I first met Leonard Nimoy in 2007 at the Comic-Con conference in San Diego where it was announced I would be taking over the role of Spock. I was really excited to meet him and hopeful he would support me stepping into it. I never imagined how our meetings about the character would evolve into a very profound friendship.
We were introduced on a crowded elevator. It was very hurried and hustled, as we were about to appear in front of a crowd of 6,000 people. When the elevator doors opened on the conference floor he looked at me, said “You have no idea what you’re in for”, and walked out. For more than 40 years, he had trodden the path that I was about to embark on.
In some ways he was grateful to be able to share this character with someone else, because it was something that he had experienced singularly for so many years. I never felt that he was trying to instruct me, to tell me how to do it. He was just there to answer whatever questions I had. He was very supportive of my take on Spock.
It was the initial connection, but eventually our relationship had very little to do with Spock. It was a springboard to get to know each other on a much deeper level.
The first thing that I really took note of with Leonard was his sense of humour. He used it to disarm people. Those who had certain expectations were often surprised by how funny he was. Wise man that he was, he never took anything too seriously, yet he was a very serious man.
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He was able to strike a balance in his relationships with people, especially fans, which I really admired. He inspired and influenced an entire generation because of this role that people connected to. He was able to make the fans feel seen, like they really connected with him. And yet he also cultivated a kind of distance that preserved him. I took note of that as I got deeper in the world of Trek and deeper into the exposure that this character would bring.
Leonard lived his life so beautifully and with such grace. He was a very honourable person, and his life reflected that. His family reflects that. I lost my father at a very young age, and Leonard came to occupy a space in my life that was like a father figure. I had this person that I could look to with such respect. He was refined. And he cultivated a sense of dignity and respect for other people.
I look at the life he lived and aspire to that level of fulfilment. Even the way he died – it was with such dignity and love, with family by his side. It was incredibly sad for me to lose him, but my grief is outweighed by my gratitude for having him in my life. I’m a better person for it. I have more integrity in my life, and as I get older that’s very important to me. A large part of that is because of him. That’s a gift I could never have anticipated when I was chosen for this role.
When I publicly announced I was gay, Leonard’s embrace was unconditional. I shared my relationships with him. We spoke of it often during that period in my life and afterwards. He was supportive and encouraging. He met my boyfriend, and we had dinner together.
What I admired most was that he lived his life fully, all the time. Leonard embraced connections and opportunities. Even when chronic obstructive pulmonary disease slowed him down, he never let those restrictions diminish his capacity for joy. Over the past year there was an unspoken understanding about his mortality, but it was never like a dark cloud.