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Armin Shimerman
at Toronto Trek,
July 21, 2001

[Transcribed by Karen Bennett.]

Let me tell you a little about what I've been doing for the last two years so you'll have some frame of reference. First of all, for those of you who caught it, I have become a recurring character on The Invisible Man. There are very few prosthetics. There's a little piece here and a little piece here and a lot of white makeup [see picture here.] The makeup people keep saying, "We're really sorry to take so long. This must be uncomfortable."

Another thing I've been doing is, you may have been reading in the press that there was a negotiation between the actors and the producers. There were 13 actor negotiators on the team; I was one of the 13. I was able to keep your programming still coming. I have been a national board member of our union for six years.

In addition, there's a new show coming out on Fox which you'll see me on, I think, in the second episode. It's called The Tick. It's a live-action show as opposed to a cartoon. I'll be playing The Terror, who's a guy who's 135 years old and wears a lot of prosthetics. On the fifth day, I was in tears. "Oh, my God, this is too hard to wear." I actually said to the makeup artist, "If I can't stand this, who can?" That'll be coming out, I believe, sometime in September.

I've done some other TV here and there, and of course I've written some novels. Some of you may be familiar with my Star Trek novel, The 34th Rule. I also wrote a non-Star Trek novel which did very well and just came out in paperback. It's called The Merchant Prince. At the end of April I finished the sequel to The Merchant Prince. That will be coming out, I believe, sometime in October. Now they're making noises that I have to write a third one, which I'll start sometime. I'm also writing a novel that's not science fiction, a historical mystery based on John Dee, who was a great mathematician as well as astrologer in the Elizabethan court.

I haven't been doing that much performing because getting ready for the negotiations—it was just concluded on July 3—took about a year and a half of preparations.

Branch president, Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation. That's my labour qualification.

Live long and profit.

We profit from the accomplishments of our students. In that regard, in your role as Principal Snyder [on Buffy the Vampire Slayer], I was just curious: Is Alyson Hannigan as gentle and disarming as her character?

I really love all the kids on Buffy, but Alyson is my favourite. Alyson is as gentle and as kind and as talented—you can't imagine how talented she is. She's an enormously talented girl. I really, truly adore Alyson Hannigan. Luckily, my wife adores her also. I hope that you all get to meet her sometime. She is the genuine article. She's terrific.

Was it hard juggling DS9 and Buffy at the same time?

I was very fortunate for three years to be able to perform both on Buffy and on Star Trek, and I owe it all to two men who were brilliant at juggling my schedule. There were days—thay didn't happen that often—when I'd get up at 5 in the morning, put on my Quark makeup, finish my scenes by about 11 or 12, take an hour to get out of my makeup, get in my car, drive over to Buffy, and not have to put any makeup on. Yes! I used to look at the vampires and say, "Drink a lot of water." Steve Oster, who was the line producer on Star Trek, was incredibly good at allowing me to do that and scheduling me. His counterpart on Buffy, Gareth—I can't remember Gareth's last name [I believe it's Davies—Ed.]—they did it. Understand, my contract with Star Trek said I was only allowed to do three TV episodes other than Star Trek a year. I did 17 episodes of Buffy, I did three episodes of The Practice, I did two episodes of Ally McBeal, I did one episode of Seinfeld, and I did a number of other shows. Steve was very good at breaking my contract. So I owe it all to Steve and to Gareth that that was able to happen.

What did you think about the way you died on Buffy?

I was a tasty morsel, wasn't I? I knew that they were graduating and I would have to go, because what's the point of having a high-school principal if you're not in high school any more? I had always been envious of the fact that Kenny Lerner—who had played Principal Flutie, my predecessor—had been eaten by hyenas. So I told the producers, "Hey, I know you have to do something with me, so I'd like to be eaten." They fulfilled my wish.

My only disappointment with being eaten was that, for a character who'd been there as long as I had been and for being what I thought was influential on the show, we shot it enormously quickly. It had been a very long night. Most of the scenes that you saw in that episode ["Graduation Day, Part 2"] had to be shot at night because that was the plotline. They called me in at about 10 o'clock at night and said, "We'll get to you as soon as we can." Fast-forward to about 5:15 in the morning. [Groans from the audience.] No, no, that's nothing to groan about. Waiting is what we do. You think we act? No. We get paid to wait. Yes, it was late at night, but that's just a different time to wait. What happened was, it was 5:15 and the sun was beginning to peek over the mountains—the "rosy-fingered dawn," as Homer likes to say. You've heard the expression, "We're losing the light"? We were losing the dark, and all of a sudden they remembered they had to get rid of me before sunrise. So Joss [Whedon], who was directing it, said, "Armin, stand over there." I stood over there. "Say your lines." I said my lines. "Fine." I told you it takes half an hour to set up lights? They set these up in 10 minutes and put the camera up on the boom and Joss yelled, "Action!" I said my lines, and the light was getting pretty bright out, and Joss said, "Great, that fine. It's a wrap; bye."

So that's my only problem, that it happened that quickly. When you watch the show, you'll see that's exactly the way it looks, like "Armin has one take and he'd better get it right the first time, because we're moving on." Aside from dying, when Flutie, the previous principal, died, I has been led to believe that they were going to have a whole set of principals floating in and floating out, that demons were going to kill off principals on a regular basis. They forgot to kill me off. So the fact that I lasted for three seasons was an enormous asset to me, because I really loved working on Buffy. But I knew they were graduating, and I think I was a nice graduation gift, don't you think?

Can you tell me what your most memorable moment on Star Trek is?

My most memorable moment on Star Trek—I can tell you exactly what it is. I was rehearsing the character of Claudius in Hamlet when I got a phone call from my wife saying I'd gotten on the series [DS9]. That was my most memorable moment. I don't remember the rest of the rehearsal period. I'm sure you're talking about when I was working on the show. There were many, many memorable moments that I will treasure always. But I think perhaps the most memorable moment was when we were doing "The House of Quark." We were on a set that was filled with smoke; you really couldn't see more than three or four feet in front of you. I was in a conversation with the continuity lady, Judi Brown, and out of the smoke came a wheelchair with Stephen Hawking in it. Rick Berman, the producer, was pushing Stephen, and I will never forget him just coming out of the smoke. He had come specifically down to meet me. Stephen Hawking, for those of you who don't know, is one of the great physicists of our time, a brilliant man. That image will always live with me.

I have to tell you a little story about seeing Stephen Hawking coming out of the smoke. We rarely saw Rick Berman on the set during the seven years. When Stephen Hawking came out through the smoke, I said, "Oh, my God. I can't believe he's here." Judi said, "Neither can I." I said, "I'm a huge fan of his." Judi said, "Me too, and look, he brought Stephen Hawking with him." Judi was the funny one.

Do you also keep in contact with your former co-stars?

I keep in contact with some of them, not all of them, only because some of our lives are more contingent than others. For instance, it's a little hard to keep in contact with Colm [Meany], since he's half the time in Ireland. Sid [Alexander Siddig] lives in London now, so it's a little hard to keep in contact with Sid. Avery [Brooks] lives on the East Coast, I live on the West Coast, so it's hard to keep in contact with him. The others who live in Los Angeles, it's much easier to do that, and we do sort of stay in touch. I see Max [Grodénchik] on a regular basis.

You did a wonderful episode of Stargate: SG-1 ["The Nox," season 1]. I was wondering what that was like doing.

I had a wonderful time. It was shot in Vancouver. It rained every day, and we were outside. They gave me this great straw crown. On the first two days it was fine, but with the rain, it just drooped after a while. We were in mud up to here and we were in fairy clothes. We had gossamer tights on. But I loved the cast; they were terrific. The Nox were very interesting aliens to play because you thought that they were very simple when in reality they were very technologically advanced. One of the reasons I wanted to do it—there were four Nox in the episode, and there was a guy who seemed to be my father. His name was Ray Xifo and one of my dearest, closest friends. He had just moved from New York to L.A. within weeks of getting that job, and he was my house guest. The opportunity to work with Ray on TV was just wonderful. In fact, the casting director, when he called, was looking for Ray and I answered the phone. He said, "I'm looking for Ray Xifo. Have I got him?" I said, "No, this is Armin Shimerman. You haven't got him; he's not here right now." He said, "Armin Shimerman? Perhaps I called the wrong number." I said, "No, we both live here." He said, "We'll be calling you in about 20 minutes after we speak to Ray."

The question to obviously follow that is, do I think I'll ever do another Stargate? The answer is no. How do I say this in Toronto? The show was wonderful and I wish it great success and the people on it are terrific and the scripts are terrific. "So why aren't you going to do it, Armin?" I told you I sit on the board of the Screen Actors Guild.

You don't like us.

No, it's not that we don't like you. We do like you. Understand that when an American actor works in Canada, or any other country for that matter, he doesn't work under a Screen Actors Guild contract. We would love to come up here and work under a Screen Actors Guild contract. We want Canada to prosper. We want to do more films up here. But we want to have the rights that we're used to having continued. I want you to understand as well that Thor [Bishopric], the president of ACTRA [Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists], agrees with me. He says he wants us to all have Screen Actors Guild contracts, and he wants the Canadians to have ACTRA contracts. He wants each union to have what they negotiated for. But until I can get a Screen Actors Guild contract working on Stargate, under moral grounds I must say no, even though it's a wonderful show and I would love to come back.

I wanted to ask you about the way that the Ferengi were portrayed in Star Trek. It seemed like in general they were almost a cartoonish culture and that anytime more than one Ferengi got together it was, "Let's let the comedy writers go wild," whereas Quark and even Rom were deep, almost tragic characters. Do you feel that they indulged in fantasy with the Ferengi but only gave you guys the good stuff?

It was always my agenda to make the Ferengi less comedic. Max and I used to differ on that. We're still arguing about that. I saw the Ferengi as comedic, absolutely, but I never see any group of people as just one thing. It is emblematic of some Star Trek writing that they will look at a group of people and see them having one particular characteristic, and they will give that whole group that characteristic. "The Vulcans are wise; the Romulans are deceitful; the Ferengi are greedy." In fact, if the Ferengi are so greedy, the two Ferengi that we got to know really well, Nog and Rom, weren't that at all.

It's obvious you have a background in Shakespeare. I was wondering if, before getting the role of Quark, you had played Shylock, and if you drew on that for Quark.

No. When I auditioned for the first Ferengi, it wasn't Shylock I drew on; it was Richard III. When you look at "The Last Outpost," there's a little of this in the character. [He goes upstage, turns his back to the audience, rearranges his body into a hunchback, limps downstage and launches into one of Richard's speeches. His masterful performance brings the audience to its feet in wild applause.]

What can you tell us about the co-stars on DS9 when they weren't acting?

Let's start with the captain. Avery is an enormous presence. He is bigger than life—not that he's big physically; he just has an aura the size of this room. If you walk onto a sound stage, you know, even without seeing him, that Avery's on the stage somewhere. He's this huge personality with a deep, booming voice, and a man who has a mission in life. What that mission is, you have to ask Avery. But he has a mission in life and he's dead set on doing this. He lives by a truly honourable code of ethics.

Nana Visitor is a fun-loving girl who's an extremely hard worker. She liked to have a little fun between takes but not too much fun. She was serious about her work and she hated the high heels. She was always concerned about her character.

Terry Farrell loved to have fun all the time. Terry says this about herself, so I'm not saying anything that she wouldn't say. She says that she gets the award for "the most improved." She felt that she had the furthest to go to come up to the calibre of performance that Avery insisted on, and she did. She made it in spades. She was incredibly good.

Michael Dorn always looked at us as though, "This is the second show that I'm on." As hard-working as Nana was, Michael had been playing Worf for so long that he didn't really—he read the scripts; he just didn't take any time to memorize the lines. He would come on the set and we'd start and we'd get about two lines in, and we'd do the next 26 takes while Michael memorized his lines. But when he got 'em, he was brilliant.

Colm was commuting a lot between Los Angeles and Dublin, and both he and Sid were the same way. Neither one of them, I think, read the scripts before we got in front of the cameras. There's a point where we come in and we rehearse. We show the director what it is that we've come up with, he tells us what he's come up with, and we do that for about 10 minutes, and then they send us away for half an hour while they light and set everything up and practise the movements of the camera. Then we'd come back and do it. In that half-hour, both Sid and Colm, who had never read the script—I'm positive they never read the script—would have everything memorized. Certainly Sid had all that technobabble, all that doctor language to say. Amazing performances. René [Auberjonois] and I liked to rehearse and rehearse and get it down and feel more comfortable about our performances. Colm and Sid were just the opposite. They were so loose in their performances. That's why they were so good, because when the cameras rolled it was all happening to them and they were thinking about it for the first time. That's incredibly wonderful and vibrant to watch.

You all know that René was my favourite on the show. When you asked if I see the others, I see too much of René. We spend a lot of time together. We go on vacations together. He's my good buddy.

Who did I leave out? Nicole [deBoer]. Nicole, God bless her, came into a very hard situation. We had been together for six years and Nicole was thrown in and all of a sudden had to be up to speed. She did an incredible job. Not only did she have to come up to speed, but the writers threw most of the first episodes in her first season at her, so she had to carry most of them. I don't know how she did it. She was really terrific.

I didn't have many scenes with Cirroc [Lofton], so it's hard to say. He would just be fooling around, and "Action!" I don't know how he could change that quickly. Now he's taller than Avery. All the series regulars watched the last episode together, and we were in tears watching the little flashbacks about Cirroc, because like our own child, he grew up in front of us. We saw him change from a child to an adult man. That is the milestone that is the most vibrant in my mind. He turned out to be a great guy. I just saw him for the first time about three weeks ago; I hadn't seen him in two years since the show stopped. He's even more of a great guy now than when I finished with him.

One last thing: We were a dysfunctional family. Unlike Next Generation, who liked to go out and have beers together, when we finished—and we all liked each other—we went home. We were older and so we had families and things we had to do. We didn't hang out together, except for Sid and Nana. We loved seeing each other, but we knew when the day was over, we went home. And like a dysfunctional family, sometimes we had arguments; sometimes we hated each other; but mostly we worked together, we ended up loving each other, and it was a wonderful experience.

I just wanted to know what your personal feelings were when Terry left the show and the management decided to keep the Dax character alive and then spend, in my opinion, key episodes of the final season to develop a character.

Terry left over financial reasons. We all got raises in our sixth and seventh year. Terry wanted a proportional raise. She didn't get as proportional a raise as the four of us—René, Nana and I and Sid. She was upset about that. She also has another agenda to deal with that, aside from Nana, the rest of us didn't have to deal with. So she left. Rick Berman told her that if she left the show, Paramount would never use her again. That lasted three days. The last day of Star Trek, she finished, and then within three days she was on Becker, which is a Paramount show. Terry's pretty happy with what happened.

As far as Nicole coming in, René likes to say, "God bless the new Dax. If they hadn't had her, what would the writers have written about?" It was a little strange to us that the new character got so much focus for the first half of the last season. We're not quite sure why that happened except that they were all a little tired with us, and here was new meat. On the other hand, we had just gotten raises and they weren't asking us to work. After seven years we were just happy to have the time off. We just didn't understand why Ezri got all that focus. We weren't unhappy about it; it was just, "Why are they doing it?"

Did you prefer the serious episodes where Quark's character was developed, or the funny episodes where they looked like they were thrown together as something to make us all laugh?

I hated the comic episodes. There were some episodes where they asked me to do stuff that I—it's not why I went into acting. I'm a comic actor and I'm glad to do comedy, but I think some of those comic episodes were just stupid.

Which ones?

The one where I was in drag ["Profit and Lace," season 6]. I often said to the writers, "If you guys would just decide where my IQ was, I'd be really happy. In some episodes I'm smart enough to out-think the Klingons, and in other episodes I fall over my own feet. So just tell me where my IQ is and I'll be really happy."

To answer your question, I much preferred the more serious ones. They were never very serious—for instance, the ones like "Business as Usual," that Sid directed, where I was dealing with situations where I was over my head, and "The Ascent," the one with René, but that's also because I was working day-to-day with René.

The Invisible Man is made in San Diego, isn't it?

That's right, but it's under a Screen Actors Guild contract.

That's what I was going to ask. Typically you think of producers leaving Hollywood in order to get cheaper deals.

And they do. They have a cheaper deal in San Diego as far as a lot of the production is concerned. But the actors are brought in from Hollywood; some of them are cast out of San Diego, which has a large coterie of actors. They brought me in, I think, because of my science-fiction background, and I continued on with that show.

Do you like San Diego? When you're not working, do you get to spend much time there?

When I'm not working, I don't get to spend much time there. It's full circle for me. I became a Screen Actors Guild member in San Diego. I was working in a wonderful theatre in San Diego called the San Diego Old Globe Theater.

I really like San Diego. The weather is better in San Diego. They put you in a hotel; they give you a per-diem. It's much better than working in Los Angeles. The crew was wonderfully friendly, and two of the crew members on The Invisible Man were crew members from Deep Space Nine, so I had two friends down there. The actors were terrific. On Star Trek, Judi Brown, whom I mentioned before, her job was to make sure we said every one of those words exactly the way they were written. And that's important, because the writing is very much the contribution of a TV show. In The Invisible Man, and you'll notice it now that I tell you this, the two actors, Vincent [Ventresca] and Paul [Ben-Victor], do a lot of writing of their own on camera. They just throw in these things. I'd never worked that way before, ever. I remember the first day I was on set, we were in the middle of a very tense scene and Paul went off on some tangent for two or three minutes, which is a long time on TV. The director finally said, "Whose line is it?" I said, "It's my line, but he's the star of the show. I'll let him do whatever he wants to do." That way was sort of strange, but it got to be kind of interesting after awhile.

I was just wondering if the connection between you and René was always there from the day you met.

Yes, it was. René and I had done a play together in Los Angeles called The Petrified Forest, so we knew each other before Star Trek. I wasn't too fond of him when I was doing the play.

In the last [DS9] audition, all of us were sitting there—Nana, myself, Sid, Avery, René—Colm wasn't, because he already had the job—and I thought, "Oh, [René] must be up for Odo. Well, I'm supposed to hate that character. This isn't going to be too difficult." Within a matter of days—maybe two weeks at the most—I adored him. And that was our problem. I was supposed to hate him. I loved him. He grew fonder of me as well. That love-hate relationship just bled into our performances, and that's what Quark and Odo was really about.

Was there ever a time during DS9 when you were allowed to improvise or pitch in anything on your own?

No. Understand, I did actor-y things that weren't in the script and I could add, but words were sancrosanct. We had to say them exactly the way they were written.

However, reactions can be different. In one episode ["Invasive Procedures," season 2], Quark is in sickbay and somebody has taken over the station. They're trying to get the Dax symbiont out of Dax. The script said I was supposed to cry, whimper, on the sickbay couch. That was a long day, waiting in makeup. It's easy to wait in Buffy; you don't wear makeup. But I'd been waiting in makeup for six or seven hours to do this scene; they had a scheduling problem. I was in no mood to cry. It said "Cry," but instead of crying, this is what came out: "AAAAAAAAH!"

You were in the first episode of Voyager. What did you think of having a second Star Trek series going at the same time, and what did you think of the new cast?

We were a little puzzled, to be honest with you, why they brought Voyager in so early, except that we all knew that Paramount—the true Ferengi—had learned how much money they could make by having two Star Trek shows on at the same time. I'm sure Next Generation felt the same way. When they brought Voyager on, it was the beginning of a new network, UPN. We sort of got lost in the shuffle, and all the attention went to our younger sister/brother show. We felt a little upstaged by the presence of Voyager. Later on we cohabited fine together, but in that first year, we felt a little neglected, a little upstaged.

As far as my being on Voyager, I was very honoured by that because I looked back and saw that Patrick Stewart had done the same thing for our show. He had been in the pilot of our show. I thought I was following in the footsteps of Patrick Stewart, so I was very honoured to be chosen for that.


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