Adam Nimoy Interview: For the Love of Spock

We talked to Leonard Nimoy's son about the new Spock-centric documentary he and his father began together...

Today (September 9th), For the Love of Spockhits theaters and VOD. A passion project begun by Leonard Nimoy and son Adam Nimoy, the documentary changed when Leonard passed away in February of last year. It’s no longer just about this iconic character, but also about the man behind the role — and the relationship Adam Nimoy had to both.

We had a chance to talk with Adam at this past summer’s San Diego Comic Con about the metamorphosis of this documentary, the Spock legacy, and his own hopes to go boldly where no man has gone before: Mars. Here’s what he had to share…

Den of Geek: Tell us about how the documentary first came about.

Adam Nimoy: My dad and I went to Boston, with a film crew — I hired a local video crew for us to walk around his old neighborhood and his old haunts where he used to hang out and where he used to sell newspapers downtown. My dad and I had such a great bonding experience making this [previous] documentary. It was for the family originally, but we cut it together and thought, ‘We’ve got a half an hour show here,’ and WGBH aired it.

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So, that experience — and my dad and I had been so close over the last years of his life — that I wanted to replicate that experience, and I thought a Spock documentary made perfect sense, particularly because I knew [we were] coming up on the Star Trek 50th anniversary. And what better way to celebrate or contribute to the celebration? We knew that Paramount and CBS were going to be doing all kinds of activities to celebrate, to commemorate the anniversary, and we thought we should do something on our own, together.

And so he and I starting sitting down and talking about what this thing would look like and spitballing ideas. And I remember in our second session, he came back to me having done some research on the internet and was proud to report that he had Googled ‘Spock’s ears,’ and he came back with over 100,000 websites. He just thought that was amazing.

Was he an internet person?

He was learning to be. He was. He dabbled in it. But the thing that was so interesting to me is that he still had a young, innocent excitement about the character, about the role, about what happened to him. And that was one of the great things about my dad. He always had this kind of child-like wonder about the world, and was always interested in what was going on. He was very involved and just a very aware person. And so this is really the genesis of this whole project, until he passed away.

I know you’ve spoken before about how the documentary changed after he passed away. Could you speak a little about that?

You know, when he passed away, the avalanches of grief and the outpouring of emotion — for lack of a better term, something Spock would find very curious — that all weighed heavily on me and some of the other filmmakers and it was very clear to us we needed to expand the project to include the life and times of Leonard Nimoy. To give the film more dimension, really.

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So we started doing more exploration about my dad and his life and all the work he had done — which was also overwhelming. It was so much material to wade through. We had so much to edit. It’s very challenging when you have that kind of artist. He has a huge body of work to try to sift through it and try to decide what you want to put in the film.

We’re distilling a guy’s life down to less than two hours, but we stayed on track and the more we explored his life, the more people came out and said, ‘Dude, you gotta put your own life in here.’ Because that’s what makes it unique. So, the film is a balance between [the] Spock-centric; the life of Leonard Nimoy, the renaissance man and artist; and the life of Adam Nimoy and his relationship with Leonard Nimoy and Mr. Spock.

And how has that changed over the course of your life, your relationship to this character?

Well, up and down. When I’m not doing well with dad, I don’t want to look at Spock and he’s just everywhere and it’s really annoying. When we were estranged, my dad and I, and I would see him as Mr. Spock, and I would just close the newspaper, which is not a good way to feel because I was always so proud of him.

I was so excited by the prospect of seeing images of Spock, particularly as a 10-year-old boy when the show first went on the air. So, it was very uncomfortable for me. And then dealing with people in the public who connected my name to my dad and wanted to talk about him. I just wanted to get away from him because we were not doing well.

Were there any interviews that surprised you or stories you heard over the course of this project that you weren’t expecting?

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The one thing that hit me like a ton of bricks was the new cast of Star Trek, this new incarnation by J.J. Abrams. We interviewed them in Vancouver where they were shooting part of Star Trek Beyond. Their love and affection and support and feeling of reverence for my dad was like, ‘Whoa.’ I mean I knew they liked him, but they’re still running on the energy from his spirit, you know?

He just had a tremendous impact on them. Just [his] participating in the project made them feel completely validated in what they were doing. That they weren’t just a sequel. They’re a continuation of the story. He has really passed the torch to them. And they said, ‘We’re feeling it now on this film, even though he’s not with us. We still feel him. He’s still around. And it’s very inspirational.’ And that was just like, you know, emotional. This is heavy.

How was it for you watching Star Trek Beyond and seeing the character of Spock still so included?

It’s nice. I mean they have little tributes to him throughout the film. I think it’s beautiful. They really do pay homage. It’s a great feeling to see that. It’s great to see Zachary [Quinto] play out his emotion, his connection to Spock prime. It’s very satisfying.

You know, Zachary had a very close relationship with my father, and that’s very unique and unusual. It’s really, really unusual that an actor picking up and carrying on the tradition of Spock would have that kind of personal connection to the actor who played the original Spock. They were both very fortunate to have that kind of connection.

And Zachary narrates the documentary, correct?

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No, initially we thought we wanted him to because my dad having passed, we needed someone to help thread everything together. It was gonna be my dad, but when he passed, I thought, ‘We’re gonna need help here.’ And I asked Zachary. He said yes. So, we initially thought he was going to narrate it. But, then, this avalanche of Leonard interviews came in and this audiobook of his memoir I Am Spock showed up and we had enough of his own words to make it happen. It just seemed more organic to do it that way.

I know you raised money for the documentary through Kickstarter. What was that experience like, incorporating that community into the making of the film?

These things, if they’re done right, these things are expensive propositions … This wasn’t going to be a home movie. We wanted to make a feature film. These things are expensive. We conducted over 30 interviews, so just production time alone.

You did it very quickly.

We did it at a very fast pace, yeah, which was another whole issue. That was in large part due to our time schedule, and due to the fact that we had a plan. That we knew what story we were going to tell. We had direction. We had an outline. It changed and evolved over time and we had an absolutely outstanding production and editorial crew helping me. I needed them because I’m so close to the material, it’s hard to know what we’re gonna need in the film and what we’re not gonna need.

So, going back to Kickstarter, it was just a great way to get funded within 30 days. We met our goal. It was challenging because we thought we would reach more people in the community, which we did not. A lot of people said they didn’t know about it. But that’s OK. We got the initial seed money. It wasn’t really enough to make the film, frankly, but it was enough to get a good chunk of it done.

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We had a lot of licensing. We had a half an hour of these beautiful, pristine master copies of The Original Series and the feature films that dad was involved in, which look wonderful projected on the big screen. And I did get the Paramount family discount from CBS and Paramount, but it still costs money. These things still cost money.

And have you started doing the backer screenings?

Yeah, we just did them two weeks ago. We were in Chicago, we were in Boston. We were in New York.

How did that go? How was the feedback?

Fantastic. The backers are lovely. They’re very supportive. It was great to have the community involved in making the film. We’re in it together. Spock is a part of people’s soul, and they wanted to participate. Those people who knew about what we were doing were very energetic about stepping forward and helping us out, so we were trying to give back to them and thank them for that support by doing these private screenings.

I think most of the people who are going to be reading this interview will be Star Trek fans, but do you think there is something in this documentary for people who don’t know as much about The Original Series or who don’t know as much about Spock?

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Well, one of the objectives of the film is to educate people. I mean, my kids have not sat through an entire episode of The Original Series. It’s too slow for the next generation or something. It is intended to educate people who know who Spock is and who have seen his image everywhere to get some understanding of what he means, what he stands for, what he’s about, what he represents. We’re educating people about Spock. That is one of the primary focuses of the films, so people who don’t know Star Trek will come away with some understanding about what it’s all about.

But, also, it’s the journey of an artist. He faced a lot of challenges, my father, and a lot of obstacles and succeeded because he was passionate about the work he did. And that’s how he got to Spock. He just had a dogged determination to succeed. His father was a Russian immigrant in the west end of Boston and he left when he was 18 to come to Hollywood. You understand what I’m telling you? With nothing. Nothing. And I love those stories, people love those stories. It gives us hope that anybody can do it. This is America, dammit, and he lived the American dream. So that’s another very inspirational part of the film.

And the third element is my relationship with my father because it was not pretty for many years. There were really a lot of challenges for us, highlighted by the fact that he’s a huge, iconic celebrity. Big challenge for me, frankly, because I’m fighting to get his attention and fighting with him when, you know, 25 million fans can’t be wrong about how fantastic Spock is and Leonard is. Who the hell am I to tell him, ‘We got a problem here and it’s not just me’?

So, it was a real struggle, but the fact of the matter is: Frankly, through recovery, independently for the two of us, we found each other again and had an incredibly strong relationship to the point where, when I was faced with personal tragedy in my life, my dad was there. He was my go-to guy. That’s a complete 180-degree turn-around. And I think that also will give people hope not to give up on family.

Are you involved with the new TV series at all?

That I’ll be an active passive participant, watching. I’m not involved with the new series, but I’m anxiously awaiting how it’s gonna come out.

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Are you a Bryan Fuller fan?

I am. I think the guy’s a great pick. I’m sure he’s gonna do a great job. He’s the right guy, I think. I think he’s gonna be outstanding. I’m very excited about the prospect. Nick Meyer is also involved. You know, without Nick, I don’t think there would have been the feature films that we had from Star Trek. Nick wrote and directed Star Trek II [The Wrath of Khan] which got — my dad himself said repeatedly — got the franchise back on track because the first feature was disastrous, really. It made money, but it was critically not well-received, and the cast didn’t really enjoy the experience.

So, I think they’re gonna do really well with this series. I’m really excited about that project. The only real involvement I have now with the Star Trek celebration that’s going on until September 8th, when we celebrate 50 years of Star Trek, and September 9th when I open my film in the theaters and its available on VOD, is to continue with these conventions and [the] film festival circuit.

Separate from The Original Series and your complicated emotional involvement with that because of your dad, are there Star Trek incarnations that you have been particularly able to enjoy as a fan?

Well, I was big on Next Generation because I got my directing chops from that show. I observed on that show for an entire season, learning to direct. I was transitioning from practicing law. And my dad was helping me, but he said, ‘You go talk to Rick Berman. You tell him you would really appreciate if he would allow me to observe Rick.’ He was executive producer on The Next Generation, and everything else that came out of that camp. Deep Space Nine and Voyager and Enterprise.

And so I felt a real affinity for that show in particular because they really hit their stride well into their run. They were really true to what I think Star Trek was all about, and the writing was outstanding. And it’s where I learned what directing was all about. Come hell or high-water, my first two shows were directing episodes from that show. [Nimoy directed “Rascals” and “Timescape.”]

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I love Trek ’09. I love the reimagining. I love Beyond. There’s still just a lot of potential yet still to be explored. This cast is just so extraordinary, and I want to see more stuff coming from them because I still think they have a long way to go.

Obviously, you’re still thoroughly entrenched in this project, but do you have any ideas about what you want to do next or what you’ve started doing next?

I want to go to Mars. My next project is my mission to Mars. I’m definitely determined. We interviewed a lot of NASA people for the documentary — almost all of them have told me they were inspired by Spock. I’ve always been interested in the space program, and I’ve gotten more interested in it.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on this mission to Mars that’s going on. There’s a lot of activity to get a manned mission there in the 2030s, and I’m pretty much determined to do another documentary about my personal mission of what it would take to get me there, how I could get NASA to get me there. I’m a little on the older side and I don’t know if I’m going to actually make it there, but I want to explore that because I want to make people more aware of what’s going on. There’s so much activity across this country and across this world, and the private industry and the European Space Agency, NASA, JPL.

The Rover missions are going on now. They’re gonna be doing this asteroid redirect mission to find out about mining from asteroids to find resources in space. This stuff is really fascinating. There’s this whole new launch system that’s hugely powerful to get the payloads out there. There’s new orbiters that are being developed. This stuff is interesting to me, and I’ve been talking to a lot of NASA people about trying to do some kind of documentary to explore what that’s all about.

Was you dad interested in the real-life space stuff as well or is this more your passion?

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I’m much more passionate about it than he was. He always had a passing interest in it, obviously, because he was constantly approached by people in science, technology, engineering, math. And they were always sharing their information, sharing their studies, sharing their research. And they often times asked him for their commentary. Now, my father had a very fine mind, but he was not well-educated. He had very little formal education. He barely made it through high school, and that was it. But he would always give them his stock phrase: ‘You’re on the right track. Keep going.’ And that seemed to satisfy everybody.

I think I’m more passionate and interested, really, in what’s going on with the program. I mean he always had a keen interest and was always very supportive because he felt like Star Trek had inspired so much — so much of science fiction has become science fact …  So, yeah, he’s always been very interested in it and he’s always been very supportive of that community, but I’m like really into it.

It’s not something that’s been chosen for you. It’s something you’ve chosen for yourself…

I am choosing it, but it just makes sense because of the Spock connection. When I’m introduced to NASA people, they light up. They just think that they’re somehow connected to Leonard Nimoy’s DNA, and it inspires them. I don’t fully understand it, but I can kind of understand it. It’s just very nice to be welcomed by these people who are freaking rocket scientists.

If you need any more evidence of the power of stories to influence lives, people going into this field or thinking it’s possible because of something they saw on TV…

Exactly. It’s really inspirational, and it just has opened up a lot of doors for me, and I just feel like: This is the path I should be following.

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You set out to answer the question, ‘What made the character of Spock so important to so many people?’ Do you feel like you have an answer to that question now?

Yeah, I mean there are many answers to that question. Spock represented a lot of things to a lot of different people. Early on, there was a huge reaction from women who were writing letters — love letters — to Spock. They were turned on by him. That was the big initial fan reaction that we sort of saw. I mean, we were walking through an airport and some woman flung herself at my dad and kissed him. It was like, ‘Holy s–t, what is this?’ …

But the one thing that there is a consensus over is this idea of being the outsider. That Spock, as half alien, was the real, quintessential outsider on the bridge of the Enterprise. It’s a human crew. They come from all nationalities and races, but they’re a human crew. As an outsider, he had a lot of peculiar, special problems and obstacles to overcome to stay a part of the crew and to be integrated with the crew and to be respected by them. What he had to offer as the First Science Officer and the First Mate on the ship. I mean, they really respected Spock.

That was inspiring to a lot of people — a lot of us, myself included, who, often times, feel like we’re outsiders, trying to figure out ‘Where do I belong? I’m socially-inept. I’m not with a group. I’m not with a clique. I’m on my own. I’m sitting by myself. How do we relate? How do we find our place, our passion, our purpose in life?’ And that’s a big inspiration for people.

For the Love of Spock is now in theaters, and available as VOD. Check out the trailer below…