Dreamwatch 1996

A Chip off the Old Spock


After a childhood spent on Air Force based all around the world, Tim Russ and his family settled in Sacramento, California. In 1985 – eight years after landing his first role while at university – Russ became a full-time actor, appearing in film, TV and theatre. Some of his more notable genre appearances include episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares, the pilot to Journey to the Center of the Earth, and three Trek-related appearances, beginning in The Next Generation episode Starship Mine, in which he played the terrorist whom Picard repeatedly knocks out with a hypospray.

John S Hall recently spoke with Russ on one of his rare days off the Voyager set about the joys of playing his logical Vulcan character…

Dreamwatch: How did you first become involved in Star Trek?

Tim Russ: Reading for the pilot of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Encounter at Farpoint, and being the second choice after LeVar Burton [for Geordi LaForge]; it was going to be either me or him. Gene Roddenberry chose LeVar, who at the time was right for the part and was the only recognizable American name. I think it worked out fine. After that, it was must a matter of going back and reading for the show. I read for a regular role on Deep Space Nine’s pilot, but they changed the part and it disappeared. I continued reading for parts for three or four years, and finally got onto The Next Generation as a guest.

What was it like to work with Patrick Stewart in the episode, Starship Mine?

It was a pleasure to work with Patrick Stewart. We had a chance to talk between the scenes about some of the differences between our two countries – politics, social structure and so on – and it was really quite interesting. He had a lot of good things to say about America and the way things are run. He’s a very gracious actor and very easy to work with.

Were you a Star Trek fan before you became involved in the show?

Well, I grew up with the original series and I’ve always preferred that version. I’ve always liked the characters and some of the stories and concepts they dealt with, but primarily the character relationship was very strong and relatively consistent.

Then you must’ve really enjoyed playing that Enterprise-B Tactical Officer in Star Trek Generations…

As a matter of fact, I think that was a roll of the dice in terms of destiny because out of all the parts I could’ve played in that film, I was lucky enough to get the only scenes with William Shatner, Walter Koenig and Jimmy Doohan on the bridge. It was an amazing stroke of luck, and apparently an omen of things to come.

You’ve also appeared in a pre-Voyager episode of Deep Space Nine, giving you the rare distinction of having worked alongside characters from all manifestations of Trek.

Yes, I played a Klingon, T’Kar, in Invasive Procedures. The make-up process was very painstaking. You get very little sleep and long days, but once you’re made up and transformed it’s very easy to get into that character.

How does it feel now to play a Vulcan?

Of all the characters that were available to play, that was probably the best. In the original series, Spock was one of the most popular and most interesting characters. To be able to continue that legacy in this character is quite a thrill, not to mention an honor. It’s the most interesting character on the show, I think, although I like the Doctor, too, but Tuvok, as a Vulcan, has a lot of latitude and a lot of things that can be explored through his culture and philosophy. It’s also a lot of fun to play opposite human characters, if only to comment on humanity and our emotional unpredictability.

Will we be learning more about Tuvok’s family?

You’ll probably be seeing an image of my wife, and you will also hear about my kids. As a matter of fact, Elogium has a comment about my family.

Do you think Tuvok will experience pon farr some time during Voyager’s run?

Definitely. I mean, one of the producers is probably salivating over that moment! They want to take any opportunity they can to try to make this character more human-like. They try their best, much to ma chagrin! I’m fighting them tooth and nail every step of the way, but I’m sure they’re looking forward to that opportunity to let loose with my character.

It sounds like you value Tuvok’s composure

As a matter of fact, that’s the character. I prefer consistency in the character. Tuvok can make choices, which I think is perfectly fine – the saboteur in Star Trek VI was a Vulcan; so be it. That was her choice. However, Vulcan philosophy is pacifist, so Tuvok does not go looking for a fight. As a matter of fact, he usually tries to avoid it. He chose a career in Starfleet as a tactical officer, probably because he would be very calm and cool under fire, which is very important for that position. He only fires in order to protect himself and/or his comrades, or when he’s ordered to do so, but if he didn’t feel it was right he would probably say something about it.

I don’t like having the attributes and philosophies that are Vulcan compromised, and sometimes they are. Sometimes, a couple of the producers go out of their way to make Tuvok more vulnerable or human-like in that respect, and he has natural, built-in vulnerabilities which have not yet been exploited. I wish they’d go in that direction and not bother with the things that make him unique.

Will we be seeing more episodes like the one where Tuvok trained the Maquis?

Probably not like that one, no. More than likely, if they can at all avoid it, they’ll try not to repeat anything that has been done since the beginning of the series. People come up with ideas and others say, “We can’t do that – that was done in episode #42 of The Original Series or #100 of The Next Generation”, so it’s difficult not to duplicate oneself, and they go out of their way not to do that.

Some fans have made derisive comparisons between Phage and Spock’s Brain…

They can make the comparison, but if I recall that wasn’t nearly the same. I thought Phage was quite original, actually. The purpose the organs were harvested for was quite clever in its design. A very, very unique set of aliens with these unique problems and how they try to solve these problems, and how we happened to be there. I thought it was an excellent story.

I hope we get to see more of the Vidiians this season.

They’re a lot of fun, those guys. Was Faces bizarre, or what? Very bizarre, and a brilliant make-up job as well.

How long does your make-up process take?

Only about an hour and ten minutes. The ideal, of course, would be to come in and get just straight make-up, but it’s not a bad middle ground to be in.

Did you anticipate the amount of discussion that your being cast as Tuvok would prompt?

I think, initially, the thought had crossed my mind. I thought it was interesting that the character would be black to begin with. From my standpoint as an actor and from a creative standpoint, I thought it was a very clever idea, because if you’re going to put another Vulcan on the bridge, twist the concept. They were compelled to do that – the character was either going to be female or black, one of the two. If we are to assume that we’ve encountered this many humanoid-type aliens and accept this, then we can accept – I would imagine – just about anything. It makes perfect sense, given the way the sun is on the planet Vulcan. And we’ve only seen a handful of Vulcans; if someone from another planet crash-landed in Asia, he wouldn’t think anybody looked anything else but that. I anticipated the publicity, which of course they must have loved and applauded. They had two things: the female captain, and me, so from a publicity standpoint it was a very smart move because it generated talk and attention.

Are there any plots or storylines that you’d like to see Tuvok get involved in as Voyager progresses?

Kate [Mulgrew] and I hopefully will have a story together in the near future that explains our relationship and how it was established. It’ll be a flashback-type episode, with the B-story being something going wrong either with me or with her. We’ll be together and one of us is in trouble. We want that story to come together.

I’d also like to see a story that involves Tuvok’s built-in Achilles heel – his inability to use intuition, sixth sense, gut feelings, what have you. Maybe it would involve him being in command of an Away Team or the ship, but whatever the situation, the logic he’s using isn’t working properly, and he has to find a way out of the jam without logic. I think it would be interesting to see that.

You and Kate Mulgrew seem to have a good acting rapport.

It is a challenge. We have a good rapport in terms of character, but I think in terms of actual work experience it’s difficult, because Kate almost always has her dialogue tight. Perfect, as a matter of fact. She rarely makes any mistakes, and when you’re prone to make them on occasion it tends to put extra pressure on you to get it right all the time or the first time. It’s sometimes very difficult to actually work with her; nobody else in the cast has that cast of ability in terms of dialogue. I mean, we all make errors on occasions, and she rarely does. The way she works is amazing.

And now the obligatory ‘Favorite Episode’ question…

Well, I have favorites for different reasons. I was not heavily into The 37s but I liked the whole premise a lot, meeting Amelia Earhart, the ship landing, all that good Star Trek stuff. My favorite performing in would certainly be Ex Post Facto because Tuvok had a complete storyline and it was a chance to see how he works, and getting to do the mind meld.

I understand you have quite an interest in music and writing?

I’ve been a musician for 25 years, a guitarist and a vocalist; I used to make my living at it six nights a week. I’ve played in all sizes of bands and played solo. I really haven’t been doing it that much lately although I played a gig last night – I’ll do that every two or three months. It’s very easy material and fairly well-known and recognizable stuff which doesn’t take long to put together. I generally collaborate when I write; I don’t enjoy the process that much, but I do like writing ensemble, whether it’s film, music or television.

On the writing side, my associate and I have co-written a feature film which we’re trying to do for next summer. It’s basically his story – an inner-city project dealing with some social issues. Left to my own devices, I would probably write everything from satire to science fiction, action-adventure to thrillers. I enjoy developing, creating and building projects from the ground up, but not as a solitary writer.

“If I were to write anything for Trek it would either be a story for the show or maybe a comic book story.”

Could you handle a Star Trek novel?

If I were to write anything for Trek it would either be a story for the show or maybe a comic book story. I don’t know if I would have the discipline to sit down and write an entire novel; it’s not my forte. I’m more into constructing and building ideas and concepts as opposed to sitting down before a blank computer screen and banging out dialogue from scratch! It takes a certain individual and temperament – and also a desire – to do that. You have to feel compelled to do it, because basically it’s a solitary function.

Tim Russ, thank you very much!