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June 21 2024


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Leonard Nimoy Talks 'Zombies Of The Stratosphere'

By Christian
May 21, 2005 - 9:37 PM

The whole world is familiar Leonard Nimoy from his role as Spock on the original Star Trek series. But what's a lot less known is that Nimoy originally expected to become a star by playing a completely different kind of alien.

"I had a very important job in what we used to call a serial," Nimoy said last week on a BBC Radio breakfast show, recalling one of the first jobs he had as a 21-year old actor. "[They played] ach Saturday afternoon, a 50-minute with a cliffhanger at the end. The hero or the heroine is in terrible trouble, come back next week and see what happens. And I was in one of those, I was very important in it, and I thought it would rocket me to stardom. It was called Zombies of the Stratosphere. And I was one. One of four that came from Mars. We stole a pickup truck and a revolver, and we were going to take over Earth."

Unfortunately, the role didn't prove to be quite as lasting as Nimoy he had hoped, and for the next dozen years the actor found himself struggling to make a living. "I was always a supporting player, ocassionally a guest star, but usually a supporting player. Second or third man through the door, they used to call them. It was a period in which good-looking guys that lived next door were the kind of people they were looking for. And I was not that type, I was considered off-beat, ethnic-looking so forth, and my eyes were too small, my nose a little too crooked, my hair not quite right, and the wrong colour. And I hadn't really come into myself."

Eventually, Nimoy started getting more guest roles, including one on The Lieutenant, a show starring Gary Lockwood (Gary Mitchell) -- and produced by Gene Roddenberry. "I had fun on the job, and then a couple of weeks later my agent called me and said, the producer of that show wants to talk to you about a science-fiction series," Nimoy said. "When you hear that kind of conversation, after so many years of kind of jobbing around, you take it all with a grain of salt. You think, maybe he'll call me, maybe he won't, maybe he'll make the pilot, maybe he won't, maybe it'll sell, maybe it'll won't, so there's so many maybes that come with this. But I went to the audition,and I discovered after a few minutes that he was actually tyring to talk me into taking the job. And I thought, the man must be out of his mind. Tell me where to show up and I'll be there!"

Even though at first Star Trek just represented a paycheck for Nimoy, he quickly became interested in his character, too. "It took a while for the character to really evolve, which happens on any series, because the writers have to see what the chemistry is between the other characters," Nimoy said. "What was interesting to me, challenging, was that right of the bat, it was given that he was half-human, half-Vulcan, and that he wanted to live as a Vulcan, which was operating purely on logic and suppressing all emotion. So that gave me a dynamic to work with, because suppressing of emotion can give you an interior life that is interesting."

Nimoy went on to play Spock for three years on Star Trek, a time that was nearly cut short after NBC cancelled the show, then brought it back in response to fan feedback, only a year later. "I thought they were fools," Nimoy said. Ten years later Star Trek was resurrected again, in the form of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. "No one thought we were going to do more than one," Nimoy admitted. "It was a very exciting, extravagantly costly, large production which did not do terribly well and didn't have a very good script. And I thought, well, that's the end of it, they've beached the big whale. But then someone came along with some ideas on how to make a good Star Trek. [That became] the second Star Trek film, much less expensive but much more interesting, because we had a big script."

Even though Nimoy hasn't played Spock on screen in more than a decade, he still remains associated with the franchise, and in fact spoke with the BBC to promote his appearance at a convention in London. Nimoy admitted he found "the whole celebrity thing fascinating," and recounted a story of how he once went to Montana for a speaking arrangement, thinking he'd be able to enjoy some quiet, serene away time there. "I walked into my [hotel] room and I was unpacking, and the phone rang. I picked it up [and] heard, 'Hello, is this Mr. Nimoy?' And I said, 'yes,' and she said, 'I'm so excited, getting you on the telephone, you have no idea.' I said, 'who are you,' and she said, 'my name is Sally.' I said, 'Sally, how did you find me?' She says, ' I heard that you were speaking in Butte, Montana, so I called all the hotels, and there were only three, so I found you.'"

Nimoy told the girl it was very sweet of her, congratulated her on her resourcefulness, and then hung up. "I finished unpacking, and I was heading for the door, and the phone rang again! 'Oh, mr, Nimoy, this is so wonderful, you have no idea.' I said, 'who are you?' She said, 'my name is Mary.' I said, 'Mary, where are you calling from?' She says, 'Chicago.' 'How did you find me?' She says, 'Sally called me from San Francisco.'

In the full interview, Nimoy also discussed why his parents would have preferred him to choose a different career, which Star Trek television directors he liked best, his role on Mission: Impossible, and much, much more. Click here to download it from the official BBC site!

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