Interview with Max Grodénchik, Part 1: Remembering Rom
Few Star Trek actors have had a role that transforms so much during a series as Max Grodénchik’s Rom in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Rom begins as Quark’s scared, oppressed, maligned brother, and over DS9’s seven-season run, transforms into Ferengi royalty. Thirty years after DS9, Grodénchik — best known for his portrayal of Rom but with experience in other Star Trek properties too — shares how his confidence, much like Rom’s, grew during the series. Our two-part interview features behind-the-scenes reflections about his memorable work and the writers and cast members that inspired his personal growth as a performer, especially his Ferengi-playing co-stars.
WarpFactorTrek: Prior to your work on Star Trek, how would you describe your exposure to it? Were you a casual Star Trek fan, indifferent to it, or a devoted Trekker?
Max Grodénchik: I was in high school back then, and I do remember kids coming into school talking excitedly about what Spock or Captain Kirk were up to. I remember feeling just slightly jealous when I heard their eagerness to talk about it.
I couldn’t say I was a casual fan, because I had zero idea what the show was about; and I couldn’t say I was indifferent, because there was certainly a “buzz” about the series in my home room class. I guess the most accurate thing I could say was that, over time, I grew “curiouser and curiouser” about it.
Having worked on The Next Generation and the Star Trek films, how was DS9 different from other Star Trek properties?
I did one scene in Star Trek: Insurrection which, unfortunately for me, was cut — I played a Trill who shoots spit balls in the library, as the crew approaches the “fountain of youth” planet. I just wasn’t on screen long enough to get a feeling for the differences between that Insurrection film and the other properties.
The Next Generation was the very first Trek I worked on, and there’s that feeling that your first one is extra-special. I would maybe say that there was a certain “jolliness” on TNG, and the fact that they had already been making episodes for three or four seasons (this was in January 1993) helped with the camaraderie between them. By contrast, I stepped on the DS9 sound stage on the very first day of production, and I think it was more serious. There was — especially at the beginning — more a sense of getting the scenes done… Both teams got their work done, but maybe on TNG — because it had already done three or four seasons — they were more relaxed about it.
Rom had many opportunities for comedic moments, obviously a strength of yours. Did you prepare differently for more dramatic moments? When working on comedic beats, who in the DS9 cast was most likely to “break”? Were you able to stay in character or did others get you to “break”?
Well, I was trained to play the scene — as honestly as I could — and let the audience decide what to laugh at or not laugh at. So, unless there’s something unusual that the scene requires, I prepare the same way for comedy or drama.
In our comedies, I would say Aron was the actor who got me to laugh. He was just a really funny guy, and if it happened to be a bit too long to set up the camera and lighting, it would give him “permission” to ease the tension by being a little goofy.
But remember that the Ferengi, as well as other Trek species, are under a huge amount of makeup, and, in general, many of us didn’t want to be in the makeup longer than we had to be, rather wanting to get home and rest up for the next day’s shooting. So, we were pretty disciplined about our work and getting it done right, as fast as possible.
When did you realize that you would be a significant recurring character?
I often felt each season was my last — that’s how little confidence I had in myself. I remember small conversations with Armin [Shimerman] at the end of each of the first few seasons where I’d go, “I wonder if they’ll have me back again,” and Armin would say, “They’ll have you back.” It went on like that until maybe Season 5 or 6 came along and I must’ve had a pretty good day ‘cause somehow, for some reason, I blurted out, “You know, Armin, I think they’ll have me back next season!”
So, long story short: I never dared to believe I was significant until the very end, so as not to jinx it.
Did you ever suggest or ask writers or producers for changes in an episode or story arc?
No, the writers were terrific. One thing you should know is that I always felt welcome in the writers’ building, that I could go up there and talk to them about something I didn’t understand. And shouldn’t that be the case, that the writer wants the actor to understand — so that the actor can play the scene better? Whenever I didn’t understand a line, I knew I could call the writer, and he would explain it to me, and that was a unique and wonderful thing!
You had lots of screen time with the actors in the Ferengi Family — Quark, Nog, Leeta, Brunt and other Ferengi. Is it true this group of actors would gather on your own time to rehearse these scripts?
Yes, very much so. Armin would open his house to us and we’d come over on the weekends so we could all read through our scenes together, and work on the episodes. It gave us the luxury of time to work things out. When you’re actually shooting on the sound stage, time becomes precious. Rehearsing at Armin’s gave us some extra time to go over stuff. Wonderful to have that extra time!
Who outside this group of Ferengi actors do you wish you had more dialogue or scene time with?
Is it true that you were the most skilled baseball player in the cast, yet — for the episode “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” — had to portray a clumsy player?
I think I was a decent ball player, but I should’ve worked harder on my hitting skills. By no means do I think I was “the most skilled” — I thought Aron and Avery and Cirroc played really well. And you should understand that Sid and Colm grew up playing soccer, so baseball was indeed foreign to them.
If I remember correctly, I don’t think there was time to teach anybody too much about baseball. On Earth, I was an infielder, playing 2nd and 3rd base, and I thought I was a decent fielder, but, like I said, my hitting needed work.
I grew up about a mile from Shea Stadium, so I grew up a Mets fan, and still am. I stopped playing when I went out for my college team; they all seemed so much bigger than me, and by that time I was getting interested in the theatre department.
What DS9 episode did you enjoy the most and why?
“The Magnificent Ferengi”, because the suffering in the make-up was pretty equally shared with the other six or seven Ferengi actors — there were just so many Ferengi actors. And isn’t there an old saying about “sharing the suffering”? That helped make that experience a real hoot.
During the course of the show, how did Rom change?
Rom changed from being a weak, wimpy, frightened, timid nebbish under his brother Quark’s thumb to the wise and powerful Grand Nagus of the Ferengi empire!
In the second part of our interview, Max will reflect more on his friendship with his TV and convention scene partner — recently deceased Aron Eisenberg — and other cast members. Max will update us on his life as a parent and staying connected to his mentor and friends in the cast.
Frank Kennedy writes and performs original material for thoughtful audiences including a once, sold out off-Broadway stage in the pre-pandemic days. He blends his skills as a storyteller and sleight-of-hand magician, telling poignant stories of fatherhood with sons living on the Autism Spectrum. Watching Star Trek almost daily with his Mom as a teen – during the post-cancelation syndicated-rerun days of The Original Series – he is proud that he was part of the fan enthusiasm that turned Trek into a continuum of shows and films, rather than a forgotten canceled show with poor ratings. Along with devouring new Trek content, he has filled his life with adventures to over sixty countries, boldly going and learning about cultures on the planet Earth.