Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy both experienced the mind-meld that comes with playing the same iconic character, Spock, but they shared more than just a set of prosthetic ears. After meeting each other for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, they grew close and remained so up until Nimoy’s death on Feb. 27.
Quinto spoke with EW about his late friend and predecessor, as well as the ever-logical Vulcan that brought them together.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is your first recollection of him?
ZACHARY QUINTO: I consider my first real memory of Leonard as I know him when I met him in 2007 when it was announced that I’d be taking over the role. I met him in the convention center just before we stepped out onstage in front of 7,000 people and I was so struck by his sense of humor and his affability and his stature, his presence, was so commanding and yet so at ease at the same time. I could tell immediately that he was someone who operated on very many different levels. I guess I never could have imagined how close we would become, at the time I had just hoped that he would support me and my exploration of the role, and be available to me as questions arose, but it was through that process that we forged a friendship. And he became really much more of a father figure to me than anyone else in my life, and it was that that I really cherished and will continue to cherish even in his loss.
How did the two of you work to find the link between your Spocks? What was it like to relay the baton?
He never tried to influence my interpretation of the character. And so we just started meeting. I would go to his house and we would have lunch and we would spend a couple hours together and I would ask him questions. Then eventually we would start talking about other things, and I would say I learned the most about the character through the conversations that we had about other things, about his childhood, and his experience when he first moved to Los Angeles. And eventually over time, our relationship had very little to do with Spock. I would say it was only for the first six or eight months of our relationship that we really talked about the character, and then I can’t even really remember the last time we spoke about Spock. Eventually it just became about being dear friends and staying in touch about each other’s lives. I became very, very close to his whole family, his wife Susan is very dear to me. It just evolved into something that was bigger than Star Trek, or bigger than the character, and much more meaningful and long lasting. Although it is the character that brought us together, it’s the friendship that we cultivated that I think will carry on.
For those who know him primarily as Spock, it’s hard to separate the man from the character. What was Leonard Nimoy like as a person?
There’s been so much discussion over the years, and Leonard engaged the discussion himself with I Am Not Spock, or I Am Spock. I think the reality is he was not Spock because Spock is him in so many ways, it’s his dignity and his respect for humanity and his unconditional embrace of the people that he loves, and his belief in people’s rights to be fulfilled in their own lives that defined him as a person, and his artistic sensibility. You look at the body of work that he leaves behind, not just as an actor, as an advocate, as a philanthropist, as an art collector, as a photographer, as a poet, as a writer…he was truly and without exaggeration a Renaissance Man. And to that end I feel he was endlessly curious and open to other people’s perspectives and opinions and he was politically savvy and he fought for causes that he believed in and he worked to make people’s lives easier.
I think there were so many things about him that transcended the role of Spock and yet informed the role of Spock, because those are all things that are qualities of that character. I think it is a sort of blurry line, but for me it is a man that I remember, that I celebrate, that I love, and I’m so glad that Spock was one aspect of his personality and the aspect that brought us together, but it’s by no means the thing that I think is singularly defining of him. Because his capacity for love and for exploration of what it means to be human goes so far beyond that one character and has touched the lives of so many people and I’m just lucky to have been one of them.
How did you find out about his passing?
I was so sad to be so far away during his final days and I was very much in touch with Susan and knew he was very sick during the last few days of his life, and I was shooting in Berlin and felt a million miles away. I was really, really grateful to be able to be get in time to be here for his family and to be here for his funeral and to speak at his funeral and honor him in that way. It meant so much to me that I was able to be a part of saying goodbye to him in that way, because I felt that that’s who he was. He would have traveled to the ends of the earth for the people that he loved, and I was so grateful that I had the opportunity to do that. Even though it was under such sad circumstances, I feel like my grief is counterbalanced by my gratitude for having had him in my life and being able to consider him a dear and life-long friend.