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Leonard Nimoy Talks 'Trek', TV, and More

For his birthday we're honored to reshare our exclusive interview with the legend himself.

Nimoy Birthday

This extensive interview originally ran on May 5, 2012. Today, we're honoring Leonard Nimoy's birthday with its reissue.

Leonard Nimoy is back – not that he really ever left. Though the Star Trek legend announced his retirement, Nimoy seems to be as ubiquitous as always, giving talks, providing the voice of Spock on The Big Bang Theory, being on hand to welcome NASA's Enterprise shuttle to New York City, posting frequently on Facebook and Twitter, and even shocking Fringe fans with a surprise episodic appearance.

Upcoming on the retiree’s dance card is another turn as William Bell in Fringe, a speaking engagement at Walter Koenig’s induction into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and he’s also helping his granddaughter, Danielle Schwartz, launch her retail website, Shop LLAP. recently caught up with Nimoy for a breezy, wide-ranging  conversation in which he discussed all of the above, and more. Let’s start with Shop LLAP. How did that come about?

Leonard Nimoy: The whole story is really about my granddaughter, Dani. She studied art and design. She saw some of these photographs that I had done a while back for a series call "Secret Selves," and she was quite convinced that they’d look good on tee-shirts. I said, “OK, [I'll] give you the license. You can go ahead and put those images on tee-shirts.” She said, “What you have to do is open a Twitter account and build up some followers, and then we’ll tell them where they can go to buy these shirts.” I said, “OK,” and I did that. Suddenly, I’m tweeting on Twitter.

You’re laughing as you say “Tweeting on Twitter.”

LN: I’m laughing because the whole thing would have totally passed me by if it weren’t for her, this whole tweeting and Facebook thing.  I opened a Twitter account and Dani opened a shop on a site called Etsy. She started selling a lot of tee-shirts, [and] then she said, “We have to have our own website.” So she opened Shop LLAP and she started expanding the merchandise. What we’re trying to do is keep the merchandise we’re offering as personal as possible. It isn’t all just generic stuff. It’s about stuff we personally have created and care about. At the moment we have a tee-shirt that says LLAP, which is very popular. We have a tote bag which says LLAP, and I sign the tote bags.

The newest item is a Vulcan-face tee-shirt that you are autographing for buyers.

LN: Dani commissioned and designed that, and a young fellow named Josh Zingerman did that wonderful design, which I love. I think it’s one of the best designs of the Spock image that I’ve seen in all of the history of Spock.  And I have to tell you, it’s more about staying in touch with fans and offering them something that they don’t get anywhere else than it is about anything else. Dani is a wonderful young lady who works for another company doing Internet site work. She does this as a side thing, and it’s very personal for her and for me.

Actually, we’ve already run out of one item and we have to do some more of them. We’ve created a tee-shirt where I draw, by my own hand, the Vulcan sign on the shirt. Dani came to the house with a bunch of shirts and I drew them. They were gone in a second. People wait for them. They say, “When are we going to have some more.” The unsigned Vulcan face shirts are on A lot of fans really do want them unsigned because they want to be able to wear it and wash it.

What else will be added to the Shop LLAP line?

LN: We’re talking about various items. We’re talking about some kind of a wristband or bracelet that says LLAP. There will be more. We don’t intend to be a gigantic operation, though. We don’t want to be. We want to keep it very personal, very simple and make sure everybody gets a good deal. We’re also giving away stuff every once in a while. Sometimes we’ll run a special and we’ll say “Get a signed Spock card along with your shirt.”

Also, and this is really interesting, I have quite a library of product that has been produced over the years – Star Trek products, Alien Voices products and so forth. I gave Dani a bunch of that stuff and I encourage her to, every once in a while, just on a whim, drop one into a package as a surprise gift. So people might buy a shirt and end up with a recording of one of the Alien Voices shows signed by me as a surprise. We also have a button that says LLAP, and that’s going out with the shirts as well.

Since we’ve got you on the line, let’s touch on some other things. You mentioned Twitter and Facebook. You are very active on them. It’s like you’re the new George Takei.

LN: It snuck up on me. I had no idea. I love it. It’s a great world out there and it’s a great way of communicating with a lot of people in a very quick way. I’m on Twitter fairly regularly. I don’t do an awful lot of tweeting. There are some people I see that tweet all day, every day. They start in the morning and say, “Good morning,” then are on it all day. I don’t do that. I pop up. I try to tweet when I’ve got something really interesting to say or some idea that I think is meaningful. I don’t tweet when I go to the drug store.

There’s so much out there right now – iPads, for example – that are unmistakably Star Trek tech becoming reality. What from Trek has not been realized yet that you hope to see someday?

LN: Well, I’d love to be able to do a mind meld. That would be very helpful. But the technology has really, astoundingly, followed some of the Star Trek items that we used. (Early) cell phones were like communicators. There are the tablets, iPads and all of that, and they have so much of the information that we used to get on the tricorder. And we’re awfully close to a lot of those items that were so wonderfully imaginative 40, 45 years ago. They’re in the culture now.

You surprised everyone by appearing on Fringe again last week. What intrigued you about how/why they brought Bell back?

LN: This is such a creative company. The William Bell character has been re-conceived and it's a fresh acting opportunity. This season finale is a stunner.

How open would you be to returning once or twice next season to help put the proper capper on the show and the character's arc?

LN: Next season is an open question. I love the show. I admire the people who make it. We’ve become friends. I think they’re wildly imaginative. If they contact me, I answer the phone. I don’t avoid them. I try to be helpful. I try to make a contribution.

The radio-play-style recordings you did with John de Lancie for your joint company, Alien Voices, are finally available in the digital format. What does it mean to you that more people, younger people, can hear those recordings now?

LN: That’s great. John and I are very good friends. I really loved doing that with him. I admire him and he’s a hardworking, very talented guy. We had a great time doing those recordings. We did some of them in person at conventions, and they always got a great audience reaction. I’m delighted that they’re available for download now and that more people can enjoy them. I really look back fondly on those shows that we did.

You were in New York late last month for the arrival of NASA's Enterprise shuttle following its final voyage. You were on hand as well for the rollout of the shuttle back in 1976. How full-circle was it for you to bookend the history of the Enterprise?

LN: It was really quite an emotional experience for me. I remember that day very, very well, when it rolled out. I was flying my own plane at the time, and I got permission to land it on their runway [in Palm Beach, California]. I flew it out from the Santa Monica Airport and landed.  I got out of my plane and walked over to the guest area, and there we were [most of the TOS cast], all gathered. A few minutes later, those hangar doors opened up and out rolled the Enterprise. The Air Force band was playing the theme from Star Trek. It was very touching, very exciting.

I was there the first time the first shuttle came back from outer space and landed. To be out there and hear that double sonic boom  overhead... it was awesome. People were saying, “There it is! There it is!” You could see it coming down and landing. It’s awesome, just awesome, what scientists and engineers have accomplished. We tend to take these things for granted, but we shouldn’t. They are amazing accomplishments.

To be there again to say goodbye [to the Enterprise] was great. I’d love to be there when it gets installed on the Intrepid, but I will certainly visit again on the Intrepid after it’s been put in place. I understand that it will be in an enclosed environment, so it will be viewable all year round. I think it’s a great thing.

One major side effect of J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek film was that it brought a lot of young people into the fold and ,many of them went on to seek out The Original Series. What did that mean to you?

LN: I am getting email and fan mail now from young people who, as you say, are watching The Original Series for the first time. J.J.’s film has opened up the territory and made people conscious of it all over again. I guess we’re into a third generation of viewers by now. It’s extraordinary. I don’t see Star Trek fading. That it just keeps reviving itself is wonderful.

Speaking of J.J. Abrams, how did you enjoy your visit to the set of the sequel?

LN: I visited the set one day and that started some speculation about whether I was doing the film. It’s all speculation. I talk to these people regularly. Zachary Quinto and I have dinner whenever we can. We just had dinner three or four weeks ago. I talk to J.J. about family. His parents and I go back a number of years as friends. I knew them long before I ever met J.J. So we talk regularly.

I visited the set one day because I had never seen the bridge. When I was in the last film, none of my work was on the bridge of the Enterprise. So I wanted to see the bridge, and it was extraordinary. It’s beautifully designed and put together.

I think he’s put together a wonderful cast of people. His writers are imaginative and energetic. I think we’re going to see another great Star Trek movie.

You seem so busy. Do you really, truly consider yourself retired?

LN: Yeah, I do. I am. Look, I liken myself to a steamship that’s been going full-blast. Then the captain pulls that handle back and says, “Full stop,” but the ship doesn’t stop. It keeps moving from inertia. It keeps moving. It keeps moving. It’ll start slowing down, but it doesn’t stop. It doesn’t come to a dead stop. That’s the way I am. I still have a few odds and ends things that I enjoy doing. I don’t want to get up in the morning and have nothing to do that day. That would be boring.

This interview has been edited and condensed.