“I would rather God to be a Woman than a Man”

Leonard Nimoy became famous playing Spock, the first officer on the Starship Enterprise, in the science fiction television series “Star Trek”. Today, Nimoy works as a photographer. His latest book is called “The Full Body Project” and features his photographs of large naked women.

By Peter Hossli (text) and Charly Kurz (fotos)

lookat_00025717_preview.jpgLeonard Nimoy: Begin!

You seem a bit tense, even though you declared you were going into retirement three years ago. Now you’re already 76 years old. Why do you still work?
Nimoy: Oh, Peter, why do we eat? To live, to be alive. I enjoy my life. I like to work. I like to be productive. I like to explore and to learn.

You write, you photograph, you act. It seems almost as if you’re running away from death.
Nimoy: I think about death. I think about how much time I have left. I put a clock in place that runs backwards. It tells me how much time I have left.

Where does the data for that clock come from?
Nimoy: I got it from life insurance companies. They charge you a premium based on how many years you have left. They use your age, your family history, and your health condition. It will cost you less to buy life insurance, than me, because I will die before you.

Why is it important for you to know how much time you have left?
Nimoy: I don’t want to waste any time. Even if I’m not doing anything, I want to enjoy that time. If I’m conscious of the time, then I don’t waste it. I’m conscious of the time I’m spending with you. I’m giving you time which is part of my life. I’m okay about it, because it is not wasted. It’s a useful conversation.

You preserve time by taking pictures. Why do you photograph?
Nimoy: Photography is a great outlet for me because I can generate great projects. If I come up with an idea, I can just go out and do it. I don’t have to ask permission from anybody. I don’t need to raise money. I don’t need to hire a writer; I don’t need actors or a script.

lookat_00025715_preview.jpgWhen you were 40 years old and on the pinnacle of your career, you decided to go back to school to study photography. Why
Nimoy: When I was a teenager, I had to make a decision whether I wanted to be an actor or a photographer. I decided to be an actor because I had acting opportunities. I left Boston and took a train to go to California to study acting. But I always loved photography. I did three seasons of “Star Trek” and went right into “Mission: Impossible” for two years. So for five years, every day, I went steady at acting, acting, acting. I made a good living, put away some money. I felt that I could always pick up an acting job here and there because I had built up a reputation. So I thought maybe I should pursue photography.

People say you hit a ceiling as an actor. Everybody just wanted to see you as Spock, the first officer on Starship Enterprise.
Nimoy: That’s wrong. I decided to change careers because I thought I had accomplished enough as an actor. I didn’t need to do that anymore. But I needed to be a photographer. That was my greatest desire now. I worked with commercial photographers and realized that I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do personal work, fine art photography.

You latest book is called “The Full Body Project”. You photograph very large naked women. Why do they fascinate you?
Nimoy: They are very unusual. You don’t see pictures like these very much. You don’t see them in the fashion magazines; you don’t see them in the advertising business. I’m interested in the unusual. There is a very small percentage of woman who are born with the body of a supermodel, or will ever have a body like that, no matter how hard they try, no matter how hard they diet, no matter how many pills they take, no matter how much surgery they do. They will not look like them. These women are not trying to look like that. They’re comfortable in their own skin. That’s what makes these images important to me.

It looks like you have a fetish for fat women. Do they excite you?
Nimoy: No, no. I don’t get excited about any of my models. I’m excited photographing them, but I don’t get sexually excited.

For years you’ve photographed beautiful women. Artists often have intense relationships with their models. How about you?
Nimoy: This is strictly a professional relationship. We’re working together. It’s the same when I go work with an actress or an actor. I’m not sexually attracted to the actress. We have work to do. Here, the job is to find the proper way to photograph them.

full_body_cover.jpgYou started this book by photographing one really large model. What went through your head as she undressed herself for the first time?
Nimoy: I though, wow, that’s different. Then I asked myself how I should photograph her. I was really scared.

How did you overcome your fear?
Nimoy: By doing what I know how to do, by going to work. No matter how frightened I am of a project, I work my way through it. With that, fear goes away and it becomes a process of work. Once I began working with the group, I was very comfortable.

By photographing large models you’re going into an almost forbidden place. How do you avoid being voyeuristic?
Nimoy: Voyeurism or objectifying women is what “Playboy” and “Hustler” do. Those magazines are voyeuristic. I’m not voyeuristic, I’m not objectifying women, I’m not degrading them, I’m not demeaning them, I’m not holding them up as objects for lust or sexuality. I’m doing work that has social interest.

Hollywood made you a rich man. There is hardly another industry that creates the way that women need to look. Isn’t it a bit hypocritical to go after the people that are paying for your villa here in Bel Air?
Nimoy: To a certain extent, Hollywood is to blame. But Hollywood reflects what’s happening in the culture. The culture says a certain kind of woman is beautiful, so Hollywood hires that kind of woman and puts her in movies. Hollywood doesn’t lead. Hollywood follows.

How has this project changed your ideal of the female body?
Nimoy: I’m married to a woman I love very much. We’ve been married for twenty years. And I find her very desirable. That’s my story. My book is not about sexuality. It is about humanity. This is about human beings who have been marginalized by the culture. The culture forces women to try to achieve a different kind of look. These woman are who they are, they’re human beings, they’re flesh and blood. They’re very, very real. They are beautiful women. Women in our culture are most congratulated for losing weight. That is crazy.

American doctors warn of an obesity crisis. 60 percent of the U.S. population is overweight.
Nimoy: Let’s define obesity. There is overweight and there is obesity. Science tells us that being overweight is not a bad thing. Obese can be bad, but overweight is not necessarily a bad thing. People who are considered overweight very often are healthier, and they live longer lives than some of the people who are thin.

Still, you celebrate an unhealthy lifestyle.
Nimoy: It’s the advertising people who are celebrating an unhealthy lifestyle: Go on a binge diet. Eat only celery and lettuce for three days. I’m not advocating anything unhealthy. Obesity can be unhealthy. It can lead to heart trouble, it can lead to diabetes, and it can lead to bad knees. I know that and I understand that. I’m not saying get fat. I’m just opening up the discussion.

“The New York Times” says these pictures empower women. Why does it need a man to do that?
Nimoy: A woman empowering women just doesn’t get as much attention as a man doing it. The previous book I did also empowered women, the Shekhina book. That was about the woman as God.

That book got you into trouble with orthodox Jews. They criticized you for being blasphemous.
Nimoy: Listen, if there is a God, when I die and I’m going to meet God, I would rather it be a woman than a man.

Will you meet God?
Nimoy: I have no idea.

Let’s talk about “Star Trek”.
Nimoy: Why? Is this really necessary?

Currently you’re preparing another “Star Trek” movie. You play Spock as an old man. What kind of ailments does he have?
Nimoy: [laughs, then picks up a photograph] Whenever you go to Rome next time you need to visit Villa Borghese. You’ll find Canova’s Paulina sculpture. It’s simply gorgeous. Yes, I’m in the new “Star Trek” movie. Let’s leave it at that.

You can play the part because the character Spock was resurrected after he died. Do you believe in life after death?
Nimoy: No.

Before you were Spock you acted in more than 50 films and television series. What was it about Spock that gave you a career?
Nimoy: It is a very intriguing character. My job is to make the character believable. [He picks up a sculpture and explains why he photographed it] Spock is an interesting character, unusual, very intelligence; I think people enjoy the intelligence of the character. He also has a sense of humor; he‘s extremely dependable, useful in a crisis, a problem solver, and a friend of the humans.

For many people, you’re Spock with a camera. Has the character become a burden for you?
Nimoy: No. I don’t even think about this anymore. I do what I do. People either except what I do or they don’t. Having been Spock helps me because I’m a public figure. It helps me to attract interest to what I’m doing. I can attract more interest to this work than somebody who is totally unknown.

What does it take to leave a character like Spock behind?
Nimoy: I don’t worry about it, I just do what I. I let it take me where it takes me. If it takes me away from Spock, that’s fine. If it doesn’t, fine. I can’t spend my time worrying what’s going to happen with public perception. That’s a waste of time. I don’t have any control over it. I don’t have any influence over it. If I make an image I take responsibility for it. I can’t take any responsibility for people think for me as Spock or a photographer. I’m not interested in that.

In the mid-70s you wrote a book called “I’m not Spock”. Your fans criticized you for it. Why did chose that title?
Nimoy: I am not Spock. I don’t talk like him. I don’t walk like him. I don’t live like him. I am not Spock, that’s all.

People rejected the title
Nimoy: I wrote that book because I was getting a lot of questions about Spock, about “Star Trek” and about my career. While I was writing the book I was in the airport in San Francisco. A little boy saw me. His mom said “look who is standing right here in front of you, this is your favorite person, you are watching him on TV every day”. The boy had no idea what his mother was talking about. “This is Mr. Spock, go and say hello”. And he still didn’t see it, for a good reason. I didn’t have the make up, the ears, the costume; Mr. Spock was not standing in front of him. What the mother meant to say was: this is the actor who is playing Spock. But she didn’t say that, she said, this is Spock. For this little boy I was not Spock. That’s why I called the book “I am not Spock”. Well, it was a mistake. People misread my intention. They thought I was rejecting the character. I was not. Spock. It’s a great character, positive, useful, intelligent.

“Star Trek” still has tremendous culture resonance. How has its impact changed over the years?
Nimoy: I haven’t paid much to what’s been happening to “Star Trek”. I’ve been out of it since 1989, almost 20 years. Now we’re going into a project that in its own way is going to be a very important project if it works. It will revitalize the entire “Star Trek” franchise. It will be a very big, very expensive movie, much more expansive than any of the movies I was involved with. I directed two “Star Trek” films, the last one I directed, the budget was about 27 million dollar. With this one, the budget will be about 150 million dollars.

“Star Trek” made you a rich man. Is there any money in your photography?
Nimoy: No, no, no. [pointing to the photographer] Maybe he can make a living because he picks up a camera and asks, “what do you need” and then he shoots it. I don’t do that. There is no money in what I do. My hourly pay for my projects is pennies. I love the idea that somebody wants to buy some of my pictures. I love the idea that somebody wants to buy some of my books. But I can’t make any money out of it. I spend more money on these projects than I make.

You’re part of the liberal wing of Hollywood, and you donated $2300 to Barack Obama’s presidential bid. What do you see in him?
Nimoy: He’s sincere, honest, but above all intelligent. I want to see an intelligent President. I don’t care whether it’s Hillary Clinton or him; I want somebody with some ideas who can solve some problems. We haven’t had any good ideas in our administration in years. Instead, they started this disgusting war in Iraq. It has made a mess in Iraq, in our country and in the rest of the world. The perception of the United States is a mess. Everyone is desperately waiting for next November so we can change the administration.

You celebrate women in your books. Why don’t you support Hillary Clinton?
Nimoy: She’s intelligent. She may be a little bit too political for me. But I’d be happy if she’d win. It’s fine with me. I’m looking for change. We need change.

The American press would love to see her run against Rudy Giuliani. That’ll be quite a fight.
Nimoy: The US press has become stupid, lazy, and less than useful. The press has not done a decent job of keeping the country informed, and pursuing important and interesting stories. We’re so preoccupied with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. It’s crazy the space they’re getting, the attention they’re getting. It’s total madness. And people eat it up. They want to be diverted from the reality of their lives.

Isn’t that a bit hypocrite? Hollywood – your industry – profits greatly from stories about stars.
Nimoy: I can’t speak about Hollywood anymore. I’m not a Hollywood person. I don’t make movies. I act in one. I have nothing to do with Hollywood.