This week marks the third anniversary of the passing of Leonard Nimoy. One way to remember the man who made Spock a legend is to listen to rare interview with the actor from 1976 that was flagged by The Hollywood Reporter. The interview is audio from a public television interview Nimoy did in the same year he released his book I Am Not Spock, and two years before it was announced he would be returning to the role of Spock for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
How Roddenberry convinced him Spock wasn’t a ‘dumb’ role
The actor admitted he was initially not interested in the role of Spock, but Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry sold him:
When Gene Roddenberry first the character to me, he said it was going to be a character with pointed ears from another planet. I was pretty serious about my acting and that sounded like “Gee, that’s dumbo time.” I don’t know if I want to get involved with that as I have fairly reasonable reputation going as a good, serious character actor.
Several conversations with Gene led us to some very exciting and very meaningful studies of the internal life of the character. Who he was and what he was all about. And those were the predominant things that convinced me to play this role. And, to be honest about it, it was the first steady work that I had been offered as an actor. I never had a job that lasted more than a couple of weeks after 15 years as an actor.
Spock’s pointed ears almost didn’t happen
Much of the interview discussed the development of the look of Spock. The actor discussed how originally Spock was going to have reddish skin, but this made him look black on black and white TVs (which were still prevalent at the time), so they went with the greenish-yellow makeup. Nimoy also revealed that the pointed ears were going to be written off the show due to problems making them work:
We were having trouble getting the ears properly done in the early stages of the makeup, before we ever shot the first pilot. We were with the wrong makeup people and they were making the ears for me, experimentally, and they were really grotesque and funny and just bad. And we went through three or four of those sessions and as time got close to the first day of shooting – and once you start shooting you are looked in, that’s it.
As the time of shooting came more and more closer, I became concerned about the look. I said to Gene “This isn’t working, we really got to reconsider if we should have pointed ears on this character.” We had the eyebrows and the haircut and the skin color, but we could not arrive at a good pair of ears. Finally it was Fred Phillips, who became the makeup man on the series, who knew what was wrong. The problem was the studio make a commitment to these other people to make the ears and didn’t want to go elsewhere because it would cost more money, but he said we must and forced the easy and went and got a good pair of ears and that solved the problem.
Not anxious for Trek to continue after disappointing third season
During the interview the actor discussed how he was not happy with the third season of Star Trek and if the show had been renewed, he would only have stayed if there were major changes:
The third season was not a happy year. We had a new producer [Fred Freiberger], who with all due respect to him, really didn’t have a feel for what star trek should be and what it was at its best. The scripts that he was buying for us and we were shooting were not of best, by any means. We had some good shows in our third season, but we had some of the worst shows. My feeling at the end of the third year was, if the show were to continue, I would want to see some drastic changes to move us back into the territory where we belong, which was really fine science fiction with good ideas and scripts. That did happen during the third season, and I couldn’t get my voice properly heard and I felt very frustrated. Under those conditions, I was not anxious for the show to continue. So, maybe it was best to let it finish now and leave it alone and let it be what it should be. I have heard Bill Shatner say “Maybe Star Trek should have run just three years and be left alone.”
He later went on to lament about how in the third season, writers were starting to repeat themselves, using tropes and catchphrases:
What happens is, when the writers start to get tired or when the producers or writers are not being terribly creative, the tendency is to go back and reusing those things which are working, and perhaps work them to death instead of looking for new creative ideas. So, they would have me saying “logically” constantly. I would be saying “logically” and “fascinating” forever and they would have me raising the eyebrow, that sort of thing. Or they would have McCoy saying “You, green, pointed-eared elf” over and over again. And they would have Captain Kirk saying “Gentleman, I can’t have this squabbling in my crew.” And they would have Jimmy Doohan over and over saying “Captain, the ship won’t stand warp eight.” It gets repetitive because they know it’s safe.
Open to recasting Spock, but didn’t think it would happen
The actor also weighed on what he thought of the idea of Spock being recast in any potential new Star Trek, saying:
That would be interesting. [Wouldn’t you be crushed?] No, no. Maybe I wouldn’t be crushed, because I feel quite secure that is not going to happen. I doubt very much that the studio would try to recreate Star Trek and a new actor as Spock. I think probably the more intelligent thing for them to do is to try to create another character with another actor, to replace Spock. If, for some reason we couldn’t get together. If they didn’t want me as Spock or they didn’t want the Spock character.
In the mid 1970s there were a number of on-again-off-again attempts at Paramount to revive Star Trek on either the small or large screen. And Nimoy’s prediction of using another character proved true with regards to the 1977 Star Trek: Phase II TV project. Nimoy turned down the offer to appear in that series as Spock and so Paramount decided to create the Vulcan science officer Xon (to be played by David Gautreaux). Eventually that project morphed into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which Nimoy did sign on for. Of course, thirty years later Nimoy welcomed the recasting of Spock with Zachary Quinto for J.J. Abrams Star Trek.
Listen to the full interview