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Harry Treadaway isn't going to tell you how to feel about Narek.
Like the dashing — and evasive — Romulan spy he plays in Star Trek: Picard, Treadaway is an actor who knows his character's motivations but doesn't want to spill the Romulan tea. When asked outright if Narek really loves Soji or not, Treadway is just as charmingly sneaky as his pointed-eared alter-ego.
"I don't want to put too fine a point on it," he told SYFY WIRE. "Because so much of what we do is for you guys, for the fans, for the audience to read into what they want. I don't want to be too definitive. All I'll say is he's been working with a ticking time bomb."
Smack dab in the middle of Star Trek: Picard's first season, SYFY WIRE caught up with Treadaway to discuss all kinds of ticking time bombs and slow-burn plot points The accomplished actor (and former Dr. Frankenstein on Penny Dreadful) revealed the challenges of working on an isolated, surreal set, his friendship with a certain Star Trek: Discovery alumni, and why he thinks Picard is the science fiction version of Richard Linklater's Before trilogy.
**Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Episodes 1-6, specifically, "The Impossible Box."**
Unlike the vast majority of the characters on Star Trek: Picard, in the first six episodes of the series, Narek has appeared nearly exclusively in small rooms with either Soji (Isa Briones) or his evil Romulan sister, Narissa (Peyton List.) And, Treadaway says that kind of isolation existed in real life, too.
"Some people are playing around on big space ships and I did spend a lot of time in sort of small quarters," Treadway says with a laugh. "I mean, it's been a lot of going to the same small space in a massive studio. But, it was what the story was. Narek's a solo operative. He's dedicating his time fully to the important task at hand. It would have been isolating for him, and it was like that for me. It was a good mirror."
Treadaway isn't complaining. Though the describes his experiences filming on the set for the Borg Artifact as "slightly surreal," he also described the design of the set as "absolutely incredible. Seeing the skill day-to-day of all the design elements was amazing." The actor also says he was equally impressed with the costume design and that he's "kicking" himself for not stealing one of Narek's endlessly cool, long, flowing Romulan coats.
"But I did steal one good costume piece," he says, "But I won't reveal what that is. I"m actually not even sure you've seen it."
For the cast of Picard, the prospect of coming into the already established and vast world of Star Trek could be daunting, but Treadaway had an inside man — former Penny Dreadful co-star Shazad Latiff. While Trek fans know Latiff as Ash Tyler on Star Trek: Discovery, he previously played Dr. Jekyll, opposite Treadaway's Dr. Frankenstein in Season 3 of Penny Dreadful. So, did Tyler and Narek team up after they shed their Jekyll and Frankenstein garb?
"I did speak to him. I said, 'What's it like, up there in the universe?' But of course, we're friends," Treadaway says. "He told me he'd had a great time doing it. It was so helpful to have a friend who has worked in the future, too. It was good."
Even though Treadaway wasn't hugely versed in the Star Trek universe before he took the part, he did do a little bit of homework. But he was determined not to overdo it. "I spoke at length with Michael Chabon and the producers Alex Kurtzman and Akiva Goldsman, and there were a few [Romulan] episodes they recommended I watch," he says. "But, had I watched everything, I could have taken a year researching, which might not have been the best use of my time."
He continues: "So, we focused it kind of where he was coming from, rather than the entire history of the Star Trek universe. When I was going into it, I mostly just focused on Narek's world, which is a bit like how people are in the real world too, you know? Everyone lives in their own world. Narek has that same subjective viewpoint. What's at stake is all organic life forms in the universe, or so he believes. It's a very dicey operation. He's been trained in the art of what he's doing. But, he's not like you or I with his psyche. There's definitely sociopathic elements to what he's up to."
In Episode 6, "The Impossible Box," Narek basically sends Soji to her death — but he has tears in his eyes. Soji escapes of course, and with the help of Jean-Luc Picard, zaps halfway across the galaxy to what we think is relative safety. Will Narek follow? Is he in love with Soji after all? Even though he's supposed to want her dead? Will Narek even show up in the rest of the series?
"Will I carry on in the rest of the series?" Harry Treadaway asks teasingly, before getting philosophical about his part in the Trek mythos. "Well, I think you'll have to just tune in and see. I am a very small cog in a very big machine," he admits. "To be part of something that started in the '60s, and really meant something for a lot of people, was humbling. That word is bandied around a lot, but it was really humbling, to be part of this cast. We all felt that way. I mean, apart from Patrick! He's a very big cog in a very big machine."
Treadaway also points out that there's something very unique not only in Star Trek in general but in the Picard series specifically. In this franchise, you could end up playing the same character, 20 or 30 years after you originated a role. "Most things you do aren't like that," he explains. "Most things nobody has seen before. But with this, with so many actors returning from the previous shows, it's a bit like a movie like Boyhood. Or Ethan Hawke in the Before Sunrise movies. To do this right, it can only be done by waiting for that period of time."
It's a profound observation and a smart connection. Unlike previous Star Trek sequels or spinoffs, the gap between the last time we saw Jean-Luc Picard and this series is identical in the 24th century as it was in the 21st. We don't know Narek's fate yet, but to Treadaway, the notion that this could happen at all, that decades of art could be made from one role, is unique. In fact, even though he's not a Vulcan, Narek does have pointed ears. Which is why Treadaway's final comment on the narrative conceit of Picard is so great.
"You know what it is?" he says. "It's fascinating."
Star Trek: Picard airs new episodes on Thursdays on CBS All Access.