In this installment of “Talking to Fox” we got to hear from the legendary Mr. Nimoy about his role as William Bell on Fringe.
But it’s Leonard Freakin’ Nimoy! So sometimes we got off-track and into a more general discussion proving that he’s just awesome. Topics included, but were not limited to, his “retirement,” photography, and the new Star Trek movies.
And just a heads up, Part 2 of the Fringe Fourth Season Finale airs Friday at 9:00 p.m./8:00 p.m. central on Fox, in which you can see Bell doing what Nimoy calls, “some very strange and fantastic things with his powers.”
Here are the highlights:
Who is William Bell?
“The character of William Bell started out to be rather ambivalent. We weren’t quite 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.”
When asked about what drew him to play Bell, he said: “There were challenges in the character itself that were attractive to me. I could play aspects of a character that I haven’t played in a long time, so it was very welcoming to me.”
When asked about Bell’s journey, he said: “The William Bell character started out to be a very intelligent and rational character. I think he’s still very, very intelligent but I’m not quite so sure he’s rational anymore. I think you’ll see some behaviors tomorrow night that have taken him quite a distance from where he started. You’re going to see some interesting activities on the part of William Bell Friday night. This character has gotten himself out on a limb and is doing some very wonderful theatrical and bizarre activities. He has become a world of his own. Take that as a hint. I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to seeing it myself. I haven’t seen it in context, so I’m pretty excited about what people are going to be experiencing Friday night.”
When asked what got him to return from retirement, LFN said: “Well, it’s not just the role of William Bell. It’s the show. I think Fringe is a wildly imaginative show. The writers and the creators of the show, the producers, are very bright and very theatrical. All the characters are fleshed out wonderfully and the chemistry amongst the cast is terrific. I wanted to be part of this project. I enjoy the project. I’m a sucker for a good role and J.J. Abrams, the Executive Producer of the show, is a friend of mine. He calls. I take his call. The writers and producers, Joel Wyman, Jeff Pinkner, and the cast, they’re a wonderful bunch of people and I enjoy being there. When they called and asked me if I would do it, it was pretty easy to convince me that there was an interesting challenge in the character and a very wonderful company to work with.”
And when asked stupidly obvious questions, like, “If the right show and the right film or the right role came along, are you now seeing yourself as a little more open to doing some more acting or do you still mostly consider yourself retired?” LFN said: “The door is not completely closed. Obviously, I said a couple of years ago that I was retiring and here I am talking about a performance that I just gave. There are certain special situations that come along that can 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.” And “It’s nice to get off the couch and throw the clothes on and a little makeup and go back to work every once in a while. I still enjoy it. In this case, as I said before, it’s all of the elements that come together at the right time in the right way and I was happy to do it.”
The Napkin and The Spock Doll
“The Big Bang Theory has been an ongoing conversation for a long, long time regarding an appearance. 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 to the Sheldon character. It has become one of the most highly talked about and most highly enjoyed shows of all time I understand. They are a wonderfully talented bunch of people and it’s a smart show and a show full of talent. They asked me to appear on the show. For various reasons, a physical appearance didn’t work out but when they came up with this idea of a voicing of the Spock character with Sheldon being given a Star Trek transporter, the whole idea was wonderful. It was a way for me to deliver a kind of appearance on the show and to work with those very, very talented bunch of people.”
Heroes vs. Villains
When asked if he has a preference for bad guys, LFN laughed warmly and said: “I don’t have a preference for bad people. No. I have an interest in playing a broad range of characters. Obviously, I’m mostly identified with a character who is very responsible and very solid and very intelligent, but there are plenty of questionable characters in my past career. I’m interested in exploring theatricality and characters with some dimension. William Bell certainly has that.”
On the Anna Torv Impression
“I saw that. I thought she was brilliant. I was very flattered. I thought she was wonderful.” But when asked if we’ll see him doing an impression of Anna Torv, LFN said: “I don’t think I could do justice to her the way she did for me. I don’t think I’m capable of that. She was quite wonderful and I told her so.”
Oh, Don’t Worry. They’ll Talk.
When asked about returning for Fringe’s final season, LFN said: “I’m sure that we will be having conversations about that before too long. I haven’t heard anything new about William Bell or the show, except that it has been picked up for 13 episodes, which I think is wonderful. I know the company was hoping for that that they could have another season to close out successfully. I haven’t heard anything about Bell coming back, but I’m sure I’ll be getting a call. We’ll talk about it. It will depend on my schedule. It will depend on what they have in mind for the character. There are a lot of issues that have to be dealt with, but we’ll be talking.”
So keep your fingers crossed, kids.
On working with John Noble
“John is a wonderful actor. They all are. Working with John is always a treat and I think the relationship between William Bell and John’s character has been very well written so that we have some delicious scenes to play with each other. I look forward to it. When I began working with him I admired what he was doing. We kind of hit it off personally and in character. I think the chemistry between the two characters has worked very well. It was a very satisfying experience working with him.”
On The Cult Show Phenomenon
When asked why Fringe has low ratings, despite it’s loyal fan base (kind of like Star Trek), LFN said: “If I could answer that question I think the networks would all be on me for explanations of what to do about their schedules. I’m not an authority on ratings and how these things happen. You’re absolutely right in the comparison to Star Trek. We 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 and various time and sometimes in marathons on weekends and 6:00 every night in syndication. The same thing could happen with Fringe. I can tell you that when Star Trek was put on a Friday night, which is a date night, 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 small audience, but very intense and very committed. I think it’s commendable that the people at FOX decided to honor that commitment. Now I understand that the show does particularly well in DVR recordings and I don’t know how that works or how they measure that. What that means is that people who are out on Friday nights record the show and watch it some other time. That’s a sign of the commitment to the show.”
Monsters? Where?! or, William Bell Gets a Talking To
Reporter: “One of the things I really admired about your career in the last decade or so with the photography and everything is your commitment to humanism. How does it feel to be portraying a character who turns people into monsters?”
L. Nimoy/LFN: “What’s that about monsters? I didn’t quite get it.”
Reporter: “Turns people into monsters.”
LFN: “What turns people into monsters?”
Reporter: “You do. William Bell does.”
LFN: “William Bell turns them into monsters?”
Reporter: “You have a bunch of—“
LFN: “I’m going to have to talk to him about that. That’s not a nice thing, is it?”
Reporter: “No, it’s not.”
LFN: “Well, if there is anything I can do about it, I’ll see if I can change his attitude about turning people into monsters. I’ll have a conversation with him very soon. I’ll say, ‘William, cut it out’.”
When asked if he’ll be appearing in the next Star Trek movie, this is what LFN had to say: “Well, my feeling is they don’t need me. They’ve got a wonderful cast. Zachary Quindo has taken on the character of Spock and I think is 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, but I just don’t think they need me. I understand, by the way, that they have just finished shooting and they’ve got a wonderful actor, Mr. Cumberbatch, who has a great reputation in the UK and I think is going to build a reputation here in the United States very quickly. The Sherlock Holmes series that he is famous for in the UK is coming to the United States and I think he’s going to be very quickly recognized as a major talent. He’s in the movie. I think they’re going to do just fine.”
The Enterprise: Then and Now
When asked about his feelings about revisiting the Space Shuttle named for the Enterprise, LFN said: “It was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced to see that 747 fly by with the Enterprise Shuttle piggybacked the way they did. I was out there at JFK when they did their flyby at about 500 feet. It was an amazing site and then 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 out of the hangar and the Air Force band played the theme from Star Trek. It was thrilling then and it was thrilling now just to see that amazing ship come back home. It’s going to be parked on the Intrepid in New York City as a part of their permanent museum. I’m looking forward to being there to visit it there.
The whole space program has given us, I think, an enormous lift as a people. It was President Kennedy who said we were going to send a man to the moon and bring him back safely and we did it. I give so much credit to the scientists and engineers who make these wondrous things happen and I encourage young people to think about the sciences as a future for themselves.”
Moderator: “We have a question from the Voice of TV. Please go ahead.”
Reporter: “Hello. Thank you for talking with me.”
LFN: “You are the voice of TV?”
LFN: “Wow! Hello.”
On The Other Arts
“My wife’s son, Erin Bay Shuck, is a Record Producer at Atlantic Records. He’s the producer that brought Bruno Mars to the label and signed him.”
Which is presumably why LFN was in a version of “The Lazy Song” video. Which, if you have not seen you should GO AND FIX THAT NOW!
“I’ve been on his case to let me into the recording study to make some smash hit records. He hasn’t succumbed to my pleas yet. I would love to make a smash hit record but we don’t have any definitive plans.”
And as for his photography: “I do still do some of my photography work. I have a photography website. It’s Leonardnimoyphotography.com if you want to take a look at the kind of work that I do. I’ve enjoyed photography ever since I was a teenager and I’m still at it. I’ve had shows in various cities around the country and I have a number of pieces in permanent collections in museums around the country that I’m very proud of, but as far as the music is concerned, I don’t have any specific plans yet.”
On Being a Pseudo-Secret Comedian
“I love comedy. I’m not known for comedy, but I love comedy. I’ve done a lot of it in my lifetime. The most recent comedy opportunity I’ve had was on the Big Bang Theory show where I had that wonderful funny interaction with the Sheldon character. It’s not something that I’m known for, but I have done a lot of comedy in my work over the years, mostly in the theater. Of course, I directed Three Men and a Baby. Most people are surprised to hear that I made a funny movie. I love to laugh and I love comedy.”
On The Fringe Folk
“I’m excited about the show. I’m proud to be connected with Fringe. I think it’s an intelligent and imaginative and theatrical show. I told the company when I finished shooting on this particular episode a few weeks ago I said, “You are superior company. I have never worked with a better company in my entire 60-year career.” I thanked them all for being who they are and doing what they are and told them how proud I was to be a part of it.”