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George Takei shows relationship with husband in new doc 'To Be Takei'

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TORONTO - George Takei is already a celebrated actor and activist. But he wants to reach more even more people.

The 77-year-old first became famous for playing helmsman Lt. Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek series in the 1960s, then became an advocate for Japanese-Americans interned during the Second World War and later a gay rights activist.

When director Jennifer Kroot approached him and husband-manager Brad Takei about filming the documentary "To Be Takei," he saw it as an opportunity to spread his message of tolerance even further.

"Speaking out on issues to university classes or governmental agencies or corporations is reaching the head, it's essentially singing to the choir," George Takei said during a recent interview at the Canadian International Documentary Festival (also known as Hot Docs). "We wanted to reach a larger audience, and reach them through the heart as well as the mind.

"Having a documentary film, we thought, was a wonderful way to do that."

In 1942, a five-year-old Takei was placed in internment camps with his family for the duration of the Second World War. After returning to his home in Los Angeles, he completed high school and attended the University of California, Berkeley, becoming an actor.

After his breakout role in Star Trek, Takei got involved in politics, including speaking at Congressional hearings about his experience in the internment camps.

In the mid-2000s, Takei revealed he was gay and in a long-term relationship with Brad Altman. The actor became an outspoken advocate for gay rights and same-sex marriage and the pair were wed in 2008.

"His LGBT activism when he came out in 2005 was, I thought, very inspiring the way he was so eloquent and kind of made fun of himself a bit and didn't take himself too seriously," said Kroot, who directed "It Came from Kuchar" in 2009. "Later I read his autobiography where he talks about being imprisoned in Japanese-American internment camps in his youth.

"Just thinking of all those obstacles together and then his relentlessly positive attitude, it seemed like a really interesting idea for a documentary."

As powerful as his life story is, the Takeis and Kroot agree that the strength of "To Be Takei" lies in George and Brad's relationship.

"The interaction between George and me was a way to connect the messages of the film together," said Brad Takei. "I hope people don't tune it out, but tune in on how personal it really is."

Kroot pointed to one of those personal moments between George and Brad as a turning point in "To Be Takei."

"I really like the scene where they go to scatter Brad's mother's ashes," said Kroot. "I think everything in life happens in that scene. There's comedy, tragedy, banality. You plan to do things, they end up happening a different way then you anticipate. It's just a really odd, comedic but sincere moment between the two guys as they're attempting to scatter these ashes.

"Brad reveals a lot about his family and also their relationship dynamics come through quite a bit."

Takei readily acknowledges that showing a new, more intimate side of his relationship with his husband was one of the goals of "To Be Takei."

"(We hoped) to humanize people who may have stereotyped perceptions of gays or inter-racial unions or people of Japanese ancestry," said Takei. "So we could cover all that by humanizing our relationship and sharing that with a larger audience."

Although much of "To Be Takei" focuses on George Takei's personal life, Star Trek fans will be pleased to know that there are also lengthy sections on the seminal science-fiction series.

"It's the first time the surviving members of the Star Trek original cast Bill Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig and George Takei are in one film together," said Brad Takei. "It's probably the last time that they'll all be together in a film.

"I think that's kind of poignant and neat that they did assemble one more time for George's documentary, of all things. You never would've thought that would happen."

"To Be Takei" doesn't shy away from the well-documented friction between Shatner and George Takei either. A clip of Takei's speech in Comedy Central's Roast of William Shatner in 2006 is included, and both actors explain the absence of Shatner from the Takeis' wedding.

"Bill made a big thing about not getting an invitation to the wedding, when actually he had been sent an invitation," said George Takei. "What puzzled us was that he complained about not being invited two months after the wedding. If he really wanted to come that badly, and he didn't get invitation, he could have called us and we would have happily extended him another invitation."

The Hot Docs festival runs until May 4.

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