LOS ANGELES — There was a time, not long after the original run of the television series “Star Trek,” when Leonard Nimoy tried to distance himself from the show. He had played many roles before slapping on the pointy ears to portray Spock, but that character was the only role anyone seemed to remember.
Nimoy eventually embraced the inevitable: He will always be known as the actor who played Spock on the ‘60s TV show. He could not ignore the fan interest or the fact that Spock tops lists of the most-iconic television characters.
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, John Cho, Winona Ryder, Ben Cross, Simon Pegg
(Paramount Pictures; US theatrical: 8 May 2009 (General release); UK theatrical: 8 May 2009 (General release); 2009)
Now, with the new “Star Trek” feature film, Nimoy has someone with whom to share the burden.
Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman say the movie would not have been possible without Nimoy being part of it, but they also needed someone who could play a younger Spock.
“Heroes” star Zachary Quinto portrays Spock in the early days of the “Star Trek” mythology when Spock and Kirk, and the rest of the Enterprise gang, came together. The plot also includes a major role for Nimoy’s more mature version of the character.
Seated next to each other at the Four Seasons Hotel, Nimoy and Quinto discuss the movie. Nimoy explains how excited he was to have the opportunity to slip back into the role.
“These people, the makers of this film, I think reawakened in me the passion I had when we made the original film and series. I was put back in touch with what I cared about, what I like about ‘Star Trek’ and why I enjoyed being involved in ‘Star Trek.’ So, it was an easy way to come on home,” Nimoy, 78, says.
Quinto, 31, was born eight years after the original television series went off the air and was only 2 when Nimoy first agreed to play Spock for the first big-screen version of the series, the 1979 offering “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”
The actor admits that when he was 12 he had the same bowl-shaped haircut that Spock sported. But he never had anyone tell him that he looked like the famous Vulcan. He prepared for the role by watching episodes of the television show. He also had the luxury of being able to chat with Nimoy during the filming.
“The whole experience for me was so fulfilling. Beyond my wildest expectations in terms of just getting to know him and understanding how this character has formed. His creative processes and life. It was great fun,” Quinto says. “I got asked a lot if there was pressure because of Leonard’s involvement. My response is always to the contrary. Having him as a resource, and such a generous available support system, made it much easier for me to step into the experience.
“I felt that it was incumbent upon me to determine my own relationship with this character. That was the mandate that (director) J.J. (Abrams) set forth very early on in the process. We were expected to use the foundation as a point of entry into our own experiences with the characters.”
Nimoy smiles at the young actor’s response, and says: “He sounds like Spock. Doesn’t he?”
Nimoy has nothing but compliments for how Quinto handled the role. The pair never talked about the “dos” and “don’ts” of playing Spock. Their conversations where more about the philosophy and psychology of the character, the philosophy of “Star Trek” and even the fans’ reactions to various aspects of “Star Trek.”
“I’m very proud of what he did. I loved the idea that he is doing the character. That he did it so well. I think we have book-ended the character. He has created a Spock that comes before the Spock that I portrayed in the series. I’m playing a Spock that comes much much later and is much more resolved, and is, I think, much closer to who I actually am today. So, I think it works extremely well,” Nimoy says.
There is one huge storyline in the movie involving the younger Spock that will catch “Star Trek” fans off guard. It would be unfair to reveal what happens except to say that it illustrates Quinto’s suggestion that there is a real misconception about how much emotion Spock feels.
Spock is the son of a Vulcan father and an Earth mother. The “Star Trek” lore is that Vulcans have long suppressed emotions because they are not logical. But Spock has always had to deal with the added pressures of his human side.
“I think he feels emotion very deeply. But he’s just restricted in the ways that he can express it. For me, it was about cultivating a deeply rooted inner life and not being able to do much other than to hold on to it. Which can be frustrating as an actor, especially when around me, my fellow actors are emoting and running about having a good time,” Quinto says. “Obviously, it’s a formidable challenge and one that I was really excited to be faced with.”
Now, it will be up to Quinto whether to live long and prosper as Spock — or to go warp speed away from the character in a few years.