Star Trek Monthly #85, November 2001
With his involvement with Star Trek: Voyager at an end, Tim Russ finds himself with a number of exciting new projects on the boil, including his beloved music. Paul Simpson and Ruth Thomas meet up with the Tuvok star in Blackpool, and get his thoughts on Endgame, Star Trek: Voyager’s legacy, and what the future holds for the actor.
Tim Russ settles back on the sofa in the room set aside for interviews at the Wolf: The Return convention at the Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool, and takes a few moments to catch his breath before making a start on the interview. Due to a missed plane connection, he arrived late for the event, and has been frantically playing catch-up during the first day.
By the time we meet in the early afternoon, Russ has already entertained the 3,500-strong crowd for the first of his two panels for the weekend, bringing his guitar on stage to regale the throng with tunes from all three of his CDs, including his latest release, Kushangaza. Before him lies the daunting prospect of three-and-a-half thousand autographs – although, unlike his erstwhile captain, at least he hasn’t guaranteed that everyone will receive a personalized memento of the weekend. Although he’s tired, he’s in remarkably good humor, cracking jokes as everyone gets ready for the interview.
Now that Tuvok is part of his past – at least for the time being – Russ has shaved his head and grown a goatee beard. The quite drastic change in image reflects the fact that his life is moving in various directions now that he is no longer a regular player in the Star Trek universe. “It feels like a very large chapter of my life is closed, and I know that I’m moving on,” he reflects. “And I quite honestly don’t miss the shooting schedule at all. So it’s so much a relief to be on my own and be able to schedule things on my own. I can work on other projects and take up other opportunities, so it’s actually a very positive thing. But I miss working with my friends and working with people on the crew immensely, because it was a lot of fun.”
“I miss working with my friends and working with people on the crew immensely, because it was a lot of fun.”
Russ has been regularly named as the main joker on the Star Trek: Voyager set, and during the weekend, his co-stars make a point of mentioning their favorite incidents involving him. Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway) recounts a tale on stage at the convention which involved naked pictures of Russ being plastered around her trailer, while Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris) recalls the time that Tuvok burst into song when he was supposed to be entering mind meld. Put on the spot, Russ himself tells of an incident during one of Robert Picardo’s (the Doctor) episodes as director.
“Bob was singing his opera material in the mess hall, and Tuvok goes into Pon farr,” he explains. “While the camera was on Ethan Phillips [Neelix], I jumped into the camera frame, grabbed him, and sort of molested him right there on the spot – on camera. It was quite a moment. It stopped production for a good 10 minutes!” As far as Russ is concerned, that wasn’t a major problem, but, as he points out, “the line producers probably weren’t happy about that, but we had a good laugh. Somewhere that’s on somebody’s video tape – locked up, I should think.”
The ST: VOY cast have often been honest in their opinions of some of the episodes they have participated in, but although some of his fellow cast members have expressed a certain amount of dissatisfaction with the focus of the closing two-hour episode, Endgame, Tim Russ doesn’t share their feelings.
“I thought the final episode of the show was brilliantly done, because the writers did it in a non-linear fashion… They did it in reverse, basically.”
“I thought the final episode of the show was brilliantly done, because the writers did it in a non-linear fashion,” he explains. “It wasn’t what people expected in terms of a plot sequence. They did it in reverse, basically.” And he’s not overly concerned that Endgame wasn’t a particularly strong ensemble piece. “That show primarily centered on the captain and her counterpart from the future, who had to come in and change things around in terms of getting us back. It’s consistent with the way the writing is on Star Trek: they tend to do things that you don’t expect them to do, and tell stories in certain ways where you don’t expect certain things to happen.”
Russ did relish the unusual way in which the Tuvok of the future was portrayed – a man with only a tenuous grip left on his sanity. The downfall of this once great logician was one of the catalysts prompting Admiral Janeway to travel back in time to try to bring the U.S.S. Voyager home much earlier than happened in that timeline. “That was a great twist,” he says. “It was something totally unexpected, and I thought it was really brilliantly done.”
He’s quick to make clear that the ‘mad’ Tuvok was only one possible future, and because of Admiral Janeway’s actions, it was not one that was likely to come to pass. “Ultimately, we get home earlier, so things would have been different,” he explains. “So again, true to form, everything comes out positive in the end.”
“What I’ve taken away from Voyager has been this amazing opportunity to be able to personally commune one on one with the fans of the shows.”
Russ counts his interaction with Star Trek’s huge worldwide fanbase as one of the most positive elements of his seven years’ involvement with the show. “What I’ve taken away from Voyager has been this amazing opportunity to be able to personally commune one on one with the fans of the shows,” he says. “On most television and film projects, you never really see the fans on such a large scale. You don’t always get a chance to meet the people who support and watch your stuff, except for every once in a while on the street. But Star Trek is so concentrated, and so specific and focused that you get a chance to meet really large numbers of people that watch your show and can give you so much feedback on it.”
The actor is also able to put his work on ST: VOY in perspective as far as his future career is concerned. “It was a great launching pad,” he believes. “The greatest benefit from being on the show was being able to work on things from a professional standpoint. I’ve had the opportunity to direct y own projects, and the opportunity to produce my own projects. I’ve had the chance to do voice-overs and other things that I think would have been very difficult to try to accomplish without having that show as a platform.”
Russ is making the most of those opportunities. While at the present time he has nothing specific lined up as far as working in front of the camera is concerned, Russ is concentrating his energies on three different writing projects over the coming months. “I’m working on a children’s project called Bugsters, which I’m co-writing with a lady named Jedda Roskilly,” he reveals. “It involves music and stories that children can learn certain lessons from. The main characters are seven insects and it takes place in a swamp, so it’s a lot of fun.
“I’m also working on a project called Metal War, which is a combination of CGI and live action. It’s a sci-fi action project, and I’m working with David Fisher on that. He has worked with Sega ad a few other people in the past, and he’s a great computer animator. This involves a robot mafia, if you will, in a world that we’ve created, totally on our own. It’s a very cool story and a very cool concept, and we’d like to try to get it launched as a TV series.
“I’ve got a third feature project called Last of the One Night Stands, which I’m working on with another friend of mine. It’s a big band film.”
Of course, Russ is not neglecting his music. Later that evening he headlines the cabaret alongside Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Chase Masterson and his colleague Robert Picardo, and it’s clear form his performance that he thoroughly enjoys the buzz of live musical performance. “I won’t have another CD released until maybe next year or the year after,” he points out, adding, “I just released one recently called Kushangaza, just two or three months ago. That’s the third one that I’ve done in the last two or three years. I may take a break and not release another one for another year or two.”
Russ is conscious that he needs to ensure that the next CD is as powerful as his recent releases. “It takes a while to really find all the material for making the CDs,” he explains. “I’ve got to find stuff that I think is going to work, is going to be strong. It will either be written by myself or by the Beatles.” Fans who enjoy his performances at conventions can take heart. “I’m still going to be performing in different venues throughout the United States, and a little bit in Europe once in a while.”
It certainly seems that we have not heard the last of Tim Russ, and as the actor walks down the metal staircase that leads to the backstage area and his next appointment, he looks back and smiles. “I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire at the moment,” he promises.