Leonard Nimoy on His Return to ‘Wildly Imaginative’ Fringe
In last week’s episode of Fringe, fans were treated to an incredible cliffhanger: the reappearance of William Bell, who seemingly died two years ago in the second-season finale. The twist marks a return to live-action television for legendary actor Leonard Nimoy, who came out of retirement to reprise his role as the Massive Dynamic founder in tonight’s season finale.
“I think Fringe is a wildly imaginative show. The writers and creators of the show, the producers — very bright and very theatrical,” Nimoy told a group of reporters this week, explaining what drew him back to the Fox drama. “All the characters are fleshed out wonderfully and the chemistry among the cast is terrific. I wanted to be part of this project, I enjoy the project. Of course, the character of William Bell started out rather ambivalent. We weren’t sure whether we were supposed to enjoy him or be afraid of him. We couldn’t quite figure out what his motivation was. At the end of last season, he seemed to come around to be less dangerous. This season, I think things have taken another turn. He’s in another universe and has taken on other characteristics. There are challenges in the character itself that were attractive to me, that I could play aspects of a character that I haven’t played in a long time, so it was very welcoming to me.”
As for the specifics of his character, Nimoy said fans won’t be disappointed with the finale. “You’re going to see some interesting activities on the part of William Bell,” he said, laughing. “His character has gotten himself out on a limb and is doing some very wonderfully theatrical and bizarre activities. He has become a load of his own. Take that as a hint.”
The actor elaborated, describing Bell as “exotic.” “Exotic is the best word I can come up with at the moment,” Nimoy said. “He’s got himself out on a limb and doing a very strange and fantastic thing with his powers. I think what you’ll see [tonight] is probably the culmination of a lot of wonderful ideas coming together. I’m looking forward to seeing it myself. I haven’t seen it in context, so I’m pretty excited to see what people are going to be experiencing.”
In terms of character, Nimoy described Bell’s arc, as well as his own limited input.
“The William Bell journey has been really interesting to me,” he said. “I don’t take any credit for it. I’m only the performer. I’m given the material on the printed page. They hand it to me in script form. We have conversations first about which way William Bell is going now and then it comes to me on the pages and I have been very grateful for having been given some wonderful, rich opportunities as an actor for the William Bell character. We started out very ambiguous, didn’t know whether to trust him or not. Gradually, it was revealed that he could be helpful and reasonable kind of guy. Now, in this particular season, this particular show that’s on tomorrow night, I think you’ll see quite a dramatic shift in the character. There’s another dimension of him. We have not yet spoken at all about another season. I know that the show has been picked up for 13 more episodes, but there’s been no conversation yet about whether or not they want William Bell and if so, what will William Bell be about next season. What’s on [tonight] I think is quite extraordinary.”
Nimoy is of course best known as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, a role he reprised for J.J. Abrams’ 2009 franchise reboot. Although the actor didn’t explicitly reveal whether he’ll appear in the upcoming sequel, which recently wrapped filming, he said his inclusion is largely unnecessary.
“My feeling is that they don’t need me. They’ve got a wonderful cast,” he said. “Zachary Quinto has taken on the character of Spock, and I think it’s wonderfully suited. He is a talented guy, he is a very intelligent actor, very well-trained. They’ve got a great company of people replacing all of us. I don’t think they need me, frankly. It’s flattering to be talked about, I just don’t think they need me. I understand they have just finished shooting and they’ve got a wonderful actor, Mr. [Benedict] Cumberbatch, who has a great reputation in the U.K. and I think is going to build a reputation here in the United States very quickly. The Sherlock series he is famous for in the U.K. is coming to the United States, and I think he is going to be very quickly recognized as a major talent. He’s in the movie. So, I think they’re going to do just fine.”
The actor also gave his thoughts on the similarities between the original Star Trek and Fringe, both of which were in similar positions when it came to ratings.
“[Star Trek] did very poorly in the ratings, but eventually the show started to become more and more popular until it became a news story where stations were carrying the show at various hours at various times and sometimes on marathons on weekends and six o’clock every night in syndication,” he said. “The same thing could happen with Fringe. I could tell you that when Star Trek was put on a Friday night, which is a date night and not a good night for a show like this, it did very, very poorly. Fringe has the same kind of audience — a very intense audience, a very small audience, but a very intense audience and very committed. I think it’s commendable that the people at Fox decided to honor that commitment. I understand that the show does particularly well in recordings — in DVR recordings. I don’t know how that works or how they measure that but what that means is that people who are out on Friday nights record the show and watch it at other times. That’s a sign of the commitment to the show.”
Considering how well known Nimoy is for his portrayal of Mr. Spock, it’s no surprise he’s been called upon to reprise it multiple times. On a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, Nimoy lent his iconic voice to a Spock action figure.
“The Big Bang series has been an ongoing conversation for a long time for a long, long time regarding an appearance,” Nimoy said. “Some time ago, they asked me if I would provide a napkin that I had used and I did. They used it on the show as a gift for the Sheldon character, and it’s become one of their most talked-about and most highly enjoyed shows of all time, I understand. They’re a wonderfully talented bunch of people. It’s a smart show and a show full of talent. They asked me to appear on the show and for various reasons, a physical appearance didn’t work out, but they came up with the idea of a voicing of the Spock character with Sheldon being given a Star Trek transporter. The whole idea was wonderful and it was a way for me to deliver a kind of appearance on the show and to work with that very, very talented bunch of people.”
In fact, the actor has taken on a number of voice-acting roles over the years, from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in The Pagemaster to Sentinel Prime in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. But the actor mentioned he had to work on his speech very early in his career.
“The voice thing is a blessing that I was given. I did have speech problems when I first started out as an actor,” he said. “I grew up in Boston, and when I began to think about acting, it was pointed out to me that I sound very much like a very clearly defined Boston person and it might limit me as an actor. So I spent some time working on my speech. The voice was always there but my speech needed some work in order to make it more acceptable as a — sort of a broad, American kind of sound. It’s been a blessing. I’ve had the opportunity to do voice work of all kinds. I did the In Search of series for seven years, which was almost entirely voice work. It was something that was given to me and I was able to make good use of it. I’m grateful for it.”
Oddly enough, the actor actually announced his retirement from acting in 2010, but he admitted there are special situations that continue to draw him back into acting.
“I said a couple years ago that I was retiring and here I am talking about a performance that I just did,” he said. “Certain special situations come along that intrigue me. This one did. As I said before, J.J. Abrams is a friend. Jeff Pinkner, Joel Wyman, they’re all friends — the producers of the show. I think the writing is wonderfully imaginative. It’s a fascinating character and a great company. It’s nice to get off the couch and throw the clothes on, a little make up and go back to work for a while. I still enjoy it. In this case, it’s — as I’ve said before — all the elements coming together at the right time and the right place and I was happy to do it.”
Nimoy also recalled a recent experience seeing the Space Shuttle Enterprise being flown around New York City, and how he felt about Star Trek’s influence on space exploration.
“It was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “To see that 747 fly by with the Enterprise shuttle piggybacked the way they did. I was out there at JFK, they did their flyby at about 500 feet. They went around the city, they went around Manhattan, they landed right in front of us, and I was asked to get up and say a few words. I talked about the fact that we, the Star Trek company, had been invited to be there in 1976 when that shuttle was first rolled out of the hangar and the Air Force band played the theme from Star Trek. It was thrilling then, it was thrilling now to see that amazing ship come back home and it’s going to be parked on the Intrepid in New York City as part of their permanent museum. I’m looking forward to being there to visit it there. The whole space program has given us an enormous lift as a people. It was President Kennedy who said we’re going to send a man to the moon and bring him back safely and we did. I give so much credit to the scientists and engineers who make these wondrous things and I encourage young people to think about the sciences as a future for themselves.”
In fact, Nimoy’s entire career has been exciting for him, and the actor expressed how grateful he was to have had the opportunity to pursue and thrive in a job he loves.
“The journey that I’ve been on has been a very blessed journey,” he said. “When I was 17, I started out in the hopes of making a living as an actor and I feel I have been blessed with the kind of opportunities I’ve been given. I’ve acted all over the United States, I’ve acted in countries all around the world, I’ve acted on stage as much as I’ve wanted to, a couple times on Broadway, toured several times in various productions in the United States and met all kinds of wonderful people in wonderful cities — television, film, radio, commercials, I’ve had a taste of it all, I’m a very, very thankful person.”
The season finale of Fringe, “Brave New World (Part 2),” airs tonight at 9 ET/PT on Fox.