When Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered in 1993, it was unlike any other Star Trek show up to that point. Captain Sisko's crew members manned a space station, not an exploration vessel like the Enterprise. They had several preoccupying, persistent concerns over a period of years, from the rebuilding of war-torn Bajor to the guardianship of an Alpha Quadrant to Gamma Quadrant wormhole.
The crew members were not seeking out adventure; more often, the adventure found them. Multiple episodes formed massive plot arcs. The characters were deeper and more nuanced than in previous Treks, and the writers dug down on a handful of issues, rather than superficially exploring a wide range of them.
And the funniest, unlikeliest breakout star of the show was Quark. Quark was a Ferengi--a money-hungry scoundrel with a heart of gold--who ran a bar/casino on Deep Space Nine's promenade. The bar was a center for gossip, illicit dealings, and backroom negotiations, which in turn drove the show's larger plot points.
In an interview with GameSpot, the actor behind Quark, Armin Shimerman, reflected on the show's legacy and the character's place in Star Trek history. Shimerman will reprise the role of Quark for "Victory is Life," the upcoming Star Trek Online expansion due out this June.
Gamespot: The first time you played a Ferengi was not on Deep Space Nine, but on the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Last Outpost" in 1987. What were you told about the Ferengi at the time?
Armin Shimerman: Well, what we were told about the Ferengi and what we ended up with were like night and day. The Ferengi were going to be the new Klingons. They were never meant to be a comical race; they were meant to be ferocious and menacing. And unfortunately, they hired me to play one of the lead Ferengi, and I failed miserably.
My final performance was not at all what [Star Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry wanted. By that point, he was rather sick, and he was not on set. But I met him briefly--maybe no more than 30 seconds--when he looked at my makeup and looked at my costume.
"The Last Outpost" was a disaster. And no one one bears the brunt of that mistake more than I do.
Are you able to put a disappointment like that behind you after it's finished?
I didn't put it behind me for years; it was like sword of Damocles hanging over my head. All of my work on Deep Space Nine, for the first four seasons, was me trying to eradicate that original performance from everyone's mind. It was my personal agenda to rectify the mistake I made--to take a one-dimensional character and make him a three-dimensional character.
Given that you were so passionate about righting this wrong, were you a Star Trek fan even before appearing on the shows?
I was a huge Star Trek fan. I watched the original show (1966) when it aired. As a young man, I would rush home to make sure I caught every episode. And for the first year [of Deep Space Nine], other members of the cast would come up to me and ask me questions. I remember one person--I can't remember who--came up to me and said, "Armin, you know about this [Star Trek stuff]. What's a Klingon?"
I assumed, wrongly, that because you already played a Ferengi in The Next Generation, the Deep Space Nine role as Quark was more or less locked up. But that's not the case?
I auditioned for the role three times, and I went through a lot of angst.
When I first found out about the role, I browbeat my agent to get me auditions. I was one of the earliest actors to audition for Quark. A good six weeks went by, and I heard nothing. I kept calling my agent for feedback. But eventually, I assumed it wasn't going to happen, and I was heartbroken.
Six weeks later, my agent called and said I had a callback. I auditioned for a room of suits at Paramount with my good friend Max Grodenchik [who was eventually cast as Quark's brother, Rom]. And ten days later, I had a final audition with [DS9 co-creators] Rick Berman and Michael Piller. What I later found out is that I and the other actors sitting in the hallway would eventually become the series regulars. Twenty-four hours later, I was notified that I was going to be a series regular. And I'm proud to say that I was the first one called.
I was ecstatic; I was performing Hamlet that evening, and my feet didn't touch the stage.
How much creative control did you have over Quark and what he said or did?
None. None of us ever did. The only creative control the actors had were over things we could do in a take. The powers-that-be could see the dailies and say, "Oh, he smiled at Kira in a certain way!" That was the only way we could really affect the writers and producers. There was no ad-libbing, and if we didn't toe the line exactly as written, we would be told to do another take.
Can you remember any specific examples of how you added to Quark's characterization through this sort of limited improvisation?
Early on in the first season, there was an episode called "Move Along Home" [where Quark is coerced into a game where he literally bets on the crew members' lives]. They wrote on the page that I was a sniveling, cowardly sort of creature, much like the Ferengi in The Next Generation. So I played against that in "Move Along Home." I tried to make him as troubled and conflicted about the dilemma in front of him as anyone would be. And that, for me, was the first time I had an influence on the writers, where they saw the quality that Armin Shimerman was bringing to the Ferengi.
There was another episode, much later, where it said in the script that "Quark makes a low, moaning, crying sound." I was brought in relatively early in the day for makeup, which is a two-hour process. And instead of bringing me in right away [on set], they made me wait, because other people were being shot.
I sat for about six hours in makeup waiting to do this "low, moaning, crying" thing. I got angrier and angrier. And when they finally brought me on set, out of frustration I "squealed." That wasn't what they were expecting. But they used it, and they began writing it into scripts.
At times, I would take the writers out to lunch and ask them questions so I would be more informed about what was going on in my character's head. I kept on asking [writer] Ira [Steven Behr] and the others, "Can you just tell me what his IQ is?" Because in some episodes, Quark is very smart and in some episodes, he's very dumb.
The fans love Quark's chemistry with Odo, the security constable on the station. Did you immediately realize that it was something special, or was it something that evolved over time?
There was always a relationship between Quark and Odo, because it was written into the script. The good news for René and I is we had worked together before. We had done a play in Los Angeles called "Petrified Forest," although we shared no time on stage. We had mutual friends and a shared, enormous love for the theater. But also, arbitrarily, they put our makeup chairs next to each other. So we would talk. And our bond grew exponentially because of the time we spent together.
Fans are very kind about the relationship between Quark and Odo. But we don't really remember that many scenes between the two of us--not to the extent that the fans remember it…A little goes a long way, when it comes to things like this.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is often seen as unique among the Trek television shows, because it took place on a space station, not on a starship. What do you think were the strengths of this setup?
The greatest advantage is that we could establish a coterie of supporting characters that the other shows could not. They became as important as the main characters. And because the bench of supporting characters was so phenomenally strong, our episodes have more layers and depth to them.
We were one of the first shows to have a season arc. Nowadays, it's de rigueur. But in the 1990s, that was rare for a one-hour show.
Ira and Rick took a lot of heat for that; Paramount did not want that. They wanted individual shows they could sell to syndication, so that someone watching the show could see it every now and then and not be lost. They complained that the viewers needed to know too much to watch our show. Now, that's not a problem anymore.
Star Trek Online will release its fourth major expansion, "Victory is Life," in June 2018. This includes a new Jem’Hadar playable faction and six episodes' worth of additional content. In addition to Shimerman, who will reprise his role as Quark, additional DS9 actors reprising their original roles include René Auberjonois (Constable Odo), Nana Visitor (Commander Kira Nerys), Alexander Siddig (Dr. Julian Bashir), and Andrew Robinson (Elim Garak).