William Shatner might’ve been the top-billed star of “Star Trek” since the television series premiered in 1966, but Nimoy’s half-human, half-Vulcan Spock was by far the fan favorite. The character’s logical, stoic demeanor was the perfect complement to Captain James T. Kirk’s brash, sometimes hot-headed leadership. Nimoy loved the character and wanted to be a part of “Star Trek” going forward; he just didn’t want to foist substandard installments on the franchise’s fiercely loyal fanbase.
As Nimoy remarked in Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman’s “The Fifty Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years,” “[At the time] I really was adamant that I would not work on ‘Star Trek II’ because I had been so frustrated with the other and I was feeling very negative about the whole thing.”
This was disastrous news for producer Harve Bennett and screenwriter Jack B. Sowards. A “Star Trek” movie completely devoid of Spock would definitely upset the fans. So Sowards told Bennett to phone Nimoy and throw an improvised hail mary that would hopefully change the actor’s mind. They were desperate and willing to make huge concessions to secure Nimoy’s involvement. As Soward recalled in Gross and Altman’s book:
“[Bennett] picked up the phone, dialed the number, and said, ‘What do I say?’ I said, ‘You say, ‘Leonard, how would you like to play your death scene?'” And Leonard’s comeback was, ‘Where does it come in the picture?’ Harve looked at me and said, ‘Where does it come in the picture?’ And I said, ‘Right up front. Right in the very beginning.’ A minute or two later Harve hung up and said, ‘Leonard will do it.'”