It's been 20 years since Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ended its run on television, but the show lives on in the hearts and minds of fans and continues to find new audiences in the age of digital streaming. Armin Shimerman played a key role on Deep Space Nine. As Quark, the owner of the space station's bar, he always had his ear to the ground. As a Ferengi, he also always had an eye for profit. But most compelling was the strength of his relationship with his family.
These topics and more are covered in the new documentary What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Ahead of the film's theatrical bow on May 13th, Shimerman spoke to ComicBook.com over the phone.
As you can read below, he spoke about redeeming the Ferengi, watching Deep Space Nine's fanbase grow, and the Quark spinoff idea no one told him about.
Deep Space Nine felt years ahead of its time in terms of how storytelling works on television. What’s it been like watching television move more in the direction of where Deep Space Nine was years ago? Is it encouraging, or does it offer a sense of vindication?
Armin Shimerman: I think vindication is an excellent word for what we think happened. We were often criticized. Understand, we were an experiment in a format called syndication, and syndicates would buy — Instead of buying a TV show that had already aired on a network, they were buying a brand-new product. And the way syndication works, at least it used to work, was they were frightened that people wouldn't always tune in and see every episode, and so they wanted individual episodes that were standalone
But the writing staff began to do this long-form writing where an arc would consist of a half a season, a whole season, a quarter of a season, and they were getting a lot of pushback from the studio about not creating standalone episodes, which would be easy to sell syndicates. But I'm glad they did what they did because as you said, that was the future. We are now the present. We're vindicated in that format.
Have you noticed an increased interest or appreciation for Deep Space Nine now that it's up on streaming services, which makes it easier to appreciate that serialized storytelling?
I think I'm the worst person to ask that question. I'm rather a Luddite. I don't watch streaming services. I'm not tuned into most social media. I do notice at conventions sometimes that there are very young people who are asking questions about the show, who obviously weren't alive when we were airing. But I do find that there is much, much more of an interest now than there used to be. We always thought of ourselves as the middle child and were relegated to that position. I noticed now that people have become very demonstrative of the fact about what we did. They congratulate us on not only the form, but on the stories we told, and as far as my department is concerned, as far as the acting that was involved in the show.
You had an unusual path to playing Quark. You played one of the first Ferengi to appear on screen in The Next Generation and they were not well received at the time. Were you nervous to return to a Ferengi character when you were cast as Quark for Deep Space Nine?
Nervous, yes. I wouldn't call it nervousness, although for certain there was some of that. But I needed to recreate this species. I was enormously disappointed in my own work on Next Generation as a Ferengi. It didn't turn out at all the way I had hoped it would go, and it's my fault, nobody else's. And so Quark, to me, was always my second bite of the apple, and to try and turn what I had created to be a one-dimensional character on Next Generation into a three-dimensional character. It was my hope that I could do that with the character of Quark, and maybe wipe out people's memories of the Ferengi in those early stages of TNG.
I think the Ferengi became fan favorites because, what I had failed to do on TNG but what I strived to do on Deep Space Nine was to make them the most human of the aliens, that these were people that, if you really, truly looked in the mirror, you could see yourself in. If you just put the makeup out of your mind.
One of the other unusual things about Quark was he was one of the first, and still one of the only, main characters in Star Trek that wasn’t a part of Starfleet.
Do you think that contributed to how you were able to develop the character, the stories you were able to tell, and the dynamic you were able to build on Deep Space Nine?
Perhaps. That's an interesting question. In all these years, no one has ever asked me that, and I'd have to ponder that for a second. I sometimes felt left out because, if Star Trek is anything, it's about how a group of people mesh together in order to solve a problem, and Starfleet is that group of people on our show. That included Kira, who originally wasn't Starfleet, but eventually did become Starfleet, and so I was left out of the problem-solving process in, well, I would say 85% of the episodes. And that was slightly off-putting. It's like never being chosen for a baseball team.
But the writers, God bless them, compensated by giving me an enormous asset of my family, and to deal with the family problems that we had in the Quark-Rom family, and that was wonderful. And although I would say, all of the characters had family episodes, that was the focus for me, and by dealing with family episodes, I think that was essential to what I said before about becoming the most human of the characters. We were dealing with family problems that people, who watching the show, may not have had similar problems, but could identify with the problems that we were going through.
Do you think that focus within the Ferengi stories contributed to the close-knit relationship the Ferengi actors had? I know you touched on it a bit in the documentary, with the actors gathering at your home to rehearse ahead of schedule.
It might. It could've, absolutely. I would also attribute it to the fact that the Ferengi were all encased in a great deal of prosthetic rubber, and we knew that our days were long, and we knew that if we didn't drink enough water, or if we overdid, we would be wiped out long before the other actors on the show would be wiped out. They were always long days, and everybody was wiped out eventually, but because of the confines of our makeup, we knew that our ability to think, perform, give were much more limited than some of the other characters, and so I think our need to be able to rehearse in order to compensate for the period of time late of day when we couldn't think anymore, but just simply to have muscle memory, and knowing what the other people were going to do, I think that contributed to the desire to meet on the weekends, even though they weren't paid, to work out our stuff.
I must also say it wasn't just the Ferengi who did this at my house. It was an ethos of the show that everyone wanted to do their very best, maybe because we were the middle child. Maybe because we're all anal retentive. I don't know. But we all wanted to do our very best, and if it meant taking one of our days off, and working on the script, everyone seemed to be eager to do that.
In getting back together with the cast and crew of the show to look back on it, did you hear any stories that surprised you because you didn’t know about them back then?
There were a lot, actually. Quite a few. I can't put my finger on any of them right now. There was one that applies to me directly. It's not in the documentary, but it was during the course of preparing for the documentary. Doing my interviews with Ira, this came up, and it was gobsmackingly surprising to me.
He sort of mentioned while he was interviewing me that there was a short period of time when there was the possibility of there being a Quark standalone show. That was news to me, and I still to this day don't know how that would've worked. But that was a surprising element. Hearing how the people felt about me, and again, this isn't in the doc so much. Some whispers of that, but people were enormously kind during the interview process of saying how much they appreciated what I gave to them, and their work, and the set, and that they felt that strongly about it was gratifying to me, and of course, heartwarming and humbling.
If you had just one more episode to play Quark again, are there any stories or angles of the character that you’d like to explore that you never got the chance to during the show?
The answer is no. I think that the writers did a phenomenal job of exploring every facet of Quark's. That's not to say that if there were an eight season, and they were to provide some new scenario, that I wouldn't say, "Oh my god, we've never touched on that." Of course, that's very possible, but considering the limitations of the character, considering the fact that he wasn't part of the team, considering that he was a comic character, considering the fact that Star Trek isn't necessarily about comic characters, I have nothing but gratefulness for the writers and all that they gave me. Truly, it would've been so easy to neglect Quark. It would've been so easy to do that, and God bless them, they never did.
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