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George Takei 'Supah Ninjas' interview: 'I am the ninja master'

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George Takei

© PA Images / Gregg DeGuire

Whether it's for his classic role as Sulu on the original Star Trek or his brilliant stint on ITV's I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here back in 2008, George Takei is quite rightly regarded a bit of a legend by most sensible television viewers.

George returns to our screens this Monday, playing a holographic martial arts sensei in Nickelodeon's new hit series Supah Ninjahs. Digital Spy caught up with the cult hero recently to chat about his new role, mastering the martial arts gamut and whether we've seen the last of Hikaru Sulu...

What is Supah Ninjas all about?
"Supah Ninjas is about a team of three young teenage ninjas, one of them being my grandson Mike (Ryan Potter). I'm a ninja master and I want to see the art and the tradition of our clan carried on. My son doesn't quite measure up, but I find that the genes have skipped a generation and the grandson has all the qualities necessary. So I recruit my grandson to be a ninja, and he has a good buddy named Owen Reynolds (Carlos Knight). He wants his buddy to be a ninja as well, and I agree.

Mike also has a crush on this beautiful, blonde teenage girl (Gracie Dzienny), which isn't reciprocated. She's a very athletic young lady - she's a cheerleader - and when she finds out that this boy who has a crush on her has martial arts talent, she asks to be made into a ninja too. I train the three of them, but I tell them that they must do their good work in the shadows. It must not be known publicly who they are. They agree to that, and they go out and right the wrongs of the world with their ninja skills!"

George Takei as a holographic ninja grandfather
What originally attracted you to the show?
"Well, it's been some time since I had a series regular role. As you know, I am associated with Star Trek and then I did Heroes as a recurring character. But when this opportunity came for me to be a regular again, and working with young people which I enjoy, I thought 'Wow, this is going to be fun!' I'm really pleased that it's turned out as wonderfully as it has. The kids are great and the writers are fantastic.

Some of the episodes are of epic scale, and others are whimsical. As a matter of fact, in one [episode], I get the chance to sing. Musical theatre has always been one of my passions, so it combines all of the things that I enjoy about being an actor. And I'm being made to feel young again, with young people around me!"

How was the experience of working with the young actors?
"They energise me. They bring the energy that some of the more jaded adult actors don't bring with them, and they're also curious about acting techniques and the history of the studio. We're filming at Paramount Studios where I did Star Trek - the campus where I grew up! Every morning, as I walk to our studio at Stage 24, I walk past a big office building named after Gene Roddenberry - the creator of Star Trek - and the two old Star Trek studios. Stage 31 had the Enterprise set, and 32 had the alien planet surface set.

So it's both nostalgia, and the energy that I had when I was young being revitalised and rekindled in me by working with the kids. It combines my romantic feeling about my youth and the studio that I'm fond of, and working with young people who want to know the history of the studio and of Hollywood. I am now the representative of the history of Hollywood to them!"

A Star Trek Exhibition in 1995
The kids perform some incredible stunts on the show. Is there any chance we could see you do amazing stunts in flashbacks?
"No, not in flashback - in reality! There are some spectacular scenes! You've seen the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? You saw what the empowered martial artists did in that, didn't you? Leaping and flying! Well, I'm the ninja master, so I master the whole gamut. I get to do some spectacular things. You're in for a lot of thrilling surprises!"

What were some of your favourite TV shows as a child?
"When I was a teenager, I was an absolutely addicted regular viewer of [CBS anthology series] Playhouse 90. I don't know whether you had that in Britain or not. It was a 90-minute, original script, live television series, and many of the writers from that became very prominent. Rod Serling - who became famous for The Twilight Zone - did a couple of really powerful scripts. I was addicted to that.

Today, I'm addicted to Brothers & Sisters and Hawaii Five-0. Damages with Glenn Close - that's a good drama! Dramatic shows are the ones that I am attracted to."

Do you have any plans to retire or do you want to keep on acting?
"You know the wonderful thing about acting is they're always going to need old codgers! And I hope I'll be around to be able to service those roles. Do you know how Dick Shawn, the stand-up comic died? He was doing a one-man show, and in the middle of a joke, he suddenly laid down on the stage and got a great big huge laugh. He continued lying on the floor and the audience waited, and when he didn't get up, he got another wave of laughs!

George Takei on 'I'm A celebrity' in 2008
"He remained still, and that's when the stage manager thought something was wrong and the curtain came down. They rushed over and he was in a coma, and he passed from that. So that's the way an actor should go - with his make-up on and leaving the audience laughing! And he milked it, he got a second laugh as well!"

You appeared on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here - are you still in touch with any of your old camp-mates?
"Yes, a couple of them. Brian Paddick comes to Los Angeles annually and we get together and have dinner or lunch every time he's here. And Joe Swash, we get together when I'm in London. He doesn't come to the US, but I do see Joe when I'm there."

What advice would you give to celebrities thinking about entering the jungle?
"Well, one should think twice! I've done it once and it is hard, it is really hard. Not only the physical activity, but the hunger. I lost about eight pounds in one month when I did that. It's a great way to lose weight for those who are trying to!

"But I'm glad I did it in retrospect. I made a few good friendships and I tested myself. I know that I can endure and I can survive that kind of hardship. So I would recommend it to really adventuresome people. If you're resilient and can take physical pain, as well as hunger pains, you'll meet some wonderful people, under great duress. People are really tested, but you'll make some great friends as well. I consider that [to be] one of the gifts from that experience."

Leonard Nimoy played Spock again in the recent Star Trek film. Do you think Sulu could ever return?
"Well, as Spock says, there are always possibilities! Leonard did it, why not me? And they are planning another Star Trek film. They're going to be filming next year at Paramount Studios, and the buzz is flying all over the studio when I'm there!"

Supah Ninjas begins on Monday September 12 at 6pm on Nickelodeon.

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