In a recent interview, Andrew Robinson talked about what made Deep Space Nine stand out and what it was like to play a character like Garak.
Of the many Star Trek shows that have come and gone over the franchise’s 50 some odd years, few have a fanbase as devoted and protective as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Seen by many at the time as the unwanted stepchild of the Trek Universe, Deep Space Nine nonetheless ran for seven very successful seasons and over time has become better appreciated for what it brought to the franchise. Namely, shades of grey that until then had not been a part of the black and white morality of Star Trek.
In both the Original Series and The Next Generation, you almost always knew the good guys from the bad guys. There wasn’t a lot of confusion on the matter and this continued into the feature films. In Deep Space Nine, that was all turned on its head, especially as the series progressed and the Dominion War storyline began.
And no one represented that new indistinct morality like Elim Garak.
Garak, played by Andrew Robinson in all seven season of Deep Space Nine, was a complex, multi-layered character the likes of which Star Trek had never seen before. At times just a “simple tailor” and at other a ruthless former member of the Cardassian Obsidian Order, you never seemed to know with 100 percent certainty which side he was working for.
It is a trait that Robinson was well aware of while filming the series. In a recent interview with Star Trek Magazine, the actor said that playing a character like Garak presented challenges that other roles didn’t provide.
"[M]uch of the truth of Garak was like a glacier: you saw only the tip of the glacier, but then, underneath the tip, was the very complicated truth of his life. So, playing that subtext, living with that subtext, presenting that subtext behind a mask of affability, of friendliness, of congeniality, I think that was both the challenge and the pleasure of the character."
In addition, Robinson was asked about the legacy of the series and what made it different from The Next Generation.
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"I think the biggest difference between DS9 and the other Star Trek series is that Deep Space Nine was more nuanced, and had more ambiguity. Rather than being black and white, there are more grays. I was surprised that even the new Star Trek movie adheres to the old format of the evil villain who’s angry at everyone and wants to destroy a world. I think that people who really liked Deep Space Nine are people who like ambiguity, and like when the characters are not either good or evil.I also feel that Deep Space Nine dealt with very difficult issues. [O]ne of my favorite [episodes is] called “The Wire,” where Garak is addicted to this drug. And it was basically about drug addiction. There was another episode where Captain Sisko comes to Garak for help with the Romulans and basically it exposes the American innocence, that we want to do these things in the world, but we’re not really willing to take the consequences of our actions. [It shows us that] sometimes we have to do very dirty things, and we have to hurt people, and we pretend that that doesn’t exist, that Americans would never do that. We dealt with issues like that and I don’t think the other shows really went as far as we did."
When you ask any Deep Space Nine fan who their favorite character is, Garak’s name will come up more than you might think. And for good reason. Star Trek hadn’t seen a character like that before or even since and it is what made Garak unique. What started off as a one off character quickly turned into a key part of the cast and the serialized narrative that the show used more and more as time went on.
It’s safe to say that Deep Space Nine likely wouldn’t have been as good or as complex without Elim Garak in his tailor shop.