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Exclusive | For the Love of Spock: Adam Nimoy on his Dad Leonard

Sep 02, 2016

By: Lynn Barker

In the documentary film For the Love of Spock, director Adam Nimoy poses a great question: Have you ever felt that your parents just don’t have time for you, or that they don’t “get” you and everything they say seems to put you down?  Well so did Adam from time to time. His dad was TV’s famous Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy who passed away last year.

Talking to Kidzworld, Adam revealed how his tween self was robbed of dad/son time when TV’s “Star Trek” launched in the late 1960’s and how the pressures of fame strained his relationship with his dad into Adam’s teens and beyond.

Adult Adam and his dad in a similar poseAdult Adam and his dad in a similar pose

There were plenty of good times and the adult Adam is very glad he and his famous dad reconciled and became best buds in the last few years of Leonard’s life. They set out together in 2014 to create a documentary about Mr. Spock but after Leonard’s death, Adam decided to make the doc a tribute to his dad’s entire career and the fact that he was a “Renaissance Man”; a jack of all trades, including photography, poetry and singing (even if he was a bit off-key at times). 

First off, we asked Adam what he would say to teens and tweens who are already feeling estranged from their parents, kids who have withdrawn and think things can’t be patched up.

Adam: Just hold on. You’ve got to hold on. It will pass. It’s a very difficult time. Just universally, it’s a very common experience to want to separate yourself, create your own identity, rebel against your parents and try to be detached but you can’t a lot of times because of economic situations or you’re in school and are simply not old enough to leave home. But when I was 18, I was gone.

My dad and I had a lot of conflict when I was a teenager and then I wanted to go away to school at the University of California (Berkeley) and we lived right next door to UCLA and my dad was like “Do you know how many kids would kill to live in this house and be able to walk to school? That’s the craziest thing I ever heard”. I was saying “We have so much conflict. I want to get out of here”. So, it’s a matter of holding on and getting through these periods.  

Adam with his dad in tense teen timesAdam with his dad in tense teen times

Kidzworld: When you were a kid, what was the breaking point with “Star Trek” fans? Was there an incident when all the fan attention went from cool to just inconvenient and kind of upsetting?

  • Adam: Yeah, there were a couple of key turning points for me. Very early on when the series first started, my dad and I had very little time together and he took me on the weekend to a carnival in West L.A. When we got there a few kids recognized him and came up and he signed autographs and they went away and I thought we were in the clear but, within minutes, he was mobbed in the parking lot. Everybody at that carnival wanted to get to him to have their picture taken or get an autograph. It was over. My dad turned to me and said “We have to go”. We had to push through the crowd and leave.

Kidzworld: That’s horrible.

  • Adam: Well, it was very uncomfortable and difficult for me, very challenging. Our lives had changed and that was a turning point. It was like that all the time. We had to be more cognizant of where we were and how we were going to spend father/son time together. There is no rule book, lesson or school about becoming a celebrity and what’s it’s gonna be like. Spock was popular right away. It was out September 8th and by the 4th episode, the fan mail was everywhere (at home). It came very fast and was a big adjustment for all of us.

Tween Adam surprises his dad Leonard on the Star Trek setTween Adam surprises his dad Leonard on the Star Trek set

Kidzworld: What T.V. shows were you watching and liking when you were a kid around the time “Star Trek” came on? If your dad weren’t in it, would it be your kind of show back then?

  • Adam: I was watching “Lost in Space” and “The Outer Limits”. Dad appeared in that a couple of times and “The Twilight Zone”. Bill Shatner (TV’s Captain Kirk) appeared in that. I loved those shows. I was a T.V. kid, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, “I Spy” and I loved the westerns. “Broken Arrow” and “Gunsmoke”. Dad played an Indian or he played a gambler. He was in “Wagon Train” and “Rawhide” and “The Big Valley”. I watched “The Wild Wild West”. He brought home a polaroid picture of himself in costume that some wardrobe person took. I loved it. I would have been watching Trek if dad wasn’t on it.

1995 Adam directed dad Leonard in an Outer Limits episode1995 Adam directed dad Leonard in an Outer Limits episode

Kidzworld: Because Spock kept his emotions in check, a lot of people don’t seem to realize that your dad could be very funny. Can you think of a specific incident?

  • Adam: Yeah. My dad and I were in Boston in 2013. He was born and raised in Boston. We got on a “Duck Tour”. It’s a tram or van that rides around Boston to all the sites then it turns into an amphibious vehicle and gets in the water on the Charles River. Dad always walked around in a baseball cap and sunglasses and was not generally recognizable. We got in the very back of this van.
  • The tour guide is up front on the speaker talking about Paul Revere and Sam Adams, John Adams and John Hancock and John Kennedy and we drove to the West End and he said “Of course the West End’s most famous resident is Mr. Spock of “Star Trek”. Are there any Leonard Nimoy fans on the bus?” There was cheering and dad is just nodding. He was very cool. At the end everybody piled off the bus and dad got off and took off his hat and glasses and introduced himself and the tour guide went white. I loved experiences like that with dad.

Adam and dad share a laughAdam and dad share a laugh

Kidzworld: Why do you think fans were and are so taken with the Spock character?

  • Adam: There are a number of reasons. The most dominant is the fact that Spock is this essential outsider, separate and apart from the rest of the crew. Dad himself reminded me not long before he passed away that Spock is unique in that he’s the only alien on the core crew on the bridge of the Enterprise. There are other people who come from minorities or different nationalities but we’d never seen this where an alien is involved with a human crew and trying to integrate, give the best of himself, trying to work towards the good of the many on the crew.
  • A lot of us feel like we’re outsiders. We feel alone, marginalized. (But Spock) has special skills, he is unique, he is revered and respected by his peers and vital to the functioning of that crew. That also resonates with people; that they are worthy and still have something they can offer to society as a whole.

Teen Adam and dad Leonard on a happy dayTeen Adam and dad Leonard on a happy day

Kidzworld: Didn’t your dad feel like an outsider in his early life?

  • Adam: That is what my dad felt as an immigrant being raised in the West End of Boston. He was an outsider, the son of Russian immigrant parents in a very defined neighborhood of Irish, Italian and Russian Jewish immigrants. His whole objective was to find a way to integrate himself with the whole of society to give the best that he had to give which is exactly why he left when he was 18 years old and got on a train for three days to come to Hollywood, because he wanted to be a part of American culture. I think that is the reason that he and Spock are relevant today, 50 years later.

Tween Adam in Spock earsTween Adam in Spock ears

Kidzworld: What did you discover about yourself through making this film?

  • Adam: Well, just the incredible amount of gratitude I have. I was a big fan of my dad during a lot of his professional career and I was very supportive and very proud of him but we had a lot of conflict through the years and it would flare up periodically. I was so grateful that we were able to reconnect the last four or five years of his life to the point where he was my go to guy when I was suffering through a personal tragedy (the death of his wife). It was a very happy ending with him. It’s inspirational to me and gives hope to a lot of other people who have dysfunction in their families and are trying to turn it around.

Adam (left) on TV's The Big Bang TheoryAdam (left) on TV's The Big Bang TheoryCourtesy of CBS

Kidzworld: What do you most hope both fans and those who didn’t know much about Leonard take away from seeing this film?

  • Adam: First and foremost that they get an understanding of Spock. They know who he is and what he looks like but they don’t know what he stands for and why fans connect and relate to him. And, even the fans, I wanted to give them a good dose of Spock in terms of his history, how he was created, how he evolved and the best of Spock in the (film) clips.
  • Also, I wanted fans to get a sense of who Leonard Nimoy was as the artist, the Renaissance man and finally, I want people to come away with some sense of my dad and as a family man and a father and what we had to deal with as a celebrity family and what I went through personally with my dad, the ups and downs and that we were finally reconciled. I hope it is an inspiration for people who have these issues with their own families.

Young Adam helps clip dad's hairYoung Adam helps clip dad's hair

Kidzworld: You asked everyone you interviewed in the film so what word, for you, sums up your dad?

  • Adam: Passion. That was what my dad was all about. He was passionate about his work. It’s what inspired him to leave the West End of Boston on his own and come to Hollywood where he had no connections, no safety net, nothing. This was also in his 2012 commencement speech at Boston University to the college of fine arts. You’ve got to be passionate about what you do. Give the best that you can, stay focused on the work and not worry about anything else. You’ve got to find out what your calling is and give it your best. That what he was all about and that’s how I’m trying to live my life and that’s a big part of his legacy.

Kidzworld: That’s great advice for all of us.

For the Love of Spock PosterFor the Love of Spock Poster

You can see For the Love of Spock in selected theaters and on demand starting September 9th.


Have Your Say

Are you and your family “Star Trek” fans? Do you remember the old TV show or are you more into the newer feature films? Are you surprised that famous people also can have big family problems? Start commenting below.