This used to be online, but I couldn't find it anymore, which is why I typed it up.
You wouldn’t expect to see Voyager’s impassive Vulcan security officer strumming his six-string in a funky Los Angeles coffeehouse. But when actor Tim Russ has the time, that’s probably what you’ll find him doing. He also recently produced and starred in a feature film, East of Hope Street. The story of a troubled teenage girl was inspired in part by Russ’s work with Zenith Youth Homes, a Los Angeles charity and advocacy group for homeless children. Jeanne Wolf sat down with him just as the Voyager cast was returning from hiatus. – John Walsh
It is somewhat accurate. And I would say the same for all of the characters on the show as well. I would guess that most of the actors you see on any television project are very similar to the characters they play. Particularly television more than features. Capt. Janeway happens to be on a ship in the Delta Quadrant in the 24th century. But she’s still a human being. She’s still a lady. She has a past. She has a husband. She has friends. She has compassion. She has ambition. She has aggression. She has all the elements that make her a human being. We’re all human beings. And even the alien creatures have the emotional parameters that are based on human parameters. A Vulcan’s parameters are somewhat narrow in terms of what they display. But in their past, they were more violent than human beings have ever been. In terms of the lore, the history of the Vulcans, they almost annihilated themselves. They had to learn to control that. And that’s the main difference between the Vulcans and humans. But all the other characters are real people.
Very similar. Strikingly so. The captain
plays a range, from command to compassion. And Kate is very much that way on the
set. She is in charge. She takes charge. And she drives. She moves and drives.
That’s what the captain will do in her position, and Kate does the same thing.
But she’s also a hopeless romantic. The woman is a hopeless romantic. And
that’s all in one person. The captain is exactly the same way
Not at all. I’ve always enjoyed science fiction as a genre. Since I was a kid, I’ve always enjoyed it. It was always fascinating to me. Initially I watched the original series with Shatner and Nimoy – in syndication – through high school and college Off and on. I really became interested and enjoyed the character relationships in that series. And some of the concepts that they dealt with were fascinating. Since that time, I followed the features that they made and such, and it helped in getting this role, knowing already what this character Spock was about. Understanding him and knowing a little bit about his history and his past. And to be quite honest, I had an advantage in certain physical qualities that would lend themselves to playing a similar character to that. So it was really training or learning by osmosis. I had already been aware of it. So getting the feel for it was not that difficult at all. All of the things that surround Star Trek – the history and the fans and all of that other stuff – was a bit of a change. That was something that I had to sort of acclimate to because intellectually I knew it was coming. But emotionally I had never experienced it before. So it was kind of interesting.
I am. Very much so. I will always enjoy that particular genre. I mean, within the genre of science fiction you can have romance, intrigue; you can explore social issues and ideologies, backwards and front without stepping on anybody’s toes. You can examine the human condition really in depth through science fiction. It’s also a platform for pure imagination in terms of stories. Because you have to create from scratch entire worlds, entire cultures, entire philosophies and things. And creatures. And the most important part again is that it allows us to look at ourselves and how we are through the eyes of other creatures or other circumstances. It really is important.
I play electric guitar and bass. And I sing. Most of the stuff that we do is either jazz or pop standards that are older tunes – ‘60s, ‘70s kind of stuff. And some obscure songs by different artists, just a scattering of different artists. And I work in a trio. Three pieces plus a sax. And it’s just right. I mean it’s something that I’m continuing on because I don’t want it to fade into the past, as it were. So I’ve been doing it for 25-plus years. I’ve been playing music and I’ve always wanted to keep that in the background. So now we’ve got it arranged so we can do that.
We play around town, here in Los Angeles. I play semi-regularly at the Common Grounds Coffee House in Northridge. And I’ve been up there on average once every two months or so, maybe. There are some Voyager fans who show up. They want to get signatures and stuff, and pictures, and all that business. They come out. But it’s really nice to be able to keep my music going.
I read for Gene Roddenberry and Rick Berman for the Geordi LaForge role on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It came down to either LeVar Burton or me. And Gene Roddenberry chose LeVar Burton over me. No. 1, because LeVar is right for that role. But also because LeVar had name-recognition. He was the only one in the cast that had American name-recognition. But Rick Berman had always liked the work that I’ve done and he wanted to work with me. So over the next two or three years I read for the show, for guest-starring roles here and there. And then Deep Space Nine began. He brought me in to read for that, and then the role was changed. The whole part changed. So that didn’t happen either. And I subsequently read for more parts here and there. And then finally, a Next Generation guest part came. I played a humanoid terrorist. And I did that episode and then shortly thereafter did another episode of Deep Space Nine, playing a Klingon. And then finally Rick said, “You know, we’re doing a series called Voyager in the summer. I’d like to have you come read for it.”
Yeah. I said every time I come in there, it never happens. But he told me twice that he wanted me for a recurring role. So I talked to my agent about it, and I said, “You know, we shouldn’t take any work that will interfere with my being able to read for this project because we know that it will go. We know it’ll be on air for X number of years. It will be a very good ship to get on, as it were. So let’s not take anything. Let’s not be in – I don’t know, Omaha, shooting episodes of Baywatch or something, when this opportunity comes up.” So we waited. Didn’t take any work for about three or four months.
Then the breakdowns for the show came out, and my manager calls me – I don’t know what hour in the morning it was – screaming, hollering about the fact that the part that was the breakdown did not have a part that was specific for me. And she’s all excited and upset. I said, “Well, you don’t have to worry about it just yet – let’s see what happens.”
I said to myself, Well, that’s the way things are. Which is never used in a positive context. It’s only negative. When you get a role, you never say, “Well, that’s show business.” It’s only when you don’t get it. In this case, I said, “It’s the way it goes.” So I went to my agent and said, “Look, maybe we should just take some other work, because this isn’t going to happen.” I was about to leave his office, and as I turned around – and this actually happened – I turned around to walk out of his office and his secretary came in and said, “They called and want to have you come and read for Star Trek.” They had changed the part. The character was – whatever it was, they changed it to somebody like me. And so I went in to read twice and that was it.
We bet and we won. It was the logical approach, if you’ll excuse the term.