Armin’s Buffy Panel
September 3–6, 2010 • Atlanta, Georgia
Q&A transcription by Marguerite Krause
(originally printed in the January 2011 issue of the ORACLE newsletter)
One of Armin’s scheduled events was a Q&A panel for the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Armin had a recurring guest role on the series for several years as Principal Snyder; not exactly a villain, but definitely a nemesis to the show’s main characters. Armin was supposed to do the panel with one of the other actors from that series, James Marsters, who played the sometime villain/sometime hero vampire Spike. Unfortunately, at the last minute, James was unable to attend the convention, which left Armin to carry the entire Q&A session on his own.
Mike arrived at the panel a few minutes late, so he missed the first few minutes of Armin’s talk. The following transcript begins at the point where Mike turned on his recorder. For the sake of space, this is only a small excerpt of the entire hour-long talk.
Armin: When people tell you it’s about luck—it’s talent, luck, and chemistry—but luck really is a gift, in my opinion. So here’s my lucky story. We were shooting “Puppet Show,” my first introduction of the character in the series, and I come from backstage, to make an entrance from backstage onto the stage, and as we finished lighting and began to shoot, I began to hear all this buzz, this sort of whispering talk as I was doing the shot. Which is very strange, because when you do a shot it has to be deadly quiet so that you can hear the actor. But they were all (demonstrates inaudible whispering noises). They stopped, and I asked them, “What was that all about? Was I doing something wrong?” They said, “No, no. Come here. We’re going to play back what we just shot.” So they played it back. And on the wall, behind me, which they had not planned, but on the wall, behind me, the shadow I left on the wall, was of these very large, Nosferatu ears. (laughter from audience) My ears are large to begin with, that’s how I got Star Trek (laughter) and so I think that’s one of the reasons why they didn’t kill me off.
Fan: How did you juggle Buffy and DS9?
Armin: How did I juggle. That’s a very good question. Because I had two line producers—line producers are responsible for scheduling—on both shows, one on each show, who were very fond of each other after a while, and they went out of their way not only to help me but I think to help each other. It is incredible how they juggled my schedule. I mean, there is at least three times during the course of three years that I went to Star Trek at 4:30 in the morning, this happened certainly during “Band Candy”, I went at 4:30 in the morning, was made up to be Quark, which takes two hours, got out of makeup at about 12:30 in the afternoon, got in my car, drove to Torrance, which is a good hour’s drive from Paramount to Torrance, which is where the high school was, and then shot “Band Candy” until two in the morning. That happened at least three times. And they were very, very good about making sure I worked for both of them. I think it’s thanks to my Star Trek line producer that I was able to stay on Buffy for as long as I could. Because he didn’t make any bones about my having….because my contract with Paramount, for Star Trek, said that I could only do three other episodes per year. So I did about five or six episodes of Buffy each year. So, I broke my contract, but they didn’t seem to have any problem with that. Yes?
Fan: Favorite Star Trek episodes?
Armin: When people ask me that, my answer always is, “Far Beyond the Stars,” and it’s not because I’m out of makeup. (laughter) What you all know, although probably you don’t admit to yourselves, is that the true heroes of science fiction are not the actors. The true heroes are the writers. The writers are the people who come up with these ideas. People are constantly asking us, “Did you have any input into such and such?” On some shows, you can do that. But in the shows I worked on, you didn’t. So all the things that people are particularly fond of that my characters are doing, granted, I did them, and I chose to do them a certain way, but the fact that I do them at all is because the writers write it. It’s their imaginations. So, what I loved about “Far Beyond the Stars” is that it’s a celebration of writers. And how we sort of pull the curtain back and we show you the people who have their hands up our butts, moving our mouths in a certain way. Yeah?
Fan: Quark was such a unique and memorable character. What did you base some of the characteristics on?
Armin: Quark is my… I was doing, I think, the third or fourth episode of Star Trek, and I was in the Ops for the first time. I had been a huge fan of the original Star Trek and then I certainly watched many of the Next Generation. But I was in Ops, and it suddenly occurred to me, I was in make-up, about to do a scene with René, I think, and it suddenly occurred to me, “This is my bridge. My show’s bridge!” And the vanity just exploded. (laughter) And I think I always attributed that moment of epiphany, of enormous joy, that I was actually a series regular on a Star Trek show. And Quark in my opinion always loved life. Snyder hated life. Hated life! Hated it. But Quark, I believe, just embraced life, and it was that moment that showed me the way, so that’s, basically, what started me on that road. But the original Ferengi, unfortunately, on TNG, that was inspired by Richard III, and if any of you ever watch Next Generation, if you see that episode where the Ferengi first appear, you’ll see me playing Letek, it’s really Richard III. (laughter)
Fan: In your experiences on Buffy or Deep Space Nine, did you learn something as an actor most from certain persons?
Armin: I learned from René how to use the mask, in Deep Space Nine. He’s a brilliant actor—don’t tell him, turn the camera off (laughter)—and so I learned how to use the mask, to walk the fine line…. The mask either covers you up and you can’t get out from behind it, or it frees you up too much and you make a fool out of yourself. There’s a fine line that we walked, using the mask, and René was exceptionally good at that, and I learned from him how to use the mask. So, that’s one thing I learned. From the Buffy cast, I’m not so sure I learned anything, but there’s something that Sarah used to do that used to blow me away, I can’t do it, so I didn’t learn it. But Sarah Michelle Geller could fool around up until the nanosecond before the director yelled “Action!” and on a dime, on a half of a dime—on a quarter of a dime!—she would turn around and be in character (snaps fingers) like that. The moment he put the “n” on “action” she would be in character. They asked Sarah to do so many different types of things as Buffy, which she did brilliantly each time, and almost all the ones that I saw, she really went from night to day in a heartbeat, and I was always in awe of that, that she could do that. And then could go back to whatever the conversation was she was in the middle of before the take, she goes right back: “Well, as I was saying…” (laughter)
Fan: Deep Space Nine came across as edgier, more visceral, did you ever think that cast was more of a rebel cast than the others?
Armin: Our writers were rebel writers. Ira didn’t want to break the envelope, or push the envelope, he wanted to smash the envelope, and he did sometimes do that. So our writers were much more adventurous, in my humble opinion, than the writers for any of the other Star Trek shows. And in fact he and our executive producer did not get along because Ira pushed the envelope so much, that he was pulling back and Ira was pushing ahead. The actors themselves weren’t necessarily rebels, though what we were, as you can see, most of us, for the most part, were on the average older than the casts of the other shows. So we were a little bit—not mature, that’s not the right word—but we were, not even more experienced, more sure of ourselves, and therefore weren’t necessarily happy with just doing the same thing over and over again. So we would try to find new things to do. But our writers were phenomenally good about… I mean really, “Far Beyond the Stars” being one example, there is no episode like that anywhere—anywhere!—in Trek, or for that matter anywhere else on TV. Although what Joss often did with Buffy, an entire show that was a musical, or a whole episode where nobody spoke for 40 minutes, the sponsors must’ve gone crazy. (laughter) I mean, that’s really pushing the envelope and doing things that were never done before. So I think the writers were rebels, yeah.
Fan: Whenever you get into a role, how do you prepare for the role, and what inspires you to get into the role?
Armin: What I do is, I try to find the similarities between myself…. (takes a sip from his cup) Oh, this is so good. It’s not what you think it is, it’s not coffee. (laughter) I try to find the similarities between myself and the character and then really focus on that and explore what are the extensions of that. So that’s what I primarily do. I also, because most of what I do is comedic roles, I try to find the comedy, try to find out what will make it funnier. But at the same time, not too broad. It’s going to be broad, because I’m playing it, but it’s not going to be too broad. And if at all possible, I try to find the truth, try to find it even though it’s bizarre and ridiculous in some cases, I try to find out what is the truth behind it, so that somebody somewhere could actually believe that I am that person. The only other way of getting into a role is simply walk into your trailer and get dressed. Once you put the shoes on, you’re halfway there. (laughter)
Fan: What was it like having Andrea Martin as your mother?
Armin: Andrea Martin was delightful to have when we were shooting, a lovely lady, terrific lady, but there’s a reason why she only did one episode of Moogie, of my mom, it’s because she was utterly, utterly flummoxed and upset by the make-up. There may have been a slight fear of claustrophobia, she was very panicked by the make-up. And although she did the first episode, the only reason she finished the episode is thanks to the good graces of René Auberjonois, who was the director of that episode, and held her hand, literally held her hand, not only on set, but during the make-up process, he came into the trailer and held her hand, literally, while the make-up was being applied and she wanted to run screaming out of the trailer. Wearing the make-up can be very traumatic for people. People come to conventions all made up and dressed up, and it’s great, but you put in on yourself, it’s your choice. But not every actor feels that way. And especially actors whose faces are their universe. She is a comedienne and actress and her face is what she needs to use to convey…she also does voices, of course…but there’s some enormous, extra link between what you look like as a performer, and covering that up, changing that radically. I saw it happen at least a dozen times, to men and women, that they couldn’t deal with it. Andrea, she did it once, of course when the character was coming back, she said no. And in fact Cecily, who replaced her, was an old friend of mine before Star Trek, she came to the house, and said, “I have an audition for this. What should I do? I do a fairly good Andrea Martin impression.” And so we worked on that, worked on her impression plus what Andrea did in the show, so I’m very much responsible for Cecily being Moogie. And Cecily had no problem. (to MC) We’ll take one more.
Fan: (inaudible, about something Armin found difficult)
Armin: There was an episode called “The Ascent” which basically was just René and I on a mountain. I always had problems hearing, the ears are like ear plugs on a plane, they’re rubber, and instead of being inside your ears, they’re all around your ears. So, I lost about 40% of my hearing when I was doing Quark. So, that was always fun. But, in “The Ascent,” they took us up to this high altitude, up in this mountain range, and it wasn’t the hearing that was the problem, it was that Quark’s make-up, unlike all the other Ferengi, was completely sealed, there was no air getting in or out until you unsealed it. Every edge was sealed against my skin. Air tight. They made me up in the desert, we made up in Death Valley, then went up into the mountains. so they made me up at sea level, which was fine, then they took me in a van, up into this mountain range, and I got out of the van, and the world began to swim. I was very nauseous, and the first thing they wanted me to do was walk on a log across a stream. (laughter) I looked at it, like, “I don’t think I can do that.” And I told them what the problem was, and we had a medic there, and he gave me some (inaudible), which did the trick. It wasn’t until a little later in the day, I went to craft service where they keep the food, and I saw a bag of potato chips, and the bag of potato chips looked like an inflated balloon from the Macy’s parade. And I went, “Oh! That’s my head!” (laughter) It was sealed, too, and the air inside the potato chips, because we were at a higher altitude, it expanded in the bag. And that’s what I was feeling, it was the pressure of the air inside the rubber head that had expanded and was putting pressure on my head. And without that medic I don’t think I could have made it. So that was the roughest day, actually. A week, it was a week.
(MC indicates Armin’s time is up.)
Armin: Thank you, thank you very much.
(Much applause as Armin leaves)