Interview: Max Grodénchik On Growing As A Ferengi And Bringing Rom To ‘Star Trek Online: Victory Is Life’

Max Grodénchik is one of a dozen Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actors lending their voices to the Star Trek Online: Victory is Life expansion. Today, it was announced this third major expansion to the free-to-play MMORPG will be released on PC June 5th. TrekMove had a chance to talk to Max shortly after he recorded his voice work, and we discussed life on DS9, returning to Rom, and more.

Deep Space Nine has been refurbished for the Victory is Life expansion to Star Trek Online

An older and wiser Rom for Star Trek Online: Victory is Life

What was it like returning to Rom, and how did you prep to get back into character?

Well, we did two characters today. We did Rom and we did a bit of Sovak, who is my first Ferengi, in “Captain’s Holiday,” from The Next Generation. Sovak was difficult because that goes back to 1990 and it was hard to find that voice again. We played that episode a bit to find what he sounds like. For Rom, it was a lot easier. It was exciting to be Rom again.

I saw a tweet from Aron Eisenberg showing that he brought his old teeth with him to do his Star Trek Online voice work. Do you need those to get the voice to sound right?

That is a good question. My teeth were tossed out by the cleaning woman in a hotel in Germany when I did a convention there. That’s my theory, it’s still under investigation. I think wearing the bottom of those teeth might have helped, the original teeth. Now I have new teeth that someone redid, and they are not the same. They are close, but not exact, and with those I don’t think it matters. I think I did just as well.

There is also a question of clarity. With the Ferengi, we would have to come in and loop ADR to clear up a lot of what our teeth screwed up. It may have been more accurate with the original teeth, but I would say I was clearer without.

Do you play Grand Nagus Rom for Star Trek Online differently than the Rom on the show?

They wanted something a bit different, older and wiser and more confident. I do not know if that came through. I hope some of Rom’s silliness was diminished and I think just the nature of the story makes him more serious. But, I’m not sure that I felt all that much like I was doing something that different than I was 25 years ago.

Nog and Rom in Star Trek Online – Victory is Life

Welcomed the challenge of Rom’s evolution over DS9 series

For a recurring character, Rom went through a lot of changes over the seven seasons. You got different jobs, different relationships, you got married. Did you welcome them constantly throwing new things at you or was it hard to come back in after a break and have these new elements to deal with?

I can say it was an honor, a real honor. They take this guy who was originally under his brother’s thumb and they develop him, and you see his growth every season. And once he starts growing and stands up for Nog to go to Starfleet Academy, that is really when he takes off. It was a wonderful thing. I welcomed it with open arms.

So, there was never one of these new things that you questioned?

I think we questioned Rom becoming the Grand Nagus. I remember we walked down to the writers building to talk to René Echevarria, that was his episode [“The Dogs of War”]. And the writers were very good at giving you their time. They want you to know what you are talking about and be comfortable with the material. Rene sat with us for a half hour and explained why this needed to be this way. So, if I ever had an issue, I could always talk to somebody.

I was happy playing the hapless schmuck under Quark’s thumb. In reality, you are happy to just work and sit there and watch Rene Auberjonois work and watch Armin Shimerman act, for free. They are paying me and it is a tutorial. It was nice to just play the hapless schmuck so everything else was icing on the cake. I mean, dating Leta the dabo girl and we get married and Nog is going to Starfleet Academy and I get to work on the Bajoran maintenance crew so I can move away from him but love him more. Then Grand Nagus, it’s incredible.

Max Grodénchik as Rom, made Grand Nagus in “The Dogs of War”

Finding the right dynamic with Armin Shimerman’s Quark

What you describe of Rom being under his brother’s thumb is something that they didn’t really come up with until half-way through the first season. Last year Ira [Steven Behr] told me that he didn’t really like the Ferengi until he created that dynamic, and you had already been in two episodes before he really hit on it. Do you remember talking about that change?

I talked to Ira about that for the documentary he is making [What We Left Behind]. It came up that they wanted one Ferengi that was serious and one that was comic. They thought Quark would be the lighter Ferengi and his brother would be the heavier Ferengi. But, when they saw the scenes on film, they went “Aha! We got it backwards.” So, Quark needs to be the serious one, and Rom needs to be the lighter one. And in my interview for the documentary Ira asked if I sensed that, and I said “No.”

I always saw and played him on the light side. So, I always saw him under Quark’s thumb, even though the writers had something else. Armin is this incredibly gifted Shakespearean dramatic actor. He can play all these dramatic things very well and I am uncomfortable with that. That is why I try to be funny. And that is what they saw.

Armin was in the first ever episode that introduced the Ferengi, in The Next Generation, which was deemed a failure. He recently said he made it his goal to rehabilitate the Ferengi in DS9. Did you ever talk to him about that and as someone who played a Ferengi in TNG, did you try to do the same in DS9?

I did talk to him and he said the same thing. That was not my thing. I just wanted to be in another episode. There is something about being an actor in L.A. and just wanting to work. I did not think in terms of making the character one way or the other. Armin wanted the Ferengi to be taken seriously and I didn’t see that as my mission. I think he did and he did a great job at making it happen.

 So, you welcomed the more comic elements of some of those Ferengi episodes?

I don’t like being thought of as comic relief. Probably there was no time for us to do other things. They have a certain amount of Ferengi episodes a year, so it would have been nice to try our hand at being more serious, but the realities of doing a show with eight or nine series regulars made it difficult. So, when it came to us, I guess they felt they needed it to be funny.

I would have liked to have tried something deeper. It got a little deeper when Quark got beat up by the Nausicaans [in “Bar Association”], I remember that and I wouldn’t have minded more of that. But, I don’t know how good I would have been with that [laughs].

Things got serious for Rom and Quark in “Bar Association”

Hitting his mark and still getting cut from Insurrection

Let’s talk about your almost feature film role in Star Trek: Insurrection. Can you talk about that experience and how did you feel about being cut?

I was flattered that they asked me. I’m told they cut me very late, and I think I am still in the credits, and I still get a residual. It did feel bad being cut, but early in my acting career I would do things and constantly get cut, so I was used to it.

I had to get that spitball exactly in the right place. It was the first day of shooting and the first thing on the schedule for Insurrection and I had to shoot a spitball at Marina [Sirtis] or Jonathan [Frakes] and every time – we must have done twelve takes – every time I get it right on the mark. And then [director Jonathan] Frakes does a take and he says, “That’s a great take, but Max you missed with the spitball.” And I said, “well, I got it right every other time, why can’t you use one of those?” That’s what I remember. He was mad at me. He has been nice since, but he was very mad at me that day. The one take he liked, I didn’t hit the spot he liked.

Max Grodénchik in deleted scene from Star Trek: Insurrection

Victory is Life coming in June

The “Victory is Life” expansion will launch on June 5th on PC and be added for console players at a later date. To download and play Star Trek Online today for free, visit www.playstartrekonline.com.

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Teresa Lepore

I thought DS9 was very dark and really looked forward to the comic relief provided by the Ferengis. Episodes featuring them were my favorites. I found Rom a very touching character. He really loved his son and even admired his dominating brother. All actors who portrayed Ferengi did a cracking job.

Indeed. Rom, Quark, and Garak were my three favorite characters. Magnificent actors, fully-realized characters, and none of them human. Go figure.

Captain Dunsel

Actually, I think all of them were very human, as opposed to the idealized fantasy “hu-mons”.

JLestr

That picture of Max’s face looks like a skinny version of Shatner.

Eric Cheung

Very nice interview. While I know the real-world reasons for bringing Grand Nagus Rom into the game, given all the reforms he made, I wonder why he didn’t introduce term limits and pull a George Washington where he voluntarily retires.