Last night's session of Entertainment Weekly’s CapeTown Film Fest, held at The Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, was a sold-out event; very hard to find a seat. The evening kicked off with EW’s Geoff Boucher serving as moderator and warming up the audience a bit with a Captain Kirk sound-alike contest. About 20 fans from the audience were chosen and lined up at the front of the auditorium to do their best interpretations of James Tiberius. A few Khan screamers and many over-the-top, melodramatic impressions later, we had a winner.
Boucher then talked briefly about the festival, thanked everyone for being here, and segued into the introduction for the 2009 J.J. Abrams-helmed movie Star Trek. The lights came down and the first few notes of music came over the speakers. Key moments elicited chuckles and knowing laughs – young Kirk’s defiant stance on the bluffs of Iowa; Spock’s gratitude-laced gesture for the Vulcan Science Academy. The biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Mr. Nimoy’s appearance on-screen during the Delta Vega scene – the crowd erupted with applause.
Shortly after the screening ended, Boucher came out once again to inform the crowd that he had something very special for us – a special introduction for this event. At this point, the screen came back to life, with both J.J. Abrams and Zachary Quinto appearing in a very special pre-recorded segment to introduce this night’s guest of honor – Mr. Leonard Nimoy. They both talked about their very first encounters with the legendary actor, speaking very fondly of their love for him.
The introduction over, Boucher brought out Nimoy to a rapturous standing ovation. Once the crowd settled down, Boucher began asking Nimoy questions about the early days. Nimoy marveled at the fact that the 50th anniversary of Star Trek was just three years away and that so many people in the audience here at the Egyptian were well under the age of 50. An early topic: Zachary Quinto. Nimoy recounted their SDCC appearance, where he asked Quinto, in an elevator prior to their panel appearance, “Do you have any idea what you’re in for?”
When asked about how he coped with the onslaught of fame that Star Trek had brought him, Nimoy related a story about wanting to get away from Hollywood, and the aftermath of Star Trek, so he decided to do a talk at a college campus in Billings, MT. Even there, fans figured out where he was staying and called him endlessly at the hotel. One fan from Denver tracked him down there, and when Nimoy asked her how she managed to find him, she replied that she called every single hotel in Billings. Apparently, because there were very few hotels in Billings, this was not hard to do. Despite going to such a remote part of the country, he related how one fan after another would call him, many times from different parts of the country, then tell their Star Trek friends, who’d then proceed to call him. This went on for his entire stay.
In talking more about his relationship with Zachary Quinto, Mr. Nimoy was asked about his singing of “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” in an upcoming Audi ad, to which he delighted the crowd by singing a small snippet. Replying to another question about meeting Quinto, Nimoy noted that he never gave the younger actor advice. They had lunch and talked about the character of Spock – his duality, the philosophy of the character, and how that character interacted within the framework of the philosophy of Star Trek. He never said “You should do this” or “You should do that.”
Segueing into a question about his personal life, Nimoy revealed that he had six grandchildren, and even one great grandson. ALL of them were Star Trek fans – he said emphatically! He also reiterated that he is retired. When asked about his one-man play Vincent, he recounted that he wrote and acted in this play over 35 years ago. A new production, starring Jean Michel Richaud was recently mounted, and Nimoy was asked to attend a showing, which he initially found to be uncomfortable, as he didn’t know if it would be good, if he would feel awkward. Fortunately, the play is wonderful, and Mr. Richaud did an excellent job.
Mr. Nimoy spoke about the recent White House Correspondent’s dinner – and related that he was invited to the event by the Boston Globe – which prompted him to speak briefly about being from Boston. The real Boston. Not a few miles away, from some suburb. He was born and raised in the heart of the city, describing it as being a wonderful place to grow up, with all of the art and culture. Asked if there were any Star Trek moments at the dinner, he replied no, but added that Obama had given him the Vulcan salute years earlier in Los Angeles at a mutual friend’s house.
When asked who among his Star Trek cohorts he was most friendly with, he replied… all. Though he did say, rather jokingly, that William Shatner tried to drown him. As the crowd laughed, he explained that in Star Trek IV, during the water scene (shot in the famed parking lot/water tank on the Paramount lot), he was wearing a heavy terry-cloth robe, and was trying very hard not to go near the water, since he knew he’d sink like a stone if he got that costume wet. But Bill pushed him in anyway, and as a result, Nimoy sank to the bottom of the tank. Luckily, he was able to discard the robe and float back to the top. Nimoy laughed and said that Shatner knew darn well what he was doing. When asked what his response was, Nimoy said that Shatner had “a brittle jaw” – implying jokingly that he settled the score.
In touching on Leonard’s career during the 80’s, Boucher hit on a piece of trivia: Nimoy directed the highest grossing film of 1987: Three Men and a Baby. When asked if he enjoyed directing, and if this was a life-long dream of his, he replied “I never intended to be a director.” In fact, he was offended when colleagues would suggest he direct, thinking it was an insult. After all, why would anyone suggest he direct, when he was an actor, and a good one? But just before Star Trek III, the studio informed him that they wanted talk with him. He assumed they wanted to talk about bringing Spock back. Something inside him told him he needed to broaden his horizons – stretch out a little bit. When the studio talked with him about resurrecting Spock, he told him he’d come back, but he wanted to direct. It was very spontaneous. Later, after Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg left Paramount for Disney, they eventually contacted Nimoy and brought him over to Disney to direct Three Men and a Baby. (He related how Eisner told him he’d heard that Nimoy hated his Spock character, which made him chuckle, since once again, he saw how easy it was for incorrect rumors to spread, even all the way up to the top of the company.)
Boucher then addressed Nimoy’s long acting career, from Fiddler on the Roof to Marco Polo to A Woman Called Golda. When asked about why he did so many varied projects, Nimoy, smiling, simply replied: “to travel.” He wanted to act and travel, and these projects took him all over the world. He wasn’t sure he wanted to do A Woman Called Golda, until he heard Ingrid Bergman was to star in it. Then, for sure, he found a reason to be involved. He went from Israel for Golda to Beijing for Marco Polo, straight to Los Angeles for the wardrobe fitting for Star Trek II.
The one role Nimoy did turn down, interestingly, was that of Dracula. When asked why, he said, “the Spock thing was so heavy… I just didn’t want to go from Spock to Dracula.” He regretted his decision later, as he found out it was a wonderful production.
And how about Star Trek: The Animated Series? Nimoy wasn’t excited about doing it, thinking they really wouldn’t be able to pull Star Trek off in an animated form. He was dismayed during the first episode to find out that not all of the main cast were back. He thought it ridiculous that Jimmy Doohan would have to voice not just his character, but those of Walter and George. And Majel Barrett would have to do the same for not only herself, but for the characters played by Nichelle Nichols and Grace Lee Whitney. After that first episode, they made a phone call to Gene Roddenberry and complained at how awkward it was to see the characters’ faces, but hear an entirely different voice – clearly not the voice of the original actor who played that character. All in the name of saving money. So they demanded that the main cast be involved from that point moving forward.
The last question touched upon Nimoy’s feelings about Roddenberry. Gene was complex. Very smart but also very complex, he said. Nimoy recounted how offended Gene was by popular stories inferring that humanity’s great accomplishments were the result of aliens intervening in our affairs. Gene had faith in humanity’s ability to accomplish great goals and work out our problems.
As the evening drew to a close, Boucher presented Nimoy with a life-size wall-cling – of himself. This made Nimoy laugh, and he said he’d now have to find a place in his house to hang it, where everyone would have to see it as they walked in the door.
With that, he saluted and thanked the audience for coming. Another standing ovation, and the evening was over.
In talking with some fans after the show was over, many spoke of the fact that it was nice to see the 2009 movie again, so close to the opening of the new movie. They felt it was nice to get a refresher course, so to speak – something to prime them for jumping back into the alternate timeline of Kirk and Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew.