Edmonton

George Takei on being imprisoned as a child and revisiting his past for two new projects

Takei, now 82, recounts his childhood experiences in Japanese-American internment camps in a new graphic novel, They Called Us Enemy, weaving together the harrowing realities his parents faced with his own fantastical memories.

The Star Trek actor speaks at the Edmonton Expo on Saturday

George Takei's graphic novel, They Called Us Enemy, recounts his experiences in a Japanese-American internment camp. (Submitted, Top Shelf Productions)

A few weeks after George Takei's fifth birthday, soldiers marched up the driveway and banged on the door of his family's two-bedroom home on Garnet Street in Los Angeles.

The soldiers ordered the family members to leave, taking them first to the nearby Santa Anita race track, where they slept in a smelly horse stall.

The family was about to be interned for the remainder of the Second World War. But as a child, Takei did not fully understand what was happening.

"My father said we were going on a long vacation," Takei said in a recent interview with CBC Radio's Adrienne Pan.

Takei, 82, recounts his childhood experiences in Japanese-American internment camps in a new graphic novel, They Called Us Enemy, weaving together the harrowing realities his parents faced with his own fantastical memories.

He also drew on those years as an actor and consultant for the second season of AMC's horror series, The Terror: Infamy.

From Skid Row to Star Trek

When the war ended, life didn't go back to normal right away for Takei.

"The hate was still intense," he said, and the family was impoverished. 

"Our bank accounts were taken, our home was taken, our business was gone, and the only place where we could find housing was on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, which to us kids — I mean, I was eight by then — was as traumatic as the day that the soldiers came and took us away."

It took the family five years to move out of the neighbourhood and get settled, Takei said. 

After graduating from high school, Takei took his father's advice and went to the University of California, Berkeley to study architecture, but his true passion was theatre, so he transferred to the theatre program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

After a casting director discovered him during a production at the school, he landed his first feature role as Wang in the film Ice Palace

Takei earned his first degree from UCLA in 1960. His father surprised him with a summer session at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon as a graduation present.

A few years later, he was cast in the role that would define his career: Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek

George Takei participates in AOL's BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the Broadway musical "Allegiance" in New York in 2015. (Evan Agostini/Invision/The Associated Press)

Acting and activism

Takei said his success as an actor comes with great social responsibility to fight for others' rights.

"It's my responsibility, as an American who went through and was shaped by my childhood incarceration, to do what I can to bring our democracy closer to the ideals that it holds dear," he said.

George Takei's new graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, is now available. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

A vocal critic of U.S. President Donald Trump, Takei condemned the separation of migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

"It's a disgusting, horrific situation," he said. 

Takei, who devoured comics as a child, said he produced his graphic novel with young readers in mind. 

"We want to reach a new generation of Americans," he said, "so that the future voters of America and the future movers and shakers of America that grow up with this knowledge will never allow this sort of thing to repeat itself again."

George Takei is scheduled to speak at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday at the Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo, 7515 118th Ave.
 

With files from Adrienne Pan

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