As Star Trek’s inquisitive science officer Spock, he searched for answers across the galaxy. As the host of In Search Of, and any number of documentaries throughout his career, he has investigated topics that range from technology to aliens and the last days of the Romanovs. And over the past 40+ years he has handled countless conventions and interviews with wit and aplomb. But last Sunday morning, Leonard Nimoy finally heard a question that stumped him.
“My favorite color?” he asked incredulously as the audience howled with laughter. “Who sent you? Who are you?”
“Have you never been asked that before?” the fan asked.
“Maybe that’s why I asked.”
Nimoy considered, then smiled broadly. “Well, good for you!”
(It’s blue, by the way.)
Nearly one hundred and fifty people were listening to “A Discussion with Leonard Nimoy” Sunday morning at the FX International convention at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Eager fans shelled out admission fees from $125 to $250. Each received a goody bag with a movie poster, various collectible items and a voucher for an autograph from the man himself (Nimoy was holding court).
The 78-year-old Nimoy handled the room like a pro, telling stories and promoting the upcoming relaunch of the beloved franchise, JJ Abrams’ blockbuster movie Star Trek, something he said he realized would be great after seeing the first, unadorned cut months ago:
“My wife is… she loves me a lot and I love her, and she’s a great Star Trek supporter, but she’s hardly a big science fiction fan, she’s not like, like… well, you people,” he said to general laughter. “So she was skeptical. About 15 minutes before it was over, she turned to me and she said ‘I don’t want this movie to end.'”
Nimoy had nothing but praise for the other actors, including Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Winona Rider as Spock’s mother. “She’s wonderful! Wonderful!”
“The movie is big, a gigantic movie, a cinematic movie, but it also has great heart for the characters,” he said. He saw the final version recently and said, “I’m gonna tell you I cried a lot. I sat there and cried a lot, watching it. Don’t tell anybody.
“Out of character for me,” he added.
“Big, gigantic canvas and story, it’s a big, big story and the people in it are so versatile, so human, and the way this crew comes together to become the crew of the Enterprise is a very wonderful story, you’ll love it. You’ll love it,” he said. “See it seven or eight times.”
With a slightly raspy voice the chatty, laughing Nimoy was light years away from his most famous persona. For most of the hour he answered questions from fans, which ranged from his voiceover work as Galvatron in the animated Transformers movie, to his relation by marriage to Michael Bay (“and he won’t hire me!”), to his long-standing friendship with William Shatner, to the photography that has been the focus of his life for the past 15 years, to his upcoming guest spots on JJ Abrams’ FOX show Fringe (one in the last episode airing May 12, and two episodes next season, “and then we’ll see how the character develops”).
One fan even asked him to reproduce his legendarily mocked musical performance of “The Legend of Bilbo Baggins,” but instead Nimoy forced the Starfleet-suited fan to come up to the stage and perform it himself, even helpfully supplying the lyrics when the fan tried to back out.
But it always came back to Star Trek.
Shatner didn’t really try to kill him in Star Trek IV The Voyage Home, but the robe Nimoy was wearing sucked up water and dragged him down to the bottom of the tank. The Vulcan hand gesture is from a childhood memory of a Jewish High Holy Days ceremony. He didn’t appear in the seventh movie, Star Trek: Generations, because the lines written for him weren’t Spock lines and he didn’t see the point. He was very blunt about disliking “Generations,” and not seeing any reason why Kirk had to die in it.
He was fascinated with the issues he brought out in the sixth movie, Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, based loosely on the Russians’ problems with the Chernobyl disaster and their crumbling economy. He loved the way The Voyage Home brought humor back to the Star Trek universe. And he battled with the movie studio over having an alien force in that movie that not only was impossible for humans to understand, but hadn’t come to talk to us anyway. Their proposed solution? Subtitles for the probe.
“I said no, no, no, no, we’re not gonna do that.” He fought, and won, and when the movie was test-screened and the advance audience unanimously agreed that they understood the plot, Nimoy sent that back to the studios with a… well, I can’t repeat it here, but it is distinctly odd to hear Spock cuss.
The final question was why, after turning down other offers to appear in the various incarnations of Star Trek over the years, he chose to bring Spock back to life for the new movie.
“I was done. I thought I was quite done, and for many years I was,” he said, mentioning the photography that had become his passion. “I was aware of the TV work that (JJ Abrams) was doing, which I thought was interesting and well done. I got a call from him, would I come to a meeting where I met with he and the writers and a couple of the producers.
“And I was struck by the intensity of their feelings about the classic Star Trek material that we did. By their awareness of what the characters were about, and how important the characters’ development was, and how important the ideas of those shows were. I was really touched by them, very touched. In fact, it’s been reported I got misty at that meeting, and I actually did,” he said.
“Because for a long time, I felt marginalized. I thought, no, (the new Treks) have nothing to do with me,” he said. “It’s over for me. But these people made me feel that what we had done in the original series was still relevant, and useful, and meaningful, and they wanted to get back in touch with that,” he said. “And that’s what brought me into the project.”