George Takei, best known as Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek television series and its movies, doesn’t believe in bucket lists. “I believe in living my life fully when I’m doing it,” George, 86, tells Closer exclusively. “People like to go to Venice, Italy, when they retire, but once they get to that point, they can’t walk that much. They can’t eat that much. What’s the point of the bucket list? You got to do it when you can!”

Living up to his word, the actor, author and activist has a number of new projects in the works, including the release of a new illustrated children’s book, My Lost Freedom: A Japanese American World War II Story, due out April 16. It’s based on the experiences George’s family faced, along with approximately 120,000 other Japanese Americans, held captive in internment camps during WWII by the U.S. government. “I’m speaking for two generations,” he explains of his book: “Daddy, Mommy and their kids.”

George is also working with FanFair Signatures, a platform which helps fans connect with stars and order personalized autographs. “By just touching a few keys on your keyboard you get my virtual signature, and it comes with beautiful artwork,” says George.

George Takei Looks Back on Star Trek, Was ‘Not a Sci-Fi Fan’
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You were 5 years old and living in Los Angeles when your family were detained solely because of your Japanese heritage. What do you recall about that time?

“I still remember that morning in May when my father came into the bedroom I shared with my brother, Henry. He told us to wait in the living room while our parents did some last-minute packing. We stood by the front window and saw two soldiers marching up our driveway. They began pounding on our door. It was really terrifying. My mother came out with our infant sister in her arms. Tears were just streaming down her face. The memory of that morning is just seared
into my brain.”

Did you understand what was happening?

“No. That night we had to sleep in horse stalls. For my parents, it was a degrading, humiliating experience. For me and my brother, it was an exciting new experience. Two different perspectives.”

Your family were released after a year. How did you all avoid becoming bitter about having been treated like criminals without doing anything wrong?

“My father said, ‘We’re Americans, we’re part of America. And we need to be a participant. We need to be engaged in America.’ He urged all three [children] to be active in society and in electoral politics. I became active politically because of my father.”

How did you get interested in acting?

“I loved the theater. Theater tickets were expensive, so I went down to the Biltmore Theatre and asked if I could watch the plays if I became an usher. I saw all the plays that came to Los Angeles from New York.”

George Takei in Star Trek
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What was your earliest break?

“My father came across an ad in a Japanese American paper, about a producer who was casting ‘Japanese voices.’ It was for a Japanese sci-fi monster film, Rodan, which they wanted to dub into English. I auditioned at the old MGM Studios in Culver City and got the job. It was the biggest thrill of my life. I worked with this Chinese American actor, Keye Luke, who was a grizzled veteran. He complimented me, so I really felt great about that gig.”

In 1960, you co-starred in the film ‘Ice Palace’ with Richard Burton. How did you get along?

“When we met on location in Alaska, I couldn’t believe it. This legend was my castmate! He was such a down-to-earth guy. We were a perfect match for each other because I was full of questions about Richard Burton, and Richard Burton loved talking about Richard Burton. He was even more garrulous than me!”

In 1966, you starred with Cary Grant in ‘Walk, Don’t Run.’ What was he like?

Exactly the kind of character you’d imagine. They had a chair for me with my name right beside his — I was studying for my classes at UCLA. When he came by, he said in his classic Cary Grant voice, ‘Study, study, study! Why are you studying so hard? You don’t need a degree to be an actor! Why don’t you become a producer with all that knowledge? Then you’ll be able to hire me!'”

How about John Wayne, who you appeared with in 1968’s ‘The Green Berets?’

“John Wayne was the same person offstage as he was onstage. He was a fascinating, charismatic personality.”

You also did a few films with Jerry Lewis.

“I really didn’t want to do a Jerry Lewis film because he’s so over the top. But what I discovered was that Jerry Lewis off-screen was a sharp, intelligent and inventive filmmaker.”

‘Star Trek’ was famously filmed at Desilu Studios. Did you know Lucille Ball?

“She was a tough businessman, nothing like the Lucy that we all know and love. I remember her coming onto the set of Star Trek, dressed in a tailored suit with shoulder pads, completely in command with three or four suited men — her underlings. She had whispered conversations with [Star Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry and went striding out.”

Were you a science-fiction fan before ‘Star Trek’?

“Actually, I was not a sci-fi fan. Not really.”

George Takei Looks Back on Star Trek, Was ‘Not a Sci-Fi Fan’
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Who were you closest to among the original cast?

“That’s one of the gifts of those Star Trek projects: My colleagues became longtime friends. For example, Leonard [Nimoy], even after Star Trek, whenever I did a play, he came to see it. When the documentary on my husband, Brad, and I was coming out [2014’s To Be Takei ], Leonard was ill, so I didn’t send him an invitation. But he came in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank on his lap, so that he could be there to support me. He was a loyal friend.”

How about the rest of the gang?

“When Brad and I married, I asked Walter Koenig to be my best man. And he said yes. And I asked Nichelle Nichols to be our matron of honor. She said, ‘I am not a matron! Why can’t I be the best lady?!’ So, my Star Trek colleagues were my best man and my best lady! And Jimmy Doohan was my best drinking buddy.”

You’ve been a lifelong activist. Do you think we are making progress?

“There are lessons to be learned from history. When we were incarcerated, there was a lesson even for our top politicians like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Look at our world today. When we have not learned a thing from history, we live in a world that is in turmoil. We have to be an informed society so that we can all cast informed votes.”