Takei breaks new ground in 'Heroes'

NBC'S "Heroes" is about to send "Star Trek's" George Takei where he, at least, has never gone before.

When the deep-voiced actor known to millions as "Mr. Sulu" turns up today as the father of Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), he'll apparently be speaking Japanese, and only Japanese.

"You know, I've made speeches in Japan, I've received a decoration from the emperor of Japan - the Order of the Rising Sun - which I accepted in Japanese, but I have never worked in Japanese," said Takei, 69, earlier this month during an NBC party in Pasadena, Calif.

"And here I am, doing prime-time television, popular television, in Japanese. I haven't, you know, worked in Japan in Japanese. And here I am in the United States, working in Japanese with English subtitles. So that's a delight. But it's also a challenge, because it is not my first language," said Takei, who was born in Los Angeles but spent much of World War II confined with his family in internment camps for Japanese-Americans.

Language wasn't the only challenge.

"Heroes" creator Tim Kring appears to operate on a need-to-know basis with his actors, and Takei, who had filmed three episodes by mid-January and described his commitment to the show as "open-ended," said he's learning about his character a little bit at a time.

"I go from script to script," he said.

What he knows:

"I'm a powerful industrialist. We come from a very distinguished family, an old-line family. I was brought up that way, and I thought I would bring up my son that way, but I'm discovering that there are strange things happening."

Beyond that, "I really don't know who my character is, and why my character does what he does, and what his motivations are and where he's going, because with each new script, I make new discoveries. And is he good, or is he bad, is he domineering or is he being told to behave that way? I mean, there's so many ambiguous things about it," Takei said.

Oka, whose character grew up watching "Star Trek," has said he'd like to see some acknowledgment of the Sulu connection on "Heroes," and Takei agrees.

"He should at least 'Papa, you look like Sulu,' " he said.

Oka, who earlier this month had so far worked only a day or two with Takei, nevertheless does a dead-on impression of the actor, whom he described as "an iconic figure."

"Offscreen, he would tell the old stories," Oka said, lowering his voice to mimic Takei's sonorous tones: "'Back in my day, we used to use camels for transportation."'

Oka's Hiro won't be the only character we'll see Takei with in the coming weeks.

"My last scene was with Horned Rimmed Glasses. Yesterday, as a matter of fact," said Takei, alluding to the nickname of the mysterious character played by Jack Coleman, whose own role in the series so far has been the very definition of ambiguous.

"As I said, all my scenes are in Japanese. That poor guy. He said, 'I'm the deer. There's the headlights,' " Takei said, laughing. "But he did a great job. It was very accented," but understandable.

"He's speaking in Japanese. He memorized it all phonetically," he said.

So Horned Rimmed Glasses speaks Japanese? Hmm ...

Other than that he wouldn't mind having a role, Takei only knows what he's heard about "Star Trek XI," a project from "Lost" co-creator J.J. Abrams. (Some reports suggest the new film could be a prequel to the original series.)

"What would Capt. Sulu be doing a few years after ... 'Star Trek VI'? ... Fans would like to know," he said, laughing.

These days, Takei probably spends as much time talking about gay rights as he does about "Star Trek," after deciding to open up about his personal life for the first time in 2005.

"You know, I've been out, with, certainly family and friends, and my 'Star Trek' colleagues, for many, many years," he said. "The only thing I had not done is talk to the press" about it, something that changed when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a same-sex marriage bill.

Until the veto, "I thought surely ... my partner and I were going to be able to get married," he said. "When he played to the narrowest, most reactionary segment of his conservative base and vetoed, I felt I needed to speak out. And for me to do that, my voice needed to be authentic. And so I spoke to you guys for the first time."

And, no, it doesn't appear to have hurt his career, which now includes recurring appearances on "The Howard Stern Show."

"I do think there's more interest in me" since his public coming-out, Takei said. "When you get a lot of press, the industry gets more interested."

on tv

'Heroes' airs at 9 p.m. Mondays on NBC.