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Scorpio Speaks

3 May, 2008 By: John Latchem

Andrew Robinson

Actor Andrew Robinson was primarily a stage actor before landing the role as Clint Eastwood's nemesis, the Scorpio Killer, in 1971's Dirty Harry. The iconic film spawned four sequels.

Warner Home Video June 3 commemorates the “Dirty Harry” franchise with the Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collector's Edition boxed set (seven-DVD set $74.92, five-disc Blu-ray $129.95). The collection includes all five “Dirty Harry” films plus new featurettes and commentaries. Also due June 3 is a special edition of Dirty Harry as a two-DVD set at $20.97 or a single-disc Blu-ray at $34.99.

Perhaps best known for playing the mysterious Garak on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” Robinson now heads an acting MFA program at the University of Southern California. He recently discussed his first film role with Home Media Magazine.

  • HM: How did you get the role of the Scorpio Killer?

  • AR: I had done theater with [director] Don Siegel's son, Chris. Don asked him who the best actor in New York was, and Chris put him onto me. God bless him. I've often accused him, half jokingly, of ruining my life.

  • HM: What did the role do for your career?

  • AR: It was a two-edged sword. It gave me a film career, but at the same time it kind of took it away. I was typed so heavily after that, it was stunning. The only roles offered to me were crazy people or killers.

  • HM: Was transitioning from stage to screen a challenge?

  • AR: I had done a lot of plays, but never worked in front of the camera before. Don, Clint and the crew were very supportive. Siegel gave me a lot of freedom to create that character in a medium I had never worked in. It was a very fresh approach. Don Siegel was a smart man and a wonderful director. I give him a lot of credit. It was the greatest set I ever worked on — organized and efficient. If they did more than three takes they'd wonder what was wrong.

  • HM: Where does playing the Scorpio Killer rank in your career?

  • AR: It was very special to me. It was a great role in a remarkable movie. As an actor, having the opportunity to create a character like that is very special.

  • HM: Where did you find motivation for the killer?

  • AR: I made the choice that this was a guy who came back from Vietnam, where he was a sniper for the military. Siegel had the idea for putting the character in paratrooper boots and giving him a peace sign for a belt buckle. The character really encapsulated the tension of the time. The details were all in the subtext. The movie never spelled out this history.

  • HM: Was it hard to play such a disturbed character?

  • AR: One of the first things you have to do as an actor is assess all the emotional psychological material you possess. I have anger. I have rage. But I'm not a killer. I have to extend my imagination to the level of someone so disturbed and damaged that he'd commit these acts of aggression. You have an image of the character that contains that anger and mayhem, but you have to contain it. The hardest part was leaving it on the set and walking away and going back to my family and not letting the anxiety and anger become inappropriate.

  • HM: Did you have much experience with guns before?

  • AR: I had never worked with guns before. The prop guys showed me how to use them. The trickiest was when I had to assemble the gun on screen.

  • HM: There's a moment when Eastwood pulls out his gun and you offer the memorable line “My, that's a big one.”

  • AR: When we were rehearsing, I threw it out as an ad-lib, and the crew fell apart laughing. Since it got a reaction from the crew, they put it in the movie.

  • HM: What was it like working with Eastwood?

  • AR: To a young actor with no experience in that medium, Clint was a great role model. He had no attitude. There was a great humility about the guy. He was professional and knew what he wanted.

  • HM: Were there signs Eastwood would turn out to be such an acclaimed director?

  • AR: I really had no idea. I don't think anyone knew he could turn out to be the craftsman he is.

  • HM: What is the legacy of Dirty Harry?

  • AR: It's a very American series. A lot of the tensions we were dealing with at the time still exist today — law and order, civil rights, personal rights and freedom, public safety. And there's the question of whether an experience in Vietnam pushed my character over the edge. There are a lot of parallels between that and Iraq. We have no idea how damaged those coming home from Iraq really are.

  • HM: What's the most important advice you give your students?

  • AR: Be brave and go forward, no matter what happens. This is a rough business, and you have to keep moving or you'll get stomped on.

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