ANDREW ROBINSON'S STITCH IN TIME:
Garak Writes an Autobiography
by Michelle Erica Green
Andrew Robinson hasn't played Deep Space Nine's Garak for a year, but the character has remained close to his heart even after the final episode, "What You Leave Behind." While some of the DS9 regulars quickly turned to other projects, Robinson finished the Star Trek novel A Stitch In Time, which will be released this month from Pocket Books.
Yet Robinson has also juggled several other projects since Deep Space Nine ended. His productions of Waiting For Godot and The Beauty Queen of Leenane, currently running in southern California, received good reviews in The Los Angeles Times. It makes one want to recite the query that haunted Robinson for years: "You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?'"
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Robinson does feel lucky. It took him many years to escape typecasting after playing serial killer Scorpio in Dirty Harry - in fact, the role cast such a long shadow that the New York native left Hollywood for several years to direct and teach. He has come full circle now, having directed episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager as well as the plays, and having performed dozens of television and film roles including recent turns on The X-Files and Martial Law.
"I loved Garak, I adored Garak, and I wanted to write the book to finish what I had started," explains Robinson. "There's an old actor's trick: you write a biography for your character. That backstory developed into the novel." In the interim, Robinson read excerpts from his work-in-progress at Star Trek conventions, where fans were very enthusiastic.
"I wrote Garak's story in the form of a diary, and instead of getting up in front of people and answering questions about how long it takes to put on the makeup, telling bad jokes where hopefully people laugh with you, I thought, 'I'll try something different," the actor recalls. "David George, who wrote a Star Trek novel with Armin Shimerman, put me in touch with the people at Pocket Books. I sent them a sample, and the rest, as they say, is history."
For better or worse, Robinson toiled on Garak's story at the same time the Deep Space Nine writers were writing the conclusion of the series. "Obviously, they're the ones who direct the franchise, so that's what you have to go with. About halfway through the book, I had worked out Garak's childhood, then they came up with a bombshell."
The show's writers sent Garak back to Cardassia to seek shelter with Mila, the housekeeper of his father Tain. "It changed a whole bunch of stuff that I'd been writing, that Garak had lived in Tain's house. I had him living in a whole other place. There were a whole bunch of details that I had to unravel, but oddly enough, it made it better, because I had to be real creative about his parentage."
Robinson's book follows Garak's childhood and education in a strict Cardassian training academy, then his involvement in a secret order directed by the mysterious benefactor of his youth. Readers meet his first great love - and his first great betrayer - as they discover the history of Cardassia and the two radically different ideologies from which the current culture emerged.
"Thankfully, there wasn't that much background on Cardassia, and a lot of the fun for me was to invent Cardassian society," says Robinson. "Of course, whenever you do that, you take bits and pieces of your own experience with American institutions and European institutions. But I did have to hang in with the Star Trek stuff. At one point my editor said, 'You've got a lot of your facts wrong,' and she sent me the [Official Star Trek] Encyclopedia. And I'm glad she did, because I would have had Star Trek fans up in arms!"
"There's a lot of fan fiction, my gosh," the actor observes. "That's the thing about the fans. They are so proactive, and they're engaged. So many of them don't just sit back on the couch and watch the stuff; they react." Among Robinson's discoveries was that hasperat is a Bajoran rather than Cardassian dish, an error which, he notes in the acknowledgements to A Stitch In Time, could have consigned him to "eternal Trek infamy" had it not been caught.
Plain, Simple Garak
Robinson's novel is structured as a letter from Garak to Dr. Julian Bashir - his best friend and longtime breakfast companion on Deep Space Nine. Much fan fiction about Garak speculates that his feelings for Bashir went beyond the platonic relationship depicted on television, a belief Robinson does not refute. Indeed, in A Stitch In Time, Garak has crushes on both men and women.
"I loved that sexual ambiguity," Robinson states. "I wanted to get away from our sexual prejudices. I thought, this is an alien! Who knows what alien sexuality is, if indeed there is strict heterosexuality or homosexuality, those delineations? That's something that I kept in the book. Though that was more interesting to me in the playing of Garak than the writing of it; this book is for kids too, so I chose not to get more explicit sexually because of that."
Interestingly, the book scarcely mentions Dukat's daughter Ziyal, Garak's onetime lover, who was murdered by Damar when he believed she had betrayed Cardassia. "The reason for that is that the writers never got that right," sighs Robinson. "They had three different actresses playing Ziyal, and when Garak comes back and finds out that Ziyal has been killed, basically it's, "Well, that's too bad," and he moves on with his life."
Near the end of the series, Garak and Damar worked together without any conflict over Damar's murder of Garak's love. "So I figured, what the hell. I guess he didn't care as much as one would have thought." Was the romance with Ziyal an attempt to heterosexualize Garak because the writers got nervous about the Bashir/Garak dynamic? "Probably," admits Robinson. "It never really developed. There was never really any investment on their part."
The actor was not entirely certain until the very end that Garak would survive the Dominion War, then learned that the producers had had some debates about where the character should end up. "Ira [Behr] told me that basically the big argument was, Rick Berman wanted him to remain on Deep Space Nine, but Ira said, 'No, he has to go back to Cardassia.'" Executive producer Behr apparently won that argument. "And I think Ira was right. That gave me the start for the book - that wonderful image of Garak back in what's left of his home, sitting in rubble, having to start all over again."
Did Berman want Garak on the space station in case there's a future Deep Space Nine movie? "That's a good question!" laughs Robinson. "I don't know. I'm not privy to their thinking. My feeling is that there is never going to be a Deep Space Nine movie, they still have more to go with The Next Generation. I think it was really the right way to end the series."
Robinson believes he is finished working on Star Trek for now. "I'll never direct another Voyager," he says flatly. "They have a new regime, and I don't figure into their plans." Which is all right with him, since he has plans of his own. Having completed A Stitch In Time, he is eager to write another science fiction novel, this one set in his own universe.
Stitches In Time
Though Robinson had never watched any of the Trek shows until he was cast on Deep Space Nine, he always read a lot of classic science fiction - Robert Heinlein, Ursula LeGuin. "It was a pleasure simply to give Garak a resolution when he goes back to Cardassia. But it gave me so much encouragement to finish the book, I definitely want to move on and do more. My next book is not going to be about Garak, but it will be science fiction. I had a great time writing this book, and it also gave me the courage to write more."
Currently Robinson is outlining a plot for his next novel. "I'm really taken with dimensions and string theory - that basically there are ten dimensions folded in on each other and we exist on so many more levels than we ever thought. And sooner rather than later, if we don't kill ourselves first, we're going to have much more dimensional awareness, and living multidimensionally at deeper and more exciting and more dangerous levels. Our relationships and everything will change accordingly."
"That's the core idea. I didn't say that too badly, did I?" he asks hopefully. "I'm surprised, because I've been struggling! Now to find a metaphor that goes with that idea, so I can devise the story. That's a tall order, always."
Robinson has written plays, "but I think the bulk of my writing is going to stay with fiction and science fiction because I find there's a lot of freedom in that." He also intends to keep directing plays and some television, having gotten experience on Deep Space Nine and Voyager. "I think I've finally developed the patience to do it. It's something I've always wanted to spend more time doing, but I've always been so busy with the acting. I enjoy it immensely. It's just another way of solving problems."
Though he hopes to direct some future episodes of CBS's Judging Amy, Robinson looks forward to his next theatrical production, directing The Glass Menagerie at the Pasadena Playhouse with Dharma and Greg's Susan Sullivan playing Amanda. "Television directing is learning how to direct in a whole different way," he explains. "Television belongs to the producers, and the producers make all the decisions. There are so many more constraints, the big one being the time constraints. You have to talk to the actors in short blips. When you're working in theater, you get a chance to develop the characters more slowly and more deeply."
This month Robinson attended a convention in Kansas City with Armin Shimerman, Gates McFadden, and John Delancie where the group did a reading of George Bernard Shaw's Don Juan in Hell. McFadden had previously toured with Trek alums Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner in Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, while Rene Auberjonois and Nana Visitor have done readings of Love Letters at other conventions. It makes sense to Robinson that Star Trek is dominated by theatrically trained actors.
"There's a certain heightened reality to science fiction, especially when you're dealing with a lot of prosthetic makeup," he observes. "Actors who aren't stage-trained tend to crumble under the costumes and the stylistic demands of science fiction. You need people like Rene and Armin, who are Shakespeare-trained, because it's not like NYPD Blue when you're playing an alien and talking about the Federation and the war between the Cardassians and the Klingons."
"At this time in my life it's nice to have a career that's diversified," Robinson says. "A lot of it I really credit to being on Deep Space Nine. It gave me the opportunity to write this book. It gave me time, because I wasn't a regular. The fan club (see http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Heights/8013) has been terrific about raising money for charity. Things are really good, knock on wood."