Shimerman on 'Star Trek', 'Buffy' and Being an ActorBy Michelle
May 1, 2007 - 5:58 PM
Armin Shimerman discussed how he sought out the role of Quark, his friendships with the original Star Trek cast and many influences on his career, saying that working on Deep Space Nine and Buffy the Vampire Slayer simultaneously made him a better performer on both genre shows.
In a long conversation with Interviewing Hollywood, which asks its questions offscreen so that the artists may speak uninterrupted, Shimerman described his astonishment after weeks of auditions at learning that Rick Berman had him in mind to play Quark all along. "I was a great fan of Star Trek before I was in Star Trek, and in fact I seriously campaigned to get the role of Quark," he explained. Having played a Ferengi during a very early episode of The Next Generation, "I did everything I could to get an audition for Deep Space Nine."
Shimerman had to wait through a grueling nine-week audition process, repeatedly calling his agent to find out if he had been cast. "Then I went in for the last meeting...I was particularly nervous," he recalled. "I was the first of the seven of us to go in and read for the suits, and when I finished...Rick [Berman] said to me, 'Don't worry, we wrote this character for you.'" He was delighted to be the first of the series regulars hired, though a bit sorry Berman had not told him that they wanted him weeks earlier.
Because he was a Star Trek fan, Shimerman was the cast member to whom the others turned when they had questions about the original series of minutiae of Star Trek. He is delighted to be a member of the Star Trek actors' club, he added. "Except possibly for Mr. Shatner, whom I don't know very well, all of the series regulars on the original show are friends of mine," Shimerman said. "I can call them up and have long deep conversations with them...when I take a step back and realize I'm friends with Leonard Nimoy, it's amazing."
Shimerman said the best thing about writing for DS9 was that "all actions on the show to some extent had consequences...something you did in the first season might have consequences in the fourth season", and the writers allowed the actors' choices to influence the directions in which they took the characters. Still, he was not certain at first that Quark's arc was as well-developed as the others' until the very end:
At the very end of the seven years when we were sort of wrapping everything up...I realized that the other seven series regulars on the show had had journeys, and I was a little disappointed that my character hadn't had as much of an emotional or experiential journey as the others. Then they gave me the script of 'Dogs of War', and I realized that, no, I had made a great journey, but the steps were incrementally small. And I was beside myself in a good way.
Playing varied roles is important to Shimerman, who said that when choosing a project, "I want to see what the arc is. I want to see what the emotional journey is." He looks for worthwhile growth and change in a character or in the script, and for types of people he has not played before. "Any character actor in the business tends to be pigeonholed into a certain area, a certain character," he noted. "If someone is offering me a character not like the characters I've played before, that makes it very exciting to me." Being pigeonholed isn't a terrible thing, he quickly added, because actors get work when producers are looking for those qualities, but the actor he most wishes to emulate is George C. Scott, because "he played all sorts of different characters and he worked not only in film but he was constantly working on stage as well", something Shimerman himself could not manage while acting on both Deep Space Nine and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Because he played Principal Snyder, Shimerman admitted that many of the roles offered to him "tend to be assholes" - something he would like to get away from, though he loved that particular part. When he first went to work on the show, he confessed, he had not been impressed with the movie upon which the series was based and had heard that Sarah Michelle Gellar was a nineteen-year-old soap opera star, so he was not expecting to be very challenged. "I came in with the wrong attitude," he admitted, thinking that as a Star Trek series regular, he had the right to be confident. "I learned really quickly, and every time I worked with Sarah and Alyson Hannigan, I learned what good acting was all about. I watched, really, in awe."
Being on Buffy was a boon to Shimerman, who said that being on two series at the same time "was like being in repertory theatre. When I would go out to play my character on Buffy, Principal Snyder, that would recharge my batteries for Deep Space Nine, and the reverse was true", which allowed him to bring things he learned from one character to use with the other. No stranger to science fiction after appearing on Beauty and the Beast, Shimerman had already been to science fiction conventions and described them as "like state fairs. People get together, they come together in order to visit each other", with the celebrities in the role of "prize pig" who aren't the real reason most people are in attendance. The conventions, too, remind him of theatre, because he gets direct feedback from audiences that television actors are often denied.
Shimerman's favourite episode is not one which showcases his own character at all. "'Far Beyond the Stars' in my opinion is one of the greatest pieces of science fiction," he enthused, describing the episode, in which a group of science fiction writers in the 1950s are confronted with the racism of their society and how it affects each of them. Shimerman called it a very powerful piece of writing and was impressed by Avery Brooks' performance in the episode, in which Brooks played not Captain Sisko but science fiction writer Benny Russell.
The great thing that Star Trek has always done is ask meaningful questions. The question of racism is being introduced in this show and what makes it extremely powerful is we're seeing bits and pieces of racism in people that we normally think of as heroes. What's subtly being suggested is that even the most heroic of men may have traces of racism because of the culture we're brought up in.
Shimerman retains great fondness for Quark and for the fans, explaining that conventions have allowed him to visit places in the world he might otherwise never have seen. And he remains startled at how wide-reaching Star Trek is. "I was going through customs in Singapore," he recalled. "And a local man looked at my passport, looked up and smiled and went, 'Quark!'"
For more, including Shimerman's recollections of Joss Whedon and Woody Allen and his explanation of what makes an actor last in the business, the full interview begins here.