Leonard Nimoy will turn 80 years old tomorrow and here, in the third and final installment of our exclusive interview, the Star Trek legend contemplates reaching that age – as well as the far less attractive alternative. He also discusses his appearance in Star Trek (2009), offers his thoughts on the unsung heroes behind TOS, muses about Trek’s fiction becoming today’s reality and shares his thoughts on his relationship with fellow octogenarian William Shatner.
Eighteen years had passed since you last played Spock in Star Trek VI, and along comes J.J. Abrams’ movie. Looking back at it, how satisfied were you with how Spock Prime was worked into the story?
Nimoy: I had a great time. I thought that J.J. and his writers had captured the essence of the fun of the Star Trek characters, the chemistry between the people, the excitement of becoming part of that crew and going out on this adventure. I thought it was a great ride as a film. I was pleased with how they treated the Spock character. I thought that they really got it. When they first called me and asked me to come to a meeting, I went to meet with J.J. and Orci and Kurtzman, and the conversation was very moving to me, because I thought these guys really understood what an audience really loves about Star Trek and what an audience loves about the Spock character. I was excited and I said, “Yes, put it down on paper. Send me the script. I’m very interested.” When I read the script I called J.J. immediately and I said, “Let’s go. Let’s go to work. I love it.” I had a great time doing it.
How much closure did it provide you?
Nimoy: I finally got a real good sense of closure for myself with Star Trek, and I was very happy to see Zachary Quinto take over the character. I think he’s an excellent, well-trained actor and excellent for the job.
Some fans loved the alternate universe concept, as it will free the writers and actors to go in any direction, while others disliked the breaking of Star Trek canon that resulted, particularly the destruction of Vulcan. What are your thoughts on the debate?
Nimoy: I think the alternate universe was necessary. I think it was a very solid idea and necessary because, although it broke canon in a certain kind of way, if they didn’t do the alternate universe, they would have broken canon in other ways. It was constricting. There was so much history to be dealt with that if they did not do the alternate universe it would have been so constricting and it would have been very, very difficult to tell an exciting story without stepping on some toes somewhere. So, by doing it this way, I think they gave themselves a new canvass to work with. I think it was a very wise idea.
Let’s says that Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman and/or Damon Lindelof come to you and say, “Leonard, we have an equally good part for you in the next film. Please come join us again.” What would it take to convince you to get on board?
Nimoy: (Laughs). I’m not expecting that. That’s very hypothetical. I’m really not expecting it to happen. I think I was useful in the last film and I think for me it really was the last film. I think the torch has been very successfully passed to a bunch of very talented young people, and not just Zachary, but Chris Pine and all of them. I think they’re very talented and will have a lot of fun, and I wish them well.
We’ve seen your face plastered on lunch boxes, Christmas ornaments, plush toys, literally thousands of products. What’s the strangest thing YOU’VE seen your own face on?
Nimoy: Wow. (Laughs). There was a beer advertisement that ran in England some years ago, where they used the Spock character in a very funny way to sell Heineken beer. It would take too long to describe it, but it was really a funny and strange juxtaposition.
We know you have a vast collection of Trek memorabilia at your house. What’s the prized piece in the collection?
Nimoy: Well, I still have the pair of ear tips that I wore the last day that we filmed the Original Series. I have a couple of others which I have held for my children and grandchildren, a handful of other ear tips. But the ones that have a lot of significance for me are the ones that I wore the last day when we finished filming TOS. I took them because I thought, “This is my momento.”
Who is the unsung hero of the original Star Trek? Gene Coon? Bjo Trimble? Them and others?
Nimoy: Well, there are several. Bjo certainly is one of them. She was very instrumental in helping us get back on the air after we’d been canceled at the end of the second season. Bob Justman, one of our line producers, was terribly important to us. He was very helpful. He was a very substantial, ethical, talented man who was able to, in the midst of chaos, lend you a good ear if you had a problem or an idea. I could go to him and expect some reliable help. Gene Coon made a gigantic contribution to Star Trek with the scripts he turned out. If I remember correctly, he introduced the Klingons and gave us some wonderful stories. Those are few of the people who made major contributions. Joe Pevney and Marc Daniels directed some of our greatest episodes and both had a great theatrical flair and brought a lot to the look of the shows they directed.
One name we’ve not brought up during this conversation is William Shatner. How would you describe your relationship with him?
Nimoy: We’re very similar in a lot of ways, but on the other hand, very different. He has this great need to be working, working, working, working, working. I’ve asked him at times why, and I’m not sure that we’ve ever really come to a very clear answer of why he wants to work so much and so hard. We’re different. We’re different.
Star Trek’s fiction is today’s reality when it comes to iPads, needle-free injections, the cellphone, etc. How strange and exciting has it been to see all that come to pass?
Nimoy: It’s very satisfying. We carried these things we called tricorders, which resemble very much the iPad that people are using today, with all kinds of video applications. It’s great. The first breakthrough, of course, was the cell phone, which was so much like the communicators we used. The first cell phones flipped open in the same way that our communicators did. It’s been great to see all this stuff evolving. I felt, when we were making the shows, that we would last long into the future because we were so inventive and so creative about the potential usage of science and technology.
In one of your autobiographies from years ago, Spock wrote an open letter to Leonard Nimoy. If he wrote another one, what do you think he’d be saying right now?
Nimoy: Oh, golly. That’s a great question. (Laughs). I’d hope that he’d be saying something kind of benign, like “Thanks for the association. It’s been a great ride.” I think I did (Spock) justice. I tried to maintain the dignity of the character as much as possible through the years, and I’d hope that Spock would think that I did him well.
You’re about to turn 80. Does that excite you? Frighten you? Both at once?
Nimoy: You know, the alternative isn’t very attractive. (Laughs) Not turning 80 is not a very nice event in your life. So… But I’m very comfortable with who I am and what I am and how I am. I feel strong. I feel good. I feel happy and healthy. I have a wonderful personal life. I will get out this year and see people and tell the stories. I love telling the stories that audiences want to hear. I’m really excited about this year. I’m doing a few conventions and appearances. I’m going to be in Dallas and Vegas and Atlanta. I’m giving a speech in Long Beach, at the Carpenter Center, at the end of April. I’m doing a reading in L.A. I’ve got some really exciting and fun things to do this year, and I’m looking forward to it.
Let’s assume you’ll live to 100. What do you hope to do with the next 20 years of your life?
Nimoy: I hope to stay creative, but to keep my personal life at the forefront. I have three kids and six grandchildren and a great-grandson. I’m thrilled with the way their lives are developing and it’s great fun to see them grow into themselves. I’m looking forward to enjoying that, and I want to keep some of my life available for creative possibilities. You’re talking to a very, very happy, thankful, grateful guy.
To keep track of the incredibly busy retiree’s comings and goings and thoughts, follow Nimoy on Twitter at @TheRealNimoy.
To read the previous parts of this interview, click here for part one and click here for part two.