When last seen in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Mr. Spock, the emotionless, green-blooded, demi-Vulcan, demi-terranean first officer of the starship Enterprise, had given his life to save the crew from the evil Khan. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock attempts to answer the question, Where’d he go? Did he materialize in new form? Did he come back as reincarnation queen Shirley MacLaine? One thing for sure, Leonard Nimoy didn’t hang up his pointy ears with the apparent passing of Spock. The reserved, no-nonsense actor moved behind the camera to make his feature directorial debut in what is being hyped as the starship’s final voyage. (Sorry to let the Vulcan out of the bag—Spock does appear in the film.)
Nimoy, 53, got the brainstorm to direct while reading the mixed reviews for Star Trek II (galaxies better than those for the first Star Trek). “It suddenly struck me,” Nimoy says, “that I could do a better Star Trek movie. I know more about Star Trek than either of the previous directors [Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer].” And so Nimoy went to Paramount President Michael Eisner, who beamed him into the director’s chair of the $16 million production. “He saw it as an immediate press and audience grabber,” admits Nimoy.
Nimoy couldn’t wait to direct his fellow actors. “I think I know when they’ve been well used and when they’ve been ill used. I could call on them to do things that others might not know were there.” His colleagues on the Enterprise felt otherwise—at least at first. “They evidently were somewhat nervous, and that surprised me,” says Nimoy. “I thought they knew me better than they actually did.”
“There were apprehensions at the beginning,” says George Takei, who plays Sulu. “When you’re working as an actor, you’re always fighting for your place in the sun. Now he’s the big boss, making the final decisions about who gets the close-ups, and what gets cut. The one you used to be competing with is now in charge.”
One crew member Nimoy didn’t direct was Kirstie Alley, who played his half-Vulcan protégée, Lieutenant Saavik, in Star Trek II. “Couldn’t afford her,” says Nimoy, irritably. “She had been paid what I thought was a decent sum for Star Trek II, for a beginner. I think the studio was prepared to pay her about twice that much for Star Trek III.” According to one insider, what Alley demanded was more than what some of the series’ regulars were getting. Instead, newcomer Robin Curtis got the role.
Nimoy claims his film is getting closer to the spirit of the TV series. “For me, the best stories were always humanistic ones,” he says. “I didn’t find a heck of a lot of that in I or II. In Star Trek III there are political overtones creeping in. There are even theological questions raised, spiritual questions. So, it’s starting to take on more texture.”
Nimoy is a Hollywood rarity—married for 30 years, to former actress Sandi Zober. They have two kids, Julie, 29, a makeup artist, and Adam, 27, a lawyer. The Nimoys live in a West Los Angeles two-story house partly decorated in shades of pink and aqua. “My wife’s influence,” says Nimoy. “I would just go beige with everything. I’m utilitarian in that sense.” Like Spock, Nimoy isn’t the life-of-the-party type. “Leonard has a sense of humor,” says Harve Bennett, Star Trek Ill’s producer-screenwriter, “but he isn’t funny.” More often he’s a combination of intensity and restraint. When there was a major fire near the Star Trek III set, Nimoy continued filming, undistracted.
He is also lucky. The struggling actor from Boston was getting nowhere playing heavies in B movies and TV dramas until he was cast as Spock in 1966. Viewers suddenly saw in him answers to questions in their lives. “I think the time lent itself to that,” Nimoy says. “People wanted magical solutions, and I was a target for that. I had people tell me I was sent here as a vehicle for certain ideas that had to be transmitted to save mankind. I’d say, ‘Thank you very much, I’m an actor. I play roles.’ ”
In his 1975 book, I Am Not Spock, Nimoy describes how a young woman came up to him after one lecture. A friend of hers was going blind, and she asked if Nimoy could use his energies to help heal him. “That shook me up,” Nimoy says. “That gets into the nasty stuff, extreme cultism.”
Even after the TV show went off the air in 1969, Spockmania refused to die. Nimoy found that no matter what role he did—Vincent van Gogh in a one-man show, Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, a shrink in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Golda Meir’s husband in a TV drama—the public and critics still saw him as Mr. Spock. Reviving the cult alien in the 1979 movie Star Trek was a difficult choice: “I twisted and turned and discussed and thought and lay awake nights and argued with myself,” Nimoy says. “I listened to all the pros and cons, but I didn’t have a choice. What I said when I finally made the decision was the truth. I said I didn’t want to see a Star Trek film without Spock, and that I wouldn’t want anyone else playing him.” That, as Spock would say, was a logical decision.