The new exhibit "New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei" opens Sunday at Japanese American National Museum, including a couple hundred items from George's personal archives.
For an outsider's view of George, we chatted with Jennifer Kroot, director of the documentary "To Be Takei." (Her new film is "The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin," which debuts this month at SXSW.)
Despite George's acknowledged Hollywood ham personality, Kroot says she was never worried about not being able to capture the real George:
He has that personality where he is always happy being filmed. What made us go beyond that was the fact that we also started following his husband Brad. Brad doesn't have that type of training. So everything comes out if Brad is around.
In the spent 3-1/2 years Kroot spent with George for the documentary, Kroot came away with this: George is not, at heart, a performer.
At heart, George is an actor and an educator. Sometimes he does that through comedy a little bit, and sometimes he does that through serious speeches. Like even at home when he lets his hair down, he's always reading and thinking about things... I think that's his mission in life- to educate people. Seeing what his father went through... he doesn't take that lightly. He works hard to get his message out and I think that's his main thing. That's behind everything he does. Even Star Trek. As we know the original Star Trek had social justice issues in it.
On George's appearances on Howard Stern after he came out:
I think Howard Stern is responsible for not only normalizing George Takei as a gay man, a gay Asian actor. He also is the person that launched that reignition of George's career when he invited him to be on his show. He'd pranked George for years on and off prior to that so I'm not sure George was dying to do that. But I know he really is grateful for what Howard has done for his career.
Near the end of "To Be Takei," actor Walter Koenig, who played Ensign Chekov on Star Trek, says he hopes George knows what he's accomplished in his long and unlikely career. Jennifer thinks George knows, but isn't patting himself on the back about it.
He has lived and continues to live a pretty unique life. He has a position where it's very unique - first of all- to be part of Star Trek, and he knows that talent but also luck. He's been able to take his very high profile position as a Star Trek star and really talk about issues that are meaningful to him and are important to a lot of people. I think it's something he does for his parents, especially his Dad. I think that's what he's always looking at 'This is what my dad would want so I'm going to do it for my dad.'