I grew up watching “Star Trek” reruns in the late 1970s and through the 1980s. I saw the “Star Trek” movies that came out during my childhood with moderate understanding of the plotlines; I was on the younger side of fandom, but even as a young child, I understood the appeal of the characters and especially the universal love for Mr. Spock, “the emotionless man with the crazy eyebrows,” as I would have described him as a kid.
Turns out Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock, was a member of my synagogue when I was a teenager and I learned more about him. He did many things in his life after playing Spock; he was an accomplished photographer and published a book of empowering photographs of Jewish women, Shekhinah, which draws attention to the representation of women’s sexuality in Judaism while celebrating their sacredness.
Nimoy passed away in 2015, during the time when his son, Adam Nimoy, had been working on “For the Love of Spock,” the second of his films about his father. Soon after, Adam had a cameo on an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” last season and I got to talk to him as he interviewed me – and others on our set – about our relationship to his father as Spock and as a cultural icon.
Last week, I turned the tables on Adam and interviewed him about the film, opening September 9 in selected theaters. We talked about what it was like growing up as a child of a famous person, and about the legacy this film conveys. -MB
MAYIM: Thanks for talking to me! Can you please tell us what is “For the Love of Spock” is about and how it came to be?
ADAM: Well, I’m trying to give an in-depth look at the character of Spock; it’s basically a Spock documentary. We’re trying to give people who may not know all of the background on Spock a history of the evolution of the character – how he was created, how he evolved and why he has continued to resonate with so many fans all over the world for so many years. There’s a lot of people who know who Spock is because he’s so easily recognizable – he’s such an iconic figure now – but there’s a lot of people who simply don’t know what he means to people and what he represents. And so we were trying to explore all the different avenues of Spock that seemed to appeal to different segments of our culture.
And secondly I was trying to give some sense of who my Dad was as an artist. This is a guy who had a lot of creative talent and wanted to express that in a lot of different mediums. I mean, first and foremost as an actor, but then as a poet, as a recording artist, and later on as a director and photographer. So we kind of wanted to cover that whole gamut as well so that people could really get a sense of who Leonard Nimoy was.
And finally, the third aspect of the film is this connection between myself and my Dad and Spock: what it means to be in a celebrity family, what are some of the challenges that we faced being in that type of environment, having that kind of life together.
MAYIM: That leads perfectly into my next question which you and I spoke about a little bit when you were here on our set [filming an episode and interviewing the cast about Spock]. Is there a way to describe what it was like to be his child? I think about my own children, whose first notion of me was just as their Mom, and as they’ve gotten older they now see that they share me with many, many, many people. It definitely changes the way they think of me and the way they see me. Can you talk a little bit about what that was like for you, and if there were any kind of distinctive moments when you remember it becoming an issue, or you being interested in his fame or upset about it?
ADAM: Yeah – there were a number of pivotal moments. The first was when the fan mail started arriving at our home because Sixteen Magazine had published our home address as the mailing address for fan mail. That was a big indicator of what was happening, and how people were reacting to Spock, and the popularity – the soaring popularity – of Spock. But we couldn’t go out in public together [because of his recognizability] and I remember distinctly that my Dad and I had a lot of trouble connecting because he was a workaholic, he simply was not around that much. So we had very precious little time together, and one time when I was 10, he was taking me to a community carnival in a church parking lot on a weekend, and we got there and some kids came up to him and he signed a few autographs and they went away and I thought “That was it; it’s done, I can have him now to myself and we can enjoy this experience we are having.” But then a mob formed around him and he finally turned to me and said, “We have to leave,” and that was really the beginning of the end for me of the life I had known with my Dad, of living in anonymity.
So that’s when it became clear that our lives had changed forever really, and that I was sharing him with the public. My Dad always understood that this type of celebrity – the popularity of Spock, and the opportunities that it brought him – were all fan-based so he was very cognizant of that and very polite to people. I had much more trouble, and it took a while for me to adjust.
MAYIM: I think it’s really beautiful that you have done this film. My father died a little over a year ago and I think of the things I would like to do either to remember him, or to pay tribute to him. Do you feel like this is that? Is this more for his legacy, or is it more for your honoring him? Is it both?
ADAM: Yeah, it’s both. I mean, on the one hand it started off as an opportunity to work with my Dad, since when he was still alive we started collaborating on this film. I had been working in the TV industry for many years and then I was out of it for a long time, teaching filmmaking and I wanted to get back into making something and doing something. I saw this as an opportunity with the 50th anniversary of Star Trek coming up and I wanted to take advantage of that by making this project with him – by collaborating with him, by connecting with him because we had such a good relationship at the end of his life. So, this was something that we initially were sending out to celebrate Mr. Spock, but then when my Dad died, it became clear that this was going to be an homage to not only Spock but to Leonard Nimoy and to my relationship to him. So it started off as a desire to create something with my father and to get back into the game a little bit, but it is obviously also a desire to pay tribute and honor my father and his legacy – particularly in the form of Mr. Spock.
MAYIM: That’s beautiful. What do you feel is the legacy that he has left you?
ADAM: Well, the question has come up repeatedly, because at the end of my film I ask a lot of people who knew my Dad or worked with my Dad to sum him up in one word. Part of the legacy he left for me is to be passionate about whatever it is that you’re pursuing. That it’s so important to find what your calling is, what your reason for being is, why you’re here, what we have to contribute to the human community and to be passionate about that. My Dad felt that way about his work. He took great risks in coming from Boston to Los Angeles as an 18-year-old on a three-day train ride, but he was passionate about what he was doing – he loved acting and he wanted to pursue it. And that overrode everything for my Dad. My Dad would say to me “You know the stuff about the money, the celebrity, the paparazzi; that’s just the ‘crumbs of greatness,’” he would quote Victor Hugo in that. He said that stuff doesn’t matter; it’s the work that we do, and how we feel, our relationship to the work, and giving ourselves over to the work that matters. I think that is so important as a guiding light in my life, certainly, and is exactly what my father was all about, what his life was all about.
“For the Love of Spock” will be out in selected theaters September 9, and is available for pre-order on iTunes. Learn more at http://fortheloveofspock.com/.