TV Zone, #73, Dec. 1995
Tim Russ knows the reality of his place in Star Trek: Voyager. Whether he likes it or not, his character, Starfleet Tactical-Security Officer Tuvok, is the next big Vulcan, but Russ, ever the candid individual, knows that simply being a Vulcan is not the big hook.
“I’m being pushed as the black Vulcan,” chuckles Russ. “Look at me. I am black. It’s something I can’t get around so I might as well use it to my advantage. I don’t feel uncomfortable being pushed that way. It’s not like the question isn’t going to be brought up so I might as well accept it.”
Russ, in authoritarian tones mixed with a touch of ironic humor, is holding court on the set of Star Trek: Voyager. It is between scenes requiring Tuvok’s presence and, as other Voyager regulars walk in and out of the Bridge set, Russ is having a sly aside at the expense of the tedium the press process has become. “It’s not that you people are driving me crazy but it’s just that Voyager is so new you all tend to ask the same questions over and over again. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve wanted to take a sampling of my answers to any three interviews and just hand them out on a flyer.”
Russ, prior to his Star Trek : Voyager audition, was no stranger to Star Trek. In fact he’s the closest thing the various incarnations of the show have had to an in-house guest star. He auditioned for the pilots of both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and while he did not make the final cut on either of those shows, the producers managed to find regular work for the actor. He played a humanoid terrorist on an episode of TNG and appeared a T’Kar, a Klingon mercenary in several episodes of DS9. Most recently he made a featured appearance as a tactical officer in the movie Star Trek Generations. “Appearing on other Star Trek shows and the movie definitely was an advantage when it came to auditioning for Voyager. That’s generally how they work on Star Trek. If they like your work they generally bring you back for other things.”
Russ, however, says that having this inside track did not guarantee him being a lock for Tuvok. “I felt making the producers feel I was right for the part would be the big challenge but that it had to extend beyond the audition process. There were some anxious moments even after I got the part because once the series went into production I had to convince them they had made the right choice.”
A Different Vulcan
From Voyager’s inception Russ was faced with the inevitable comparisons between Tuvok and his famous Vulcan counterpart, Spock. You can see it in Russ’ expression that he’s heard it all before. But he patiently trots out his defense one more time.
“I am not Spock,” he says. “Tuvok is a little bit younger than Spock and Tuvok has a family while Spock does not. Within the already established Vulcan parameters, I see myself as playing this character much differently than Spock. I’m making some choices with my character that Spock would never make.”
And these choices, he continues, have a lot to do with Star Trek: Voyager’s lost in Space premise. “Because Tuvok is so far away from The Federation and his family and because he has already had a previous relationship with Captain Janeway, he’s making more of an effort to try and understand and communicate with the humans around him rather than being completely standoffish. The character will always maintain his stoic demeanor and will maintain a certain amount of distance between him and the others. But there’s already some effort on Tuvok’s part to try and accommodate the human condition.
Russ is too immersed in the ongoing care and feeding of the second season to look critically on how his character is being treated. But he points so Season One highlights as to “how I’m more than happy with the way the writers have treated Tuvok”.
“Ex Post Facto was a wonderful episode because it established how my character works in terms of using his skills to solve a crime. I liked Cathexis because it showed a different side of Tuvok when he was taken over by the alien presence. Learning Curve is a good example of how Tuvok could work with humans and actually come away from the experience having learned something. Prime Factors was a good Tuvok episode even though the character was not featured in it because it cemented my relationship with Captain Janeway and showed the kinds of choices my character could make when he had to.”
The actor offers that, for a Vulcan, the Voyager writers are taking great pains to have him interact regularly with the other cast members. “I have a lot of scenes with Captain Janeway and I think we’ve gone a long way in developing that relationship. We’re getting bits and pieces of the backstory and we’re learning why they work so well together. I’ve enjoyed the scenes with Chakotay. Because of what transpired in the pilot episode there’s always an element of distrust and tension in any scenes they have together. I hope they carry that on and, at some point, have some kind of showdown between them. The scenes with Neelix have been quite entertaining. They have had us giving each other advice and I think that’s quite funny.”
Tim Russ’ career also includes a number of other Science Fiction TV outings. Of particular note was his tour of duty as the computer whiz on the short lived road-warrior television series The Highwayman. “The whole experience happened really quickly. I read on Friday, tested on Saturday and was on a plane Monday to the Arizona desert for seven weeks. I liked the character but everything was hectic and rushed and there were tons of script revisions which I think were a main reason why the show did not work.”
The actor also had the unusual role of Answering Machine Guy in another briefly seen Fantasy series The People Next Door. “That was a totally outrageous character that I could totally sink my teeth into. Everybody can relate to answering machines and the writers were really brainstorming storylines for me. Unfortunately the ratings were never real good and so we didn’t last very long.”
Russ also was the sole survivor of a Freddy’s Nightmares episode in which he played a scientist battling a mysterious virus. He also appeared in the pilot of the updated telling of Journey to the Center of the Earth. “I played this Navy Seal kind of guy who was the muscle for this group of explorers, but the pilot had story problems and it was not really good which is why the show never went to series.”
Those jobs, he says, were more work than anything else. But once he got into the Star Trek sphere of influence it was like the culmination of something deeper. “For me it was a personal landmark, career wise, to get on Star Trek. It was the one show I really wanted to get on. In a way it was something real personal for me.”
Tim Russ, the son of a career military man, was born in Washington DC but raised on airforce bases around the world. While attending ST Edwards University in Austin, Texas, landed his first professional acting job in a PBS production of Masterpiece Theater. It would be eight years later, in 1985, that Russ decided to take acting seriously. He has worked constantly in television (Arresting Behavior), movies (Fire with Fire, Dead Connection) and on stage (Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night).
The actor, also an accomplished singer-songwriter who fronts his own band when time permits, returns to the topic of Star Trek: Voyager and speculates on where he sees Tuvok going in seasons to come. “I’d like to see the writers explore a few more facets to his character. I’m sure he has a life off the bridge and I’d like to see more of that side. I think there’s also a lot of potential in putting Tuvok in circumstances that would challenge the parameters of the Vulcan mystique. He has an Achilles heel of logic. I’d like to force him to make difficult decisions.”
“To my way of thinking this character has a lot more to show in terms of emotions and thoughts. So far he’s had a lot to do and a lot of his character has been out there for people to latch onto. But, in a sense, I think Tuvok has had an easy ride. He’s done the normal Vulcan thing. I’d like to see the writers be a little tougher on Tuvok and make him work a little harder.
“That’s the kind of challenge I hope for on this show.”