Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy Talks About Fringe

Leonard Nimoy as Fringe's Dr. William Bell. Photo by Craig Blankenhorn and copyright of Fox

In part two of Fringe‘s second season finale, Over There, Part 2 (airing Thursday, May 20th @ 9:00 p.m. EST/PST on Fox), sacrifices will be made and both universes may never be the same again after Walter (John Noble) and Olivia (Anna Torv) visit the “other side.” Leonard Nimoy reprises his recurring role as Dr. William Bell in this episode. The actor, who has announced his retirement from both acting and directing, recently spoke with myself along with other journalists about his work on the episode as well as other topics. The following is an edited version of that Q & A. Enjoy! 

I’m wondering what it is that brought you to appear on Fringe. Are you watching this show? Did somebody approach you about being on there? Was there a specific role set up for you? 

LEONARD NIMOY – I had a wonderful time working on the new Star Trek movie with J.J. Abrams, who directed it.  When it was done, he asked me to look into the possibility of playing William Bell on Fringe. I was frankly not terribly aware of what it was all about. I began looking at some episodes that William Bell, the character, had been talked about rather frequently, but had never been seen. I felt that I owed J.J. a favor. He did a great job on the Star Trek movie and treated me extremely well. I’m very happy I did it. The work on Fringe has turned out to be exciting and interesting. It’s a terribly well produced series. The character was a wide open canvas for me to work with. I had a great time doing it. This week’s episode is particularly special for the William Bell character. 

Your character has been a mysterious one; we’re never quite clear of his motives. How much did they tell you beforehand about what he was up to, and if you weren’t quite clear, how did you approach playing him? Is he evil? Is he good? 

LEONARD NIMOY – The ambiguity is the draw of the character. I think all of those questions will be answered this week in the final episode. We are still not quite clear, as of last week, about what his intentions are. He keeps telling Olivia [Anna Torv] that she should trust him, and maybe she has to. I don’t know if she has any choice really, but there will be very strong involvement with Olivia as well as Peter [Joshua Jackson] and particularly Walter [John Noble], which will, I think, answer the questions that you’re asking. Those are the questions that everybody’s asking.  So, what’s it all about with William Bell? We’ll find out this Thursday. 

You’ve talked recently about how you’re retiring from acting.  After William Bell on Fringe, did you feel like you’d played every character you wanted to play, or is it just a time and place that you just don’t feel like acting is going to open any more opportunities for you? Some thoughts on why this show is going to be your last? 

LEONARD NIMOY – It’s really coincidental. It wasn’t anything about the Fringe job or the character of William Bell that made me decide I didn’t want to do this anymore. It’s a coincidence. I’ve been at this for 60 years. My first professional work in film was in 1950.  So 60 years, I think, is long enough. I had decided several years ago not to do anymore acting or directing.  In the meantime, I was called back to work to do the Star Trek movie, which was very attractive. I thought it was going to be a wonderful film. I read the script and it did a great job of handling the Spock character and introducing a wonderful new actor to play him. Then, J.J. Abrams, who is the executive producer of Fringe,asked me to do the William Bell character. I thought I owed him that, and I’m very glad that I did it because it was an exciting project. It’s just coincidental that I decided some time ago that I really didn’t want to do this [acting]anymore. I just did this last job as a favor to J.J. I think we’ll see an exciting episode this week; it’s a very good note to go out on. 

Even though you’ve had a lot of exotic material over the years that you’ve done, it seems like Fringe takes us to another level here because we’re into things like alternate existences and people being in two different places at the same time, etc.  Are there times where it takes you a while to wrap your head around some of the Fringe material, or that make you stop and think, “Whoa!  This is stronger than anything in Star Trek”? 

LEONARD NIMOY – The best answer I can give you is that the Fringe television series is extremely well produced. The production is far more sophisticated than anything I was ever involved with [before] in television. That previous work was much more simplistic, production-wise, and these [Fringe] scripts are extremely complicated, very nuanced and intelligent. I’m intrigued with how well they do these shows, not only in the concept, but in the execution, particularly this week’s episode. I had a chance to be involved in some major production scenes, the likes of which I had never experienced in television. You’re right. The stories are unusually complex, but fascinating for an audience. I’ve become a great fan of the show. 

I just wanted to follow-up a little more on the announcement of your retirement; there were some online reports that you might actually be in the next Star Trek film. Doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen, but any word on maybe whether or not your good friend, William Shatner, might be? 

LEONARD NIMOY – I have no idea about the next film regarding Bill Shatner, but I think I can be definitive about the fact that I will not be in it. I have said that I think it’s time for me to get off the stage and make some room for Zachary Quinto, who’s the new Spock and a wonderful actor who looks a lot like me. I’m very flattered that the character will be continued by an actor of that caliber. He’s very well-trained and very talented. I have no expectations whatsoever even being asked to be in the next Star Trek film. I cannot speak for J.J. Abrams or Bill Shatner. If they have a common interest, I hope it works out. 

Obviously, you can’t reveal too much about the Fringe season finale, but can you give us maybe a few more hints?  Also, can you tell us do you expect to be on next season at all? 

LEONARD NIMOY – No, I don’t expect to be on next season. I have announced my retirement. I will not be doing anymore television or movie acting or directing. I can tell you that I feel very fulfilled with the work that was given to me to do in this final episode, coming up next week. I admire all of the people on this show: Anna Torv, Josh Jackson, John Noble and all the rest. I had some wonderful scenes to play with John Noble who I think is a wonderful actor. I’m excited and looking forward to seeing it [the episode] edited. I have not seen the edited version, but the work that we did on the soundstage and on the streets of Vancouver felt really creative and productive. I’m happy that I did it. 

Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing after acting.  I understand you do a lot of photography these days and have other interests.  Is it hard to say goodbye?  What’s next? 

LEONARD NIMOY – No, it’s not hard to say goodbye. I’ve had 60 years of working in films and television; I’m very grateful for all the great opportunities that I’ve had and all the people who I’ve met and worked with, including the Fringe company. I said on my final day of shooting that they were as good as any company I’ve ever worked with in my 60 years of experience. What I’m working on now is making the prints for an exhibition of my photography, which will open on July 31st as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. I’m excited about it because it’s my first solo exhibition in a major museum. It’s a show called “Secret Selves,” which is about lost, hidden or secret identities and I’m excited about it. If one cares to see what some of the images look like, you can go to my website, which is leonardnimoyphotography.com and go to “Secret Selves.” 

I was wondering what you could tell me about this week’s episode in terms of your scenes with John Noble.  I assume there will be some Walter-William showdowns I can look forward to? 

LEONARD NIMOY – Yes, there will be some very strong scenes between Walter and William. I’d say that’s at the heart of the episode. It was a great pleasure for me to do those scenes. I admire John; I call him, “Noble John.” His name is John Noble, of course, but I call him, “Noble John.”  He’s a wonderful actor. I’m also am an admirer of the rest of the Fringe cast. I got to do some interesting work with Anna Torv, who I think is a wonderful actress, too.  Yes, there’s a very strong relationship resolution between Walter and William this Thursday night. 

What do you think is the most interesting aspect of William Bell’s character? 

LEONARD NIMOY – I think it’s the fact that he’s disarmingly unpredictable. He keeps saying, “Trust me,” but then you’re not quite sure if you should. That is probably the most interesting thing about him. He’s obviously a man of great intelligence and a powerful figure, but most intriguing is what his intentions are. What is his agenda? What is he really after? What’s he trying to accomplish? We’ll find out more about that on Thursday. 

Could you perhaps tell us what has made a career in this industry rewarding for you after all these years? 

LEONARD NIMOY – Well, I set out to be an actor when I was 17 or 18 years old. I left Boston and traveled to California to try to build a career. My very first efforts were very humble. I worked in a Saturday afternoon serial called Zombies of the Stratosphere. It was very primitive and very crude, but I was eager to do the work and happy to get it. It’s been exciting to me to work on soundstages and on locations all around the world. I’ve worked with some great, great talents. I worked with a number of Academy Award winners and a number of Emmy winners, with wonderful, talented people. The Star Trek character, Mr. Spock, has been a blessing to me because I find it a very dignified and a positive character and a great role model for a lot of people. I am one very, very grateful guy.  Ever since Star Trek went on the air 1966, I have never even had to concern myself with whether or not I’d work again. There was always work available to me. So it’s all about gratitude for me these days. Thanks for the question. 

What was it like for you on the last day of filming on the set of Fringe since this was the season finale? 

LEONARD NIMOY – It was very moving. I had the same experience on the last day of filming on the Star Trek movie about a year-and-a-half ago. This was a very moving experience. It was a night scene, a very brief scene. In fact, the last night, the last work that I did was the scene that was on last week between myself and Anna Torv. I had mixed feelings about it. I didn’t want it to end because the experience had been such a positive one, but of course, we had to get it done. When it was done, the entire company gathered around. There was a lot of love exchanged. I said to them, “I’ve been at this for 60 years. I have never worked with a better company.” I meant it. They do an amazing job on the Fringe series. It just feels really good to know that I’m saying goodbye to the work on a very positive, good note. I feel very good about the work that was done. I’m looking forward to it being on the air next Thursday. That’s a lovely question. I appreciate your thought. Thank you. 

 As you’ve said, you’ve spent 60 years in film and TV.  How has the job changed for you from Zombies of the Stratosphere to Fringe, or has it been all the same once the cameras began rolling? 

LEONARD NIMOY – The work is the work, of course. When they yell, “Action,” it’s time to deliver the goods. My position in the industry, of course, has changed drastically. When I came on the set of Fringe, I got a sense that people who said, “Uh, oh, here he comes, the old timer is coming.” When I first started out, I was in awe of the people who had great stories to tell about different locations they’d been to and different directors they’d worked with, different actors they’ve worked with and so forth. Now, I discovered I was the guy doing that, telling the stories about directors I worked with 40 years ago. It’s time to get off the stage; I think we’ve had our run. Thank you very much. 

What excited you the most about how William Bell has developed over the season? 

 LEONARD NIMOY – Well, there’s always been the question of what are his intentions. The writers have done a very good job of keeping the answer to that rather obscure. I’ve tried to make him disarming. I’ve tried to play him ambiguously so that, although he keeps saying, “Trust me,” you’re still not quite sure if you should. Even in last week’s episode, he said to Olivia, “I know that you have reason not to trust me, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to.” I think we’ll find out whether or not he’s telling her the truth in this week’s episode. It’s going to be a very exciting one and extremely well-produced. The performances by all of the actors that I got to work with are wonderful. I had a great time doing it. I’m looking forward to seeing it air on Thursday. 

As noted above, photo is by Craig Blankenhorn and copyright of Fox Television, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

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3 Responses to “Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy Talks About Fringe”

  1. morjana Says:

    Thank you, Steven, for another excellent interview!

  2. Kalle Says:

    Interesting stuff. Thanks.

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