Star Trek The Official Fan Club Magazine Star Trek Communicator, Feb./March 1995
By Pete Hull
The history of Earth and the history of Vulcan are very much alike. Vulcans were once a very violent, self-destructive people. They overcame their nature through the discipline of logic. However, human beings have not yet grown out of their violent nature, and they are still saddled with very basic emotional and irrational tendencies and behaviors. Technologically, the history of Earth is one of progress and advancement. But in terms of spirituality and consciousness and being able to get along with each other, human beings have not evolved and the history of earth remains a violent one. Human beings have come very close to self-destruction on this planet once before … and [they] may not be out of the firs just yet.
These are the wise words of Tim Russ, who plays Tuvok, the Vulcan Tactical/Security Officer aboard the new starship the U.S.S. Voyager. The Star Trek Communicator caught up with Russ recently and talked with him about his role as part of the Voyager crew.
From what we learned, it seems Russ was born to play. Tuvok. Indeed, the two have a lot in common.
“Both Tuvok and I believe in the power of logic,” Russ says. “If you are communicating with somebody and trying to work out a solution to a problem or a disagreement, logic is the only way to cut through the emotional, irrational biases that you may harbor. It is very difficult to do that. But it is the only way to reach a solution. To me, logic, objectivity and reason are the only ways of approaching difficult things.”
Russ’ belief in practicality and the natural order of things has been influenced by his interest in natural science, a hobby he has pursued for the last decade.
“Natural science is the observation of nature, whether it be terrestrial or extraterrestrial,” he explains. “The natural world has a lot of answers for us. A lot of things in the way the natural world functions, and the mechanisms behind them, are so profound, so extraordinary and so pure. Yet, as human beings, we like to think of ourselves as able to control nature, to separate ourselves from it. But we cannot. We are a very integral part of it.
“In nature, you see the power of that which is simple, straightforward and unbiased,” Russ continues. “Nature works because it is logical. The processes make sense and all the pieces fit. We can learn a lot from that.”
Unlike many Star Trek hopefuls, Russ considered himself a fan long before he decided to pursue a role as part of the crew. He became a fan while he was a student at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas.
“I’m not much of a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine,” Russ concedes. “It’s the original creation, the original story, that I really enjoy.”
He has his own ideas about the show’s appeal. “Apart from the wonder of pure escapism, I think the main reason people enjoy Star Trek is [for] its view of the future,” he says. “In the Star Trek future, human beings have overcome the difficulties, the ones we have right now, trying to live together on this very small world … not only difficulties that are country-to-country, but person-to-person. Star Trek is a possible road map to the future.
“In Star Trek,” Russ continues, “we don’t see the terrible things that plague us now. We see human beings, people like us, getting along with other people of different races and different cultures on a consistent basis. The fact that Star Trek envisions a future where we’ve overcome the problems and have been able to reach the stars,” he pauses for a moment. “My God, to travel to the stars … obviously things at home must be much better for us to be able to do that.”
Although he’s seen every original episode more than once, (his favorites are “Assignment: Earth,” “All Our Yesterdays,” and “Balance of Terror”), it is in the books that Russ has found much of the background information that will help him develop his character.
“I’ve read at least 10, maybe 15 of the books,” he says. I think Disinherited and Alan D. Foster’s logs seven, eight and nine are some of the best so far. The books go into much more detail about Vulcan than do the episodes. They’ve helped me interpret certain words and phrases and the way things are done. Thanks to them, I’ve been able to inject a little bit of my understanding of the character here and there.”
“What will come? We’ll have to wait and see. But just the opportunity to be associated with this project, to be associated with Star Trek, is incredible.”
One of the subjects Russ discussed with producers was hobbies: What will Tuvok do in his spare time?
“It was inevitable that this was going to come up, and I had some thoughts on what I would like to see my character doing,” Russ says. “So we discussed what Tuvok’s hobbies might be, and came up with a number of possible interests.
“We discussed music, because I’m a musician. But I would prefer not to go for that initially, because my predecessor [Spock] was a musician. I would like for the hobbies to help set my character apart from [Spock’s]. Maybe Tuvok’s hobbies will be something physical, something in contrast to Spock’s meditation, something like an active sport. Or they may be sculpture or painting. The arts would be an interesting contrast to his job as Tactical/Security Officer. We’re really looking forward to developing this aspect of his character.”
Russ, 38, was born into an Air Force family in Washington, D.C. His father’s service career took the family to Taiwan, the Philippines and Turkey. It was a lot of pulling up roots every couple of years for Russ, his brother and his sister. The Air Force eventually brought them to Sacramento, California, which he now calls home.
In an unusual way, Russ’ experiences as part of an Air Force family prepared him for acting. “Not only were we having to move from one place to another, without knowing when that was going to happen, but other people with whom you became very close also moved,” he says. “Your friends, your girlfriends or whatever, would have to leave too, and you might never see them again. That was very difficult. As a child growing up, friends are very important. You’re not concerned with rent and bills and all kinds of other noise, you’re just concerned with your friends. You could be stationed on the Moon and it wouldn’t matter. Friends mattered. But then my father or their father would get orders, and you would lose them.
“It might be the middle of the school year, and you would have to pack up and to someplace strange,” he remembers. “At the next assignment, you were the new kid on the block, joining classes that were already in progress. You had to fit in somehow. Those elements,” he explains, “not knowing when you were going to have to move, not knowing when you might lose your friends, and having to fit in quickly, are directly related to the nature of this work.”
Russ provides an example of the touch-and-go lifestyle he continues to lead. “On Friday afternoon I might read for something, and then on Sunday the call could come in saying that I have the part and that I have to leave for Arizona the next morning for seven weeks of shooting,” he says. “That literally happened. That’s the same thing that happened when I was growing up. Acting is full of uncertainty,” he admits. “It’s not a very secure lifestyle, but it is an exciting one.”
Russ says he was thrilled to learn that he would be part of the Voyager cast. “The initial news of becoming part of Voyager was quite a high, but at the time I forced myself to be reserved about it,” he says. “I’ve been on series before, a couple of times, pilots and otherwise, and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. But it’s the opportunity, more than anything else, that elates me,” he says. “What will come? We’ll have to wait and see. But just the opportunity to be associated with this project, to be associated with Star Trek, is incredible.”
This was not the first time Russ had read for a Star Trek part. During the casting of ST:TNG, he read for the part of Geordi LaForge.
“I think Gene Roddenberry wanted to go with someone with a name familiar to the American public,” Russ said. “LeVar is a great actor and he had a name that was well known.”
However, Russ did succeed in landing guest parts in the ST:TNG episode “Starship Mine” as the Klingon mercenary, T’Kar, and also appeared in the ST:DS9 episode “Invasive Procedures.” And in Star Trek Generations, you saw him on the bridge of the Enterprise-B. But Tuvok was the role of a lifetime.
“I didn’t take any work from February to June or July because I had a hint from the producers that this was coming up, and that they would like to have me read for it,” he says. “So I didn’t take any work that might keep me from being available to read for the part. That’s how badly I wanted to have a shot at it.”
He pauses. “But then the initial breakdown of the part came and it called for an actor who appeared to be 50 or 60 years old! I waited for a while and then finally decided to write off any chances for the part. So I called my agent and we discussed taking other work. And wouldn’t you know it? That was the day they called me in to read for Tuvok,” he says. “The nature of the role had changed,” he explains. “That has happened in all three shows; they have changed the character of parts while in the casting process.
“I did the reading and headed home,” Russ says. “Within half an hour after I left the office, my manager called and told me that I got the job.”
Whereas Spock was a half-Vulcan, Tuvok is full Vulcan. This gives Russ and the writers a lot of freedom; with the exception of a few encounters with Sarek, we’ve not spent much time with a full Vulcan.
Tuvok’s intellectual strengths and his training in logic and reason will make him an important part of the crew. He is the problem solver and the captain’s confidante.
“Being a tactical officer who is a Vulcan, [Tuvok] is not coming in with guns ablazing,” Russ says. “He uses his wits, not force. He’s going to be a detective more than anything else, and that will be one of his primary assets as Tactical/Security Officer.”
While we may not get to see Tuvok playing a musical instrument in the crew lounge as Spock once did, fans who live near Los Angeles or Sacramento may one day get to hear Russ’ musical talents live. He plays guitar, rhythm & blues, and is a vocalist.
“I think I would like to do something along the lines of what Woody Allen does,” Russ says. “He plays every other weekend at a club in his hometown.”
Will Russ put together a group of fellow Voyager, much like Brent Spiner has done with the ST: TNG cast?
“We’ve joked about it often,” he says. “But I don’t know if it will happen.”
Russ laughs for a moment, and then we realize: his character is full Vulcan, which means his laugh is something we probably won’t hear in but a very few episodes.
As the Communicator’s time with Tim Russ draws to a close, we ask if there is anything else he’d like to say to fans in this, his first introduction to them.
“People ask me sometimes, ‘Are you happy?’” Russ begins. “I usually say, ‘Instead of happy, I’m grateful. I was ever so fortunate to get this particular show and part. Not only is it a genre that I thoroughly enjoy, but it is a specific show based on an earlier show that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed for years.’
“The most important thing and the most difficult thing for us to do as human beings is to be grateful on a daily basis for whatever it is we have – our health, our families, or out jobs and careers, whatever, our opportunities,” he continues. “What I’m trying to focus on these days is trying to appreciate every single moment, and to be absolutely grateful.”
As we say good-bye, we expect Russ to make some Vulcan-like parting comment – “Live long and prosper,” perhaps, or some new derivative. He doesn’t.
Instead, he says “Thank you.”