SciFi, The Official Magazine of the Sci-Fi Channel, Dec. 1995
By Tanya Ann Fletcher
“Being a part of Star Trek is like getting on a tram and going full blast,” says Tim Russ, who plays Tuvok, the Vulcan Starfleet tactical/security officer. “You just jump on it, sit back, and watch all the things go by. Whenever you end up at a particular station there’s something else there, like the marketing of products, or conventions. When you’re done, you get back on and keep going.
“It’s not like we had to work at getting this thing started and getting it to move. It already pretty much had its own momentum, and as an actor you’re just caught up in the motion.”
Considering the rocky waters Voyager experienced during its first season, it still managed to garner a much more favorable ratings response than its companion syndicated series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Russ feels that the reason for the acceptance stems from Voyager’s close kinship to its granddaddy predecessor.
“I think our show is a throwback to the original series as far as the type of characters we have,” says Russ. “We have a variety of cultures and races on the ship. Also, we’re able to fly through uncharted space so, by virtue of circumstance, we’re doing the same kind of things that they did on the original series. I feel we also have some of the same qualities of Next Generation in terms of the production value, dialogue, and style.”
Briefly flying without a captain was one of the many bumps in the road Voyager faced out of the gate last year, when actress Genevieve Bujold bowed out as Captain Janeway after principal photography began (quickly to be replaced by Kate Mulgrew).
“It was an absolute relief,” recalls Russ about Bujold’s departure. “I worked with Genevieve one day before she left, and it obviously was not going to work out. And she knew it wasn’t going to work out. There was no fighting, squabbling, huffing, or puffing: it was just trying to make the scenes happen, and they weren’t happening. She was trying to find this character and she wasn’t coming around in time for us to do what we were trying to do. So when Kate came in during her first scene, she marched in, said her lines, and we were ready to go. It was definitely the captain on the bridge at that point. It was a major and welcome difference.”
Finding his Vulcan character throughout the season was pretty easy according to Russ, who notes that the Vulcan mythology had already been set up in the past, so his character exploration was in other areas.
“What I did was discover that this character, for example, had a family,” says Russ. “He had a wife and children back in the Alpha Quadrant, which we’ll be discovering coming up next season. We also will learn about how he has to adjust to the people he works around. I think he’s going to have much more understanding about the ways of human beings and how they live and communicate, and he’ll try to become more tolerant to some degree. I think that’s what they’re working toward with the upcoming shows.”
Ironically enough, Russ once appeared in a play with his Vulcan kinsman Leonard Nimoy when he was still in college. Just recently he again ran into the man who will forever be known as Spock.
“We didn’t really talk, I just shook his hand,” says Russ. “He knew who I was, what I was playing, and he said ‘I should know your face really well.’ I reminded him that we worked together in the play Caligula. So it’s quite ironic, ending up in this position.”
“Of last season’s 14 episodes, Russ’ favorites were “Cathexis” and “Ex Post Facto,” since they allowed Tuvok to show some range in an otherwise “emotionless” character.
“’Cathexis’ afforded me the opportunity to play a character being possessed by an alien the entire time, and pretending to keep up a mask while trying to divert the blame to the other crew members,” he notes. “It was a lot of fun to play, and there was some really interesting physical stuff that I did. I like ‘Ex Post Facto’ because it was a chance for me to discover the investigative side to the Tuvok character and the way he works. Whenever you are in a project or a piece where you have a character arc from beginning to end, it is always a good thing.”
One of the most positive aspects of the show for Russ is the large fan-base following it has, which he finds wonderful because it provides a constant source of feedback. “So far, the remarks and comments have been that I’ve fulfilled this Vulcan character pretty much to the highest degree,” Russ says. “The believability is there that he is a Vulcan, so they’re happy about that. However, the fans are much more critical about the details and consistency of the show and what’s been done in the past. There are rules you have to follow that have been established by the previous series, so it’s quite interesting how you have to make the whole process work.”
As for Russ, he sees the show not only as a stepping stone for him as an actor, but also considers the possibility of someday stepping behind the camera, as fellow Trek actors Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, LeVar Burton, and Jonathan Frakes have done.
“I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but it is in the back of my mind, and I may want to use the opportunity on Star Trek to expand my skills behind the camera,” Russ notes. “It’s a different type of work. Directing is more about being in charge of making images come together with some degree of imagination and, because of the show, it would have to be a certain way, no matter what you want to do. So I’d have to gear myself up for that challenge if I want to take it. It’s a big challenge and it’s a big step away form what I’m doing. You have to be objective in directing. It’s an entirely different approach.”
In the meantime, Russ plans to keep his Starfleet uniform on and continue exploring his character from the actor’s perspective for a while. He’s enjoying the recognition from fans now that he’s part of Star Trek, and he’s grateful that after all those years of paying dues, he’s gotten to a point in his career that most actors only dream about.
“As a working actor you go from job to job, missing out on certain jobs, auditioning for things that don’t come through, and not having work for a period of time. Now that I’m being recognized, I accept that as part of the job as well. People are watching the show on a regular basis. Being recognized to me is just part of the deal”