From 'Trek' to 'Wars': George Takei on Clone Wars

George Takei on Clone Wars

George Takei

You just can’t mistake the voice, even if where you’re hearing it is a bit shocking. Its rich, deep tone, well-enunciated nouns, immediately says you’re hearing George Takei. You don’t have to even be an animation fan to understand that.

After all, Takei has been working in animation for over 35 years, starting with Filmation’s Star Trek: Animated Series back in 1972 where he returned to his role of Lt. Hikaru Sulu of the U.S.S. Enterprise. From there, his unmistakable basso has been heard in such cartoons as Disney’s Mulan, Batman Beyond, Kim Possible and Chowder.

Starting this Friday, he’ll be the voice of a new villain, Lok Durd, on Star Wars: Clone Wars . Interestingly enough this makes Takei the first actor, and still so far the only, to work for both Star Trek and Star Wars.

“I don’t consider it jumping ship,” says Takei. ”The Star Trek philosophy is to embrace the diversity of the universe, and Star Wars is part of that diversity. I also think Star Trek and Star Wars are related beyond both having the word “Star.”

Not that he doesn’t acknowledge differences, either.

Star Trek is science fiction,” said Takei. “Star Wars is science fantasy. Based on the episodes I worked on, I think with Star Wars: Clone Wars we’re starting to see a merging though. It does deal, philosophically, with some of the issues of the time, which is always something Star Trek was known for. War, Peace, Technology, Humanity, Sacrifice and Courage; these issues. I found that engaging.

“The other thing I found is in doing the Star Wars animation, especially when compared to the Star Trek animation, it was really working as an actor. I was actually working with other actors. When we did the recording (for Clone Wars—ED) the had the entire cast there. So we were able to bounce off of each other. You get a better idea of the characterization that way, the vocal rhythms of the other characters.

“When we did the animation for Star Trek, they were actually trying to be accommodating by setting their schedules around ours. So we came in individually. So it was often the case that when I was coming in, Leonard (Nimoy, Mr. Spock) was leaving. When I went into the recording booth, they would have the script with my lines underscored with a colored pen. I would just read my lines according to how that scene was played. I never played with Leonard. Then when I was leaving, Jimmy Doohan (Scotty), would come in and do his lines.”

In other words, Takei much prefers doing what in animation parlance is called “radio style” as opposed to doing it in isolation.

“You know I grew up in the age of radio,” Takei pointed out. “That was my main boyhood form of entertainment; lying on the living room floor with my ears affixed to the radio. I loved shows like The Phantom, Cisco Kid and even Happy Theater when I was younger. To be able to see actors who can act with only their voices was just a real treat. It reminded me of the loss of radio acting. [By the time he started acting] Radio dramas have disappeared. What we do have now is books on tape, which I find wonderful. I’ve done some of those. Otherwise, radio acting is now gone.

“I found that when I acted alone in the recording booth than when I did it with other actors. You know, the Star Trek animation was in the early 70s. I honestly found that to be very unsatisfying. I didn’t know how Leonard read his lines. All I would get is some cues from the director. He would go ‘Do it a bit louder,’ ‘Do it a little bit softer’ or more intensely or internalized. At the same time I was trying to hear the lines that Leonard said before me in my mind’s ear.

“With Star Wars I was bouncing off the actor,” Takei said. ”We were all together in the same studio. Yes, there were those glass windows there with the technical people on the other side. Still, to bounce off other actors is just wonderful, especially after that Star Trek experience. That was purely solitary acting with the director talking to you through a headphone. That wasn’t fun at all.”

For the record, Takei truly enjoyed working with the likes of Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano), Matt Lanter (Anakin Skywalker) and Dee Bradley Baker (the various Clones).

“They were all exceedingly talented actors,” he said. “The actors who played the Lurman, the kind of Irish accent that they had, were just marvelous. I would talk to them between takes and during the break, and just go back to being completely American. I couldn’t believe just how well they could make characters vocally.”

One also gets the feeling Takei enjoyed playing his character, who is humongous, slug-like and exceedingly pretentious villain.

“They seem to think my voice is ‘fat.’ That it sounds ‘obese.’ In fact, grotesquely obese,” Takei laughed. “They showed me a drawing of the character I was supposed to voice and the first thing I thought was ‘Oh no! Not again!’ because I had done the voice of the First Ancestor in Disney’s Mulan. That was also a huge, enormously obese character. Lok Durd is also immensely obese.

“Then when I saw the finished product I couldn’t help but realize it was amazingly well done. He’s just extremely flabby and loose he is. It made me wonder why I do all the sit ups, push ups and other exercises I really do when they think of that kind of character for my voice. I mean when Lok Durd moves, you can see his stomach, arms and legs, all his flesh, just jiggle. The animation is just amazing! Oh, the vanity of an actor!”

But when it was pointed out what it would be like to do a live action of Durd, Takei openly admits he prefers the animated version well over what the other way would have been.

“Thank God!,” he laughs “I just have to think of how hot and uncomfortable it would have been in the fat suit alone.”

Actually, from the sounds of the process, Supervising Director Dave Filoni made sure that Takei had a very clear idea about Durd long before they recorded him.

“They made sure I got to see what the character looked like,” he said. “I knew pretty fast how I wanted to play the character. They also gave an outline of the character, how it was conceived. I also got some stuff about him from the internet. When I reported to the studio, I met the other actors. From there I just dove into it.”

Not that the process of creating Durd was to immediately jump into the recording booth, either.

“I do a lot of voice work,” Takei stated. “In fact, I just did some this morning. Yesterday I was actually in London, where I did some commercial work and today they had emailed me the rewrites. So I went into a sound studio this morning and patched the rewrites. So, you can say I’m used to working vocally.

“What’s important with Star Wars, they made sure I had enough material to have a hook before I went into the studio. So I had practiced at home before the session. It helped me get a fix on the character. Of course, I kept myself open for whatever thoughts the director had. Still, it was listening to the other actors that was the real stimulation. That’s what got my juices going.

“After all the prep work, what also helped was having a run through with the other actors. That was when the director might give you some pointers. I remember him telling me to give some lines a bit more power or punch, those kind of things. From there I would go into the booth and do it.”

The final result is a truly memorable new addition to the SWCW universe. One that, even though he won’t say exactly when, appears to be a recurring character for the series.

This led to another interesting aspect for Takei. As one can imagine, he has a gigantic following thanks to his long tenure on Trek. As any comic book fan knows, he then took on a recurring role in the series Heroes. The end result is it increased his fan base. He wouldn’t be surprised if doing SWCW will do the same thing again.

“Any work that one does has a way of expanding your access to the audience,” says Takei. “As you probably know, I’m a recurring character in Heroes. Now when I do conventions, I’ve noticed that I’m being approached by a lot of Heroes fans with pictures of me as Kaito Nakamura. Perhaps now, when I go to conventions I’ll be approached to sign Lok Durd photos. Maybe I’ll even be invited to Star Wars conventions. We’ll see what happens.

“Last year, I did a British reality show called I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!. There they got twelve celebrities from many different arenas. This includes someone who was a member of Parliament, a woman who is the Barbara Walters of British television, and a children’s TV show host. The only one I knew was Martina Navratalova, the tennis player.

“We were all sent to the rain forests of Australia for three weeks, living off of basically only beans and rice, facing various challenges. This show is enormously popular. It was the highest rated show the weeks it was on. So I remember one day walking around in London, in Piccadilly. People right and left were coming up to me and saying ‘Hi George! We loved you on Celebrity!’ So every work you do that becomes enormously popular adds to your audience base. While I doubt if I walked down the street I’ll be visually recognized as Lok Durd, I’m sure Star Wars: Clone Wars fans might stop me anyway. I would also say it has again expanded my sphere of identification. “

Whatever else, Takei will find that out starting this Friday at 9:00 p.m., when he makes his debut on Star Wars Clone Wars on Cartoon Network.

In Part 2 – It wouldn’t be an interview without some Star Trek questions. Among Takei’s answers will be about the recent losses of Majel Roddenberry and Ricardo Montalban, as well as his opinion of the new Sulu, John Cho.


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