Chris Sarandon has played plenty of memorable roles over the past six decades. He was Leon Shermer in Dog Day Afternoon, Jerry Dandrige in the original Fright Night, Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride, the voice of Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas and Det. Mike Norris in the Child’s Play fright flicks. The actor also made one trip to the Star Trek universe. He played Martus Mazur, the charming/oily El-Aurian refugee in the Deep Space Nine episode, “Rivals.” StarTrek.com recently had the chance to chat with the Academy Award nominee about his long career, current projects and DS9 experience. Here’s what he had to say:
Let’s start with the present. What are you working on these days?
The last few years I’ve been working a lot in the theater, on and off Broadway, in addition to doing a few independent films and a smattering of TV. I was on Orange is the New Black this past season. This suits me well, as I have four grandchildren, an amazing marriage (to actress Joanna Gleason), and a huge veggie garden. I’m not “out to pasture,” but am enjoying my real life immensely.
Back in 1994, you guest starred on the DS9 episode “Rivals.” Was that the result of an offer or an audition, and what interested you most about Martus as a character?
As I recall, it was a straight offer. I didn’t audition. Con men are always fun to play. In any character, actors get to live other lives. And to play someone much cleverer — and also much more self-delusional — is a treat.
All this time later, what stands out about the experience of making the episode?
I remember the efficient atmosphere of the set, and the actors with whom I’d had previous personal or professional relationships. I also remember liking being in a “costume drama.” On most TV series, one is outfitted in contemporary clothing. Martus was a sharp-dressing dude from another time entirely.
If we have our facts right, you’d worked with Armin Shimerman many years earlier. How did you enjoy working with him again on “Rivals”?
It was great seeing Armin again, although the pre-Broadway show we worked on together closed in Boston, dammit. We were both 1920’s gangsters, as I recall. Great fun, but with a sad ending. I also loved working with Rene Auberjonois, whom I knew and whose work I admired.
Michael Piller, the producer, initially planned to have Martus be the son of Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Guinan. Were/weren’t you aware of that at the time?
I didn’t know this. If I had, I’d have lobbied Whoopi.
Likewise, Piller initially was considering making Martus a recurring character, to spar with Quark. Did you know that going in and, if so, was that part of the reason you agreed to do the show?
Again, I wasn’t aware of this. I hope my work on the show didn’t dissuade him of that notion, since it wasn’t followed through. It’s been a long time and memories of these seemingly minor decisions fade with the years.
Some people really like “Rivals” and some people are not big fans of it. What did you make of the finished episode?
I wish I could give a definitive answer, but it’s been many years since I’ve seen it. So, my memory — which is more suspect these days — of the actual finished episode has faded. I’ll leave it up to the viewer to decide.
You attend the occasional convention or autograph show. How do you enjoy meeting the fans of your work? That’s got to be an interesting experience, hearing how what you’ve done as an actor has moved or inspired them…
I love doing these shows. In the theater, one has a palpable connection with the audience, but in movies and TV the “audience” is the crew: there’s not that great give and take. These conventions give me a chance to have one-to-one connection with the audience. And the fans are so genuinely thrilled to have a chance to share their enthusiasms and to express how the work has affected their lives. It’s inspiring, humbling, and just plain fun.
Your career dates back more than 50 years, to The Rose Tattoo on stage in 1965. What do you know now about acting and about the way careers ebb and flow that you wish you knew as a young man starting out in the business?
Survival is the key. Constant rejection can destroy one’s confidence and the joy that performing can bring. An actor must learn early on to move on from these constant assaults on one’s psyche and have faith that what one has to offer is unique and will be ultimately recognized enough for one to make a living doing it. It took me a while to realize this, but my goal was never to become famous, it was to have a career doing what I loved. In this regard, I’ve been lucky. The Rose Tattoo… You went waaay back. You’ve been in some great films, plays and TV shows. For you, what on your resume are you proudest of?
Gosh, I can only think of one movie or play that I’m sorry I did, and it will remain nameless. I’m mostly proud that I’ve continued to work for as long as I have in a variety of roles in the theater, movies, and TV.
Most people, when they think of you, immediately think of The Princess Bride, Dog Day Afternoon, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Fright Night. What’s the overlooked credit, the one you believe deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the four we just mentioned?
Although these two Broadway productions are only available on “PBS Great Performances,” The Light in the Piazza and Cyrano de Bergerac are high on my list. And the dual lead roles of Sidney Carton and Charles Darnay in the “CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame” production of A Tale of Two Cities, with a cast of British acting luminaries has to be included as well.
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