He became a science fiction character so iconic that even a new president's demeanor has been compared to him. And yet Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock from "Star Trek," is not ready to retire. He's just going to be giving those famous pointy ears a rest.
Before he does, he’ll appear this weekend at Emerald City ComiCon – a two-day convention devoted to all things comics and pop culture.
He’ll sign autographs, pose for photos and speak to fans. And then it’s off to the set of FOX sci-fi thriller series “Fringe,” where he said he’ll be filming three or four episodes over the next few weeks.
With the 50th anniversary of “Star Trek” only six years away, the 79-year-old Nimoy has had a long and sometimes contentious relationship with the character he originated on the TV series.
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He famously wrote a midcareer autobiography titled, “I Am Not Spock.” Now, he said, Spock was the key to a lifetime of success.
“It’s extraordinary. I consider myself an extremely lucky person. The character has been welcomed by so many people. I’m pretty touched by that and pretty humbled by that,” Nimoy said in a phone interview from his New York state home.
Last year’s “Star Trek” movie, which jump-started the lagging franchise with a reimagined origin story, has brought renewed interest to both Nimoy and his famous character – a green-blooded, half human, half Vulcan science officer on the starship Enterprise. The actor calls making the film “a very moving experience.”
Key to making the event positive was director J.J. Abrams, Nimoy said. “He told me, ‘This movie depends on you being in it.’ They would not make it without me.”
And what was it like to see “Heroes” star Zachary Quinto playing Spock on the set? Nimoy, in a very Vulcan-like characterization, called it “fascinating.”
“All of this is flattering beyond words,” Nimoy said of his experience on the movie as well as Spock’s major part of the storyline.
You can still hear the genuine amazement in Nimoy’s voice when he speaks about the longevity of Spock after almost 50 years. He said the character was originally envisioned as third level at best.
With Spock’s alien and faintly Satanic appearance, “there was a concern that the Bible Belt country would reject the character,” Nimoy said. “To come this distance and be talking about it is overwhelming.”
With the movie raking in $257 million at the U.S. box office, a sequel was inevitable.
“There is a sequel being written. I suspect I won’t be involved. I’m OK with that,” Nimoy said.
The Vulcan came back into the public spotlight after the 2008 presidential election when several cultural pundits said the country now had a “Spock” in the White House. President Barack Obama himself said he was a fan of the classic TV series.
Nimoy said he’s met the president a couple of times and understands the comparison, citing, among many attributes, “his thoughtful approach to issues.” But, of the whole affair, he said: “I found it pretty amusing.”
“Star Trek” fans are often the punchline in the longtime image of the nerdy sci-fi obsessed fan. Nimoy acknowledges that he meets fans who are more into Spock than he is. Separating his “Star Trek” life from the rest of his busy and varied life is key, he said.
“I do compartmentalize them. I have to. I can’t mistreat the fans that love the ‘Star Trek’ stories and Spock character.”
Still, he tries to broaden the range of interests of his fans when he speaks at conventions such as ComiCon.
“I try to introduce other ideas. Sometimes they take hold.”
The actor acknowledges the enduring and strong hold Spock has on so many people. Just the day before this interview, Nimoy said he was in a New York City restaurant having lunch with his wife. The waiter, an immigrant from Bangladesh, related how he grew up watching “Star Trek” and how much the show had impacted him.
Then the waiter started to cry.
When Nimoy went to pay the bill, the waiter told him another patron had also recognized him, paid Nimoy’s bill and left.
Later, when he got into a taxi cab, there was a cardboard cutout of Spock taped to the dashboard.
“This kind of stuff happens all the time,” Nimoy said.
Away from his Spock life, Nimoy avidly pursues photography. He’s generated more than a little controversy with his thematic studio work of Judaism and sensuality and obese women.
“I have been known to push the envelope,” he said.
His current project, “Secret Selves,” opens July 31 at MASS MoCA in Massachusetts. For this work he photographed 95 people in the studio illustrating their hidden or secret sides with props and costumes.
The project ranged from a transgendered individual to a portrait artist who desires to live in the woods as a nymph-like creature.
“My work is all about concepts. I don’t shoot otherwise,” Nimoy said.
The success of the recent “Star Trek” movie has generated renewed interest in both Spock and Nimoy. ComiCon is just one of 10 such events he’ll be appearing at this year. However, Nimoy said, it’s time to boldly go where he hasn’t gone before.
“I think this is the last year I will do this. It’s exciting but I think I’ve done enough of it. I’m looking forward to concentrating on my personal life.”
The actor said he’s looking for “undiscovered territory.”
“There will be ideas that pop up that will be irresistible.”
Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541