By BRYAN SCHWARTZMAN
While it is well known that Queens is home to people from all over the
world, many do not realize that there are aliens
living among us.
Maxs Ferengi Bar Mitzvah: Lighting the candles are brother Barry and
No, were not referring to the hit
movie "Men in Black," in which creatures from the four corners of the galaxy
congregated in Flushing Meadows. Nor are we referring to the exploits of Queens
First Daughter Ellen Shulman Baker, who has called her mother Claire from orbit on more
than one occasion.
Just a few doors away from Claires
office at Borough Hall, Senior Administrator Barry Grodenchik is communicating with an
extra terrestrial his older brother Max.
For the past seven years, Max has been
stationed on a space station in the furthest reaches of charted space. This May he will
wrap up his tour on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."
Deep Space Nine premiered in January, 1993 as
the second spin-off of Gene Roddenberrys original sci-fi classic. Since then Max has
appeared in six episodes a year as a Ferengi named Rom. While Rom exhibits the nice
guy persona; the Ferengi species is infamous for being manipulative and greedy. The sacred
Ferengi text is not comprised of commandments or parables, but "Laws of
The Ferengi take capitalism to the extreme
a perfect example would be Roms profit minded older brother Quark, the
proprietor of the space stations bar. But like any other species, no two Ferengi are
alike, and even Quark has his charming moments. Rom on the other hand is a character you
can always root for.
"The writers have really worked to
evolve the character. He started out as a bumbling fool under his brothers thumb,
but then he really started to stand up for himself," Max said.
"He first forms a bar workers union,
then fights to get his son an education and into Star Fleet, and ultimatly leaves the bar
and becomes and engineer," Max added.
The Tale of Two Brothers
Brothers Max and Barry Grodendrik (top) may not look alike, but
the resemblance becomes apparent when Max puts on his Ferengi make-up (bottom).
Barry says his relationship with his
on-screen brother is very different from his relationship with his real life brother.
"My brother is a terrific guy who worked
in acting a long time before he received any recognition," said Barry about his Star
The two were born in the Bronx and grew up in
Queens before taking two very different but equally difficult roads toward success. They
grew up on Parsons Boulevard in the Pomonok apartment complex. Gary Ackerman and
Board of Education member Terri Thomson lived right across the street.
"Were not really that
different," said Barry. "Our father taught us to do what made us happy, and we
Barry said their father Nathan encouraged and
pushed them to excel in school, possibly because he never finished his own education.
Max got his introduction to acting at John
Bowne High Schools annual Sing competition. "I started out as a writer, but
then I didnt like the way people were acting my scripts," said Max, who
currently resides in Glendale, California. "I said I can do that, and in my senior
year at Sing I made my acting debut."
In college, Max started out at the University
of Buffalo as a music major, but later decided it was too difficult. "I switched to a
Theater major because it was the easy way out; I got four credits for acting in a play,
which is what I wanted to do anyway."
Barry thought his brother might end up in
medical school, but people seemed to like Maxs performances so he kept acting.
Barry was interested in news and history when
he was younger, but was never sure he would wind up in politics.
"My brother always had a sense of world
and political events, I certainly didnt have that, growing up" Max said. For a
while, Barry seemed to be headed in a journalistic direction.
He attended Binghamton University, where he
edited the student newspaper, and spent some time after college writing for a horse racing
But analyzing horse racing turned out not to
be his calling. In 1986, Barry was galvanized by politics when he worked for Mark
Greens senatorial campaign. After Greens loss to DAmato, he spent a year
traveling Europe and Israel before dedicating himself to politics.
He worked for Assembly member Nettie
Mayersohn and Governor Cuomo before getting a call from the Borough President. For the
past eight years he has been in charge of all the scheduling and correspondence in Borough
While he may run for an elected office
someday, Barry says for now hes happy being behind the scenes. He lives just off the
Long Island Expressway in Fresh Meadows with his wife and son.
Where No Ferengi Has Gone Before
Max had never been a fan of Star Trek,
and in 1990 when he auditioned for an episode of "Star Trek: The Next
Generation" he had just one question.
"I had no idea what a Ferengi was,"
His roommate and his brother gave him an
over-the-top description of a profit seeking, greedy species. He got the job.
In fact he played a Ferengi so well he was
called back for numerous episodes until the show went off the air in 1994. When it was
announced a new Star Trek series was in production, Max was called in to read for the part
of Quark, a principal character.
A steady job on a sure hit like Star Trek is
what many actors dream about, but it was not to be. Instead he was cast as Rom, an
important reoccurring character but not one who appeared every week.
At first it took three hours to apply the
makeup for each episode, but now they have it down to about two, said Max. "Its
not that bad. I read through my lines. They use surgical adhesive and on my face, and
about 20 minutes later, it gets comfortable," he said.
But the most difficult part of the shoot is
hearing the other actors; Maxs huge Ferengi ears completely cover his human ones.
The Magic of Star Trek
Blanche Grodenchik knew her son had gotten
work, but she had no idea the impact the show was making. While working as a librarian at
Queens College, she was approached by a group of students who recognized her name, and
wanted to know if she was related to Rom.
"Related," she exclaimed.
"Hes my son."
Deep Space Nine is supposed to be a United
Federation of Planets space station light years away from earth, a tense world where
species from different worlds interact on a daily basis. The show mirrors the complexities
of international diplomacy and inter-personal relations.
"Thats the point of the show; we
see ourselves reflected from a distance," he said.
Star Treks continued success is based
in part on its ability to use science fiction both as a medium for entertainment and a
vehicle to explore present day issues.
Yet what about fans of Captain Kirk and First
Officer Spockwould they appreciate the new shows?
"I think people are biased towards [the
show that] show got them interested. I first started watching the Next Generation and I
think I know more Next Generation shows than my own," said Max.
When the two hour series finale airs in May,
Max will say goodbye to the character he has played for seven years.
"Harrison Fords next project will
come to him and he will chose, but all actors are anxious about what their next project
will be. The situations are not so different," he said.
With only a few episodes left in production, Max will put on
the makeup only a few more times.... unless of course they decide to make a movie.