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How George Takei Made It Through Sundance

BuzzFeed shadowed the Star Trek star, the subject of the new feature documentary To Be Takei, as he and husband Brad Takei braved the wilds of the Sundance Film Festival.

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This is George Takei. He's best known, of course, as Sulu from Star Trek.

Clayton Chase / Getty Images

Takei also became a major LGBT rights activist after publicly coming out in 2005. He's a regular presence on The Howard Stern Show, speaks often about his childhood spent in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II, and has amassed a massive social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. He is 77 years old.

Takei spent the past five days at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, to promote the feature documentary To Be Takei, which chronicles his exceptional American life.

Jennifer Kroot

Takei's last experience at Sundance was in 2002, when he appeared to promote a forgotten thriller called Noon Blue Apples, for which he'd provided some voice-over. "We got the chance to see a lot of very interesting and some wonderful films, and also get an idea of what Sundance is like," said Takei (pictured here in To Be Takei). "It’s very chaotic. It’s all crushed together. And it’s very cold."

Being the central subject of a documentary that premieres at Sudance, however, is a radically different experience.


BuzzFeed shadowed Takei and his husband, Brad Takei (né Brad Altman, left), on Sunday, Jan. 19, to get a better idea of what it's like to have a film at Sundance.

Larry Busacca / Getty Images

Brad, 60, changed his last name to Takei after the two got married in 2008. They've been together for 27 years.

(From here on, to avoid confusion, I will refer to them as George and Brad.)

The day officially began for George at 10:15 a.m. MT, with a series of interviews with him, Brad, and director Jennifer Kroot (center) at the Sundance Press Center on Main Street in Park City.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

Takei had been up, however, since 5:30 a.m. to work out. It seems apt to note once more that the man is 77.

Kroot first approached George and Brad about making a documentary about them in 2010, and then filmed them through 2011 and 2012.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

"We didn’t want it to be a vanity project," George told BuzzFeed before the festival. "So we told Jennifer, 'We’re very flattered that you want to do a documentary on us, but you will have complete editorial control. We will not have anything to do with it other than cooperate.'"

To Be Takei premiered at Sundance on Saturday night at 9 p.m., so everyone had been up late celebrating.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

"My voice is already cracking this morning," said George. "I need some hot tea."

Once the interviews were done, assistant Zachery McGinnis (left) and publicist Gerilyn Shur (right) collected George and Brad to shuttle them to their next event.


So George just started eating.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

To recap: A 77-year-old gay man who is a significant voice in LGBT civil rights was invited to a queer brunch that has been a mainstay at Sundance for years, and no one around him thought to, you know, offer him a seat.


Next: a trip to Salt Lake City, for a screening of To Be Takei.

Zachery McGinnis / Galactic Productions

The Sundance screenings in Salt Lake City tend to draw a more local crowd, so George, Brad, and their team weren't exactly sure what to expect.

The house was packed, and they got a standing ovation.

Zachery McGinnis / Galactic Productions

George was especially pleased that the audience laughed at all the right times. "Every laugh!" he said. "Explosive laughter!"

While in Salt Lake City, George stopped to get some more hot tea. When he asked for some lemon, a random woman handed him an entire lemon.

Zachery McGinnis / Galactic Productions

These are the kinds of things that happen to you when you are from Star Trek.

Back in Park City, George and Brad attended a cocktail party held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, of which George is a member.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

The event's organizer greeted George by saying, "I've wanted to meet you all of my life!"

George's response: "Oh my!"


With no official function to fill, Brad was more than content to sit and rest while George chatted up other people there.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

"Brad is not a public guy," said George. "He doesn’t like public speaking."

Although conversations almost always start with Star Trek, George often pivots to the other topics dearest to him.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

His discussion with these men alone covered Trek, marriage equality, Japanese-American internment, and Allegiance, a musical about Japanese-American internment that premiered in San Diego in 2012. George and Brad are planning to bring the show to Broadway some time this year.

One of the AMPAS guests most excited to meet George was Oscar-winning documentarian Roger Ross Williams.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

His most recent feature was the doc God Loves Uganda, about the rabid anti-gay movement in that country.

After the AMPAS event, To Be Takei producer Mayuran Tiruchelvam walked George and Brad up Main Street to their next event.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

“This place has the feel and look of a compact Times Square,” said George. (He's being kind. During Sundance, Main Street is more like a cold Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.)


Naturally, fans wanted to say hi, and get a picture.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

It's a bit of a spectator sport at Sundance, seeing how many celebrities one can bump into during the festival.

Instead of walking to the official To Be Takei party like George and Brad expected, however, Tiruchelvam brought them to a Vietnamese restaurant, called Taste of Saigon, for dinner.

At this point, Brad became very concerned about George’s voice, reminding everyone that he had a 30-minute Google Hangout scheduled in a roughly an hour.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

“You’ll be fashionably late [to the party],” said Kroot. “That’s going to bother Brad to no end,” said George with a laugh. “He likes me to be on time.”

Documentary filmmaker Kat Lo, a guest of Tiruchelvam, even switched seats with Brad so she could talk to George while George kept quiet. It did not work out that way.

But they arrived in plenty of time for the Google Hangout, moderated by Entertainment Weekly writer Lindsey Bahr.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

This is what Kroot and George were looking at during the event.

The night, however, was not over!

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

At roughly 8:30 p.m., a car picked up George and Brad to take them to yet another event: the Utah State Democratic Party & Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee party, at a ski lodge up further in the mountains outside of Park City.

Eventually, Utah State Sen. James Dabakis came up to greet them.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

Dabakis had been at the Salt Lake City screening of To Be Takei, and he told Brad and George how deeply moved he was by it. (He wed his partner late last month.) Tiruchelvam later explained to me that after George and Brad had left Salt Lake City to return to Park City, Dabakis came running up to the car carrying the rest of the To Be Takei team, visibly in tears, to thank them for making the film.

Brad and George’s chauffeurs for the rest of the evening were Weston Clark and Brandon Mark, one of more than 1,000 same-sex couples who got married in Utah before the Supreme Court put a stay on same-sex marriages in the state.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

They have two children together, a 3-year-old and an infant. That morning, they had been interviewed by Al Jazeera America.

When it came time for George to speak at the event, he was at first swarmed yet again by fans and well-wishers, and he happily, if a little wearily, posed for photos.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

I asked George how he was holding up. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” he said. “I’m going to collapse when we get back to the hotel.”

Ironically, as George took to the stage, he tripped and stumbled to the ground. “I’ve only been drinking tea!” he joked after perking right back up again.

To a rapt crowd, George explained how happy he was at first to find out that To Be Takei would premiere at Sundance, so he’d get to come to Utah to celebrate the unexpected arrival of marriage equality in the state.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed

George shamed Gov. Gary Herbert for declaring that the state would not recognize same-sex marriages until the appeal process was resolved, and he praised the Utah State Tax Commission for announcing that the state would accept joint returns from same-sex married couples. Evoking the Star Trek villains The Borg, George told Gov. Herbert that “Resistance is futile.” The crowd cheered.

After George finished his speech, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti took to the stage, joking that half of his city was at Sundance that weekend, as George and Brad held hands and watched from the sidelines.

“It’s not energy,” Brad said, beaming. “It’s passion and adrenaline. He’s here for To Be Takei because he has a message he wants America to hear.”

At the time of publication, To Be Takei is currently seeking theatrical distribution.

Oof: Obviously, Taste of Saigon — identified in an earlier version of this story as a Thai restaurant — is a Vietnamese restaurant.


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