Starlog #286, May 2001
By Ian Spelling
Logically, Tim Russ knows the end is near for Star Trek: Voyager.
Tim Russ arches an eyebrow and smiles. “It’s my longest gig, no question about that,” he says of Star Trek: Voyager, speaking as he gazes first down at his Tuvok costume and then up at Stage 16, which looms in front of him. “I had done The Next Generation [“Starship Mine”] and Deep Space Nine [“Invasive Procedures”] as guest spots. I had done Star Trek: Generations. I had also done other TV series [Highwayman, The People Next Door], but they did not last as long as Voyager. I can’t say that anything about doing Voyager surprised me, in terms of how the reality of it compared to my expectations.
“The closest thing to a surprise was the recognition factor, specifically for the show. I figured that would be a little different from the way it turned out. It has been more consistent and widespread than I anticipated. In other words, I’m recognized more than I expected and I’ve had more interaction with the fans, through conventions and fan clubs and through my music, than I expected.”
Just a few weeks from now, Russ will no longer be sitting outside a Paramount Pictures soundstage in his Vulcan ears and Starfleet uniform. He’ll be getting on with the rest of his life. After seven years, Voyager’s impending end carries with it a galaxy of feelings and realities. There will be sadness about not seeing the people that he has seen every day since 1994. He’ll also miss the role, the money and, yes, that Star Trek fame, a phenomenon as distinct as Trek itself.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” he acknowledges. “I’ll miss the cast and the crew. Those guys are great. I enjoy that and I’ll miss that a lot, probably more than anything else. But form a career and business standpoint, it is time to move on.”
In about a half-hour, Russ will return to the set to shoot his next scene as the stoic Vulcan who has stood by Captain Janeway’s side since Voyager’s journey began with the “Caretaker” pilot. Tuvok, of course, was the federations’ plant among the Maquis rebels, and now he works with and associates as much with those rebels – Paris, Chakotay and Torres – as he does with Janeway. “He has gone through a number of changes,” asserts Russ of his character, who figured prominently in such episodes as “Learning Curve,” “Meld,” “Innocence,” “Tuvix,” “Flashback,” “Alter Ego,” “Rise,” “Gravity,” “Riddles,” “Tsunkatse,” the “Unimatrix” two-parter and “Repression.”
“We know that he has a family,” Russ continues. “We know that he has a past with Starfleet. He has gone through changes as a result of alien intervention, breakdowns of his façade, the various Maquis-Starfleet interactions on the ship and the loss of his emotions. The guy has really been through the wringer in the past seven years and he has grown a great deal as a result. He has become more used to and accustomed to and – in some cases has employed – human characteristics in order to facilitate an end.
“I think I’ve had plenty to do on the show. I would say that we’ve definitely explored the emotional aspects of the character. Vulcans do have emotions; it’s just that they keep those emotions under the surface. In general, there were times that I was busy-busy-busy for two or three weeks at a time and then there were times when I was pretty much off for a couple of weeks and Tuvok was very light in a few episodes. It’s still that way now. It comes and it goes. That’s the nature of Star Trek. It’s the nature of an ensemble show. There are many characters. But it’s enough for me. It’s fine.”
“From a career and business standpoint, it is time to move on.”
The true essence of some characters remains to be determined, though. In other words, how Harry Kim, Paris or Seven of Nine behave in the final episode – the ones that will determine whether or not Voyager gets home and who survives the experience – will go a long way toward resolving their individual character arcs. Tuvok’s behavior, Russ notes, won’t likely catch anyone off-guard. “If Tuvok remains Tuvok, he is not going to do anything that’s radically unpredictable. He’s not going to do that,” the actor insists. “Whatever happens, it’ll be something that’s in line with his character, based on where he comes from, based on what we’ve seen him do for the last seven years. If there’s a sacrifice to be made, if something happens to him inadvertently he’s going to do his thing. He’s going to stay in line and stay very consistent. If anybody on the ship would do that, it would be Tuvok.”
Looking back on his Trek experiences, Russ agrees to discuss his favorite moments as Tuvok, the toughest scene he was called upon to shoot and the lasting impact of his stint as a director. “Throttling Chakotay in ‘Repression’ was fun,” he says, laughing. “It was actually a pretty cool episode, a very interesting and busy one for me. I liked that show a great deal. So far this season, it has been my busiest show. I had some nice stuff to do, as well, in the “Workforce” two-parter. Tuvok wasn’t himself in those episodes and that’s always very interesting for me to play. He had to regain his identity. In terms of a single scene that I would call the toughest, there was a very long one in ‘Ex Post Facto.’ It was a [first season] episode that LeVar Burton directed. Paris had been accused of a crime. He had an implant in his head. I had to investigate and find out what actually happened. The summation scene at the end of that show was four or five pages of dialogue for Tuvok. It was a very, very long sequence – a lot of work. It was one of the hardest pieces I’ve ever had to do on the show. It just went on forever and it was all me.
“There have been other scenes or aspects that I could also point to as being tough, but they were tough in a physical way, where I had to do some stunts that were challenging. The most interesting and fun piece for me, though, was the Sickbay speech that Tuvok gave in ‘Meld.’ That was a chance to play some levels and show some colors.”
And what of the directing?
“Directing has been very important to me as an actor,” notes Russ, who called the shots on “Living Witness.” “I had worked as a producer-writer before and now, also having directed, I got a very different perspective on the other side. As a director, I want to watch the performances and focus on the performances more so than the technical aspects of the filming. Coming into directing [on “Living Witness”], because I had written and produced, and especially because I’m an actor, I did focus on the technical aspects. As an actor, you take for granted that everybody know what he or she is doing as an actor. On the show I directed, I wanted to get the technical aspects right because, no matter how good the performances are, if the producers and editors don’t get shots they like, they can’t use them. As I do more of it, I’ll probably find myself looking a little less at the camera and more at the performances.”
While his hat is in the ring, it remains to be seen whether or not producers Rick Berman and Ken Biller tap Russ to direct one more episode before Voyager calls it a day. But he’s not worrying too much about that. At the moment, Russ is more concerned about his next music enterprise, a CD that will serve as the follow-up to last year’s disk of rock, folk, and R&B tunes, entitled Tim Russ (he discussed his musical career recently in STARLOG – see issue #277). While one might assume that his Trek association was a boon to Russ as far as generating interest in his music, that both was and wasn’t the case.
“On one side of the coin, people will pick up the CD out of curiosity and they’ll listen to it,” he notes. “The other side is that people in the business may not take it seriously because it’s another Star Trek Actor making a record. But it’s not only Star Trek actors. Some big-name actors have done music, but you don’t see it or hear it anywhere because the business doesn’t take them seriously, either. Jeff Bridges recorded a CD. Russell Crowe has a band. Keanu Reeves and Kevin Bacon have bands. All of us, no matter what our status is in this business – the recording industry does not care. They won’t give you a serious nod, at least not right off the bat. It’ll take some work to crack that nut. I’m not quite sure what it is or how it’s done. But I’ll continue to record. Another CD recording is actually in the works. And I’ll perform as many times and in as many places as I can.”
“I’ll perform [music] as many times and in as many places as I can.”
The future, Russ says, looks bright. He’ll star in a staging of the play ER (which was the source material for an old Elliott Gould sitcom, not the current NBC drama) at a theater in Austin, Texas, beginning in April. There’s an animated children’s project on the horizon, three features that he’s hoping to produce and perhaps act in, and a few other projects that he may direct. And, make no mistake, Russ know that he owes much of his good fortune to Voyager.
“It has been time very well spent,” he says. “The greatest asset of being on a series, beyond the series itself, is the stuff on the periphery. You get career opportunities you wouldn’t normally get. That’s the bonus of longevity. Beyond the nuts and bolts and the paycheck, it has been the chance to direct, the chance to produce [the film East of Hope Street], the music opportunities, the voiceover [Spider-Man, Star Trek: Voyager ‑ Elite Force] and the audionovels [Vulcan’s Heart]. They’ve all been important to me. I’ve done a lot of stuff as a result of just having been on Voyager. The recognition factor leads to many other opportunities, career-wise. I’m very grateful for that and it’s another thing I’ll miss about Voyager.”
As a production assistant arrives to politely inform Russ that he’s required back on set, Russ ends the conversation by addressing Voyager itself one last time and tackling the question of whether or not the Trek fans base appreciated and embraced Voyager as much as they might – or should – have during its run. “Star Trek: Voyager is appreciated by the fans who watch the show,” Tim Russ says. “It’s a finite audience, but it is a very loyal and dedicated finite audience, and that is the main thing. That’s what counts. Our fans are very loyal and enthusiastic. I would rather have that than a wishy-washy large audience.”