. And the third member of the Supah Ninjas is a blonde, beautiful girl who Mike has a secret crush on. She’s a great role model too – she’s athletic, she’s charming, she’s on the cheerleading team, and she knows her acrobatics. Played by Grace Dzienny. The thing that endears Gracie to me is she’s a musical theater fan, as I am. I developed a musical on the internment of Japanese Americans titled Allegiance – this is my legacy project. We had our world premiere at the Old Globe Theatre, and bless her heart, Gracie came all the way down to San Diego to see it. She should become a theater critic, because she thought it was the best theater that she’s ever seen. [laughs] She has high standards and excellent taste.
How is Allegiance going? I know you’re trying to bring it to Broadway this season or next.
Well, let me tell you how it went in San Diego. This is about a little-known and shameful chapter in American history, and we needed to develop an audience before we opened. So I started my social media activities, the tweeting and the Facebooking. And by the time we opened, we had a huge following eagerly waiting. We got standing ovations every night. By the time we got into the first week of performances, we started selling out. When we finally closed, we had broken every attendance and box office record in the 77-year history of the Old Globe Theatre. So that augurs very well for our transfer to New York. We’re going to be opening next season in New York, and we have a workshop coming up in April to tweak and fine-tune Allegiance.
So you began your social media empire when you were first promoting the show.
Essentially. That was the motivation. My core audience was the geeks and nerds of sci-fi, so I began by talking about Star Trek and making some funny commentaries about science. I noticed that the funny commentaries – the funnies – got a lot of “likes” and shares. And so as my audience grew, I started expanding the topics I talked about, and I started including the internment of innocent Americans of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War in internment camps. And so I started building an audience for our play that way. By the time we were ready for our opening in San Diego, we had a huge and excited audience waiting for us.
Next: Was he always this funny?