Leonard Nimoy screens Star Trek IV, talks about his career, all things Trek and Quint was there!
Published at: June 12, 2010, 10:55 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here writing from the West Coast! I’ve traveled to the City of Angels to attend the first Hero Complex Film Festival, a fairly unique genre themed festival run by Geoff Boucher of the LA Times.
The dude dips into the blogging world with his Hero Complex Blog (the fest title is starting to make sense now, right?) and decided to put on a three day festival celebrating legends in the film world.
So, the events kicked off tonight with a screening of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home with Leonard Nimoy on-hand to discuss the film, his career and all things Trek. Tomorrow night is a double feature of Insomnia and The Dark Knight with Christopher Nolan doing a Q&A and Sunday night will be Alien and Blade Runner with Ridley Scott talking about those particular flicks.
So, let’s start with the film and move onto the hour long discussion.
I had never seen The Voyage Home on the big screen before, but I remember it being a childhood favorite from the Trek series. This one and Wrath of Khan were the Treks I liked. As a kid I found the first and third films pretty boring, but have grown to appreciate them more as I blasted past puberty.
But it had been a while and I think I had “the whale one” built up as much more of a stupid comedy conceit in my memory. Rewatching it I was struck with just how genuine the character relationships were, especially with DeForest Kelley’s interactions with the rest of the crew.
Sure, the flick lacks the real life that seemed to be creeping up on the crew in Wrath of Khan (the whole subplot about middle age settling in on the crew is kind of out the window outside of a throwaway laugh when Kirk has to pawn his reading glasses for spending money while in 1987 San Francisco), but I found myself really respecting how this film went out of its way to break out of the usual Trek mold.
The threat might be a bit on the liberal scare side of things as an unknown probe wrecks havoc on 23rd Century Earth’s atmosphere and sucking the power out of ships and Federation outposts on its approach to our planet. The probe wants to talk to the whales, but we killed ‘em all and the damn thing won’t leave until it talks to one.
But what I find really interesting about this movie is that there isn’t a big bad guy to beat. It reminded me of some of the original Trek episodes that were less about a singular threat and more about a sci-fi way around a seemingly insolvable problem.
There’s no Romulan or Klingon or Montalban to for Kirk to tackle… hell, there’s no Starship Enterprise until the last few shots of the movie. Instead it’s a men on a mission movie mixed with a fish out of water tale as the crew has to slingshot around the sun to build up enough momentum to time warp in order to snag a few humback whales before they were hunted to extinction.
Looking over some glaring improbabilities (you’re really going to have me buy no one decided to play in Golden Gate park for the day they were there… they might not have seen the cloaked Klingon ship, but they probably damn well would have walked smack dab into it) I quite enjoy the team having to split up into teams and complete different tasks.
And goddamn Kelley was so great here. The twinkle in his eye as he prodded Spock, the real heart he put into his work here underlines just how important he was to the legend of Star Trek. He’s always been my favorite crew member, even as a kid, and I can’t believe how emotionally involved I was with Bones watching this again.
The “modern day” San Francisco stuff worked much better than I remembered, even if Catherine Hicks isn’t exactly the best actress in the world. I think the secret to why this didn’t feel as “jump the shark” as I remembered it from my younger viewings are in the developed relationships of the crew. Kirk and Spock go hunting for captive whales and we get to see them re-learning their friendship after Spock’s resurrection. Scotty and Bones go looking for materials to build a tank on the ship that can stow their gigantic cargo and Chekov and Uhura have the most comedic moments as they blunder about asking people where the “nuclear wessels” are.
But despite the comedic out-of-their-element moments (my favorite has to be Scotty picking up an old Apple mouse and trying to speak into it in order to communicate with the computer) the long years of friendship really shows through. They all seem comfortable with each other, their mixture of familial annoyance and love showing through in every line of dialogue or twitch of a smile.
So, that was really fun to revisit and then Leonard Nimoy was introduced to a standing ovation.
Geoff Boucher conducted the majority of the interview, but the last 15-20 minutes were opened up to the audience. I’ll run down the bullet-points of the chat for ya’.
- Both Nimoy and William Shatner wanted to direct episodes of the Star Trek TV series, but they weren’t allowed to. Nimoy thinks the network would have considered that giving the actors too much power.
- The very end of Wrath of Khan came as a surprise to Nimoy when he saw the finished film… He went on to do his Shatner impersonation of the moving eulogy from Spock’s funeral: “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.” Very exaggerated. This was his face when doing the dramatic pause before “human”:
- Anyway, the Wrath of Khan script ended with Spock being shot out of the ship and into space… When he saw the coffin on the Genesis planet he was quite surprised and thought, “I think I’m gonna get a call from Paramount soon.” And so he did…
- Which lead to him having “leverage” to demand directing Part 3. Apparently when Shatner found out Nimoy was directing the next Trek movie he went into “deep shock.” Nimoy said they get along fine, but are like two very competitive siblings.
- The Voyage Home was the most successful Trek movie, box office wise, until JJ Abrams’ recent reboot.
- On Quinto playing Spock – Nimoy said he was shown a tape of Zachary Quinto reading Spock and he loved him. It wasn’t just the look, but that you could see him thinking, you could see the thoughts moving behind the eyes, which Nimoy said is crucial for Spock as a character.
- When Nimoy first met Quinto he said, “Do you have any idea what you’re getting in to?”
- Loves the moment in JJ’s Trek when Quinto refuses the Academy. “And when he said ‘Live long and prosper…’” and then Nimoy flipped the bird. Curse my slow reflexes! I could have had the picture of the week!
- Before Star Trek Nimoy was always hurting for work. After Star Trek he’s never been without a job and he’s “very, very grateful.”
- Had trouble separating his identity from Spock and jumped into Mission: Impossible for 2 seasons post-Trek because it was very different work. “I got to play European dictators, South American dictators, Asian dictators… I got to do all sorts of dialects and make-ups and so forth…” But he soon got bored because they were just recycling the same part within the series.
- In the early ‘70s Star Trek started going into reruns and surprised Nimoy when it didn’t just fade away with the reruns… instead it grew stronger and stronger. Nimoy believes that is due to syndication being able to place Trek where the audience was, trouble NBC had with original broadcast.
- Describes how the “I’m Not Spock” title came about. He didn’t intend it as a put down, just liked the title after he included a story about a woman who brought her son up to Nimoy and said, “Look who’s standing right here! It’s your favorite character on television! You watch him every week!” and he didn’t recognize him, even when she told him he was Mr. Spock. He thought that was “fascinating,” and then he said he wasn’t allowed to use that word anymore to big laughs from the crowd.
- Said the title was “a big mistake” because then people thought there was no new Star Trek being produced because Nimoy refused to play the character, which was untrue.
- Then in 1977 he was performing Equus on Broadway when he heard of a sci-fi flick that was getting some acclaim. He went to see it in Times Square. That movie, of course, was Star Wars. “I thought, wow… this is really workin’. I bet Paramount is gonna be calling me very soon.”
- “George Lucas really did us all a big favor. Star Wars is what put Star Trek back into production.”
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Robert Wise didn’t know much about Star Trek and really wanted to differentiate the movie from the television show, so they went for a 2001 type vibe.
- Had some friction with Gene Roddenberry over some of the scripts. Nimoy felt that Trek, at its best, could help the viewers understand a little something about the human condition and that’s what he was the most proud of. Sometimes the scripts came down “with nothing to think about. Those upset me.”
- On Fringe: “I agreed to do three episodes and those episodes, for me, weren’t terribly satisfying because they used me to deliver information. ‘This is what you have to watch out for. You have to trust me. You better believe me. You have every reason not to believe me, but you have to believe me!’ I must have said that five times. That was the three.
Then they said they were going to do two more and I said, ‘No, I haven’t enjoyed this very much, frankly.’”
- Abrams called him up and talked him into returning, promising more material to work with and Nimoy agreed to return. “And I’m glad I did. I thought it worked out very well.”
- The rumor that Nimoy wanted Spock to get killed at the end of Wrath of Khan is complete bullshit, according to the man himself.
- On convincing studio head Michael Eisner to let him direct Trek 3: “I said, ‘You have two problems. You want somebody to play Spock. That’s me. And you want someone to direct the movie. I can do that, so I can solve two problems for you.’”
- Nimoy felt very restricted on The Search for Spock. He said “the collar” was on because it was his first feature, so he wasn’t as creatively free as he wanted to be. On The Voyage Home they loosened up.”
- He says a big regret is that they didn’t really explore the Klingon culture in Star Trek VI. He fought for some exploration of their history, but we only got a glimpse at some kind of political structure.
- Nimoy was approached to appear in Generations. He read the script and “Frankly, I didn’t like it.” He said the only way he’d do it is if he could sit with the writers on a major rewrite. They didn’t go for it, so he didn’t appear in the film.
- Agreed to appear as Spock in the Abrams film because he felt like he never had any real closure for the character.
- Orci, Kurtzman and Abrams sat down with him BEFORE they wrote the script (because of how crucial Spock was to their idea) and described what they wanted to do. “I’ve never said this in public before, but it’s absolutely true. I teared up sitting there listening to what they were telling me. I was so moved that somebody got it, that somebody really had a sense of what Spock could be in a good Star Trek movie.”
- On Quinto’s Spock having a romantic relationship with Uhura: “I gotta be honest with you… I don’t remember… I may have blocked it out, I don’t remember seeing it on the page, but when I saw it in the movie I was VERY jealous!”
- Nimoy’s an avid photographer. He only took one photograph he took on a set, though. He was in a movie called CATLOW with Yul Brynner and he snapped a picture of the actors talking in-between set-ups. “And the moment I did it, I thought I’m not going to do that ever again.” It’s like an invasion of private time, not for public display, and it tenses actors up, so he didn’t feel it was right. “I thought ‘I’ve taken their energy, I’ve stepped into their private territory,’ and I never did it again.”
- Before getting Trek he did a few movies (he mentioned both Kid Monk Baroni and Zombies of the Stratosphere), but he also worked a ton of different jobs… taxi driver, vacuum salesman, insurance salesman, pet shop employee. Nimoy married young, had kids young and had to support his family. It was the positive reviews of his work from Kid Monk Baroni that held him up while working those shitty jobs.
- Nimoy met Obama back when he was a Senator at a luncheon with maybe 50 people. “He saw me and he did this:”
- Described making some music in the late ‘60s to murmurs and whispers from the crowd. He stopped mid-sentence and gave us a deadpan look that cracked everybody up. “This is like I Am Not Spock. A lot of people have read the title, but not the book. A lot of people have seen or heard The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins…” Huge cheers… “I DID SIX ALBUMS! There was some other stuff besides Bilbo Baggins! Bilbo Baggins is just a charming song for kids!”
-Two days after “Amok Time” went on the air he was at a traffic light when a pretty lady pulls up besides him. Amok Time was the first time the Vulcan salute was featured and the lady shot him one at the stoplight. He rolled down the window… “The fact that she was pretty had something to do with it. I said, ‘Great, but can you do it with your left hand?’ She did it like this (Nimoy hold sup a hand with the fingers all twisted) and said, ‘I’m sorry, I speak it with an accent!’ Wonderful!”
- Later that night, sometime in the late‘60s, Nimoy was in Cleveland at a restaurant in a private room. Someone came up to him and said, “Jimi Hendrix is in the restaurant. He heard you were here and wanted to know if it was okay if he came in and said hello.” He said of course and there’s a photograph that exists of him with Hendrix from that night.
- On how he wants to be remembered: “I’m very, very proud of the Spock character. It’s very clear to me that will be the first line in my obituary. I hope it doesn’t say ‘The Guy Who Wore the Funny Ears.’ It’s very clear to me that’s my identity. That’s who I am. I’m the guy who played Spock. I have no regrets.”
- No plans for a new Star Trek TV series as far as Nimoy knows. They’re focused on the next movie.
- Nimoy’s opinion on Avatar: “I thought it was an amazing achievement technically, but there’s a reason it did not win the Academy Award.” He then asked the audience what won. The Hurt Locker, we shouted. “Why?” Lots of people shouted out answers. He grabbed on something Boucher said. “Powerful story. We’ve seen the Avatar story before. What drives a great movie? A great story.”
- Nimoy ragged on Michael Bay following up a comment about great effects still need a great story. “I can say that because Michael Bay is my wife’s cousin! But he’s never invited me to be in any of his projects! I sat by the phone night and day, but Michael Bay never called me!”
- CHUD’s Devin Faraci asked about the history of The Voyage Home, specifically the scuttlebutt that Eddie Murphy was originally going to be in the movie. Nimoy confirmed, said that Jeff Katzenberg called him in while they were developing the story and said that Murphy wanted to be in the movie.
“The legend was that when Paramount signed Eddie Murphy and they had a million dollar check to deliver… they went to his Saturday Night Live dressing room and they made them wait while he finished watching a Star Trek episode.”
Nimoy visited with him and Murphy was every bit the Trek fan he’d heard and really wanted to be in the movie. At that meeting Nimoy said he wanted to try to make it work, but that they needed to agree right there that if it felt wrong they’d just shake hands and walk away.
They tried and tried to make it work, but “it felt like an implant that wouldn’t take hold.” He did The Golden Child instead.
- On Murphy’s proposed character in Star Trek IV: “The story was we landed in San Francisco, as we did in the movie, and he was going to play a guy who did a radio talk show and he believed in extra-terrestrial people here on Earth. He saw us, thought there was something about us and he kept trailing us to see if he could prove we were fish out of water. But it kept being the same scene over and over again. We couldn’t find a way to develop that story, so we let it go.”
When the questions wrapped up, Nimoy shouted out “Live Long and Prosper!” to the crowd, giving us the Vulcan salute… naturally, given this crowd, he received a thunderous standing ovation in return. I’ve decided to close out the article with a hastily grabbed image from this moment.
A surprising number of comic book artists and writers were in attendance tonight. A lot were drawing around me during the wait for the screening to start and I ended up meeting and chatting with Ed Brubaker after the Q&A. Super cool guy, especially after he made sure I wasn't one of those "@ssholes."
Tomorrow brings Christopher Nolan showing INSOMNIA and THE DARK KNIGHT. The former I didn’t see on the big screen, the latter I saw about 6 times on the big (35mm) and bigger (IMAX) screen(s). Can’t wait to hear him discuss his work! Now if only we can trick him into bringing Inception, too… I don’t know about anybody else, but I’d be good for a triple feature. That’ll happen, right?
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