Star Trek Monthly #64, April 2000
By Ian Spelling
Tim Russ has Tuvok on the brain. The actor, who has thus far spent six years portraying the stoic Vulcan on Star Trek: Voyager, believes that his character was developed more in the first three or four years of the series than in the last few years. But surprisingly, he doesn’t necessarily thing that’s such a bad thing. “Tuvok had a lot more that he was heavily involved in during the first three years,” the actor observes. “However, I think the episodes that have dealt with Tuvok in the last two years have been very solid. There’s been a ton of mileage gained in looking at his background and going into his character. So, within those few episodes over the last couple of years, the writers have really been exploring different aspects of his personality.
“In Riddles, not only was Tuvok stripped of his Vulcan veneer, he was stripped of his intellectual motif, so to speak. He was reduced to a very simple being.”
“Gravity gave you a chance to see him as a child. You saw what he went through and some of the learning processes he had to experience in terms of his philosophy and culture. In Riddles, not only was he stripped of his Vulcan veneer, he was stripped of his intellectual motif, so to speak. He was reduced to a very simple being. We also had an opportunity to develop his relationship with Neelix (Ethan Phillips) on a different level. I liked that. It was a chance to do something that he’d never experienced before. Both of those episodes had quite an impact, I think, on what this guy is like underneath the Vulcan veneer. So, while he may have had less to do, that’s a lot of bang for the buck in those two shows.”
Keeping his performances fresh week in and week out can often be tough, Russ explains, but, that’s part of his task as an actor. Still… “It all depends on what I’m doing,” he comments. “If it is bridge stuff, that’s basically saying, ‘Shields are up’ or, ‘Shields are down’. There’s not a whole lot of room to act in those scenes. There are other moments and beats that I like to take advantage of. The writers will give me some things to play with. They’ll give Tuvok this dry, sarcastic humor and allow him to take some stabs and jibes at people from time to time. That’s a lot of fun to play.”
Knowing that he was going to direct an episode and then actually directing Living Witness during season four also went a log way towards keeping Russ’ head in the Star Trek: Voyager game. The experience of calling the shots on the popular Doctor (Robert Picardo) episode surprised Russ in that he found himself most focused on the performances. “I focused more on the performances than I did on the cameras and the angels and this or that,” he remarks. “I prepared a lot for those things, plus you have a director of photography [Marvin Rush] who’s there to keep everything in line as well. I worked so hard on that aspect that I didn’t really focus on the performances until the camera was rolling.
“On the set I realized that I was spending so much time focusing on the performances and trying to get what I wanted and what the producers wanted. I was surprised at how many times I left the little monitor behind and just sat next to the camera so I could watch the actors’ faces. I wasn’t so much interested in the framing or the whatever – it was the performance I was after. All of a sudden you realize what counts in this kind of a show. It comes down to what you’re getting on the screen, in terms of what’s said and done by the actors. You can shoot the episode as beautifully as you want, but if the performances aren’t happening, it’s all in the toilet.”
“Gravity gave you a chance to see Tuvok as a child. You saw what he went through and some of the learning processes he had to experience in terms of his philosophy and culture.”
Russ, of course, hopes to direct another
episode before Star Trek: Voyager ends its run next year. He has officially put
his hat in the ring, informing executive producers Rick Berman and Brannon
Braga that he’d like them to call on him for an encore. In the meantime, it’s
on to season six.
Russ already spoke of Riddles, and reveals that that was his big episode so far this year. So, what else is on tap? “We just shot an episode in which we go to a planet whose timeline is different from our own,” he reveals, referring to the recently-aired episode Blink of an Eye. “A minute in our time is something like six months or a year in their time. The debate is whether or not we should interfere with their culture, because they’re at a primitive stage when we get there and, by the time we’re finished, they’ve advanced to just below our level. The whole show was very cool and Tuvok was actually in it quite a bit.
“Memorial is a Harry Kim [Garrett Wang] episode that involved some location shooting, which is always very cool. The show is about a war memorial which we find is beaming out signals into space. The crews of any ships that pass by begin to relive the battles of those memorialized. Imagine driving by Arlington Cemetery [a military graveyard in Washington, D.C.] and all of a sudden starting to have flashbacks of being on the beaches of Normandy during World War II, and it’s like real life. In addition, some crew members are injured in battle and some others experience post-traumatic stress. The idea of the memorial is that people will understand what happened on this planet so many years ago. That’s a fascinating idea, and the debate is whether to destroy the memorial or leave it alone.”
“My suggestion would be that Tuvok have Pon farr at a time that it would be the most inconvenient. It’s already bad enough that he’s nowhere near his home planet.”
Two other debates of great interest remain whether or not to bring the U.S.S. Voyager and her crew home, and whether or not to have Tuvok experience the Pon farr. Russ has often considered the pros and cons of such occurrences. “The producers have a choice,” he remarks. “The concept of Star Trek: Voyager will essentially die when the ship is brought home. Given that, what do you do? Do you wait and possibly do it later on in a movie, if there is a movie, and thus leave the ship in the Delta Quadrant for now? Or do you want to bring it home at the end of the show? And if you bring it home at the end of the show’s run, whatever movie you may do may be set on Earth rather than in space. So it’s a very tricky question. I’m not certain which would be the best way to go. I really don’t know.
“In terms of Tuvok and Pon farr, I don’t know that it will happen by the time the show is off the air. If it does happen, it would have to be a very interesting story. I’d like to do it, but it would have to be within the guise of an unusual plot. We’ve already done it, in variations, so it’s no longer new. In order for it to be interesting, the context has to be different. It has to be a challenge in more ways than one. My suggestion would be that he have Pon farr at a time that it would be the most inconvenient. It’s already bad enough that he’s nowhere near his home planet. But if he was on a dangerous and complicated mission and couldn’t get back to the ship when he experienced Pon farr, how would he deal with it then? As I said, there have been variations. So, it’s a problem. The writers may just avoid doing it and we’ll have to assume that if they get home at the end of the series, he’ll go to Vulcan shortly thereafter.”
Several times during this conversation Russ has mentioned the looming reality that Star Trek: Voyager will eventually come to an end. And he’s right; it will. But rather than sit around and wait for the wrap party before deciding what he’ll do next, Russ hopes to act and to direct more, but his music and his dream of producing movies will also take on priority status.
“[In directing] I focused more on the performances than I did on the cameras and the angles and this or that.”
An accomplished singer and musician, Russ recently finished a CD, and East of Hope Street, the independent feature film – about troubled teens in the big city – which he co-wrote, co-produced and acted in, is making the rounds of art house cinemas in the United States.
“I think the CD is going to be good,” he enthuses. “I did it with Neil Norman and his band for GNP Crescendo Records. We have a number of different types of tunes on there. Most of the stuff is in the realm of pop-rock and blues. Some of it is mine. Some of it is music that has been previously recorded, but not really heard. Some of it is music that has been published but not recorded. So there’s a lot of different material. There are also a couple of tunes that have been recorded before by other artists and have been heard. It should be out in the winter (of 2000).
“East of Hope Street has had limited theatrical distribution through Cinema Guild Releasing out of New York,” he reveals. “It’s going to be going from city to city, with limited distribution in each city. We’ve already done Los Angeles, Tucson, San Diego and Austin, Texas. The response has been very, very good. Our big problem has been advertising. If we do promotion and pay for ads, it helps the numbers. If you don’t do those things, nobody knows the picture is out there. So, we’re taking it very slowly and doing what we can to promote it.
“But we’re all very pleased with the reaction to the film itself. People seem to get it. A lot of people didn’t know what’s going on in that area, in terms of these young kids. Nobody thinks about this kind of stuff and you really don’t hear about it very often. The film gives you an inside peak at that kind of life and the system, and it’s surprising people.
“I think the film may eventually go to The Sundance Channel and to the Independent Film Channel,” Russ says hopefully. “It may also go to one of the other cable television networks. After that it will definitely go to video. That’s the main market. To be honest, that’s the only market in which we’re going to make our money back. We won’t make it back in theaters or from cable. We’ll make some money, but the bulk of it will come from the video release when it’s available for rental and purchase.”
As the conversation reaches its conclusion, the subject returns to Star Trek: Voyager, which hasn’t quite reached its conclusion yet. In the time remaining, what would Russ like to see happen in the show?
“I’d like to do a little more with some of my fellow actors,” he replies. “I’ve had very little to do with Roxann [Dawson], very little. I’ve had very little, especially lately, to do with Robert Beltran. We just haven’t seen much of Tuvok with Torres or Chakotay. I’ve had a few scenes lately with Garrett, but they haven’t been in-depth Tuvok-Kim scenes. On the other hand, we at least had Alter Ego.
“Torres, really, is the only one with whom I’ve had virtually no in-depth scenes. Tuvok has had those kinds of moments with Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and the Doctor and, initially, Chakotay. Obviously, I have had a lot of heavy scenes with Janeway [Kate Mulgrew], Seven of Nine [Jeri Ryan] and Neelix.
“Before we’re done, I’d just like to have had heavy scenes with everybody.”