Interview: ‘Star Trek: DS9’s Armin Shimerman Talks Quark, Ferengi & Buffy
The second interview we have from our weekend at ‘Destination Star Trek‘, comes from Armin Shimerman, the wonderful actor behind the mask of the ever loveable Quark.
Armin Shimerman might be best known for his role of the Ferengi bartender on Deep Space Nine, but he also is a very familiar face to Buffy fans. He played the role of Principal Snyder in the first few seasons of the show, before the “unfortunate incident” at Graduation Day. He’s also appeared in a wide range of tv series from ‘Boston Legal’ to ‘Timeless’, ‘Franklin & Bash’ and ‘Castle’. Additionally, he has lent his voice many animated series and video games including ‘Justice League Action’, ‘Lego DC Super-Villains’, the ‘Mass Effect’ series, ‘Ratchet & Clank’, ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’, and ‘BioShock’.
We had the chance to sit down with Armin and pitch him a few questions about his work on ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Buffy’, along with working under the rubber mask of Quark.
Geektown: Is there a story, or even just a moment that you wish you had gotten to play?
Armin: I would have liked to have had a romantic moment with Jadzia Dax, but that didn’t happen, so, water under the bridge.
Geektown: [Laughs] Yeah! Were there any regular or non-regular cast members you would have liked to have had more time with?
Armin: There were many characters, recurring characters, that I would have liked to have spent time with. We had an army of wonderful actors that passed through our show, and I would have liked to have worked with a lot of them more, but the people that I normally did work with, Max and Aaron, Cecily, Wally, wonderful people, I’m very fond of them, and I treasure all the time that I spent with them, but there were recurring characters, hundreds, really, that it would have been lovely to work with, just act with.
Geektown: Yeah. Do you have a particular favourite or least favourite episode that you worked on?
Armin: I have a favourite episode, it’s called Far Beyond the Stars. I think it’s wonderful TV, it’s even better science fiction, it’s even better than that social commentary. That is a phenomenal episode that I was very proud to be a part of. My least favourite is one called Profit and Lace, where they dressed me up as a woman. That I had no problem with, no problem whatsoever playing a woman, I just didn’t like the story, or at least the tack that they took on the story.
Geektown: How is it getting back together with your Ferengi family?
Armin: Well, we see each other very often. It’s like regular family. You see them for holidays and big events. Thanks to the Star Trek conventions, each of us sees each other quite a bit. So, it’s always a delight to see them, but it is like family, we catch up really quickly and we pretty much start up where we left off the last time we saw each other.
Geektown: You played the character Quark in DS9, but you also played a Ferengi in TNG originally?
I played the original Ferengi on TNG. There were five Ferengi on that first episode, I had the largest part. So, one could say I was the first Ferengi, although there were five of us. And that was, for me, my acting was miserable, it was a disaster, and my time on Deep Space Nine was a huge attempt to try to redeem the Ferengi from the horrible image that I had created back on Next Generation.
Geektown: When you came on to Deep Space Nine, there was a fleshing out of the entire race. Did you have any input in developing the that, other than what you brought to the show with Quark?
Armin: None whatsoever. Everything on Star Trek, at least on our show, was always done by the writers. We made suggestions, either directly, but those were rare, but more directly, probably, was what we did in dailies. We’d do something in a take that they might or may not have used, but the writers would see the dailies and they would go, “Oh, look at the relationship between so-and-so. Look how he’s looking at her, or how he’s looking at him.” And they would say, “We can go further with that.” So we didn’t have direct input. Maybe some of the others did, I certainly didn’t.
Geektown: So the writers would tweak the characters based on you, and what you did?
Armin: Absolutely, yes. Again, we’re going back to dailies. They would see what we did in the dailies, and although they had an image of what the character should do or shouldn’t do, they would see what the actor did, and they would shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, we didn’t get our way, but he wants to go that way with it, so let’s go that way with it. They would hold our feet to the fire on occasion, but mostly they saw what they had, and they wrote for that. I mean, let me give you an example. At the end of the audition process, it was between Max Grodenchik and myself for the character of Quark. You can imagine they would have written a different Quark if Max had played the role. They started out in the same place, but casting makes a difference, and they wrote Quark because Armin played Quark, but it would have been a different Quark, equally as valuable, if not more so, if Max had played Quark. So you write for the actor.
Geektown: One of the things that arrived with DS9 was The Rules Of Acquisition. Do you remember any of them or have a favourite?
Armin: No, Max is very good at remembering them, and I don’t. I remember the first one, and that’s about it. Once you have their money, never give it back. I’ve signed many a book of the Rules of Acquisition, but I’ve never put them to memorization.
Geektown: You’ve said that most of the scripted character development comes from writers. Was there any different backstory you had sort of in your head, rather than on screen, to fill in parts of Quark’s history?
Armin: Yes, that’s what actors do, we fill in the backstory for ourselves. So yes, every episode included that. Every episode had some sort of memory of my own that dovetailed with what they wanted me to do, and that’s where the performance comes from. The performance comes not only from my own memories, but of course, what the other actors are doing. If Max or Aaron or Jeffrey were to do something in rehearsal or in performance a certain way, that would inspire me to react to that in a certain way. I’m reacting a certain way because you’re interviewing me. If somebody else were interviewing me, I would react a different way. It’s all about reacting.
Geektown: So there’s obviously a bunch of new Star Trek coming to TV. There’s Discovery on air. Have you seen Discovery?
Armin: Not a one.
Geektown: Okay. They’ve got the Picard series coming, and it looks like they might be going down the route of taking sort of some other individual characters and making series. Would you like to see an individual Quark series and go back to the character?
Armin: I would be very prepared to go back. I’m not so sure I would want to go back to a series that was just Quark. I’m of a certain age, that’s a lot of makeup, those are long hours. I would love to go back as a guest star or a recurring character, yes. But if there was a one time, a short period of time when they were going to do a Quark series, luckily I didn’t hear about it till years later. But when I think about it now, I think that would have been a lot of work, perhaps too much for me.
Geektown: Yeah, I mean that makeup process must have been particularly gruelling. Hopefully, they’ve improved the makeup process now though.
Armin: It was, but still, I’m sure the process might be able to go faster now with improved techniques and improved adhesives, but the 16 hours of being caged in a cell of rubber, it’s not unpleasant, but it’s not pleasant either.
Geektown: You were also in Buffy… eaten by a giant snake if I recall correctly?
Armin: Yes, Harry Groener played the mayor who ate me.
Geektown: Yes! When you were on that show, did any of the cast surprise you by being really huge Star Trek fans?
Armin: I’m sure there were, but nobody mentioned it. What they did take advantage of, because many of the Buffy actors were very young, they were in their either late teens when I started, or in their early 20s, and as their show became a cult favourite, they would come to me knowing that I was a Star Trek actor, and they would say, “How do you deal with conventions? How do you deal with fans? How do you deal with fan mail? How do you deal with this popularity that we’re getting that we’re happy to have, but were surprised to have?” So I became a counsellor for many of them, and that was because I was a Star Trek actor, but nobody came up to me and said, “Oh, you’re a Star Trek actor.”
Although, one of my favourite moments when I was auditioning for Buffy, for another part, not for the part I played, but for another part, I walked by what I took to be the writers room, and there was a big cardboard cutout of Major Kira in the room, and I remember walking by the room and then walking back and saying, “Why don’t you have a cardboard cutout of me?” And to this day, I don’t know who I spoke that to, but I do remember that was there, so they must have been Star Trek fans.
Geektown: Do you got anything else coming out that you want to talk about?
Armin: Mostly I do theatre now. So I just finished a play called ‘Three Days in the Country’ by Patrick Marber, who wrote ‘The Closer’. It’s a lot of wonderful stuff. I finished that in August, and in November, I work with Brian Dennehy in a play called ‘Hughie’, which is written by Eugene O’Neill.
Geektown: One last question if you had the opportunity to work on any TV show, past present or future, which TV show would you work on?
Armin: That’s a very good question. There are lots and lots of TV shows that are wonderful. You know, maybe because it’s here in the UK, I would have liked to have worked on the recent Sherlock Holmes. That was great fun. But there are thousands of TV shows that I would have liked to work on. And fortunately for me, I’ve worked on quite a few, but there were some I didn’t get on, but that’s okay. It all worked out for the best.