Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock in the Star Trek franchise is the one of the most recognizable characters in pop-culture – a thoughtful, logic-driven alien looking out for the good of the many, while trying to assimilate with the crew on the Starship Enterprise. Much less is know about Nimoy himself, a quiet man who somehow managed to keep his private life out of the spotlight even as Spock became one of the most beloved characters in history.
For the Love of Spock began as a documentary by Leonard’s son Adam Nimoy on the influence of Spock while Leonard was still alive, but took on an added dimension following Leonard’s in 2015 at the age of 83. Faced with the massive outpouring of grief from friends, family, and even The President of The United States, Adam decided to widen the scope of the film to also include Leonard’s life and work, as well as Adam’s recollections of his own occasionally-rocky relationship with his father over the years.
We caught up with Adam Nimoy at the Fantasia Film Festival to discuss how the film evolved following his father’s death, the lasting influence of his work, and what it’s really like being the “Son Of Spock.” You can read our review of the film here.
You originally planned to make a film exclusively about the character of Spock—when did that change to also include the life and career of your father?
Well originally, the film was going to be wall-to-wall Spock. Because I wanted to collaborate with my dad, I wanted him involved in this—helping me make it and going through the material, maybe even narrating, getting him on camera for interview stuff. And my dad had a very strong sense of humility, he did not want this to be the Leonard Nimoy show, he wanted to be very clear that we were doing this as a “Spockumentary,” as Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory would say; that we’re celebrating Spock, and not the life of Leonard Nimoy. And we believed we had enough material to talk about the creation of Spock, the evolution of Spock, and why Spock continues to resonate over 50 years now.
But when my father passed away, the outpouring of emotion for him, for losing not only Spock, this iconic character, but Leonard the artist, was huge. We just heard from people from all ways of life, from all over the planet. I mean, from The President on down. It was amazing how many people were affected by the life of Leonard Nimoy, so it became clear that we needed to expand the film to include his life as well.
During the course of exploring my father’s life, more and more people who were involved with making the film, and family members said, “You should really include your own perspective.” Having lived with Spock, and grown up with my dad, the film might be more unique for people to see if I could tell my own story, in terms of my connection to the two of them, and some of the challenges of being in a celebrity family, some of the ups and downs I had to deal with with my father. A lot of the challenges and conflict we had in our lives together, which thankfully ended with some real resolution and real closeness at the end of his life.
When Star Trek took off were you guarded with the info that you were the “Son of Spock?”
Well, I was very proud of him, I was very excited about being the “Son of Spock,” frankly. But very early on, in one of my school classes, I told the kid sitting in front of me that Spock was my father. And this was a very sociable guy, and he blurted it out to the entire class. And the place just went crazy. There was just mayhem. This was just the first season, and people were really responding to it. Except for the cute girl in the class whose attention I really wanted to get, other than that it was too much, it was too overwhelming. And it was something that I didn’t really seek after that. My sister [Julie Nimoy] is the same way; it was just too much. And we don’t need that kind of attention, we feel very secure in who we are as individuals, we don’t need to be know as Spock’s children. We’ll use our first name; we rarely use our last name, whether it’s a reservation or whatever. We don’t need that kind of connection anymore, because we’ve been through that. We’ve been around that kind of celebrity, and it’s just not something that I necessarily invite.
There’s some great footage in the film of the whole family gathering to answer fan mail at the height of Star Trek fame – what did the family think of the mania surrounding the show?
There were plenty of shows that sparked that kind of fan response, there’s no doubt about that. We were really in the golden age of TV. The Fab Four opened up the floodgates, with The Beatles showing up on Ed Sullivan, and America never looked back after that. Even Elvis in ’56, and Sinatra before that. We had our iconic celebrity pop-culture images that blazed the trail. We were simply standing on the shoulders of giants really by that point. It was exciting to be a part of that, to be in that milieu. That dad had achieved something of that stature was very, very exciting to us at that time, because we were fans. I was 10 years old, I’m the demographic that the show was appealing to. I was glued to the TV watching shows that my dad appeared in as guest character roles that I didn’t even know he was going to be in. We didn’t know when this stuff was going to air, so it was always a surprise to see him. It was a very exciting time for us, that period of the 60’s was really exciting. I talk a lot about the fact that I still feel that energy, that excitement, it’s kind of still with me, which is fun.
What was your dad’s reaction when Star Trek really took off? What did he think of that level of intense fandom, where your family had to hide your address and phone number?
My dad embraced it, he knew right away that the fanbase was energized and they were ready to receive him, and he went out and gave a lot of himself. After shooting all week long on Star Trek, long hours, on the weekends he’d fly to all these different locations to make personal appearances. I mean, this is a workaholic; this is a guy who grew up in the Depression era in Boston as the son of immigrant parents, Russian immigrants. They were very frugal, and they worked very hard, that’s the work ethic he learned growing up in Boston. And he was out there really working it. All the personal appearances he did, Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space, the recording career came on right away, it was something that was very important to him because he really wanted to succeed and find some financial security, that was a big part of his life. It could have been a fad. Lennon said the same thing about The Beatles, “We could be over tomorrow, we don’t know what the future holds.” Luckily for us, The Beatles sustained themselves, and so did Star Trek.
He describes himself as an “outsider” growing up in Boston; do you think that sense of the outsider helped infuse the character of Spock and people’s connection to him?
Yes, I think that he was very specific in what he brought of his own experience to the role of Spock. That, I believe, is his genius. I think that’s the sign of an artist, that he gave so much of himself, to make Spock specific. Spock could very easily have been a cardboard character, very stiff and very one-dimensional. What my father brought to the character was the fact that Spock embodied this outsider status; he’s the only alien on the bridge of The Enterprise. My dad reminded me of that fact shortly before he died. This was really what it was all about for him. As such, Spock’s objective was to integrate himself with the human crew that he worked alongside, his colleagues. And to give the best of what he had to offer to the crew of The Enterprise, “For the good of the many,” as Spock would say. So that was my dad’s whole life.
Growing up as a teenager, his objective was to get the hell out of this immigrant neighbourhood he lived in in Boston, and to integrate himself with American society, with popular culture, as an artist. And to give the best that he had to offer. So by the time Spock came along, he was ready. 17 years of working and developing his craft as an actor, as an artist, and then this role that embodied really what my dad was all about, it was a very auspicious connection between the two, Leonard meeting Spock, Spock meeting Leonard, and them really combining themselves, merging themselves as it were.
Did you ever resent the character of Spock or Star Trek?
Only during those periods when I was at odds with my father. Opening the paper and seeing another half-page photo of Spock, then it’s like, “Oh, I don’t need this. I don’t want to see this, I don’t give a shit about Spock.” Only during those very defined periods. But more often than not, when I look back retrospectively at 50 years, it’s been a freaking blast to be seeing images of him everywhere I go, no matter what city I’m in, no matter what country I’m in. There’ are images of Spock everywhere, and it’s comforting. It is inspiring. It just reverberates with me, with the excitement that I felt at the very first airing of the show, the first time we saw it, that it was on the air and the public was responding to it.
How did your relationship with your father and Spock evolve over time?
The fame of Spock just never died really. It just kept going. It was on a trajectory that has not stopped, which just amazes me to this day, and it’s wonderful, it’s absolutely wonderful. There’s a lot of reasons why Spock is still alive, has been kept buoyant for these past 50 years, and it’s the reruns, it is the spin-off series’, beginning with Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is a phenomenal show, and then everything else after that, Deep Space Nine and Voyager and Enterprise, and then all the feature films that have come from it, with the original cast members, and then with The Next Generation cast members, and now with JJ Abrams’ re-imaging of Star Trek still going on, and then it keeps getting picked up in popular-culture, which we talk about in the film. The fact that The Big Bang Theory has picked up on it so generously and wonderfully. And my film, For the Love of Spock, is just a way to contribute to that. It’s my contribution to the lore, to the liturgy, to this tradition of Star Trek, to kind of further celebrate and give a gift to the fanbase, to really pay hommage to my father and this iconic character, and together as a community to mourn the loss of my father. It’s a way to share with them.
For the Love of Spock is in select theatres and VOD now. A Blu-ray release is set for December 6, 2016. For more info visit the film’s web site.