GUY RAZ, host:
Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
"Star Trek's" final episode aired on TV 40 years ago this summer and in the decades since, Leonard Nimoy's Spock became a cultural icon.
(Soundbite of television program, "Star Trek")
Mr. LEONARD NIMOY (Actor): (As Spock) The needs of the many outweigh ...
Mr. WILLIAM SHATNER (Actor) (As Captain Kirk)...the needs of the few.
RAZ: But Leonard Nimoy isn't just a one-hit wonder. He's a modern Renaissance man. He's written plays and books, published photos, and even recorded a few albums.
(Soundbite of song, "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins)
Mr. NIMOY: (Singing) In the middle of the earth in the land of the Shire lives a brave little hobbit whom we all admire.
RAZ: That's Nimoy singing "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" from his late-'60s album, "Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy.
Now, a few years ago, he said he was finished with acting. But this year, he returned as Spock in the new "Star Trek" movie. Now, he is back on TV as a recurring character on the show "Fringe." So how did it happen?
Mr. NIMOY: I'm in a state of shock myself. I don't know how it happened. I'm asking myself: How do these strange things happen to a life when you've made your plans and things change? Life is what happens when you've made other plans.
(Soundbite of laughter)
I can't explain it. Look, of course, I can explain it. I had a phone call a couple of years ago from a gentleman named J.J. Abrams. He told me that he was undertaking the making of a new "Star Trek" movie, and would I meet with him and his writers and co-producers, and I said I would.
I felt that they were re-validating the original characters of "Star Trek" that I enjoyed so much and particularly the character of Spock, who had been marginalized for some years. And then having done the film, Mr. Abrams called me and said that he was producing a series called "Fringe."
There was a fascinating character with sort of a blank slate. The character had been referred to a number of times in previous episodes but never seen. And would I consider playing this character, a combination of the richest man in the world and a Timothy Leary-type scientist. We're not quite sure what his intentions are; he's in an alternate reality. And I think time will tell whether he is really giving out good advice or being misleading.
RAZ: How do you feel about the way things have changed on television over the past decades?
Mr. NIMOY: I'll be frank with you. I don't watch an awful lot of the television drama. I think there's some very, very interesting and good work being done. I also think there's other.
I have seen a couple of shows that I enjoy watching periodically. The "Entourage" show, I think, is a lot of fun. I think "Hung" is doing some very interesting work about human nature. But I don't watch any show specifically very religiously. I sort of drop in every now and then.
RAZ: And of course, you have been on our air in the past years, talking about your photography. And you've published collections of your work. "The Full Body Project" was one of them. You're now working on a third project called "Secret Selves."
Mr. NIMOY: Right.
RAZ: Can you tell us about that?
Mr. NIMOY: Well, "Secret Selves" is an idea that came to me as a result of finding a story on the Internet about - that comes from ancient Greece. Aristophanes, a Greek philosopher and playwright, posited an idea for the explanation for human angst.
What he said was that humans at one time were double people. We had two heads, four arms and four legs, and they became powerful and arrogant. The gods became nervous and angry, sent Zeus to solve the problem, which he did by separating everybody with a giant sword and sending them on their separate paths.
And ever since then, said Aristophanes, humans have been searching for the other part of themselves to make themselves feel whole again, to reintegrate.
And I found that intriguing. And a gallery in Massachusetts, in Northampton, helped me to round up a number of people to come, to have me do their portrait as their secret selves.
RAZ: Now that the new "Star Trek" movie has been made and you sort of passed the torch, so to speak, to a different actor, are you finished with "Star Trek"?
Mr. NIMOY: I can't answer that question. Zachary Quinto, who inherited the role, is a very good and very intelligent actor. I feel the character is in excellent hands between he and the writers and directors. I'm really not clear about any future for myself and "Star Trek."
I know why they wanted me in this last film, which was to create a bridge between the original cast and the new, but that's been done. So I would suspect that there's no need for my presence again. Spock is well-established in the persona of Zachary Quinto.
If they call me, I'll read a script, but I would be surprised if they call me for another performance.
RAZ: Leonard Nimoy, "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" has become an Internet sensation watched by generations that were not even born when "Star Trek" was on.
Mr. NIMOY: We were 30 years ahead of our time with that recording.
(Soundbite of song, "The Ballad Bilbo Baggins")
Mr. NIMOY: (Singing) Everybody knows him. Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins, he's only 3 feet tall. Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins, the bravest little hobbit of them all.
RAZ: Any chance you'll make another record?
Mr. NIMOY: I don't think so. Nobody's urging me to come into a studio to record music. I love - I had a great time. I recorded several albums. And a producer came to me with this idea, and I thought it was a charming idea, and we did it. And frankly, you know, it's getting more attention now than it did originally.
RAZ: That's actor Leonard Nimoy. He joined me from his home in New York.
Leonard Nimoy, thanks for joining us.
Mr. NIMOY: My great pleasure. Thanks for having me.
(Soundbite of song, "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins")
Mr. NIMOY: (Singing) …stolen by a dragon in the days of old. Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins…
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.