Adam Nimoy is not Spock’s son. Rather, he’s the son of Leonard Nimoy, the man who played Spock. Just as there’s no separating Leonard Nimoy from his half-human/half-Vulcan alter ego, however, there’s no separating Adam Nimoy from his father… or Star Trek, for that matter. Adam’s life was forever impacted by his father’s fame, by the countless hours the elder Nimoy spent shooting the show in the 1960s and by the machinations of the publicity machine. There were drug and alcohol addictions, as well as a lengthy father-son estrangement, followed by recovery and reconciliation. Adam also carved his own niche as a director, calling the shots on many top TV shows throughout the 90s and into the early 2000s, including Babylon 5, Ally McBeal, Party of Five, Gilmore Girls and Veritas: The Quest, as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Outer Limits. His two TNG episodes were “Rascals” and “Timescape,” and for The Outer Limits he directed “I, Robot,” which starred Leonard Nimoy.
StarTrek.com had wanted to interview Adam Nimoy for many years, and the stars aligned because his latest project is the upcoming documentary For the Love of Spock. It started out as a father-son project that would be timed to Trek’s 50th anniversary, but it morphed into something different upon Leonard’s death in early 2015. For the Love of Spock, which will premiere this weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival, examines Leonard’s time as Spock, the life and legacy of the actor and his iconic character, the fascinating father-son relationship between Leonard and Adam, and also Adam’s personal evolution. It also features interviews with the elder Nimoy’s family members; many of his colleagues, among them William Shatner, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, J.J. Abrams and Zachary Quinto; and admirers spanning from fans to Jason Alexander, Jim Parsons and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Below is part one of our conversation, and visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two.
How and when did the idea for this film come up?
The idea came up in October, 2014. I’d worked on another documentary with my dad, Leonard Nimoy’s Boston. We had a really good experience working on that together. It was a short, a half-hour about his life in Boston, growing up as the son of Russian immigrant parents. We were in Boston shooting that together. It was a great bonding experience between us, and I wanted to do something similar with him about Mr. Spock and the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. I thought it’d be interesting to get into some of the unknowns about the character’s inception and his development and evolution over time, and also to explore why he had resonated for almost 50 years at this point. And it was just another vehicle for me to work with Dad at this end stage of his life and reflect back on the legacy of Spock and his involvement with that character.
How involved was your dad in the earliest stages?
He was very involved. We sat down immediately. He was interested in doing it. We sat in his study, in fact, and started spit-balling ideas for the documentary, a possible format, an outline, and various anecdotes he thought might be important. He was very involved. Then we contacted David Zappone. That was Dad’s idea, and he became my producing partner. David has done a lot of work with Bill Shatner. My dad knew David pretty well and thought that he would be a great guy to collaborate with to get this thing going. So there was a lot of discussion with my dad about the shape and form of what this would look like.
We couldn’t foresee that his decline would be so quick, frankly. We thought we had more time to have discussions about it, even to interview him. In January (of 2015), I suggested that we have a sit-down with a camera crew and we thought he had plenty of time. We did not foresee how fast his health would decline. After the decline started, there was never any talk about dropping the project, and even in those last weeks there was talk about the shape of the project. And then we just started to focus on his health and dropped the ball on the project for a while because we were just really concerned about his well-being at that point.
So, how did the project come back to life after his passing?
After he died, there was such an outpouring of emotion and support from so many people from around the world. I got calls from old friends of mine I hadn’t been in touch with in decades. The media was so saturated, really, with the news and the legacy of Spock and Dad, that it just inspired me, and I felt it would be of interest to people if we continued on with the project. And, at that point, it became obvious to me that the project needed to include the life of my dad as well. He was very concerned when we’d talked about it that it not be a Leonard Nimoy film, made by Leonard Nimoy, about Leonard Nimoy. He wanted to keep himself minimally involved and keep the focus on Mr. Spock. When he passed away, it was pretty obvious that people were not only mourning the loss of Mr. Spock, but also Leonard Nimoy, the artist and humanitarian. That’s when I decided to pick up where we’d left off, but also to include my dad’s life as well.
The film is partly about Spock, partly about your dad, partly about your relationship with your dad, and partly about you. How organically did all of that occur as you made the film?
These things happen. It evolved. We had a game plan going in, and a pretty good outline of what we wanted the film to be, and a script. But as you continue on with documentaries, you get more information, more feedback. You start to expand your scope. The thing I kept coming back to is that a lot of fans and family were supportive of the idea that I delve more deeply into my point of view of the whole experience. That was kind of the unique element that I could bring to the film, that no other documentarian could really tell. And what I tell is that third element of where I stood, how Spock affected me, the impact of being a celebrity family, my relationship with my dad. These were all very unique points of view that no one else could inject into a documentary about Spock and Dad. I was at first resistant, but more and more people responded to the idea of making it more of a personal journey.
$600,000 is not chump change. We were a little surprised that there wasn’t the tremendous wave of response that we had expected from the beginning. There are millions of Star Trek fans out there. If Wikipedia is to be believed, 25 million fans tuned in to watch Dad in the two-part episode of The Next Generation. And we ended up with 10,000 supporters. And we really had to work. We really had to get the word out. We were concerned we were not going to make our goal. That money did not materialize until the end of the 30-day period. And there was a lot of PR work I had to do to raise awareness about it. So, although it really helped us and, without that money this film would not be possible, it was a little challenging for us to get the word out to the Trek fans and to get them energized to participate in the campaign. Again, it’s not chump change and we got a lot of mileage of out of that money, but it was a lot of work.
How satisfying was it to you to see how many of your dad's friends, family members and colleagues agreed to participate and be interviewed?
Well, it’s been amazing. We have an extensive amount of really meaningful and wonderful and heartfelt interviews from original cast members and new cast members, from J.J. Abrams to astrophysicists and JPL scientists. That was refreshing, inspirational, and I consider them my tentpole interviews, because they were really critical to sustain the film and supply the insights we needed to tell the story. I’m talking about people like Bill Shatner and J.J. and George Takei, and also Ben Chapman, who directed my dad in really successful theater productions, and then the family members, too. So, I’m really grateful that so many people took the time and stepped up to the plate for us.
What did you discover about your dad from immersing yourself in For the Love of Spock?
First and foremost, there was the impact that his life had on so many people. We knew that there were a lot of Star Trek fans out there, but we really didn’t realize until we started the interview process when we got to the convention in Las Vegas, the tremendous amount of impact Dad had. And it was the same with the NASA people we met. It just blew my mind how deeply Mr. Spock and Star Trek and my dad had permeated people’s lives. I realized that people thought of my dad a person searching for truth and, in his work, for passion. The inspiration spread to so many different strata of society, across all kinds of boundaries and borders. It’s all over the world. I knew it in my mind, to a degree, but I didn’t fully appreciate the impact until people kept coming up to me and people kept supporting us. There was just this groundswell of love for Dad and support for him that I got to see and hear about personally.
Go to www.fortheloveofspock.com for additional details about For the Love of Spock.