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Leonard Nimoy: More than Spock

by Rob Cowan

Just about 30 years ago, I had just finished a film for Disney — my first feature film as a First Assistant Director called Stakeout. As with most films, it was an exhilarating but exhausting project. I was looking forward to a break when just a few days after we wrapped, I got a call about another Disney project that was already shooting and looking to make a change in my position. Could I get on a plane immediately? The project was based on a popular French film I had not seen, but was starring Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg – all actors I was a huge fan of.

Would I be interested? Of course… who wouldn’t? Selleck was a bit of a TV God. Danson’s Cheers was fresh and funny and just hitting the number one spot on the charts. And Guttenberg was that guy that you always loved to see in films. But wait – who was the director? Leonard Nimoy! Mr. Spock! This was a whole different ballgame – the actors were familiar and revered. Leonard was an icon – a figure in pop culture almost unparalleled.

Bizarrely Leonard accepted me as a replacement — sight unseen. I arrived in Toronto on a late Thursday night – and reached the studio just as they were wrapping for the day. Mr. Nimoy greeted me cordially and asked if I wanted to travel to dailies back in town with him. I was a bit stunned at the whole situation. Two days before, I was quietly anticipating a rest period in my Vancouver apartment and now was riding to dailies with a cultural hero of mine.

The next morning, and everyone thereafter, I rode to the set with Leonard and our producer Robert “Bob” Cort. This was my second feature film, and coming from a small town in Western Canada, I found myself quietly fascinated with the discussions and intellect of Leonard as we rode our 45 minutes to the studio. He was well read, erudite – informed me on the ongoing strife in the Middle East and Jerusalem — and was clearly fascinated by the world of art.

He was non-plussed by his fame. Every morning we would stop at a small donut shop for breakfast. I recall him coming in with me one day and he ordered – he got his donut quietly and left. I was stuck for a good 15 minutes waiting for my order because of the furor he had caused. Finally returning to the car, he friendly but curtly asked what the hell I was doing that took so long. I had to explain that next time I order first because of the wake he left behind.

As a director, he was hard working, specific, and had a strong and fresh vision. Every Sunday, we would spend an hour or so in his room as he relayed to me exactly — and I mean exactly — what he wanted to do for the coming week. We never strayed from it – never. Not with Tom, Ted, Steve, or even a cameo appearance from the great Celeste Holm.

Leonard was smart, generous and a leader. He inspired me as a young Assistant Director – not just to be a better filmmaker, but to be open to the world and all its layers.

A year or so later – after we had finished filming – I was wrapping another film in Toronto and he was starting a new one. He came by the set I was on to say hi. He put his arm through mine and pulled me in close as we walked for a block and chatted. He was warmer and more at ease than the days of shooting Three Men and a Baby. Not that he was cold, but we were making a movie then – now it seemed he was just being a friend.

Many years later, I was at The Grill in Los Angeles having lunch and he came over to say hello. He didn’t have to do that. That was Leonard. Bright, talented, unbiased and a true human spirit – more than just Spock. Much more.

Rob Cowan

About Rob Cowan

Rob Cowan is a veteran film producer, having worked on over 30 productions, including Sandra Bullock’s "The Net" to the Golden Globe nominated films, "Life As A House" and "De-Lovely." The past few years he's produced the James Wan horror hit "The Conjuring," the Melissa McCarthy comedy "Tammy" and the upcoming action film "San Andreas." A native of British Columbia, he now lives with his wife and daughter in Los Angeles. Follow Rob on Twitter @filmpov

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