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Interview
with
Armin Shimerman,
July 22, 2001

By Alex von Thorn

Armin Shimerman has been a favourite of genre media fans for many years, on Beauty and the Beast, Star Trek: the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and now The Invisible Man. When I spoke to him at Toronto Trek, I was struck by how articulate, calm and controlled he was. Unlike many actors I've spoken to, this is a man able to express himself in complete sentences, and he's very conscious of how he comes across and who is listening to him. It was very easy to imagine him quietly holding his own across a table from Hollywood's most powerful people in the recent labour negotiations. [Photo by Marah Searle.]

What have you been working on since your character on Buffy was, well, eaten?

I'm doing a number of projects, some of them acting, some of them not acting. Primarily I've been involved in labour negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild with the contract that was just recently negotiated, finished July 3rd. I worked on that for a year and a half in preparation. In the last two weeks, it was an everyday situation in Encino. We're very happy with the contract we came up with. It's now before the membership and we'll see what the membership thinks of it. They'll vote on it, and hopefully we'll have a contract ratification.

Aside from that, I finished my third novel, a sequel to The Merchant Prince, which I'm very happy about. And I've started on my fourth novel; don't know what the name of that will be, but it will be based on the character of John Dee.

I've been recurring on a show called The Invisible Man, which appears on the Sci-Fi Channel in the United States. [Picture to left shows Armin on The Invisible Man, flanked on the left by Vincent Ventresca (who plays Darien Fawkes) and on the right by Paul Ben-Victor (Bobby Hobbes).] And I've also appeared in a number of other shows, notably The Tick, which is a new Fox show coming out.

What are you doing on The Invisible Man?

I play a character called Thomas Walker, who has lost four of his five senses and is in search of the man that has taken them away from him.

I did see that episode ["Exposed"]; that was great!

I was all in white, so it's okay [to be unrecognizable]. Why I was in white, I haven't the faintest idea.

A character actor like yourself contributes a lot to a character in terms of intonation, expression, body language, and so on. What did you bring to the role of Quark that wasn't written down in any script?

I think my primary contribution to Quark was charm. I made him lovable; you started to like him even though you despise Ferengi. I also brought a seriousness, I think, to the character that wasn't necessarily there at the beginning, and I brought whatever life experiences Armin Shimerman has to the character, so that we share those together.

Give me a life experience that you expressed through Quark.

Okay, this gets a little serious. I'm five foot six. I brought the experience of being a short person in a tall society, and that is something that only somebody who is my height understands. And so that was part of the character, and so is trying to deal with being an outsider in a foreign situation. When you're an immigrant into a society, you need to relearn things about yourself and about the culture you've moved into. And in a sense, with all the travelling I've done, one always goes to the city, and one has to acclimatize, so I brought that to Quark as well.

I want to ask about your books. Let's start with The Merchant Prince.

The Merchant Prince is about a man named John Dee. He was a historical character who lived in Elizabethan times, and he was a great mathematician, he was an astrologer, he believed he spoke to angels, he was a spy for Francis Walsingham. He had the largest library in England. He travelled across Europe. We've transplanted him from Elizabethan times to the end of the 22nd century, and he's dealing with a catastrophe that needs to be righted. He was put on ice for a very long period of time, and the entity that put him on ice has given him a warning of what's going to happen to the Earth. The entity has the ability to see further than Earthlings can, and so in order to save the human race he does what he has to do for The Merchant Prince.

As far as The 34th Rule, it was originally an idea for an episode for Deep Space Nine that had to do with race prejudice. I'd always been a Star Trek fan, and certainly as I became more involved in the franchise I began to realize there was an inherent race prejudice in Star Trek, that if you were human you were top of the line; if you were Ferengi you were bottom of the ladder; if you were Vulcan you were one half-step down from human; I guess Bajorans underneath them, and then... the more human you looked, the more you were treated as a peer, and the more you looked different, the more you were treated as an outsider. Klingons, for instance, although they were appreciated on the starship, were always treated as though they were some strange bizarre class of entity. So I began to see that there was inherent race prejudice in Star Trek, and I wanted to deal with that. The 34th Rule is about prejudice and what can happen when prejudice runs amok.

In my research, I found a quote that you derive a lot of the inspiration for the character of Quark from your friend Frank Kopyc. What's he like?

Frank is Quark. Frank is a very charming, jovial person who's always trying to get ahead. He's a trickster, he's wily, he's my best friend, and I adore Frank.

What does he do for a living?

He's an actor.

I'm also wondering what your sources of information and inspiration were for the character of Principal Snyder.

Well, everybody's had principals like Principal Snyder. I had a principal in Lakewood, New Jersey, where I grew up. His name was Mr. Vole, who was very close to the Snyder character. But primarily I'm trying to inhabit the skin of a character Joss Whedon created, and I used whatever background I had to flesh out what Joss had created. I've been told by a number of people that there are a lot of principals like Principal Snyder. If I may, I'll requote the New York Times [article] that said about Principal Snyder that he was the worst monster on the show, because the vampires and the demons are all mythological characters and really can't hurt people, but people like Snyder can.

I watched the [Buffy] episode ["Restless," season 4] where you did a riff on Apocalypse Now, playing the Marlon Brando role, and I almost fell out of my chair laughing. How did you like playing that episode?

There was a note in the script from Joss. It said, "If you haven't seen this movie, please watch it." And of course I knew that I had to do—not an impersonation of Marlon Brando, but to try to imitate what he's doing. I got the picture and I was wowed by it, and of course I was tickled to be able to do that.


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