Sci-fi viewers received a welcome surprise towards the end of the first season of J.J. Abrams' series Fringe, when it was revealed that none other than Leonard Nimoy would portray the shadowy William Bell, whose presence was lurking all season. Nimoy is back as Bell in the upcoming episode Momentum Deferred, which airs on Thursday, October 8 at 9 PM ET on Fox. Nimoy recently held a conference call to discuss his role on this hit series, and here's what he had to say.
I was wondering, did you have any reservations on taking another role with the potential of such a fanatic following?
Leonard Nimoy: I love this question. I can't help but laugh because you're absolutely right. It's an interesting set of circumstances. What attracted me to it was several things. J.J. Abrams, Bob Orci, and Alex Kurtzman, who I worked with on the Star Trek movie, I admire their talent and the work that they do. The series is at the very least to say intriguing. The character was somewhat of a blank slate, but we began talking about it and, therefore, attracted because there's an opportunity to build an interesting and unpredictable character. I'm enjoying it a lot.
When will William Bell and Walter Bishop face off?
Leonard Nimoy: Unpredictable at the moment. In the episode tomorrow night, the scene in between myself and Olivia, I think we will learn a lot more than we have known in the past about what their relationship is all about and what William Bell's intentions are, or at least we will be told what his intentions are. We're not really quite sure that everything that he says is accurate or true.
I wonder, what does William Bell do when he's over there? Who is he spending time with?
Leonard Nimoy: William Bell is sort of a "master of the universe," a brilliant man, very wealthy man, very powerful. We'll find out a lot more about him in future episodes.
Don't you find it remarkable how what is science fiction today can become science?
Leonard Nimoy: It is remarkable. I was thinking as we began this conference call about the technology involved here. It is quite remarkable and so terribly useful. It's a very convenient way to put out a lot of information, and this is the kind of thing that was only dreamed about 10, 15 years ago. And you're right, science fiction very often leads the way for the scientists. Scientists watch science fiction, see an idea being presented, and say, "Well, gee, I wonder if that's really possible." They go to work at it on the drawing board, and a lot of it comes to fruition.
So lately it seems as if you're J.J. Abrams' muse of sorts. Can you tell us a little bit more about your relationship with him?
Leonard Nimoy: Well, I first met him I guess about three years ago when he first contacted me about the possibility of working together, and I went to a meeting with he and Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman and some of his production staff. They told me a very good and strong and touching story about their feelings about Star Trek and specifically the Spock character. It gave me a sense of validation after all these years. I had been out of it for some time, as you're probably aware. There were several Star Trek series in which I was not involved and Star Trek movies in which I was not involved. This was a re-validation of the work that I had done, the work that we had done on the original Star Trek. I felt very good about it and went to work for them. I had a great time working on the movie. I think they did a brilliant job, and I think the audience response shows that that was the case and has reinvigorated the franchise. And when they contacted me about working on Fringe-the same people, the same attitude, the same creativity, the same creative team-it was very enticing.
Had you seen the show? Had you been a fan of the show prior to that?
Leonard Nimoy: I watched it periodically. I think it's extremely well done. It's very nuanced. It's complex. It's a mixture of science and science fiction in a very interesting and intelligent way. And I think it has a long way to go in story-telling. It tells a terribly interesting story, and the character that I was offered was potentially a very intriguing and controversial and fascinating character, very inviting for an actor.
I was wondering how you felt about the current state of science fiction on TV and film.
Leonard Nimoy: Well, I'm concerned about the positioning of story in terms of importance. When I see a lot of explosions and a lot of chases, I'm not terribly impressed. I think there are three terribly important elements that must be given a priority position in science fiction as well as in any other kind of drama. The first is story, the second is story, and the third is story. Story, story, story, story, story. If the story is compelling and interesting, I think all the rest will find its place. We have great technology in our industry, and that technology can be overused at the expense of story. And that's a problem for me, but when the story is in place, I think the special effects can find their proper place. I think Fringe uses the technology brilliantly, but in the service of excellent story-telling.
Are there any other projects, other than your current collaboration-
Leonard Nimoy: I'm doing a lot of photography work. That's one of my major creative outlets right now. I have an exhibition which is opening in Massachusetts at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art next year. I'm really excited about that. Check out my website, LeonardNimoyPhotography.com. Isn't that an amazing title for a website?
It's great. And is there anything that you're really interested in, any current science fiction things on TV or film?
You had not been acting for awhile, and then you've done Star Trek and Fringe pretty recently together. Having stepped away for awhile and then returned, are your feelings about acting what they were, or have they changed, do you find?
Leonard Nimoy: Well, I'm enjoying it. I'm very comfortable in the two offers that I've accepted. The Star Trek movie was a joy to do. I admire the production team that made the film. I admire the new cast. Zachary Quinto I thought was a great choice for the new Spock, and it was a pleasure to work with him and with all the other people on the project. The Fringe character was intriguing because, as I've mentioned, it was kind of a blank slate and we had some very interesting and intense conversations about who and what he could be and how we should perceive him, what we might or might not learn about him, what we might or might not trust about him. These are intriguing opportunities for an actor, and they came at a time when I ... and from a group of people that I had respect for. They piqued my interest and I went back to work.
I did not expect to, frankly, be acting so much at this time in my life. My concentration was on my photography, but I'm having a wonderful time doing it.
So in the season finale last season, it was very, very heavily implied that Peter Bishop came from the alternate universe, which suggested there's a second Walter Bishop as well. Are we going to see a second William Bell?
Leonard Nimoy: Yes. I don't think I can really answer that question very specifically right now. I think the most important thing is that tomorrow night we will get a sense of what his relationship is with Olivia. It's very intriguing and very intense moments that take place tomorrow night, and the rest remains to be seen. I'm waiting to see what these terribly imaginative writers come up with for the future. I'm expecting that I probably will be going back to work for them before too much longer. I'm looking forward to what they send me on the page. But, right now, I think we go a long way tomorrow night in discovering what William Bell is all about.
Have they mentioned anything about their needs for you on an upcoming Star Trek movie?
Leonard Nimoy: No. My understanding is they're working on a script right now. I expect there's going to be some time before they really know exactly who they need and what they need. I frankly, frankly doubt that I will be called upon again. I think I was useful in his last film to help bridge between the original characters, the original actors, and the new cast. They have a wonderful new cast in place, and I'm sure they'll move ahead with them. I don't see, at the moment, why they would need me in the next film, although, if they called me, I'd be happy to have a conversation about it.
Your character, William Bell, believes the world has soft spots. I just wanted to know, do you believe in this as well?
Leonard Nimoy: Well, what the show deals with in this wonderfully intriguing way is a question of an alternate universe, through which one can slip through, from one universe to another. I've been involved in stories of this kind before. I did a series called In Search of... some years ago in which we dealt with subject matter like this. I think the question is one that you would, in terms of whether it's scientifically accurate, you'd have to ask people like Stephen Hawking. I'm not a scientist, and I can't really tell you whether or not there is a soft spot where you could slip through to another world, but I think the Fringe series deals with that idea in a very intriguing way.
I wanted to know, how's the transition been from New York to Vancouver?
Leonard Nimoy: Easy for me. Actually, easier because, although I love New York and spend a good deal of time there and I have a place there, but I'm based in Los Angeles, and traveling to Vancouver is easier.
What do you think Vancouver gives the series?
Leonard Nimoy: What do I think it gives? I love Vancouver. I've been going to Vancouver for, oh, at least 35 years that I can think of. And I look forward to going back many times.
Do you believe William Bell's evil or good or-
Leonard Nimoy: That's a really wonderful question. Time will tell.
I wanted to find out what sort of acting challenges have you found playing the William Bell character so far, would you say?
Leonard Nimoy: Well, the first thing was some wonderful and creative conversations that I had with J.J. Abrams and Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the writers, to try-and with Jeff Pinkner, who's the show runner-to try to create from scratch a character that's never been seen before, only been referred to. There are certain things that were given, which is that he's a power figure and a very wealthy and obviously a terribly intelligent man with a scientific background. But, in terms of characteristics, we started from scratch, and I think tomorrow night a lot more of those characteristics will be evident. It's great fun to be building the character from scratch, with certain givens, but so much to be developed in terms of the way he talks, the way he walks, idiosyncracies, his tastes, is he difficult, is he gruff, is he charming, is he a nice guy, what are his real intentions. All of these are great exploration for an actor.
So you had your scene with the Olivia ..., with Anna Torv. Did you get a chance to meet any other actors, and did you get an opinion of them?
Leonard Nimoy: No. I have not worked with the others. Only Olivia so far. I'm looking forward to meeting and working with all the others. They're very talented people, and I admire the work they do. But so far, all my work has been with the Olivia character, and I think she does a wonderful job on the show, by the way. They all do. They're very good.
What do you think of Anna Torv as an actor and as a person?
Leonard Nimoy: I think she's really excellent in the role. We spent a bit of time working together, and I was impressed with the way she works. I've seen quite a bit of her work on the screen. I think she handles a very wide range of activities, from very internalized psychological questions to very, very physical stuff, and I think she handles it very well. She's very competent, very interesting to watch. I think she's terrific.
I know Mr. Spock's character could be kind of complex at times, I would think, and I was wondering about your character as William Bell. Is there a particular character flaw or even something good that you would like to have highlighted in future episodes?
Leonard Nimoy: This is a wonderful question. I'm really looking forward to this character unfolding in a very interesting kind of way. I think you'll see, tomorrow night, one very strong aspect of him and certain idiosyncracies that are being developed. But I do think there's a long way to go. I think there's a lot to be discovered, and I'm looking forward to discovering it with the audience. It's really not up to me to write the scripts. I don't do the writing, but the writers are clever, inventive, creative. They're very bright people. I'm counting on them to give us some really interesting character touches in the future.
Have you found that there's anything different in the way television is done these days or what it requires of you as an actor, or is that aspect of work still pretty much the same?
Leonard Nimoy: Well, I'd say that's a good question. Thank you. I think it's safe to say that what an audience is seeing today on screen in the television episode is far more complex than what we were doing when we were, for example, making the original Star Trek series in the '60s. We were very, very heavy on pages and pages of dialogue and very little special effects, but because the technology has advanced so greatly, it's possible to do some very complex and very exciting and very useful technical stuff on the shows these days, so we don't have to rely quite so much on the story being told by the actors speaking. On the other hand, there is a danger, as I mentioned earlier, of going too far with the special effects at the expense of story. But if the story is well done, if the story's in place strongly, the special effects can be enormously helpful to the actors, far more so than they were years ago when we were making the original Star Trek series.
But are you saying that these days you're allowed to do a little more nuance in the acting and not have to so much deliver the exposition because that-
Leonard Nimoy: Oh, thank you. Thank you. Exactly, exactly, exactly. Delivering the exposition is the toughest part of the job, and if it can be done visually and physically, it's a big help. Exactly.
I was just wondering, looking to the future, do you have any goals in mind, any invisible time line where you wanted to just get out of the spotlight and retire, focus on photography-
Leonard Nimoy: Well, thank you. I thought I had reached that point some years ago. I think about myself as like an ocean liner that's been going full speed for a long distance and the captain pulls the throttle back all the way to "stop," but the ship doesn't stop immediately, does it? It has its own momentum and it keeps on going, and I'm very flattered that people are still finding me useful. I try to pick my spots so that I have a balance between the work and my personal life, which I enjoy very much. I don't know that I would actually any longer say, "No, I'm going to stop ten, twelve, fifteen months or two years from now." I don't know. I still feel strong and healthy and active, and as long as there's interesting work to do, I'll probably keep on doing it.
What is still on your "to do" list with all the things you've done in the world?
Leonard Nimoy: Well, I'm looking forward to developing the William Bell character further. I hope the writers are interested in working with the character. I am. I don't know how much further we'll go with it, but the character, so far, has been very intriguing and the whole Fringe company has been very good to me. I'm delighted to be involved. I am still actively involved with my photography work. I'm working on a current project, which is called Secret Selves, which is about hidden or fantasy or private personalities that people bring for me to photograph. And there will be an exhibition of that name, Secret Selves, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art opening next summer, a solo exhibition. I'm excited about that.