Wednesday, March 4, 2015

R.I.P. Mr Spock (1931-2015)

Leonard Simon Nimoy (left) who was the versatile actor, director and photographer – whose career was defined by his role as Star Trek’s Mr Spock – died Friday at age 83.
 
Few actors outside soap opera become defined by a single role to the exclusion of all else in their career. But that was the case for Nimoy – as the first officer of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek, he became synonymous with his character, a half-human, half-Vulcan.

Nimoy himself considered his role challenging and he said: "As an actor, my training had been in how to use my emotions, and here was a character who had them all locked up."

 












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Star Trek began life on television, running 79 episodes across three series between 1966 and 1969.

In front of the camera, Nimoy captured with delicious wit the tensions in the character. Spock’s logical, detached perspective could be infuriating to his more demonstrative colleagues; it also caused him to be amused or bewildered by the workings of humans. This could play out humorously or poignantly. He was uniquely placed, for example, to analyse coolly our emotional shortcomings: “It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want,” he mused in the first series. His dry rapport with the more passionate, full-blooded Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) was a pleasure that endured long after the Star Trek brand itself showed signs of having been around the galaxy a few too many times.
 
Once seen, Spock (left) was never forgotten. The hair, boot-polish black, was snipped short with a severe, straight fringe; it looked more like headgear than a haircut, more painted on than grown. An inch of forehead separated that fringe from a pair of sabre-like eyebrows that arched extravagantly upwards. These came in handy for conveying what the reserved Spock could not always express verbally. “The first thing I learned was that a raised eyebrow can be very effective,” said Nimoy.
 
Spock’s defining physical feature, though, was his pointed ears. The actor’s first reaction upon seeing them was: “If this doesn’t work, it could be a bad joke.” Sharply tapered but in no way pixie-ish, the ears somehow never undermined his gravitas. Or rather, Nimoy’s sober disposition precluded laughter. Besides, in a show suffused with messages of inclusivity and tolerance, it would never do for audiences to laugh at someone just because he came from Vulcan.
 
Nimoy contributed key details to the character, including the traditional Vulcan greeting: a hand held up and the four fingers parted to create a V. This was inspired by prayer gestures witnessed by the young Nimoy at a synagogue.
 
When Star Trek was cancelled, he moved on to new challenges. There were other movies he acted in and he even established himself as a film director. He wrote poetry and indulged in photography.
 
In 1979, he returned to play Spock in the rather leaden Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He would do so in a further seven Star Trek films. Among them were Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). He was the only original cast member to appear in JJ Abrams’s instalments of the ‘rebooted’ franchise, Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). His appearance in the first of those Abrams films, as the older Spock coming face to face with his younger self (Zachary Quinto), was deeply affecting and played with characteristic restraint. He also revived Spock in two 1991 episodes (“Unification I” and “Unification II”) of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in animated and computer-game incarnations of Star Trek.
 
Leonard Nimoy is Mr. Spock and he will always be!

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