Home > NewsRelease > In Conversation With Veteran Actor Armin Shimerman Author of the Illyria Trilogy
In Conversation With Veteran Actor Armin Shimerman Author of the Illyria Trilogy
Norm Goldman --  BookPleasures.com Norm Goldman -- BookPleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, QC
Monday, November 28, 2022


Bookpleasures.com welcomesas our guest ARMIN SHIMERMAN who is about to release the final book,Imbalance of Power, of the Illyria Trilogy.

Armin is a veteran ofstage and screen, and is widely known for his portrayal of Quark onStar Trek: Deep Space Nine and Principal Snyder on Buffy the VampireSlayer. 

His other credits includenotable appearances on TV shows from Hill Street Blues and The WestWing to CSI  and dozens of others.

His voice has been heardin many animated shows and popular game series such as Ratchet &Clank and BioShock. 

Armin is a renowned stageactor, having performed on Broadway and stages across the country. Heis also a Shakespeare scholar and teacher, theatre arts lecturer, andformer Associate Artistic Director of the Antaeus Theatre Company inLos Angeles. 

With his wife, KittySwink, Armin is an active fundraiser for the Pancreatic Center ActionNetwork (PanCAN).

Norm: Good day Armin andthanks for taking part in our interview.

What has been yourgreatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome in gettingto where you’re at today?

Armin: All of us havehurdles to overcome in life. Very few are born kings or queens.There were vast chasms tooverleap in both my writing and acting careers.

In acting, I have continuallyfaced the reality that I am a very charactery looking actor (short, bald,European looking) in an industry that prefers attractive people.

That is very much acriteria when roles are being cast. Getting people to give me a second look is onlypossible if I can prove my worth as a valuable interpreter of the parts I audition for.

But guessing at other’s artistic choices is a crap shoot.

More, everybody and theirbrother think that acting is easy. The competition is vast and only keepsgrowing.

My success in "the Business,” therefore, had minimal odds of success.Those daunting barriers are made worse by my intrinsic lack of self-confidence. \

Ihave never gotten over my small-town beginnings. I never think I am as goodas many of the people I audition against. As an author, that character flaw ismagnified.

I look at the literary mastery of Hilary Mantel, Frederick Buechner, JohnBanville, and others. I wonder how dare I compete with them for readers. \

Yet, asa historical writer, I feel somewhat sure-footed, trusting in the years of research Ihave put into digesting particulars, people, and dates.

In both arenas, I make myselfblind to the odds and marshal my will to keep going despite the lunacy of howimprobable my efforts are.

How did you get involvedin acting? Where did you learn acting? 

Armin: While stillattending High School, my family moved from New Jersey to SantaMonica, California. I had an English teacher, Mr. Jellison, whodoubled as the school's drama director.

He asked me to audition forArthur Miller’s The Crucible and cast me as the lead, John Proctor.I went on to do several more plays for him.

Though I enrolled incollege as an English major, I continued to compete and act at UCLA.After graduation, I was fortunate to go straight from college to anapprenticeship at the prestigious Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.

Theactors there convinced me to follow in their footsteps, and I tooktheir direction. I have been grateful for their and others’ supportever since.

I have had a handful ofmarvelous private acting teachers. But, nothing has taught me more about the craft thanthe opportunities to work with some of America’s finest actors onBroadway, in Regional Theatre, and on television.

I have assimilatedtheir techniques, their work habits, and their wisdom. You learn toact from others and by investigating yourself; it is a constanteducation.

Norm: Could you tell usabout a time where you had difficulty turning yourself into acharacter. What was the character and why was it challenging? 

Armin: All roles arecomplicated. Diagnosing the situation and the needs of theplay/production are painstaking mental marathons. I am neversatisfied with my opening nights, knowing full well that there ismuch more to learn and explore.

Even at closings, one wonders ifthere was more to delve into. Nevertheless, the challenge is tostrive to fulfill your potential and hopefully have someone in theaudience learn or feel something from your performance.

One personhaving a catharsis is the reason d’être for performing.

Norm: What has been yourfavorite role and why?

Armin: There have been somany. I have been lucky to be given such wonderful characters toexplore. But the best roles are those where the writing is excitingand delicious to repeat every night. My favorites constantly change,as they are always those that I am performing at any given time. I’veloved many of the TV roles that I’m known for. But having had thegolden opportunity to revisit the roles of Lear’s fool, Polonius,King Claudius, and Costard makes them standouts in my memory.

Whenapproaching them for a second or third time, I always strive toapproach these characters differently; inevitably, the learning curvethe second time around is more satisfying.

Norm: Why do you thinktheater is important? 

Armin: Theatre, unliketelevision, is meant to be a communal experience. It has its roots inclans of cavemen listening to tales around a fire. The result is acollective understanding of the world and, by extension, learningwhat it is to be human.

Further, unlike any other medium, Theatre isabout the Word. Humanity listened to language long before it masteredreading. Gorgeous language catches the ear, and we thrill at the turnof a well-crafted phrase.

With people’s attention spans becomingshorter and people becoming more isolated by modern communicationtechnology, I believe the theatre is gradually becoming a thing ofthe past.

Language is becoming more clipped, more abbreviated, andless noteworthy. Should we lose the theatrical experience, we lose the magic of taleswell told. We lose the joy of getting together. We lose the power forchange that the Theatre has always inspired.

Norm: If you could changejust one thing about the theatre industry with the wave of a magicwand, what would it be? 

Armin: If I could changeone thing, it would be to make admission free. The cost of going tothe Theatre is often prohibitive, and many who are new to the Theatrefeel uncomfortable about going.

The Theatre cannot be for the elite,wealthy, or intelligentsia. To fulfill its historical potential, itmust be available to everyone so that all have access tothe Theatre’s majesty and transformative powers. Massive auditoriashould not awe but provide welcome.

Norm: How did you becomeinvolved with the Illyria Trilogy?

Armin: The idea of aHolmes/Watson partnership for Dee/Shakespeare was first suggested tome by an early writing partner, Michael Scott, a prolific Irishfantasy writer. My wife and I were on holiday in Ireland.

Whilesitting on a bench after a delicious lunch, Michael prompted that wemight create a series of detective novels together. The catch wasthat each story would center around the characters and geography ofeach of the Bard’s plays.

Once I realized that Michael was notreally interested in following through on that idea, I shelved it formany years. But it had its hooks in me, and one day I began to type.

Twenty years later, I sold the massive manuscript of Illyria —thefirst of the series — to Jumpmaster Press, who wisely suggestedthat I make it a trilogy. That prompted vast amounts of rewrites andreworking of the story.

The new version made me happier andallowed me to look deeper at the story that I wanted to tell.

Norm: Could you tell ourreaders a little about the Illyria Trilogy and its conclusion,Illyria: Imbalance of Power?

Armin: The Illyria Trilogyis centered around Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Imbalance of Powerconcludes the mission that John Dee was pressured into by England’sspymaster, Francis Walsingham.

 He must solve the mystery of whetherCount Orsino is abetting revolutionaries to sneak into England inorder to overthrow the British government.

Failure to determine thetruth has the Doctor’s life hanging in the balance, and Shakespearerisks never returning to London. Because I am fascinated not onlywith Shakespeare’s plays but with the astounding period ofElizabethan England history, I endeavored to write a novel thataccurately reflects the age, including its mores, language, people,and prejudices.

A major poet of the time, Sir Phillip Sydney, wrotethat literature should both entertain and educate. I have followedhis advice.

Imbalance of Power is notonly studiously correct in its descriptions, props, costumes, andsavagery but also is teeming with the humor of the times. Humor is anessential part of all of Shakespeare’s work.

No one knows howShakespeare became the world’s greatest writer. But the Illyriatrilogy suggests that WS learned to hone his craft under Dr. JohnDee, the era’s most sought-after scientist, mathematician, andantiquarian.

Is that an impossible fantasy on my part? Perhaps. Butbooks were expensive in those days; there were no lending libraries;Shakespeare started his career as a poor struggling actor with only ahigh school education.

He competed with other playwrights who wereall University-trained, all more credentialed. Yet, as a fledglingpoet who later wrote Historiesand quoted the ancients and Montaigne, Shakespeare must have hadaccess to countless books and manuscripts.

Many scholars believe Dee,who had the most extensive library in England, and Shakespeare wouldhave known each other. More, it is one thing to have access to books;it is another to be able to appreciate them.

One needs a gifted tutorfor that. Dee educated some of the most influential Englishmen of therealm and was an intimate of the Queen, the patron of the GlobeTheatre Company.

If you think about it, my supposition is asplausible as the conjectures that Queen Elizabeth or Kit Marlowewrote the plays.

Norm: How has yourexperience as an actor influenced the writing of the trilogy?

Armin: Having performed inso many Shakespearian productions, Shakespeare’s language andrhetorical figures have become second nature to me. I dredge upcitations from many of the plays when feeling low or elated.

Theyseem to serve the moment. I have learned as an actor to fully explorethe meanings of each of the words in the plays. I am rabid aboutfiguring out for myself the arcane meanings of lines.

It is notenough to just know definitions; you must understand the ethos of thetime. A masterful actor must know not only what Shakespeare wrote butwhy he wrote it the way he did.

Those countless investigations,getting ready for rehearsals over the years, have given me a Ph.D. inunderstanding what it means to be an Elizabethan.

 It is how I becameintroduced to the once-famous magus, John Dee, who may be theprototype for the Tempest’s Prospero.Speaking the Bard’s words, making them my own, has given me a loveof language, and it is that love that quickens the thoughts anddialog that flow through Imbalance of Power.

Norm: Did you write thetrilogy more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?Please summarize your writing process.  

Armin: I’m not sure whatyou mean by “logic.” Certainly, all the persons had to fittogether in a plausible manner, though I do fudge Shakespeare’s ageby 3-4 years. I can guarantee that all the world happenings that Iwrite about that I have surrounding 1583 and 1584 did indeed takeplace. My writing process was indeed prompted by intuition and evenmore so by chance. Often, while researching one thing, I would comeacross a fascinating event that begged to be included in the story.

So, I would fiddle with ideas until I could incorporate the newdiscoveries seamlessly. It was a painstaking progress that forced meto constantly rewrite and re-imagine where the story was going.

Plus,dividing the original story into three novels necessitated mycreating two cliffhangers, which in turn necessitated massivereworking of the plot and the characters’ frame of mind.

I wrotesporadically, whenever I had some free time or when the muse spoke tome. In addition to the period details, I was constantly rereadingTwelfth Night for phrases or scenes to give the readers familiar withthe play enjoyable echoes.

At the very start, I knew how I wouldbegin and how I would eventually end. The struggle was finding andrefining the hundreds of pages in the middle.

Norm: What do you hopewill be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish the trilogy:

Armin: Well, as my aim isto both entertain and educate. I hope readers will have a betterunderstanding of the Elizabethan period, especially of the bitterschism between Catholics and Protestants.

In addition, I hope peoplewill become intrigued by Dr. Dee and Walsingham andinitiate in the reader a curiosity that will lead them to doing theirown research into these monumentally historic characters.

If not,then I hope people will be entertained by my fresh imagining of thecharacters of Twelfth Night. Perhaps, people will hunt for the directquotes from the play that I have scattered about as Easter eggs.

Itis my fondest wish that people will pass the trilogy along to othersand say, “Hey, here’s three books I think you will like.”

Norm: What do you thinkmost characterizes your writing, and what was the most difficult partof writing the trilogy?

Armin: What people tell memost about my writing is that they are intrigued by the History thatruns along with the plot line. Many of my actor friends complement meon what I have done with Shakespeare’s characters, and how I canincorporate them into the Historical happenings.

I tried very hard tomirror the language of the plays, and I believe my attention toauthentic dialogue and sense of place enhances the story.

Both mydedication to history and the language were difficult hurdles toovercome, requiring constant research and rewriting. Everything hadto be looked up and then looked up again.

Norm: Where can ourreaders find out more about you?

Armin: LOL! If anyonewants to find out about me, all they have to do is do a searchonline. They’ll get more than they bargained for.

Norm: What is next forArmin Shimerman?

Armin: There are severalthings in the wind. 1) writing another book, either about theElizabethan period or a textbook for actors on the Shakespeariantechniques that I teach

2) directing a production of Richard II,

3)more on-camera acting work,

4) more voice over works for interactivegames

5) more teaching of my Shakespeare classes,

6) travel to somedistant getaway.

Norm: As this interviewcomes to an end, if you could invite three actors (dead or alive) toyour dinner table, who would they be and why?

Armin: I’d start withWilliam Shakespeare. I’d question him about how he meshed actingthe roles of the Ghost in Hamlet, Old Adam in As You Like It, andGaunt in Richard II with writing the roles. Did he improvise attimes? Did he direct the other actors?

How was his relationship withthe lead actor, Richard Burbage? Did he just let Burbage and theothers interpret the roles as they may? And if I could get personal,why he left his family behind in Stratford while he galavanted aboutin London?

My second guest would bemy mentor, Phillip Bosco, who I haven’t seen in forty-five years and has passed away.I would like to share with him how much I appreciate all he did forme in demonstrating to me what it was to be an actor. I did twoBroadway shows with him and was awed by his talents and warmed by hisgenerosity. I’d also pry into his techniques in doing Shaw. He wasuniversally acclaimed for doing that playwright.

The third actor would beMark Rylance. I’d love to find out how an American born actor managed to become thisgeneration’s and England’s most respected classical actor.

 I’dbeg him to tell me how he approaches the great roles? How was hegiven the Artistic Directorship of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre?Just wondering. If there were such a meeting, what would my wife andI serve for dinner?

Norm: Thanks once againand good luck with all your endeavors. 

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Norm Goldman
Title: Book Reviewer
Group: bookpleasures.com
Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
Direct Phone: 514-486-8018
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