How Nearly Refusing 'Star Trek III' Reinvigorated Leonard Nimoy's Career

'For the Love of Spock,' a documentary about the actor's life, hits theaters and VOD Friday.
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William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy on the set of 'Star Trek III: The Search for Spock'

In 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner delivered the finest scene in Trek history: the death of Spock.

The twist devastated audiences, whose love for Spock was stronger than ever. For Paramount, getting Nimoy to return for a third installment was imperative. But, the actor was hesitant to wear the pointy ears again unless he could stretch himself as an artist. He wanted to direct.

"There was a lot of resistance from Paramount," his son and director of the documentary For the Love of Spock Adam Nimoy tells Heat Vision. "They were not that keen on the idea. They were worried. He was holding out because he wanted to challenge himself."

Paramount finally relented because of the leverage Nimoy had (there would be no Spock unless Nimoy was behind the camera). Nimoy went on to direct both Star Trek III: In Search of Spock (1984) and its sequel Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), launching a new era of his career and becoming the most successful Trek star-turned-director ever, earning respect as a business mind from giants like then-Paramount head Michael Eisner and then-head of production Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Now For the Love of Spock, out Friday, sheds light on how the enigmatic actor was able to do the near impossible in Hollywood: balance art and commerce. He was serious about his craft but also savvy about money — a self-taught businessman whose respect for work and the value of a dollar was formed growing up as the son of Depression-era Russian immigrants.

"This was a guy who came from Boston with nothing at 18 years old. He was a workaholic," says Adam Nimoy, who in the documentary chronicles the countless personal appearances (from state fairs to store openings) his father would make as Spock during the run of the original series — all a way of "making this hay while the sun was shining."

By the time In Search of Spock came around, Nimoy had practiced a lifetime of penny pinching, allowing him to do something practically unheard of: delivering a blockbuster under budget.

"He was very, very conscious about where the dollars were going," says Adam Nimoy. "I think that really impressed Eisner and Katzenberg where they said, 'OK, we are ready to go. We're doing another one.'"

The next one, Star Trek IV, would go on to be the top-grossing of the original six Trek films at the domestic box office and is still a fan favorite, with its story of the Enterprise crew traveling back to the 1980s a breath of fresh air for the franchise.

"They made a conscious effort to loosen up with it and have fun with it and work with the characters. Less action and more of the thematic idea of what Star Trek is, which is a positive view of the future. A Prime Directive view of the future, even though they took a couple of whales with them," says Adam Nimoy. 

The elder Nimoy would follow up Trek IV with something different, the comedy Three Men and a Baby (1987), which was a smash at the box office, earning more than $167 million against an $11 million budget. But that success all goes back to his early years, when even though he was on a network television show, he still kept track of every dollar.

"Sometimes it drove my mother insane, and his business manager would say, 'Dude, lighten up. You have the money. You can spend a little money. Let Sandy go and buy some clothes for God's sake,' " says his son.

For the Love of Spock is in theaters and available on VOD now. 

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