TIME celebrities

George Takei: ‘Being Optimistic Is Ensuring Your Success’

The star is the subject of a new documentary

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There’s a Japanese word that shows up repeatedly in the new documentary, To Be Takei (Aug. 22) about the life of George Takei: “gaman.”

“Gaman translates into English as ‘to endure with dignity, or fortitude,’” the Star Trek actor tells TIME. Gaman was, he says, a source of strength for Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps during World War II — and he would know. Takei spent his childhood, up until almost his 9th birthday, in such a place. Even after the internment ended, the young Takei found himself in a hostile world, where housing and employment for Japanese-Americans were scarce, and his family, penniless after the war, lived on Skid Row in Los Angeles.

And gaman continued to prove necessary as Takei got older. When he became an actor, his first roles were ones he regretted even before filming them, stereotypical Asian caricatures he says his agent convinced him were worth it for the visibility. And, even after his acting career was established, he faced different struggles as a gay man — first with concealing his sexuality, later with getting the right to marry.

But he endured. As he tells TIME, he did so with a smile.

“I think being optimistic is ensuring your success. If you start out saying ‘I’ve got this problem or I’m angry at that,’ you will not succeed,” he says. “My father said, ‘Be confident of who you are, but also work hard to be the best that you can be.’”

It’s clear by now that his optimism is well-founded. The science-fiction devices he used on Star Trek have become reality (except, he notes, for the transporter), he’s married, he’s enjoying a major wave of popularity — and, of course, he’s the star of a movie about himself.

“The future,” he says, “is today.”

Read more about George Takei in this week’s TIME.

TIME Pop Culture

See How ‘Oh My’ Became George Takei’s Catchphrase

Say it with us now...

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Take a quick peek at the Twitter feed from George Takei — the actor famous for his Star Trek and advocacy roles, and the star of the new documentary To Be Takei — and it’s immediately clear that he has a catchphrase.

He uses it in a sentence:

He uses it as a hashtag:

He even has his own link shortener, which churns out catchphrase-inspired short URLs for him to tweet:

But how did “Oh my!” come to be his catchphrase? Here, Takei tells TIME.

TIME movies

VIDEO: Kermit and Pepe on How to Promote a Muppets Movie

The Muppets Most Wanted celebs dropped by TIME's offices to explain how it works

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It’s no secret that when celebrities tell journalists they’d love to drop by a magazine’s office to be interviewed, they’ve usually got something to promote. Which is great, except when that something is a DVD/Blu-ray release, which usually means we already know all about the project from when it came out in theaters. What’s left to talk about?

When those celebrities are Kermit the Frog and Pepe the King Prawn, lots. The two Muppets were in town to gab about the Aug. 12 DVD release of Muppets Most Wanted, so we took the opportunity to get some of those pressing questions answered. How, we wondered, does a Muppet promote a DVD release? How grueling is the promotional schedule? Does it bring up fun memories from filming, or is it a slog?

We did manage to draw some answers out of them—but, as you’ll see in the video above, an interview with Kermit and Pepe doesn’t always lead where you thought it would.

TIME movies

Meals as Metaphors: Two New Movies Provide Food for Thought

The Hundred-Foot Journey
Francois Duhamel—Dreamworks

What do Indian-inflected haute cuisine and Elvis’ favorite sandwich have in common?

Ismail Merchant’s name is already a noun: Merchant Ivory films, so-called after the production company he cofounded, are synonymous with lavish period pieces. To those who knew him well, though, there’s a verb he could have inspired, too. The British-Indian movie mogul put his kitchen skills good use as a business strategy, says the author Richard C. Morais, who met Merchant some 30 years ago: feed first, ask questions later. “The actor Simon Callow used to say that the term ‘curry favor’ was invented for Ismail,” Morais recalls.

So it was that Morais learned an important lesson: food isn’t just for eating.

Morais turned that knowledge into his novel The Hundred-Foot Journey, about an upstart Indian restaurant that opens across the street from a Michelin-starred French joint, which he hoped Merchant would adapt for the big screen. Though Merchant died before the book was published, The Hundred-Foot Journey hits theaters on Aug. 8, and it won’t be alone in claiming that a meal can be a metaphor. In Journey, cooking is culture; in the romantic comedy What If, a gigantic sandwich stands in for a relationship — a messy dish for messy love.

Elan Mastai, What If’s screenwriter, has a theory about why what movie characters eat often means so much — that is, why his blending of peanut butter and jelly and bacon and butter can be more than a heart attack waiting to happen: “These flavors kind of have a built in nostalgia, and it’s also fat and sugar and gluten,” he says. “Put them all together and your body reacts in a very visceral way — and, weirdly, in an emotional way.”

Silver-screen sustenance has a long history — Journey director Lasse Hallström was responsible for one of its high points, Chocolat — but the obsession with the kitchen is getting hotter. Both the French import Le Chef and Jon Favreau’s taco-truck passion project Chef arrived in U.S. theaters this summer, after a winter in which Labor Day linked pie and sex and the acclaimed Bollywood film The Lunchbox gave new meaning to “magic beans” by bringing its haricots of happiness (and lots of other love-provoking midday munchies) to American audiences. And as both The Hundred-Foot Journey and What If show, food movies are rarely about food. The former, despite a plot that revolves around restaurant reviews, is actually about tolerance and tradition; the latter is about young love.

The What If sandwich, a favorite of Elvis Presley’s known as the Fool’s Gold, shows up as a throwaway reference in the play on which the movie is based, but Mastai ramped up its role when he saw that it echoed the movie’s theme: something can be untidy and delicious at the same time. And the extra layer of meaning Morais gave to the food in Journey was what attracted producer Juliet Blake, who ended up shepherding the story to theaters. Blake tells TIME that the story reminded her of her German mother’s making strudel rather than cake even after she emigrated, and she quotes Adam Gopnik’s book The Table Comes First to explain why: “Food,” he writes, “is the sensual pleasure that translates most readily into a social value.”

That’s a lot to ask of cinematic comestibles. Take The Hundred-Foot Journey for example, in which a hint of cardamom can signify the entirety of Indian-ness; it would be unreasonable to expect a meal, however nuanced the taste, to capture the intricacies of something so complicated. Shilpa Davé, author of the book Indian Accents: Brown Voice and Racial Performance in American Television and Film, explains that eating and enjoying food is a good step toward intercultural intimacy, but that consumers sometimes need to be reminded that eating the food doesn’t mean knowing everything about the culture. Anita Mannur, author of Culinary Fictions: Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture, agrees, saying the potential problem of laying all that meaning on eating is simple: the typical post-Monsoon Wedding depiction of Indian people in films for Western audiences — “colorful and bright and with good food” — doesn’t always leave room for the complications of real life. She read the book of The Hundred-Foot Journey and enjoyed that it made the point that food can remind people of how they don’t belong, but it’s still clear that even the most delicious-looking feast can stumble as a metaphor.

“There’s this idea that if we can only just sit down together all the tensions of the world will go away,” Mannur says. “That’s an appealing solution, but it’s unrealistic.”

But in Juliet Blake’s case, at least, the unrealistic has proved attainable. The cast and crew of Hundred-Foot Journey ate well on set — the location catering included foie gras — and the film’s star, Om Puri, who plays the patriarch, will make sure the tradition of sitting down together continues. When he comes to New York for the film’s premiere, Blake plans to host him at her Brooklyn home. She says he’s going to teach her how to make Indian food.

TIME White House

Here’s What Nixon Thought About His Resignation

1990 Nixon Cover
William Coupon—TIME

In 1990, the former President spoke to TIME about his past

Flip through the gallery of Richard Nixon’s appearances on the cover of TIME, and you may notice a gap: the covers chart his political rise, his presidency, his work in China, his reelection, his fight during Watergate and, finally, 40 years ago this week, his resignation. Then there’s his pardon and, a few years later, his famous interview with David Frost, which was later inspiration for the play and film Frost/Nixon.

Then there’s a gap. More than a decade goes by without any Nixon. The two times he appears after the ’70s are on the occasion of his death in 1994 and, in 1990, when TIME published an excerpt from his memoirs. In conjunction with that excerpt, the magazine also took the chance to ask him a few questions. In an interview that covers such diverse topics as the winding down of the Cold War and Nixon’s thoughts on Reagan (“we had different approaches”) and George H.W. Bush (“I ought to leave it in football terms—he’s the Joe Montana. The short, sure pass”), the only U.S. President ever to step down discussed his feelings about making that choice.

There’s life after disgrace, he reminded readers:

Q. How do you expect the Watergate affair to be judged in the future?

A. Clare Boothe Luce once said that each person in history can be summed up in one sentence. This was after I had gone to China. She said, “You will be summed up, ‘He went to China.'” Historians are more likely to lead with “He resigned the office.” The jury has already come in, and there’s nothing that’s going to change it. There’s no appeal. Historians will judge it harshly. That’s what I would say on that.

Q. Why did you write this book?

A. I really wrote this book for those who have suffered losses or defeats and so forth, and who think that life is over. I felt that if I could share with them my own experiences, it might help.

The problem with that, of course, is that resigning the presidency is something that is beyond their imagination. And so, consequently, that’s why throughout the book I tried to put it in a context that they could understand. But I felt that if I could let them see what I went through, and how I at least recovered in part, that that might tell them that life wasn’t over.

Q. You say in your new book that you recovered in part. You also say that you have paid, and in fact are still paying, the price for it.

A. By paying the price, I mean in terms of being able to influence the course of events. I mean, every time I make a speech, or every time I write a book, inevitably the reviewers refer to the “disgraced former President.”

And I consider, for whatever time I have left, that what is most important is to be able to affect the course of events. My experience has been somewhat unique. I am probably wrong on a number of things, but at least it’s a point of view.

The difficulty is that getting that point of view across is compromised by the fact that they say, Oh, this is the Watergate man, so we’re not going to pay any attention to what he does. Now that attitude has receded substantially, and over a period of time it may recede more, but that’s what I meant by that.

Read the full interview in TIME’s archives

TIME movies

What Kind of Sandwich Is Your Relationship?

What If
Caitlin Cronenberg / CBS Films

Shall I compare thee to a meatball sub?

The new rom-com What If (out Aug. 8) stars Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. It also stars a sandwich.

And not just any sandwich: the film features the Fool’s Gold, a sandwich so grand its name gets capitalized. The sandwich, as What If explains, is made by buttering up an entire loaf of French or Italian white bread, baking it till the butter turns it golden and then stuffing the whole thing with a pound of bacon, an entire jar of peanut butter and an entire jar of jam. (Yum?) It was a favorite of Elvis Presley’s — he once, legend has it, flew to Denver to get one from the restaurant that invented the sandwich, ate it on his private plane and then turned right back around and went home to Mempis — and, as screenwriter Elan Mastai tells TIME, it’s also a major storytelling device.

“I only wrote the movie to introduce the sandwich to mainstream America.” he jokes. “Why else even write it?” In actuality, the sandwich started off as a small joke (and played a much smaller role in the play on which the movie is based), but Mastai decided there was good reason to return to it again and again. ““I love the idea of this sandwich coming back as this weird, off-kilter, messy love letter,” he says. “That theme of love being messy, and romance and friendship being messy and embracing the messiness of it — the sandwich started to feel like a weird but effective metaphor for that.”

Which got us thinking: isn’t there an appropriate sandwich metaphor for every relationship? After all, from the zing of a banh mi to the reliability of tuna salad, the variety of sandwiches in the world is as vast as the variety of love.

Take our thoroughly scientific quiz to find out which sandwich best represents your relationship:

TIME Presidents

Watch the Rise and Fall of Richard Nixon in TIME Covers

President Nixon Graced TIME's cover more than anyone else, and not just for Watergate

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In early August of 1974, 40 years ago this week, the news was all President Richard Nixon. On Aug. 5, the “Smoking Gun” tapes were released, revealing to the public that the President had known about Watergate. On Aug. 8, he became the first and only U.S. President to announce his resignation. But Nixon already had a long history in the news, and it didn’t end in 1974. In fact, no other individual has been featured on the cover of TIME more frequently, with 55 appearances to his name.
 
The irony in all that? None of those covers are from precisely 40 years ago. The week leading up to the resignation, the cover featured Rep. Peter Rodino of the House Judiciary Committee; two weeks later, when the resignation itself made the cover, newly-inaugurated President Gerald Ford was featured.
 
The issue in-between—the issue that would have appeared right around the same time as the tapes went public — went in a different direction: Jack Nicholson.

TIME Presidents

9 Things You Didn’t Know About Richard Nixon

TIME Cover Aug. 25, 1952: Richard Nixon
Boris Chaliapin for TIME

From his first TIME cover story

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the resignation of President Richard Nixon, the milestone for which the scandal-plagued politician is best remembered. But in 1952, when not-yet-President Nixon first appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, the scandal was decades away. He was a relatively young man, 39, whose political career was just taking off. Having successfully moved from the House to the Senate, he was the Republican nominee for Vice President, a man whose background could have still been unknown to readers.

In hindsight, it’s hard not to see foreboding or irony in the story that appeared under the headline “Fighting Quaker.” For example, his mother, the piece notes, preferred not to call the police on shoplifters at their family’s store, thinking of the shame it would bring to their families; Nixon apparently internalized the harm that could be done by exposing wrongdoings. Did he think of the harm he would do when he was the one exposed?

But it’s also easy to see why his life story would have been fascinating to voters. Here are nine things to know from the 1952 cover story.

He once worked as a carnival barker, for the “wheel of fortune” at the Frontier Days Rodeo in Prescott, Ariz. The Nixon family spent time in Arizona for the health of older son Harold, who had tuberculosis.

His parents had a lemon grove in Yorba Linda, Calif.—but, TIME noted, they would have rather grown oranges. (Nixon’s grandfather had moved to California from Indiana with the thought of growing the latter.) When the fruit farm proved “a lemon,” the family opened a general story in Whittier, Calif., called Nixon’s Market.

He played the piano and acted. His family, devout Quakers, attended church services four times a week. The young Richard Nixon played piano for the Sunday school. When he returned to Whittier after law school, he returned to work at the Sunday school when not busy as a divorce lawyer. He also participated in community theater. He met his future wife, Pat Ryan, while playing a fictional attorney in Night of January 16th, a play written by Ayn Rand.

His debating career began with bugs. In a seventh grade boys-vs.-girls debate on the relative merits of insects, Nixon asked an uncle who was an entomologist for a list of good things about insects, thus helping the boys’ team convince the judges that “insects are more beneficial than harmful.” However, he would later find that bugs weren’t so great: While in the South Pacific with the Navy, he said, the only things that bothered him—despite being under fire—were “lack of sleep and the centipedes.”

He worked his way through college, and lived in “a shack” during law school. While at Whittier College in his home town, he worked at Nixon’s Market. (He also helped his mom with the dishes, TIME noted, but that was probably not a paying gig.) After graduating, Nixon attended Duke University law school on scholarship, and lived “in a wooden patch a mile and a half from the campus” with three shack-mates.

He got into politics by answering a newspaper ad. In 1945, a Republican group was looking for someone to run against a popular Congressman in California. They placed an ad, which was seen by a family friend of the Nixons, who called him up and suggested he give it a shot.

But that early political career was dogged by the stench of by cannibalistic minks. When Dick and Pat Nixon moved back to California so he could run for office—they’d been in Baltimore before that—they ended up living next door to a family that owned “a smelly, cannibalistic brood of minks.”

He almost didn’t take the gig that got him national attention. Once he got to Congress, Nixon was offered a spot on the House Un-American Activities Committee, which had a terrible reputation. He hesitated before accepting, but his role in sorting out the Alger Hiss scandal—in which TIME editor and former Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers identified the State Department’s Alger Hiss as a Communist—brought him to the national stage, and led the GOP to encourage him to run for Senate, which he did successfully.

He never went to the movies. Never!

If that’s not enough to demonstrate that he charmed some Republican voters, perhaps the letters section from the Sept. 15, 1952, issue will: “There is very little—if anything—that his opponents will find in his career to criticize,” wrote one reader. That opinion would have seemed vindicated when the fall came, as Eisenhower and Nixon took the White House. But, as history showed, another reader had a firmer grasp on the situation: “Surely I’m not the only TIME reader,” wrote George Brasington Jr. of Waycross, Ga., “who is now convinced that the GOP picked a lemon in ex-Lemon Picker Nixon.”

Read more about Nixon in TIME’s archives

TIME movies

Here Comes the Manic Pixie Hot Mess

Anna Kendrick in Happy Christmas
Anna Kendrick in 'Happy Christmas' Magnolia Pictures

Move aside, dream girls--female characters' problems are no longer charming accoutrements. And that's a good thing

Even the creator of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl wants her to go away. The movie archetype, as first defined by Nathan Rabin in a 2007 A.V. Club piece about the film Elizabethtown, “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Though the MPDG has had a long reign as one of moviedom’s favorite female types, alongside the “Damsel in Distress” and the “Strong Female Character,” Rabin made news this month by apologizing, in Salon, for ever inventing the phrase in the first place. The concept, he wrote, had been diluted as it became more popular, becoming a cliché about any slightly quirky woman and losing its critical power.

But, with apologies to Rabin, who also decries the permutations of Manic Pixie Something or Other that have proliferated in his creation’s wake, there’s perhaps another reason for the term to go away: the Dream Girl’s place in the zeitgeist has been taken over by the Hot Mess.

Exhibit A: Anna Kendrick’s starring role in Happy Christmas, the new Joe Swanberg movie arriving in theaters Aug. 1. (It’s also available on VOD.) Kendrick plays Jenny, a young woman who moves in with her brother and sister-in-law and their baby after a bad breakup; though her life is pretty much falling apart — she sleeps in the basement, is an unreliable babysitter and gets so wasted that she’s essentially another child in the house — having her there isn’t all bad for her hosts. She’s got that young, unhinged energy that they seem to have lost.

So, at least at first, Jenny has the hallmarks of someone who might be lumped under the MPDG umbrella by those overusing the term. She’s pretty; she’s quirky; she shows up suddenly and helps people out.

Except that’s not the only thing she does. For one thing, though “pixie” types — Natalie Portman in Garden State for example — can have their own problems, their movies aren’t really about their problems. Their problems are, rather, charming accoutrements. In Happy Christmas, however, Jenny’s problems are solid. They’re actually dangerous, to herself and others — this is way beyond Cute Clumsy Girl territory — and they’re things you might actually worry about if you had a screw-up sister. She may be sweet, but her sweetness isn’t enough to make her a good house guest. Still, she’s not a traditional Damsel in Distress. Though she does need help, she doesn’t need to be rescued, at least not by another person. As Rabin points out in his Salon essay, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope “is a fundamentally sexist one”: the MPDG exists only in relation to the (male) lead. As soon as the character becomes the lead herself, as soon as her problems really matter, she’s out. Furthermore, the person who’s really helped by Jenny in Happy Christmas is her sister-in-law, not her love interest; even her use as a foil for another character is sisterly, not sexist.

And who else appears in Happy Christmas? Lena Dunham. Though Dunham’s character — a friend of Jenny’s — is actually pretty put together, the actress and writer can get a lot of credit for making young women with messy lives a subject of pop-culture fascination. That messiness is the focus of Girls, a show that exposes the ways in which even the most “with-it” person is inevitably hiding a crack underneath her veneer. The women on Girls don’t float down to use their quirkiness to help dudes out, because they need all their energy to help themselves. (If anything, the guys on the show, Adam especially, are the ones who use their weirdness in mystical, healing ways.)

So messiness is having a moment. In April, Katy Steinmetz explained for TIME how “hot mess,” A phrase now associated with Amy Schumer and her Comedy Central show, has come to denote someone who is “in obvious disarray” and yet remains attractive, a meaning that’s been in use for only about 10 years. Inside Amy Schumer and Girls are very different shows, but both have made it clear that audiences are eager for a type of female character who’s neither magical nor in need of rescuing nor heroically strong. (Schumer’s persona, however, isn’t exactly “manic pixie” anything — she remains attractive despite her disorder, but her attractiveness isn’t usually of the indie-twee-offbeat variety, which is what differentiates the protagonists of Happy Christmas and Girls from your garden-variety hot mess.)

Even New Girl, despite the fact that its star Zooey Deschanel is often held up as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl exemplar, fits the bill: protagonist Jess drops into the lives of four men and adds a touch of fun, but she’s got problems and back story of her own, as well as the focus of the show’s creators. Just as Deschanel has made sure that her real-life detractors know that the bit of pixie in her personality doesn’t mean they can’t take her seriously, New Girl is best when Jess is messing things up and capable of getting herself together, all at once. That balancing act is true of all the best examples of the trope: the woman in question often has an Anthropologie-inflected, Brooklyn-in-quotes appeal that lots of real-life women strive for, she’s struggling to figure things out, she wouldn’t say no to a hand but in the end she’ll probably figure it out on her own.

There are hints that the type is sticking around. Happy Christmas was preceded by the prime example that was Obvious Child, and this fall’s Laggies — which stars Keira Knightley as a woman struggling so much with growing up that she tries to pass herself off as a teenager — looks to continue the trend. And it’s notable that even shows like New Girl, which don’t strive for the grittiness of Swanberg’s films, are giving their female leads such imperfections. Because “messy,” of course, can also be shorthand for “real.” So, if the Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s creator wants the world to stop using that formula, here’s another way to sum up the archetype in question: human.

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