Since the early 1990s, Adam Nimoy has been steadily building a directing career in television, including two episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” So when he and his father, actor Leonard Nimoy, conceived of a documentary about the elder Nimoy’s most famous character, “Star Trek’s” Mr. Spock, it seemed only natural to let Adam direct. But when Leonard Nimoy passed away early in 2015, his son realized that the film the two had already begun pre-production on needed to be a tribute to his father’s entire career, with an emphasis on Spock and his fascinating following among fans all over the world.
The resulting doc, FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK, is a wonderful profile and tribute to Nimoy, and the many twists and turns of his decades-long acting and directing career. The film is also a surprisingly touching examination of the sometimes strained relationship between Leonard and Adam. There are interviews with “Star Trek” television cast members, as well as most of the cast of J.J. Abrams’s relaunched STAR TREK films, which featured the elder Nimoy as Spock for the last time. Some of the most moving material involves the close friendship that developed between Nimoy and Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock in the new movies. I had a chance to sit down briefly with Adam Nimoy a couple months ago at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal to discuss this labor of love. Please enjoy…
Capone: If I remember correctly, your father started out working on this film with you. This is something that you two came up with together. How much of the final film is the thing that you two envisioned?
Adam Nimoy: Only really the Spock part of it, because when I approached my dad about making this film—this was November of 2014—we wanted to make a wall-to-wall Spock doc. And he was very clear that this was not the Leonard Nimoy Show; this was really just specifically about the creation of Spock, the evolution of Spock, and exploring why Spock seems to resonate with so many people all over the world. He was a very humble guy; he had a lot of humility, and it wasn’t going to be a puff piece on Leonard Nimoy and his career. It was really to celebrate 50 years of “Star Trek” and Mr. Spock being a part of our popular culture. The film was supposed to be really centered on and really nothing but Spock.
But after he passed away, it became clear that we had such an outpouring of emotion not only for Spock, but for the loss of this incredible artist. People had a lot of respect for my dad, not only for the roll of Spock, but for his artistic integrity, his attempts to express himself artistically in all these different mediums, whether it was directing or his poetry books, his recording career, his photography career. These are things people responded to, and we needed to expand the film to include. Then while we were on that journey, more and more people were telling me I needed to open up more and talk about my own experience, because we wanted to find a unique element about this documentary that no one else could really tell. There are so many great documentary film makers, but what was it that I bring? What was the sensibility that I bring to this film that would be different than any other Spock or Leonard Nimoy documentary.
Capone: Spock’s philosophies, teachings and lessons are in my estimation are the most enduring part of the original series. And it might have just been because they were most closely aligned with Gene Roddenberry’s thoughts about humanity and the greater good. Why do you think those are the things that have endured?
AN: Gene designed Spock with very specific goals in mind in terms of what the character was going to look like and be like. The idea of making him half human/half Vulcan, my father thought that was ingenious, because that was a big part of what people really related to—this tension, this inner conflict going on between the less emotional Vulcan side and the emotions that he experienced being half human. We all go through that. As you see from the film, I think we try to really get across, this is what people really identify with and clue into and glom onto, so right away people are identifying with him.
Also about his philosophy, his point of view, Spock is a very introspective, thoughtful person with a lot of wisdom. He has the benefit of these sages of Vulcan behind him. He’s a very learned man from his planet, and very much aware of all the ages and all the wisdom that has accumulated on his planet. It’s great for him to be able to say things like “Live long and prosper.” There are so many fans who can quote him verbatim. Jason Alexander [who appears in the film as a “Star Trek” expert] being one of him [laugh].
Capone: I didn’t know he was a big fan.
AN: Yeah, I’ve known this for years. Spock has very little to say about things, but he’s very thoughtful. We want to hear what he has to say, and he’s so compelling just to look at. I think that’s why people are just zoom right in on him. “What’s Spock going to do in this situation?”
Capone: The photo of you on set with the Vulcan ears is priceless, I’ve seen that photo before and I always thought “There’s a story there.” And you tell it in the film. It’s amazing that you were just the right get o get a kick out of your dad being Spock and being on that show.
AN: I loved it. I was the demographic At that age, I’m growing up in Southern California, and we were just drenched with popular culture. We were bombarded with it, beginning really with he early rock and roll of The Beach Boys and Elvis and then the Fab Four. We’re all there. And then it’s the golden age of TV. I just love watching all these shows. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Lost in Space,” “Gunsmoke" and “Bonanza” and “Branded,” and “The Wild Wild West.” All these terrific TV shows that are on the air, so I’m there. I’m the captive audience. I’m ready. So when my dad brought home the first Polaroid pictures of himself in 1964 from a wardrobe test of the early, primitive Spock, I remember the exact moment he showed me these photographs. I was like, “Oh my god. This is incredible. This is crazy. This is perfect.” I was watching “The Outer Limits,” I was watching “The Twilight Zone.” I was a huge “Lost in Space” fan. Huge. So when we saw these images come out, I was like “This is going to be amazing. I’m so excited.: Something turned inside me, and I couldn't wait for the series to come out.
There was a market in our neighborhood I used to go to all the time to buy anything Beatles related they had. I would work for my mother, take out the trash to get a nickel to go buy The Beatles cards that came out with a stick of gum. So I was there at that store daily looking for anything “Star Trek” related before it happened on the scene. Finally, TV Guide had a little ad with the early promo picture of my dad and Bill—it was an early artistic rendering of Spock and Kirk—and I remember vividly getting that TV Guide and riding my bike home, and running into my house to show my mom and sister. “Look at what’s in TV Guide this week.” It was an incredibly exciting time, and the interesting thing is that excitement has never left.
Capone: Apparently not.
AN: No. 50 years later I’m still feeling it. I still remember it. It’s still resonating.
Capone: It was fun to watch you walk through that convention [in the film]. I can’t believe you’d never been to a Star Trek convention before that. It’s just fun to see you walk through that and just go “Wow, look at all these images of my dad on everything, every flat surface.”
AN: Yeah. That was the first time I had ever been to the annual convention. I did go to Chicago in 2011, I believe, for my dad’s farewell appearance.
Capone: I remember when he did that.
AN: I didn’t go because, by that point, it was my dad’s thing. I really don’t need to be there for that. I’ve seen a lot of the excitement, the crazy. The crowd goes crazy. When he walks on stage, they go nuts. I really appreciate that. I respect that. It really wasn’t that comfortable for me to be in that situation, to be going as his son. I’m too old for that kind of thing now, it felt like. Now, it’s different for me because I’m going back for my film, to talk about my film. I’m adding something. I have something to offer to “Star Trek” fans as a part of liturgy and the tradition and this whole phenomenon of “Star Trek” that I want to promote, that I want to get people to understand that we exist. That FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK is going to be out there, and we want people to know about it and see it.
Capone: I’ve got to ask about the Zachary Quinto interview, because I’m seeing all the new STAR TREK movie people—JJ Abrams and the cast—and I’m thinking, how did they not get Quinto in this? And you save him for the end, for the passing-of-the-torch story, but then you also involve him as you’re telling part of your story. At first, I thought you’re just talking to whoever was interviewing you, but then you realize you’re talking to him about the loss of your wife. That’s got to be so strange for you to talk to this guy who played a character that your father popularized. Talk about that exchange and that interview specifically.
AN: That’s an interesting question. The fact is that Zachary has this dual role that he’s played in our lives. Not only is he the heir to this tradition of Spock, and my father was very happy to be passing the torch to Zach, because he’s so talented in his own right and brought his own sensibility to the role, but also he was curious to really talk to my dad about what his through process was, what the character meant to him, and discuss how the character might evolve. They had a lot of these discussions, but then it turned into a personal relationship. Clearly these guys were bonding as intelligent, artistic people, which I thought was a really special relationship that they had, which was wonderful.
Zach is like a member of the family to me, and I feel really comfortable around him, and we trust him. He’s a confidante. He’s really a part of our group, so it was really easy for me to want to talk. I wanted to talk about this material that’s really sensitive to me with him, because I just felt like he is the right person. He knew where we were at. He knew everything we had gone through, and he was learning in the course of the interviews. It just seemed to make sense that, because he’s not only the new Spock, but also because he’s a close family friend and almost like a surrogate son to my dad. That’s the kind of relationship they had. It just seemed to make sense that he would be the guy to go through this material with.
Capone: It was really great to meet you. Thank you so much.
AN: Steve, thank you so much for taking the time.
Capone: I could talk to you about this for days, believe me.