Leonard Nimoy and me

I just learned that Leonard Nimoy has died. I only met him for a day but I remember it, even though it was almost thirty years ago. Let me tell you about it.

I was doing some movie extra work at the time Now a movie extra is a human being who is part of a movie or television show but has no lines. They are a human set prop and so insignificant they don’t even get named in the credits. Think about that for a second.

The placement and control of movie extras is the domain of the second or third assistant director. They tell you where to stand, how to look. They might send you to costume to become a person at the party, an office worker, or a camel driver, depending on the needs of the day. When they don’t want you on set they put you in the bullpen so you don’t wander off.

On the set of Three Men and a Baby, everybody knew the names of the stars. Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg had created quite a buzz in Toronto, and every starlet in the city wanted on that set. Coline Serreau, who wrote and directed the original French version, was set to direct this remake but dropped out after casting the three male leads.

Leonard Nimoy took over. Now he’d done a few TV shows and a couple of Star Trek Movies, but a screwball comedy with a baby, a girl, and three guys?

I remember we filmed at least three different scenes that day, which is productive for a movie. The first one included a live camel. After that, we broke for lunch. The production company fed us onsite; talent, grips, and the rest of the crew. We extras were lined up waiting to be fed, last. Leonard walked to the end of the line and stood behind the extras. Imagine the President of the U.S. standing in line with the waiters to get into a white house dinner.

The manager of the craft services found Nimoy, explained they had a special table for him, and started to lead him past us. Leonard went, but he apologized to us as he passed and shook hands with us. That’s how I shook Leonard Nimoy’s hand.

After lunch we were filming a scene that later ended on the cutting room floor. The ‘Third’ showed me my where to stand, handed me some papers and told me to point things out from them to another extra. Steve Gutenberg came on set and shook all the women’s hands. Ted Danson arrived a bit later and, as I remember it, he kept to himself.

Thirty extras, two principles, grips moved lights as the camera man kept making adjustments. The sound editor complained and adjusted the microphones. An electrician lay extension cords. Absolute chaos. In the midst of all of this Leonard Nimoy sat on a canvas seated chair, his legs crossed and his hands in front of him making a steeple. His eyes were closed, as if meditating. Every so often, he would ask, “Are you ready?” and then return to his meditation.

When the chaos cleared, he gave his instructions to Gutenberg and Danson in a voice so low I couldn’t hear him and I wasn’t that far away. He resumed his seat and called out “Action” in a voice barely louder than conversational, as calm as Spock.

I’ve been on other sets where the director roared his instructions. I’ve heard one curse out a sound technician in language that would make a sailor blush. I’ve seen them react with anger or annoyance when a shot was ruined by some gaff. Not Leonard Nimoy.

Not having read his biography, I didn’t know at that time how Spock had affected Nimoy. I only knew I saw a director who had that calmness in the midst of chaos. I saw him work with Danson, and they shot a three second snippet about fifty different ways in a couple of minutes. I saw a gentleman in the finest sense of the word, who taught me more about managing a team in that afternoon that all the books on motivating people I had read.

Leonard, the world is a poorer place without you.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net