Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted with Encounter at Farpoint, where Bandi Groppler Zorn, supervisor of Farpoint Station, was found to be forcing a shape-shifting being to do his bidding.
Bell, who played Groppler Zorn, shared his memories of working on that episode, from landing the role, to his thoughts on the character and on The Next Generation Actors. Bell originally came in to read for the part of Q.
Landing the role of Groppler Zorn meant first responding to a phone call from director Corey Allen. “Actually, I met Corey Allen, the director, early in my career,” Bell explained. “He was teaching drama and I became a pupil. I’d just come to Hollywood and was star struck, of course, and studying with him was a no brainer. We struck up a firm friendship. He was one of the few people in Hollywood who was truly loyal to the talent he worked with, and always remembered to call them in for projects if the role was right. He called me in to read for Star Trek, for Q. I read for him and Gene Roddenberry, who reminded me I worked for him before in the Then Came Bronson pilot. After I finished reading, they both asked me to read for Groppler. The rest is Trek history… at least for me.”
The character of Groppler Zorn was similar to that of politicians, according to Bell. “The role of Groppler was carefully etched, not patently evil, but certainly unprincipled where his general comfort was concerned, and not unlike many past and present politicians. I loved playing against that and Corey allowed the room to discover. However, even if the character was one-dimensional, I’d never have passed. Supporting actors, unlike major stars, do not have the luxury of picking and choosing.”
One thing that stands out years later for Bell was the kindness of Patrick Stewart. “I (was excited) when I was introduced to Patrick Stewart. Did you see him in Ricky Gervais‘s Extras? Brilliantly sick. What an actor. As I think back, we met several years later at a sound studio where we were both working. He said he requested the character of Groppler be reintroduced in the final show, but alas it was not to be. What a gentleman. Imagine him even thinking of me? These were all professionals, and although their characters would gel and firm even better after several months on the series, they were well on their way in the pilot.”