The show began as a trio of one-hour documentaries exploring various mysteries and was expanded into a series which ran from 1977 to 1982, hosted by the original Spock, who died in 2015 at age 83. Now, History has revived the series with several modern twists and the Spock of the modern Star Trek film series.
In a wide-ranging chat, Quinto admits to PEOPLE that the connection to Nimoy was part of the allure of taking the gig — although an interest in the subjects and the chance to travel the world certainly didn’t hurt either.
PEOPLE: This is such a different project than we’ve seen you do before. What was the draw?
ZACHARY QUINTO: When I was presented with the opportunity, I thought that there was a lot there, but I wanted to kind of take it in a new direction and expand the idea of the show. Whereas Leonard was in the studio and would welcome the audience and throw it to segments that were already produced, I felt really interested in the notion of traveling and being on the ground and conducting a lot of the interviews and journeys myself. It’s more of a firsthand experience for the audience, which I think is a little bit more dynamic…. Ultimately the format and the nature of the show is, to look at things from more than one angle and to entertain all the possibilities, even the ones that we don’t particularly have all the answers about.
Was part of the attraction to this continuing to remind people of Leonard Nimoy’s legacy and feel connected to him?
We became very close friends, I became really interested in his curiosity and his intellectual drive, even into his later years. I think anything that connects me to him is something that’s interesting to me. I loved him and I miss him, so I think, on some level, that has to play a part of it. But it was also about making it my own. It was also about carrying it in a new direction and putting my own stamp on it.
Was there any particular mystery you were most excited to look into?
The History Channel was really interested in honoring the origins of the show and continuing the legacy of some of the hallmark episodes, like aliens and monsters of the deep. And I was really interested in moving it forward a little bit, exploring the things that didn’t even necessarily exist 40 years ago, like artificial intelligence and mind control and life after death; well, that existed 40 years ago but I don’t think to the degree that we understand it today. So we’ve evolved a lot as a society, as a culture, and technology and science have evolved along with us.
Did you feel any sort of connection at all to the aliens or superhuman episodes?
I felt interested in the people I got to meet during those episodes. The aliens episode was really interesting to me because I went in there pretty skeptical, and while I didn’t come out with any concrete evidence or proof that alien encounters have actually happened to the people that we interviewed, I did feel like their stories were incredibly vivid and clear and that of the three people we interviewed, none of them knew each other or had any kind of connection or familiarity with each others’ stories, and yet, they all had incredible similarities. While it didn’t offer concrete evidence of the stories that they were telling, it certainly put me in the situation where I couldn’t deny that there were these hallmark similarities between them and that was unexpected.
Were there any other moments that really surprised you as you were filming?
I went into the episode we did on sinkholes with a lot of uncertainty as to how that would be interesting or why that would be dynamic, and that was the episode that probably surprised me the most, just in terms of how emotional it was. We encountered people who lost loved ones, who lost homes, and people in an entire neighborhood in Florida that was being compromised by sinkholes. That one, for me, was much more unexpected and moving than I ever thought it would be.
Talk a little about some of the travel involved. You were all over the place for this!
We really were. We were in Australia, we were in the U.K., we were in Italy, Greece, Morocco. It was an amazing experience from a travel standpoint. I was able to build some extra time in some places and see some things that I wouldn’t get to otherwise, so that was really exciting. I had a great time doing that.
What are your tricks for overcoming or avoiding jet lag?
I really try to get on the schedule of wherever I’m going before I get there…. But when you’re traveling this much, it’s just a part of the experience. There’s really no way around it. You just kind of have to embrace it at a certain point. And load up your iPad with whatever you want to watch when you can’t sleep at 3 in the morning.
What are your go-to shows for something like that?
I’ve been watching this design show lately called Grand Design, it’s a British format and it’s all about people who design daring, architectural projects and then execute them and what it is to go through the process of trying to complete them. That’s a good one for late at night.
You have just a few more weeks in Broadway’s Boys in the Band. What are you going to miss most about it when it closes in a few weeks?
I think my friends and the joy of showing up and doing it with them every night. It’s certainly going to be the hardest thing to say goodbye to.
What’s the plan after that ends?
I’m figuring it out right now. There’s a bunch of stuff in the hopper and I’m just kind of figuring out which step to take next and meeting and reading a lot right now.
What kinds of things are you looking for?
I’m kind of ready to be back on TV in a way. I haven’t done a [scripted] TV show in quite some time, so I’m really opening myself up to the opportunities that are presenting themselves in the TV space.
In Search Of premieres Friday at 10 p.m. ET on HISTORY.