Tailor Made

Liz Sourbut talks to Andrew Robinson.

The life of Garak, the devious but always rather loveable Cardassian tailor who caused more than his fair share of trouble aboard Deep Space Nine , always deserved to be told more fully than the TV series could ever manage. And who better than to tell that tale than Garak himself, Andrew Robinson. In this interview with Liz Sourbut, Robinson talks about why he decided to put pen to paper for this unusual tale.

Amazon.co.uk: How did you come to write A Stitch in Time ?

Andrew Robinson: It all started with material that I was writing for myself to give me information about the character. It's an old actor’s trick, if you’re hired for a role that you’re not familiar with, you write a biography of the character. In this case it came out as a memoir, and I started reading it at small conventions. Then David George, who co-wrote The 34th Rule with Armin Shimerman, heard me read, and he suggested that I should submit it to Simon and Schuster. I did and it interested them, and there it is between covers. I'm very proud of it because it's my first one. I've made a few efforts in the past to write long form fiction. I have a drawer in my desk that I refer to as a graveyard that’s full of unfinished attempts. This is my first finished attempt and I'm pleased with it. I’m also critical of it, but I'm still on the learning curve, and this is not an easy craft to learn; it’s demanding and complicated and just damned hard work.

Amazon.co.uk: Have you said everything you want to about Garak?

Robinson: Absolutely yes, and I'm pleased with what I said about the character. I loved playing him and learned a lot about myself, which is always something for an actor. For me it’s important when a role teaches me what some of my capacities are that I hadn't known before. In the book I pick up on Garak where he's left off at the end of the series. I did have a lot more to say about the character and I feel that I've said it.

Amazon.co.uk: Were you given guidelines about what you could and couldn't say?

Robinson: There were two things really. They were very free in terms of the story that I wanted to tell, but I had to be faithful to what has gone before. If I made a reference I had to meticulously research to make sure that it was correct. I had The Star Trek Encyclopedia right by my side. The other thing was, Paramount did have a problem if things became too sexually explicit; there's a certain decorum, and I understood that because this is a family franchise. And believe m,e I didn't feel that there was anything salacious that I needed to say. Where I had the most freedom was in the early part of his life, with all of the Cardassian stuff because there was so little precedent, and that was a pleasure, to be able to create this society. There’s a reference to one of his assignments, when he's a gardener on Romulus that was mentioned in one of the episodes. I wouldn't have touched on that except a fan at a convention said: "I'd love to hear about that," and I thought it would interest me because I am a gardener and one of the first principles of writing is to write what you know. It turns out to be one of my favourite parts of the book.

Amazon.co.uk: Do you feel Garak's telling the truth in this book, or is he still lying?

Robinson: One of the struggles I had when I was thinking about the tone of the book was how much is this going to be Garak tweaking us and how much of it is going to be an honest recounting? I chose to make it more of a confessional, because here's a man who’s at the crossroads of his life. He's on a planet that’s been devastated by the actions of his own people, and he comes to a point where he realises that his education, his conditioning, his socialisation has failed, as has his civilisation. Here he is living over the dead body of his mother, living in this graveyard which is the metaphor for this civilisation that’s now a graveyard, and it makes him look at himself with new eyes: Who is he? Can he go on? Can he admit that this was all a lie and that he's as responsible as anyone else for the devastation? And the only way he can go on is to accept his responsibility in the form of this memoir that he sends to Julian Bashir. In that sense it's less playful than perhaps some people would like to have him, certainly than he is portrayed on the series.

Amazon.co.uk: Among other things, Garak is a cold-blooded killer, an assassin. Did you find that aspect of him difficult to do justice to?

Robinson: One of the things I tried to deal with in the book was that he has a morality. Certainly he can be judged against the human scale of morality, but it's really something else; everything is survival and winning. It’s working from that reptilian part of the brain which says you establish boundaries and then maintain those boundaries at all costs. That's the part of my brain that I was working from when I was trying to get into the Cardassian mindset, whereas Bashir represents the newer part of our brain which is the best part of us, or certainly the most evolved. It’s the part of us that realises reptilian behaviour is not going to help us survive, it's going to lead to confrontation. That was very much the point I was driving at.

Amazon.co.uk: Americans have a reputation for not understanding irony.

Robinson: It is true, irony is not our strong suit. I don't know why I understand it--perhaps because the early part of my life was very difficult and I think that irony is such a saving grace in the face of difficult circumstances. But oddly enough, the attraction to this guy was his irony, his mystery, his slyness. He was not the all-American hero: "Everything you see is me and I'm as open as a book." That's why I love the episode In the Pale Moonlight where Sisko is in a difficult position, he knows he has to do something that is not by the book and he goes to Garak to help him. Then when Garak does help him Sisko becomes upset because he feels he's been soiled by Garak’s ethics. Garak says to him at the end: "Grow up." This is why Star Trek can be so exceptional at times. That was as sophisticated a political statement as will ever be made on American television.

Amazon.co.uk: You present Garak as a very solitary person.

Robinson: Yes, and that surprised me, but then I realised the whole thing about not knowing who his father is bespoke a certain alienation. I think also what influenced me was that I was an only child when I was growing up. I went away to school for eight years. It was a kind of tough place and it certainly was a lonely place. And then that became his character, and that's also what made him a spy. A writer that I admire is John Le Carre, and his spies are always such lonely people: Smiley and so on, which makes them very effective operatives.

Amazon.co.uk: Some fans have speculated about Garak’s private life.

Robinson: Yes, and his sexuality. I started out playing Garak as someone who doesn't have a defined sexuality. He's not gay, he's not straight, it’s a non-issue for him. Basically his sexuality is inclusive. But--it’s Star Trek and there were a couple of things working against that. One is that Americans really are very nervous about sexual ambiguity. Also, this is a family show, they have to keep it on the "straight and narrow", so then I backed off from it. Originally, in that very first episode, I loved the man's absolute fearlessness about presenting himself to an attractive human being. The fact that the attractive human being is a man (Bashir) doesn't make any difference to him, but that was a little too sophisticated I think. For the most part, the writers supported the character beautifully, but in that area they just made a choice they didn't want to go there, and if they don't want to go there I can't, because the writing doesn’t support it.

Amazon.co.uk: And now you’re moving on from Garak?

Robinson: Yes, but I will stay with science fiction because I really love the genre: Tolkien and Madeleine L’Engle, Robert Heinlein and a lot of Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury I love and Ursula Le Guin is brilliant. In science fiction you can work with metaphor, and with the next book I'm trying to work out something with superstring theory where there are 11 dimensions folded in on one another. I think that's a fabulous image for just how much deeper and richer this life experience is than what we ordinarily experience.

Amazon.co.uk: Are you doing any acting at the moment?

Robinson: I haven't been, no. I've been doing a lot of directing, a lot of theatre. I've just come off three plays in row that I directed. Other than some television I haven't been doing much acting, but when I go back I'm going to start concentrating again on that because really I consider myself an actor who directs, or an actor who writes, but basically I'm an actor

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A Stitch in Time (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)

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