Following his appearance in last year’s Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy joined the cast of Fringe as the enigmatic William Bell. Here, he talks to SciFiNow about that role, as well as his final days of acting.
What is it that brought you to Fringe? Had you watched the show? Did they approach you about doing it?
I had a wonderful time working on the new Star Trek movie with JJ Abrams, who directed it. When it was done, he asked me to look into the possibility of playing William Bell on Fringe. Frankly, I was not terribly aware of what it was all about. I began looking at some episodes. The William Bell character had been talked about rather frequently, but had never been seen. I really felt that I owed JJ a return of a favour. He did a great job on the Star Trek movie and treated me extremely well. I’m very happy that I did it. The work on Fringe has turned out to be exciting and interesting. It’s a very well-produced series, and the character was a wide-open canvas for me to work with. I’ve had a great time doing it, and the season finale is particularly special for the William Bell character.
What has surprised you the most about how William Bell has developed, as a character?
There’s always been the question of his intention and I think the writers have done a very good job with keeping the answer to that rather obscure. I’ve tried to play him ambiguously. We’ll find out whether or not he’s telling the truth and if he can be trusted in the finale. It’s going to be a very exciting episode. It’s extremely well-produced. The performances by all of the actors that I got to work with were wonderful. I had a great time doing it, and I’m looking forward to seeing it on the air.
Do you expect to return next season?
No, I don’t expect to be on next season. I have announced my retirement. I will not be doing any more television or movie acting or directing. I feel very, very fulfilled with the work that was given to me in the final episode. I admire all of the people on the show – Anna Torv, Josh Jackson, John Noble and all the rest. I had some wonderful scenes to play with John Noble, who I think is a wonderful actor. I’m happy that I did it.
In regard to your retirement, do you feel you’ve completed the characters that you wanted to play? Why is this show going to be your last?
It’s really coincidental. It wasn’t anything about the Fringe job or the character of William Bell that made me decide I didn’t want to do this any more. It’s a coincidence. I’ve been at this for 60 years. My first professional work in film was in 1950. I think 60 years is long enough. I had decided not to do any more acting and directing several years ago. I was called back to work to do the Star Trek movie, which was very attractive. When I read the script, I thought it was going to be a wonderful film, a great handling of the Spock character and the introduction of a wonderful new actor to play Spock. And then, JJ Abrams, who’s the executive producer of Fringe, asked me to do the William Bell character and I felt I owed him that. I’m very glad that I did it because it was an exciting project. I decided a long time ago that I really didn’t want to do this any more. I did this last job as a favour to JJ Abrams and I’m glad I did it. The finale is an exciting episode, and I think it’s a good note to go out on.
What was it like for you, on the last day of filming Fringe?
It was very moving. I had the same experience on the last day of filming the Star Trek movie, a year and a half ago. It was a very brief night scene. The last work that I did was a scene between me and Anna Torv. I had mixed feeling about it. I didn’t want it to end because the experience had been such a positive one, but of course, we had to get it done. And when it was done, the entire company gathered around and there was a lot of love exchanged. I said to them, “I’ve been at this for 60 years and I have never worked with a better company,” and I meant it. They do an amazing job on Fringe. It just feels really good to know that I am saying goodbye to the work on a very positive, good note. I feel very good about the work that was done and I’m looking forward to it being on the air.
With your retirement, it sounds like you won’t be in the next Star Trek film, but is there any word on whether or not William Shatner might be in it?
I have no idea, in regard to Bill Shatner. I’m quite sure, and I think I can be definitive about the fact, that I will not be in it. I think it’s time for me to get off the stage and make some room for Zachary Quinto, who is the new Spock. I think he’s a wonderful actor, who looks a lot like me. I’m very flattered that the character will be continued by an actor of that caliber. He’s very well-trained and very talented. I have no expectations, whatsoever, of even being asked to be in the next Star Trek film. I cannot speak for JJ Abrams and Bill Shatner. If they have a common interest, I hope it works out.
How did the job change for you, over the years, or was it all the same work?
The work is the work, of course. When they yell, “Action!” it’s time to deliver the goods. My position in the industry has changed drastically. When I went onto the set of Fringe, I got the sense that people were saying, “Oh, here comes the old timer.” When I first started out, I was in awe of the people who had great stories to tell about different locations they’d been to, directors they’d worked with and different actors they’d worked with. Now, I discovered that I was the guy doing that and telling stories about directors I had worked with 40 years ago. So, it’s time to get off the stage. I think I’ve had my run.
Fringe returns Tuesday 5 October, 10pm, Sky 1 HD and Sky 1.