Starburst #259, March 2000
After six years in the Delta Quadrant, Star Trek: Voyager’s Tim Russ can see journey’s end looming, as he tells James Reading
Tim Russ doesn’t know what the future holds for him, but the actor – who has spent the better part of the last six years traversing the cosmos as Tuvok on Voyager – can already gauge the impact of Star Trek on his life and career.
“There was definitely an impact within the first year,” Russ notes. “The demand for your services, the demand for your appearances, the demand for your input and your participation in certain things definitely increases. You definitely notice it. Your phone rings a lot more. You get a lot more faxes. You’re invited to a lot more functions, whether it’s for charity, for profit or promotional. You find that you have a lot of friends you didn’t know you had. People want to know you. They want to be your friend. They want to be able to call. It is a very strange phenomenon.
“Apart from that, there’s the realization that wherever you go, doing common, simple things – going to the 7-Eleven or to the supermarket – people are surprised to see you there doing those common things. My celebrity status is not to the point where I’m not dropping into a 7-Eleven any more. Someone like Harrison Ford or some other celebrity may live in another part of town. They only come into the city to work and then they leave. I live in town and I drive myself everywhere and I still do things on my own. People are usually surprised to see me. Still, to some degree, I am in the public eye. My life, in some respects, is an open book right now. So I have to keep a clean slate. I have to be aware of the fact that all my actions can be transmitted to the public. Those kinds of things I noticed immediately.
“It happens to be year six, but it doesn’t feel as if I’ve been doing Voyager for six years”
“There are also perks that go with being recognized, like getting a seat in a restaurant, getting free tickets to this or that or getting the VIP treatment at some event. It’s also nice to have enough money to cover the basics, which I wasn’t able to cover as well before Voyager started. I don’t have to worry, within reason, about how much this or that costs. That’s something else you notice, and you can get used to it if you’re not careful.”
Russ clearly takes the pros and cons of his celebrity status quite seriously. And it’s no surprise that he takes his work just as seriously. When they were casting Voyager producers Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor obviously saw that in Russ’s previous Trek appearances, which had included the roles of Devor in the Next Generation episode Starship Mine, T’Kar in the Deep Space Nine installment Invasive Procedures and an anonymous Enterprise bridge officer in Star Trek: Generations. And, speaking with the actor as he prepares for Voyager’s Christmas/New Year’s hiatus, it’s apparent that while he still places a great importance on Tuvok and his stint on Voyager, the passage of time has not gone unnoticed, and he’s beginning to consider life after the show.
“What we’ve done from year to year is so much the same that all the years blend together,” he notes. “That has made the time go by quickly. A year feels like another year. A season feels like another season. It happens to be year six, but it doesn’t feel as if I’ve been doing Voyager for six years. It is very much a routine, because of the number of years I’ve been doing it. There hasn’t been any great change this year, no big shift, and it feels very much the same. It kind of feels like one big year.
Preparing for the end
“I knew when I started that there would be a finite number of years the show would be on. We always figured it would be six or seven years. I sort of expected that. Because we’re in year six, I’ve only got one more year to go on Voyager. And I’m starting to think in terms of what I’ll be doing when the show is off the air.”
“Riddles was actually long by about nine minutes – a very, very long time. That’s almost a whole act”
We’re not there yet, however, thus much of the conversation centers on Voyager. Russ makes no bones about the fact that the writers have not given Tuvok as much to do the past couple of years as they did during the first three seasons. That’s been something of a frustration to him. But he hastens to add that the strong episodes that have centered on the Vulcan – Riddles and Gravity in particular – pretty much made up for the lack of screen time. If the actor had his way, he certainly knows how he’d develop Tuvok’s ongoing arc. “There are certain situations I’d like to see Tuvok in, to see how he might handle them,” Russ says. “I’d like to see him deal with things other than tactical elements. He’s experienced at that and very knowledgeable. What he’s not as experienced at, what he’s not as knowledgeable about, what he’d be more challenged by, would be understanding the emotions of other people or having to extricate himself from a situation without being able to use tactics, but rather perceptions. Vulcans are not good at lying. I’d like to see him rely on hunches or guesses, and not have all the information in front of him with which to make his decisions. I’d like to see him have to read people. All of these things are abstract concepts, especially for a Vulcan. We’ve really only touched on that in Alter Ego, and I think it would be great to do more of it.”
Sixth season highlights
And what does Russ make of Season Six thus far, as it applies to Tuvok specifically and Voyager in general? “We’ve had some very, very cool stuff,” he responds, before going on to name an episode which placed Tuvok’s Vulcan control of his emotions squarely in the spotlight. “Riddles was amazing. The episode was actually long by about nine minutes. Nine minutes is a very, very long time. That’s almost a whole act. Knowing the episode’s story as intimately as I did, I personally missed a lot of that nine minutes. There was some character-building material that got cut. Some spots within the arc were cut, so that – in my opinion – Tuvok’s behavior changed rather abruptly. There wasn’t a sense of time going by before he went from point A to point B. That happens often on the show, because the episodes have to run 42 minutes. But you really notice it when you’ve read the script and worked on it for a whole week, then see the show in its finished form.
Vulcans with attitude
“Pathfinder was exceptional, too,” he adds, referring to an episode set back on Earth, where Starfleet engineer Reg Barclay has created a holographic replica of Voyager and her crew. “Tuvok had a little bit of an attitude, because it was Tuvok as Barclay (Dwight Schultz) saw him. Usually, I get that kind of moment with Neelix (Ethan Phillips) or Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill). They’re generally the foils for Tuvok to display a bit of humor.”
Keeping his Voyager adventure fresh, Russ admits, has been a challenge. He does what he can with run-of-the-mill bridge scenes that call for him to utter such well-worn phrases as “Shields are at 20 percent”, and tries to act the hell out of any other morsel he’s given. Fortunately, there are other ways to spice up Voyager’ journey home – directing an episode has certainly provided a new spark for several of the cast, and it did so for Russ when he stepped behind the camera to call the shots on Living Witness, a well-received fourth season entry.
“I was very pleased with the way the episode turned out,” Russ says. “I was extremely lucky. It’s nothing more than a crapshoot, in terms of what story you come down with. The story I got was self-contained and could be told so easily. It was a good, twisting story. Not only was it a good story, but it was a first in terms of seeing the Voyager characters completely out of character. “It had never been done and I was the guy who got the opportunity to tell that story.
“Overall, I was pleased with the way it came together. Obviously, there were a couple of things I would have liked to have done differently, a couple of shots here and there that I would have liked to have changed. I was lucky to get Bob Picardo as the lead. He’s such a talented actor. I haven’t seen the episode recently, but I was happy with the end result and people seemed to like it. And I hope to direct again before the end of the show. My hat is in the ring, but there are only so many slots.”
Tuvok played guitar…
Beyond the walls of the Paramount sound stages, Russ has other interests that go a long way toward keeping his working life: his music and his efforts as a writer-producer of independent features. On the music front, he has just completed a CD due out from GNP Crescendo Records in January. “It’s not New Age or heavy metal,” Russ notes. “It’s not all blues or country or anything like that. It’s not all R & B. It’s a mixture of some of those elements, but most of it is pop-blues-rock. I play all the rhythm guitar and I do all the vocals. Neil Norman is the producer and we’re using his band, his players. It’s a five-piece band, and these are the same guys I’ve performed with [during occasional concerts]. We’ve recorded the music live, by the way, so there won’t be any sequencing.”
As for his film pursuits, Russ recently co-wrote, co-produced (putting up a chunk of his own money) and played a supporting role in East of Hope Street, a drama about troubled teens in Los Angeles. Russ celebrated the film’s theatrical release with a premičre in Los Angeles and is now watching closely as the picture slowly reaches art house theaters across America. While he’s thrilled that the film made it into cinemas, Russ is realistic enough to know that it’s not typically commercial fare and that its best chance of turning a profit will come when the film arrives on home video. After putting his heart, soul and cash into Hope Street, does Russ want to do it again anytime soon? “I’d prefer not to write more features, but I’d like to develop them,” the responds. “I’m actually developing another one now. I don’t, however, want to shoot anything that I’m financing myself at this point in time.
“I’m not going to be able to afford to do it any more, unless I win the lottery. Because Voyager will be going off the air in about a year, I’m not going to have the resources to do that a second time. I would only do that if I had a guaranteed pickup on the back end. I’d rather get the interest first before doing anything else. There’s not a lot to lose that way. What you’re doing is going into an independent project, but you have a total plan from start to finish. Your marketing is in place. Demographics are in place. A distribution arm is in place. Resources give you the chance to have everything in place.”
Music, producing and directing. Russ is doing it all now and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to do it all when Voyager warps into the sunset. “There’s going to be life after Voyager, and that’s why I’m working on so many other projects,” he says as the conversation draws to a conclusion. “I’d like to cultivate the directing career. I’d like to cultivate producing other features and/or TV series. I’d also like to cultivate my music projects as well. Somewhere in the middle of next year I’ll probably start working on the next CD. During our hiatus [between the sixth and seventh seasons of Voyager], I’ll also hopefully do some touring to support the current CD. But, right now, I’m ready for another year of Voyager. As I said, it all feels like one big season anyway.”
“There’s going to be life after Voyager, and that’s why I’m working on so many other projects. I’d like to cultivate the directing career”