In a new interview at TrekMovie, Andrew Robinson spoke about his time on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine portraying Garak the Cardassian.
Did you have an entry point or a real-world historical allegory that you used as a template?
“Yeah. Good question,” said Robinson. “Yes, there was. When speaking to [Deep Space Nine showrunner] Ira Behr and judging from the behavior that came off of Warner and Marc, and the storyline in which Cardassia had been the cruel occupiers of Terok Nor. The historical parallel that I glommed on to was the Germans in World War II and the Nazi occupation of a place like Paris. And they did appear to be a militant and aggressive race that did some very cruel things.
“But what was nice, since it would have been boring for me to just to play a badass Nazi dressed as a Cardassian, was I was allowed to play Garak as a character with layers, in terms of his position. Was he a spy? Was he a tailor? And so forth. I often likened Garak being left behind or remaining on Deep Space Nine after the Cardassians had left as if there was this there was a German Wehrmacht officer in Jerusalem. What is this guy doing here where he is universally hated?”
Garak, and his relationship with Bashir, evolved a lot on the show over the years. Obviously, the writers were picking up on something because they kept bringing you back for a reason. What are some of the things that you were injecting into your performance that you feel the writers started layering into your character?
“I’ve often thought of that too,” said Robinson. “Because besides the fact that that they were looking for a relationship for Dr. Bashir — and that worked out great, because Sid and I really got on and are still friends to this day. I think that was the main thing, that Sid and I got on. But then there was the ambiguity about Garak that they had written in. Who is this guy, he is a mystery and so forth. What I added to that in that first episode was a sexual ambiguity about Garak. In that very first scene when he meets Dr. Bashir it’s clear as a bell — and this was my choice — that he was sexually attracted to this good-looking young Starfleet doctor. And although they didn’t follow that up with an explicitly gay character, that ambiguity about Garak remained. And it was appropriate for what they had written about his ambiguity, is he a tailor, a spy, what is he?”
At that time, they were still decades away from having an openly gay character in the franchise. Did any writer or director or producer ever talk to you about how you were playing it? Fans were picking up on your performance choice back in the 90s and asking the question on is Garak gay?
“Oh yeah. I broadcast it as strongly as I could,” said Robinson. “But you know, they never really followed up on it, we never even had a discussion about it. Deep Space Nine was already at right angles to the Star Trek franchise. It was a different kind of Star Trek show. And I think that suddenly to bring on an openly gay alien, who, who was having this relationship with Dr. Bashir. I think that was maybe a bridge too far. I’m guessing at this…but I think that may be it.”
But nor did they ever tell you to stop or tone it down, did they?
No, they didn’t,” said Robinson. “I think they liked it. I think Ira and the writers loved that it just added to the mystery of the guy. What is he? Who is he? Is he this or is he that? I think it just reinforced what they were already trying to do with the character.”
Head over to TrekMovie, where Robinson also discusses his book A Stitch in Time, The Wire, directing, Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.