Spock on Star Trek: The Original Series

Little-known sci-fi fact: Spock was promised surgery if Leonard Nimoy hated Vulcan ears

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Feb 27, 2018, 9:50 PM EST

You probably can’t imagine Mr. Spock without his iconic Vulcan ears, but initial problems fitting Leonard Nimoy with them meant they almost had to go under the knife for SFX plastic surgery.

It has been three years to the day since the actor so many Trekkies idolized left the planet at age 83 on Feb. 27, 2015, and to honor the anniversary, Heat Vision has beamed up a 1976 interview with Nimoy that was almost lost in space.

According to the interview above, Nimoy never questioned playing the character of Spock, even though one of the first things Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry mentioned about the character was the ears that made it obvious he had more than just human DNA. What he was (logically) skeptical about were the early pointy-ear prototypes that must have made Spock look more Ferengi than Vulcan.

“We were with the wrong makeup people, and they were making ears for me, experimentally at first, that really looked grotesque and funny and just really bad,” Nimoy recalled in the interview. “As the time for shooting got closer, I became more and more concerned about the look, and I said to Gene, ‘This isn’t working—we’ve really got to reconsider whether or not we can have pointed ears on this character.’”

Turned out the studio had already committed to those makeup people, who were clearly not from Vulcan, and it would cost too much more to send them off on their starship. Everything else, from those precisely arched eyebrows to the bowl cut that looks pretty alien today, had already been worked out. It was only when makeup artist Fred Phillips landed on set that the issue became glaringly obvious enough for him to take over and search the universe for a pair of ears worthy of the Enterprise’s first officer.

Just to make sure Nimoy wouldn’t jump ship, Roddenberry swore that if the ears were just too much faux cartilage after the first 13 weeks of filming, or if they turned Spock into the laughingstock of the Federation and Hollywood, the character would get an ear job.

Turning a human into a Vulcan for three years of Star Trek: TOS involved some 150 pairs of prosthetic ears, which were produced in a mold made from Nimoy’s real ears and then designed to fit as if they were extensions of his own body. Each pair lasted through three to four days of shooting before the delicate edge started to wear down from constant putting on and taking off and it became more difficult for makeup artists to disguise the line between his own ear and the prosthetic.

“They were put on so carefully and so well that with a camera up close, if it’s properly done, you can’t tell where the ear ends and where my own ear begins,” said Nimoy, who was nervous about the reception of Spock on prime-time TV.

But, in the end, both he and the character would live long and prosper.

(via Heat Vision)