Not only are Fringe fans thrilled that the show recently received a 13-episode, fifth and final season to wrap things up, but they are equally as excited for the return of actor Leonard Nimoy, as the ever mysterious William Bell, on the Season 4 finale. In “Brave New World Pt. 2,” the Fringe team is pushed to their breaking point as they desperately attempt to prevent a catastrophic event that threatens the lives of everyone.
During this recent interview to promote his return to the sci-fi drama, Leonard Nimoy talked about what enticed him to come back, his desire to explore characters with dimension, how long he’s been keeping his appearance a secret, and that he’d be open to returning again in Season 5. He also talked about his love of comedy, his willingness to take more acting roles if it’s something he’s intrigued by, and that he will not be appearing in the Star Trek sequel. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
LEONARD NIMOY: 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, and 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. Of course, 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. 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.
Lately, you’ve been playing a lot of these bad guy roles, with William Bell and in Transformers 3. Do you prefer playing the bad guy rather than the good guy?
NIMOY: 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, 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.
NIMOY: Well, I’m not sure exactly the amount of time. I would say it was somewhere around two or three months from the time that I knew I was going to do it until now. I’m a sucker for a good role and J.J. Abrams, the executive producer of the show, is a friend of mine. When he calls, I take his call. The writers and producers, Joel Wyman and Jeff Pinkner, and the cast, are 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.
What did you think of the impression of you that Anna Torv did on the show?
NIMOY: I saw that. I thought she was brilliant. I was very flattered. I thought she was wonderful.
Obviously, Fringe recently got the great news that they just got renewed for one final season. I know you probably can’t say exactly what’s going to happen with William Bell in the finale, but if there was an opportunity to see him again, somewhere in those final 13 episodes, is that something you’re open to?
NIMOY: 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 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.
NIMOY: 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. 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 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.
Fringe is a very imaginative show that’s very well received with critics and its loyal fan base, but kind of like with Star Trek, it has struggled to get that large television audience. Why do you suppose that is?
NIMOY: 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 pm, 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 and not a good night for a show like this, it did very, very poorly. Fringe has the same kind of audience, which is a very intense and committed, but small audience. 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, but 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.
NIMOY: I have a general picture. I haven’t watched all the episodes, but I have a general picture of what has been happening and where my character fits, in the overall arc of the story. I think they’ve done a really wonderful job of finding ways to reinvent the story and the characters. When I was asked about coming on this season, I said that I thought the mystery of William Bell had gone away by the end of the last season because it was pretty clear that he was a pretty decent guy. I said, “Where are we going to go now?” It was explained to me that we’re opening up a whole world and a whole new can of peas, so to speak, and William Bell is being recreated as something else. That intrigued me, and I was excited to go back to work.
In the last episode, we saw that William Bell was willing to sacrifice David Robert Jones (Jared Harris) to get where he needs to go. Is there any length that he won’t be willing to go to, in the finale?
NIMOY: You’re going to see some interesting activities, on the part of William Bell. 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.
In the last decade or so, your career has really expanded with your photography and your commitment to humanism. How does it feel to be portraying a character who turns people into monsters?
NIMOY: I’m going to have to talk to him about that. That’s not a nice thing, is it? 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!”
Considering your supposed retirement, what’s leading you to accept small roles in things like Lazy Song and Big Bang Theory?
NIMOY: 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 episodes of all time, I understand. They are a wonderfully talented bunch of people and it is a smart show that is 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 voicing the Spock character with Sheldon being given a Star Trek transporter, I thought the whole idea was wonderful. It was a way for me to deliver an appearance on the show and to work with that very, very talented bunch of people.
There have been reports that you’re actually going to be appearing in the next Star Trek movie, reprising Spock. Is that accurate?
NIMOY: Well, my feeling is that they don’t need me. They’ve got a wonderful cast. Zachary Quinto has taken on the character of Spock, and I think he is wonderfully suited. He is a talented guy. He is a very intelligent actor, and 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 has come 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.
Which version of William Bell is the most interesting for you to play?
NIMOY: I think what you’re going to see tomorrow night is probably the most interesting of it all because the character has become very exotic. That’s the best word that I can come up with, at the moment. He’s got himself out on a limb, and he’s doing some very strange and fantastic things with his powers. I think what you’ll see in the finale is probably the culmination of a lot of wonderful eyes coming together. 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 tomorrow night.
NIMOY: Well, the William Bell character started as a very intelligent and rational character. I think he’s still very, very intelligent, but I’m not quite so sure that he’s rational anymore. I think you’ll see some behaviors in the finale that have taken him quite a distance from where he started. The journey that I’ve been on has been a blessed journey. When I was 17, I set out with the hopes of making a living as an actor, and I feel that I have been blessed with the opportunities that I’ve been given. I’ve acted all over the United States. I’ve acted in countries, all around the world. I’ve acted on stage, as much as I’ve wanted to. I’ve been on Broadway a couple times. I’ve toured several times, in various productions around the United States, and met all kinds of wonderful people in wonderful cities. I’ve worked in television, film, radio and commercials. I’ve had a taste of it all. I’m a very, very thankful person.
You have an incredible voice and have done some voice acting roles in the last few years, for movies, television and even video games. How do you feel voice acting has helped you to further explore theatricality and character?
NIMOY: The voice thing is a blessing that I was given. I did have speech problems when I first stated out, as an actor. I grew up in Boston and, when I began to think about acting, it was pointed out to me that I sounded very, very much like a very clearly defined Boston person, and that it might limit me, as an actor, so I spent some time working on my speech. The voice was always there, but my speech needed some work, in order to make it more acceptable, as a broad American sound. The voice work has been a blessing. I’ve had opportunities to do voice work of all kinds. I did the In Search Of series for seven years, which was almost entirely voice work. It was something that was given to me and I was able to make good use of it. I’m grateful for it.
NIMOY: 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. I’ve been on his case to let me into the recording studio 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. I do still do some of my photography work. I have a photography website. It’s www.LeonardNimoyPhotography.com, if you want to take a look at the 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 that I’m very proud of. But, as far as the music is concerned, I don’t have any specific plans yet.
William Bell has shown up in a new and exciting way, each season. If you’re able to do Season 5, what would you like to see?
NIMOY: Well, the William Bell journey has been really interesting to me, but I don’t take any credit for it. I’m only the performer. I’m given the material on the printed page. They hand it to me, in a script form. There are conversations first, about which way William Bell is going now, and then it comes to me on the pages. I have been very grateful for having been given some wonderful, rich opportunities, as an actor, in the William Bell character. We started out very ambiguous, and didn’t quite know whether to trust him or not, and gradually it was revealed that he could be a helpful and reasonable guy. In this particular season, I think you’ll see quite a dramatic shift in the character. There is another dimension of him. We have not yet spoken at all about another season. I know that the show has been picked up for 13 more episodes but there has been no conversation yet about whether they want William Bell and, if so, what will William Bell be all about next season. But, what’s in the finale is quite extraordinary.
NIMOY: 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, 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.
If the right role in the right show or film 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?
NIMOY: 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. It’s nice to get off the couch and throw the clothes on and add a little make-up and go back to work, every once in a while. I still enjoy it. In this case, all of the elements came together at the right time, in the right way, and I was happy to do it.