SPOCK AND SPOCK
by Paul Fischer
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When the new reimagined Star Trek beams into theatres, there will not only be a new Spock, played by Heroes nemesis Zachary Quinto, but the original and iconic Spock, played by the one and only Leonard Nimoy. It will be Nimoy’s first time with those Vulcan ears for the first time in almost two decades, but his presence in the new Trek is far from gimmicky. Meanwhile, his younger counterpart is getting considerable attention as this New Age Spock, who even has a relationship with crewmember Uhura, played by Zoe Saldana, a plot that has raised considerable eyebrows – and not the Vulcan ones. Both actors talked about the new film and Nimoy reflected on a career defined by the iconic character. They spoke to PAUL FISCHER.
QUESTION: Leonard, obviously this Star Trek takes place in an alternate timeline. And the younger Spock is very different from your Spock. I mean, he’s much more emotional, much more human. He has the relationship with the girl.
LEONARD NIMOY: He does, doesn’t he? Yeah. Yeah. I noticed that, yeah. [LAUGHTER]
QUESTION: How did you feel when you first read that script? Were you resistant to that, because it’s quite a significant character shift.
LEONARD NIMOY: You know, I’ll tell you. I was bemused by it when I read it in the script. I was amazed by it when I saw it on screen. I thought it was incredible.
QUESTION: So, do you think it works?
LEONARD NIMOY: Brilliantly. Don’t you?
QUESTION: Well, I guess – he’s more of a human. I understand that Spock is half-human and half-Vulcan. And I guess it’s more of a human Spock, and less of a Vulcan Spock.
ZACHARY QUINTO: I don’t necessarily agree with you. I think there’s a duality, and an internal conflict, because he’s really split between those two halves of himself. But I just don’t think he’s gained the kind of control over that duality that Leonard had when he played the character. That’s the journey of this character. It’s not that he won’t arrive there, and it’s not that he possesses more humanity than – Vulcanity? [LAUGHTER] It’s just that he’s chosen to –
LEONARD NIMOY: That’s great! I loved that. I like that. Vulcanity. That’s a new one.
QUESTION: Now both of you obviously played the most iconic of all the characters in the Trek universe. How intimidating was it for you to do that, and how even more intimidating was it for you, Zachary, to do so with him present? And Leonard, what do you think of the new Spock?
ZACHARY QUINTO: Well, I think all of us were faced with a certain level of intimidation stepping into these roles, theoretically, although JJ did a phenomenal job of defusing that from step one, in terms of really dictating that we were encouraged to use the original performances as points of departure. But from there, we were expected to really develop our own points of view and perspectives on these characters. And for me, Leonard’s involvement was only liberating, frankly. I knew that he had approval over the actor that would play young Spock. So when I got the role, I knew from the beginning it was with his blessing. And from that point, we developed our own relationship. I was the first one cast in the movie. I got cast in June, and we didn’t start shooting until November. So over those months, Leonard and I spent a number of times hanging out and talking about – just life, and about the character. And just getting to know him personally was incredibly freeing, and helpful in the process.
QUESTION: And Leonard, what did you think of your new counterpart?
LEONARD NIMOY: I think it’s appropriate when the old-timer walks on the set, that everybody be intimidating. [LAUGHTER] It’s classic. It’s classic. I used to be the kid on the set, you know, and I was intimidated. Why shouldn’t they be? [LAUGHTER]
QUESTION: The relationship with Uhura, was this in the script from the beginning, and was it something that developed as you went along? And how did you approach this relationship that was brand new to the Star Trek cannon?
ZACHARY QUINTO: For me, the relationship really provides a great source of levity in the film, between Kirk and Spock, between Kirk and Uhura. Between Spock and Uhura, I think it provides a really interesting depth. And that Uhura ultimately represents a canvas onto which Spock projects the emotions that he can’t otherwise express. And I think that dynamic, for me, was really rewarding as an actor. And the scene that Zoe and I played in the elevator was definitely one of the most present experiences through shooting, and that has a great deal to do with Zoe and her emotional availability, and her openness. And it was such a comforting, confined space that we were in, in that day and in that moment.
LEONARD NIMOY: What is it that Kirk says to you, when you’re on the transporter pods and he has something, and you say, “I have nothing to say about the matter.” What does he say to you?
ZACHARY QUINTO: He says, “Her first name’s Nyota?”
LEONARD NIMOY: Oh, yeah. And you say?
ZACHARY QUINTO: I say, “I have nothing to say on the matter.”
LEONARD NIMOY: It’s a great moment.
QUESTION: Leonard, I wanted to ask you, did you have any hesitation going back to this after all this time? And was it the script? Was it JJ?
LEONARD NIMOY: It was a combination of the script, and JJ’s enthusiasm. And JJ and the writers, Orci and Kurtzman, talking about their sensibility, their sense of what Star Trek was about, and what the Spock character would be about. And frankly, I had felt marginalized for a long time. I hadn’t been asked to be involved with Star Trek for something like 17 or 18 years. And this felt like somebody said, “There’s a value to you, that we’d like to take advantage of and do something with.” And it felt good. It felt good. It felt like being, frankly, appreciated. I was happy to go back to work.
QUESTION: What are your fondest memories of Gene Roddenberry? And what do you think he would have thought of this movie?
LEONARD NIMOY: He was a brilliant, complicated man and we had a complicated relationship. It was like a father-son relationship and typically, classic. Sometimes it was great, and sometimes it was really bad. Sometimes we disagreed strongly about certain issues, but obviously, he was a very, very special mind.
QUESTION: Zachary, did any of the Vulcanisms give you any trouble? The eyebrows, the salute, things like that. Were you able to get all of that?
ZACHARY QUINTO: I spent a little time actually training my hands to be able to do the salute. That wasn’t something that came particularly easy, so I would rubber band my ring finger and my pinky finger together while I was driving around Los Angeles, and do little exercises in the months leading up to shooting. But that was about it. Everything else fell into place.
QUESTION: The eyebrows?
ZACHARY QUINTO: Yeah. That was okay. I think.
QUESTION: It’s been said that this Star Trek has the opportunity to go places that the original never accomplished. What are those things?
LEONARD NIMOY: Well, I think at its best – for me, when making the series, I was always curious about what issues the writers were going to tackle in Star Trek that they could not tackle in other series, in other television. And those were the things that made Star Trek interesting for me. In this film, I think it’s a question of vengeance. It’s the defeatism, and the emptiness of vengeance. That makes it meaningful for me and we tackled some very interesting issues, all through the years: Racial issues, economic issues. Ecological issues, all kinds of very interesting subject matter. So I think that’s what made Star Trek meaningful for a lot of people. Writers were given an opportunity in Star Trek to tell stories about issues that they could not express in other television shows. And they did. They ultimately came and – somebody would come up and said, “I have a great feeling about this subject. I’d like to write a script that deals with that issue.”
QUESTION: Were you surprised that it took this long for the studio to sort of reinvigorate the franchise? Or, recasting the roles that you guys had played before? Had you expected this?
LEONARD NIMOY: I, frankly, didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. I was busy doing other things. I simply figured that, for me, Star Trek was finished. I had done what I could and was asked to do, and it was over for me. When the next – the first Generations film came along, I was left out of it and Kirk was killed. I think somebody was sending us a message. [LAUGHTER] “It’s over for you guys. It’s somebody else’s game now.” And that’s the way it was for a long time.
QUESTION: Zachary, in the film you have scenes when Spock has to strip himself, virtually, of every emotion. For this character, what did you have to strip yourself of?
ZACHARY QUINTO: I didn’t really see it that way, actually. I think he experiences deeply-run emotions and I think that – especially in the context of his relationship with his mother, I think there’s a real depth of feeling. The only thing I felt like I had to strip myself of was the ability to express it in a conventional way. And I think that’s really the dilemma of Spock, ultimately, because if he doesn’t feel emotion, then there’s no conflict within him. So the conflict exists in the feeling, the deeply rooted and sublimated feeling of emotion, without the opportunity to do much with it, other than hold it, which is really challenging and can be painful.
QUESTION: Zachary, do you think there’s going to be kind of a backlash from either one of your fan bases?
ZACHARY QUINTO: A fan war? Yeah. Well, I don’t know. I mean, fan reaction doesn’t really tend to be something that I attach myself to very much. I mean, I care deeply about the work that I do, and I’m grateful on so many levels for these very contrasting and challenging opportunities that I’ve had in the past couple of years. But my focus is my work. And people’s reaction to my work falls under the category of things that I have absolutely no control over. I would certainly love to invite my Heroes fans to join us on this journey. And don’t be pissed. It’s all good.
QUESTION: Leonard, as well as starring in Spock’s series, and the first six movies, you also directed. Would you like to go behind the camera again?
LEONARD NIMOY: No. No. No, I’m done with all that, thank you. I never set out to be a director. After Spock had died, sort of, in Star Trek II, they brought me in for a meeting and asked if I would like to be involved in Star Trek III, in the making of it. And I thought – I had been told that I should be directing, and I took it as an insult, because I thought, “What’s wrong with my acting?” But I thought, “Maybe now I should do that.” And I said, “I’d like to direct the movie.” And I suddenly found myself with a directing career, which I enjoyed, and I had enough of it. I directed, I think, five or six films. I had a good time. I would like to say this – that over the years, one of the questions that I’ve often been asked is, “What contributes to the longevity of the interest in Star Trek, and what makes it successful?” and so forth. And I think one of the things that’s easily-overlooked is the fact that all of the people on this Enterprise crew – all the people involved in these characters, the various characters in Star Trek, are highly educated, highly professional people. They’re, for the most part, scientists. And they really know how to do their jobs. And I think people admire that. I think people may not be consciously aware of it, but somehow you sense that these are very professional people who know what they’re doing. And each makes their own contribution to the solution of a problem. And while I have the opportunity to say that here, I have to point out that there’s great authenticity in this movie. I think you believe these characters. You believe that these people are professionals. And that, I think, has something to say about the quality of the professionalism and talent of all the people who are playing these characters, that are portraying these characters. It’s a brilliant cast put together here. And I’m an admirer of all the cast in this movie. I think they’ve done a great job.
QUESTION: Zach, at the end of the original series, it’s perceived that Leonard tried to distance himself from playing Spock. He even wrote a book entitled I Am Not Spock.
ZACHARY QUINTO: I read it.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about now being too associated with Spock, as an actor? Are you concerned about the same kind of concerns that Mr. Nimoy had back in 1969?
ZACHARY QUINTO: Well, I think that was a different time. I think there was a stigma attached to science fiction then that doesn’t exist any more. It’s become so much more mainstream. I think, also, people’s attention spans, for better or for worse, have diminished significantly since that time. And I feel like, really, it’s incumbent upon myself to define the kind of career I want. And for me, that’s a career of longevity and diversity. And so now it’s my job to hopefully utilize this exposure as a platform to do other kinds of work, and immerse myself in other genres. And to invite the avid fan base of science fiction, and of Star Trek specifically, to come with me on that kind of a journey now. Because that’s the kind of actor I want to be. So, no. [LAUGHTER]
QUESTION: Leonard, how did Bill Shatner react to your being cast in this movie?
LEONARD NIMOY: Oh, I think he had mixed feelings, but it’s all worked out fine.
QUESTION: Did you guys talk about your return to the franchise?
LEONARD NIMOY: No, we didn’t talk about it. No. Uh-huh [NEG].
QUESTION: You got to talk to your young self in the movie. What would you say to your young self in real life?
LEONARD NIMOY: I think the scene with Zachary was a very good father-son scene, really. It’s a guy who’s sort of been through it, and is giving the best advice he can, in a very brief scene. Not a lot of opportunity for that.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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