There's been no shortage of important roles for George Takei to play.
As Mr. Sulu, he helped "Star Trek" set a course for intergalactic fame and broke ground for Asian-American actors along the way. As a gay Japanese American, the discrimination he faced steered him toward human rights activism. He's fought for LGBT issues and put the spotlight on the internment of Japanese Americans during War World II, a dark chapter in U.S. history that he experienced first-hand when soldiers forced him out of his home at age 4.
On top of that, he's also become a Facebook phenom with more than 7.5 million fans, many of whom seek levity from his daily postings of fan-generated images. All of which is to say that Takei, at 77, has lived long and prospered within a world that has tried to contain him behind barbed-wire fences — both real and virtual ones — since he was a child. In "To Be Takei," the documentary about his life that opened in dozens of theaters in North America last week, director Jennifer Kroot toggles between the actor's current-day celebrity (with his husband/handler Brad Takei never far from his side) and the many obstacles of his past. Navigating those barriers made his role as the helmsman on the USS Enterprise look easy.
If you're a Trekkie or one of his devoted Facebook fans, you've likely either seen the film or read at least one of the many (mostly favorable) reviews and other stories out there. We won't do a rerun of that here. Instead, given that more than a hundred hours of footage was shot for her 93-minute movie, I asked Kroot which of her favorite scenes ended up not making the final cut. Here are three (which could end up in later versions of the film):
The gay Asian-American cowboy
Although the documentary includes clips of George singing, there's a scene Kroot was sad to cut of him crooning cowboy songs (his favorite is "On the Road Again") while riding horseback with his husband in Arizona, where they have a vacation home.
On its face, it might seem like just another clip of a day in the life of George. But Kroot loved the scene because of its irony, "considering he's a Japanese American who was imprisoned in internment camps," and here he is on horseback roaming free like any American. Add to that his openness about his sexuality, and you have a progressive portrayal of a modern cowboy that one-ups even "Brokeback Mountain." "He breaks all the cowboy stereotypes," she said.
The scene was cut because Kroot might have needed to clear the rights on the songs he sang; plus, the footage included light-hearted bickering over Brad's weight. While she liked how their banter echoed the interactions of many married couples, the film already included George making reference to Brad's body, and she felt that too many scenes with the same dialog would mislead the audience to think George was on his case all the time. Brad wanted the horseback riding scene in there, she said.
'A survivor from Warsaw'
Kroot says there's another part of George's career that many people don't know about: doing live narrations for symphony orchestras. He narrated "A Survivor From Warsaw" for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra at the same time he was making a pilgrimage to that state, which was the site of the first internment camp that held him and his family.
The piece was both wonderful and disturbing, which made it a powerful scene, Kroot said. But it also "overpowered what we were showing about George's own experience and the camps that he was in. It took it to more of a discussion about World War II and Nazi Germany," which was something outside of his story, she said.
Hold the mayo
On the lighter side, there's a scene where George cracks a flower vase while he's washing it in the kitchen. Brad tells him it cracked because he doesn't know how to wash dishes — what Hollywood star does? — and then proceeds to give a weird tour of their mostly empty fridge. The scene culminates with Brad making a sandwich out of two corn tortillas, mayonnaise and ham.
Kroot saw the clip as more of a bizarre outtake than anything else, but what she liked about it was how it showed that they're both "so aware of the camera, but they're also going about their day-to-day business without thinking twice at the same time." Such is life when someone's always trying to film you.
As for a scene included in the film that George could probably do without? Kroot points to the part that highlights roles he had in two Jerry Lewis comedies — performances that played into the Asian stereotype. In the documentary, George says in an interview, "I regret that. I'm sorry I did it."
Fortunately for him and many others, his much more meaningful roles would come later in life.