George, I last saw you ten years ago when the show turned 40 and at that time I asked you whether you thought Star Trek would still be so huge at 50. You guessed that the show would still be huge, but that it was unlikely you would be here… and yet, here you are!
George Takei: Yes, and I was sicker than a dog when I saw you back then! [Laughs] Marina [Sirtis] was there too and I remember her encouraging me to go on stage. She said: ‘George, get on stage, Doctor Footlights will cure you.’ And it worked. Yes, I am still here, but there’s a price to be paid for 50 years, as some of my dear friends have left us.
Yes, this is a time to remember to absent friends
GT: Only last February Leonard [Nimoy – Spock] passed and we’ve lost Jimmy Doohan, my favourite drinking buddy – I learned so much from him. Did you know that he was of Irish ancestry? He was Irish-Canadian but said ‘I became famous playing a Scotsman and despite the fact that I’m of Irish ancestry, I’ve drunk enough of the libation of Scotland to qualify playing a Scotsman.’ And I was witness to that.
Walter, what do you think that Leonard would have made of this celebration?
Walter Koenig: What would Leonard have made of this? To be honest, I really don’t know. I never really got to know Leonard – I could tell you how Mr Spock would have felt, because that’s who turned up to set and worked with us.
It must have been tricky from him to stay in character all day.
WK: Yes. I believe that the other roles in Star Trek could have been played very effectively by the many thousands of actors in Hollywood, and nobody would have missed us, but Leonard was so much the embodiment of Mr Spock that nobody could have brought the same kind of credibility to the role that he did. The gentleman in the movies [Zachary Quinto] is excellent, but he’s acting. Leonard wasn’t acting – Leonard was Mr Spock and that was intimidating. So, I can’t tell you how Leonard would have reacted, but Mr Spock would have said ‘interesting’ or ‘fascinating’.
And we’ve lost other cast members too.
GT: Yes, De [DeForest Kelley – McCoy] and Gene Roddenberry [show creator], and of course Majel [Barrett Roddenberry – Nurse Chapel and Lwaxana Troi]. We’ve lost a lot.
Would Gene have enjoyed this event?
GT: Gene would have been so pleased. Not just for the longevity, but the kind of support and following and love that it’s got. Infinitive diversity in infinite combinations – he really believed about finding our strength in our diversity. You come to a convention and you’ll hear an Australian accent, Italian, Japanese and Argentinian. Infinite diversity – people from different parts of the planet. We don’t have a Vulcan – or even a half-Vulcan! – but to have that mix , it’s a great legacy.
Eddie Paskey: It’s that it’s huge. The neat part about it is that Star Trek is an entity of its own. You look at the new ones and you don’t have the camaraderie that we had; it was a whole different time. It was a pleasure to know the guys, to be there with De, Lenny and Bill. Everybody watched out for each other… and that was really nice.
Eddie, not everyone will immediately recognise the name of your character, Lieutenant Leslie, and yet we’ve probably seen you far more than we realise. He was the original ‘red shirt’ so to speak, died one week, returned the next and was frequently seen as a bridge engineer.
EP: Yes, he was in 53 episodes in total [more even than Sulu or Chekov]. I wasn’t in any of the last eight. I was very fortunate because any time they could use us to fill the frame, they did. It was fun. I enjoyed what I was doing every day and was very lucky because I became a friend of William Shatner – I was his double and stand-in, and that was a fun deal. The character was called Lieutenant Leslie but of course Bill called me Mr Leslie. I was named after his eldest daughter – I’m not sure how old she was at that time.
Walter, was it hard coming on to this established show as a new character in its second season?
WK: No, I was very naive and just happy to have work. I wasn’t under contract, so whether or not I was going to come back the next week was totally up in the air right up until the last day of shooting and I’d discover ‘Oh, I’m in the next script!’
That sounds very casual
WK: Yes, even the circumstances in which I was cast was so inauspicious. I went in, I read and hung around for a couple of hours. Nobody came to tell me to go home but then the costume guy came by and asked me my name and for me to follow him. So I went with him to [the] wardrobe [department].He dropped to his knees and put his hand on my crotch – this is no hyperbole, there is no exaggeration – that’s exactly what happened. I said ‘What are you doing!?’ and he said ‘I have to measure you for a costume.’ And that’s how I found out I was on the show. That’s the grand announcement that was made.
WK: Yes, but back then it never seemed to me that it was terribly important; I was just here on a show that was doomed to failure. They already had their first year under their belts but had barely been invited back for a second season. So, I expected it to last until the next week, and the next week… and the next week…that’s all. And then of course it just grew and grew over fifty years. And each time I had occasion to believe that we were not going to go on; that we were done. I certainly thought that we were done after the first movie and I wasn’t so sure that we would do a third. And then it was the sixth and then they invited me to do The Next Generation [movie Generations]. The whole thing has been a series of steps over a series of years instead of a grand realisation. Nobody gave me a big shot, just little pricks, and the fact that I’m still here exploiting my time on Star Trek is really quite amazing. If I wasn’t quite so old I’m sure I’d be doing more.
George, can I conclude by asking you that same question I asked ten years ago? Will Star Trek still be huge in 10 years’ time, and will you still be there?
GT: Yes, and yes I will be there in 10 years’ time. My hair is getting thinner and white but I’m the youngest of the [original] lot, so I will be there. My grandmother had a favourite hobby, collecting birthdays, and that’s because she didn’t like the alternative. She collected over a hundred and I have her genes going through me!