After last week’s reveal that Leonard Nimoy had returned to reprise his electrifying role as William Bell in FRINGE for its fourth season finale, the sci-fi legend took a few minutes to chat with press in a recent conference call about what inspired him to return to the celluloid screen.
What was it about the role of William Bell that enticed you to return from retirement to reprise the character?
LEONARD: 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, 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.
How long have you known you were going to come back and what was it like keeping that secret?
LEONARD: I’m not sure exactly the amount of time. I would say 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. He calls. I take his call. The writers and producers, Joel Wyman, Jeff Pinkner, and the cast, they’re 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.
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?
LEONARD: 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 for that 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.
Is it important for you to keep up with what was going on with the FRINGE world? Or have you kind of jumped in here and there to catch up with what’s going on?
LEONARD: 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 story, in the overall arc of the story. I think they’ve done a really wonderful job of finding ways to reinvent the story and reinvent the characters. When I was asked about coming on this season, I said I think the mystery of William Bell has kind of 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.
Are there any lengths that William Bell won’t be willing to go in this week’s episode?
LEONARD: You’re going to see some interesting activities on the part of William Bell tonight. 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. Take that as a hint.
You’ve been playing a lot of these bad guy roles lately? Do you prefer playing the bad guy rather than the good guy?
LEONARD: 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 and 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.
How does it feel to be portraying a character who turns people into monsters?
LEONARD: 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.”
If the right show and the right film or the right role 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?
LEONARD: 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. As I said before, J.J. Abrams is a friend. Jeff Pinkner, Joel Wyman, they’re all friends, the producers of the show. I think the writing is wonderfully imaginative. It’s a fascinating character and a great company. It’s nice to get off the couch and throw the clothes on and a little makeup and go back to work every once in a while. I still enjoy it. In this case, as I said before, it’s all of the elements that come together at the right time in the right way and I was happy to do it.
You’ve played different versions of William Bell now. Which is kind of the most interesting for you to play and why?
LEONARD: I think what you’re going to see tonight night is probably the most interesting of it all because the character has become very exotic; very exotic is the best word I can come up with at the moment. He’s got himself out on a limb and doing some very strange and fantastic things with his powers. I think what you’ll see tonight night 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 tonight night.
What kind of a journey would you say William Bell is on, the William Bell that we’ll see on Friday?
LEONARD: Well, the William Bell character started out to be a very intelligent and rational character. I think he’s still very, very intelligent but I’m not quite so sure he’s rational anymore. I think you’ll see some behaviors tonight night that have taken him quite a distance from where he started.
What did you think of Anna Torv’s impression of you on the show?
LEONARD: I saw that. I thought she was brilliant. I was very flattered. I thought she was wonderful.
Are we going to get to see you do an impression of Anna Torv?
LEONARD: I don’t think I could do justice to her the way she did for me. I don’t think I’m capable of that. She was quite wonderful and I told her so.
What is it like working with John Noble?
LEONARD: 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 so that 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 kind of 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 has been well received by critics and it’s got a great 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?
LEONARD: 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 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, not a good night for a show like this, it did very, very poorly. FRINGE has the same kind of audience, a very intense audience, a small audience, but very intense and very committed. 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 and 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.
William Bell, has shown up in a new and exciting way each season. Can you briefly tell us a little bit about how those worked for you and if you’re able to do Season 5, what new media would you like to be in?
LEONARD: Well, the William Bell journey has been really interesting to me and I don’t take any credit for it. I’m only the performer. I’ve given the material on the printed page. They hand it to me in a script form. 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, as I said before, very ambiguous, didn’t quite know whether to trust him or not, and gradually it was revealed that he could be a helpful and reasonable kind of guy. Now in this particular season, this particular work that’s on tonight night, 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? What’s on tonight night I think is quite extraordinary. . . I’m excited about the show. I’m proud to be connected with FRINGE. I think it’s an intelligent and imaginative and theatrical show. I told the company when I finished shooting on this particular episode a few weeks ago I said, “You are superior company. I have never worked with a better company in my entire 60-year career.” I thanked them all for being who they are and doing what they are and told them how proud I was to be a part of it. I’m looking forward to tonight myself. I have not seen the show put together. I think it’s going to be exciting for everybody.
To see what ingenious plan William Bell has sprung on our heroes in FRINGE, and the final fate of both universes, be sure to tune in tonight for the 4th season finale at 9:00 p.m. on Fox. (Then mark your calendars, FRINGE returns for its fifth and final season later this year.)