Cinefantastique Vol. 29 #6/7, Nov. 1997

Tim Russ, Tuvok

In the tradition of Leonard Nimoy, he is always a Vulcan

By Anna L. Kaplan.

Tim Russ is the keeper of the Vulcan flame. He takes the responsibility very seriously, just like Leonard Nimoy did when playing Spock. Mr. Tuvok must always behave like a Vulcan, and his actions must always make sense. Said Russ, “I know that Nimoy fought tooth and nail for every aspect of his character. As a result I inherited the legacy of what he has fought for. I feel compelled to continue that, and keep his character consistent. Everybody knows these characters, and they have to make sense. They can’t be one way one week and another way the next.”

He continued, “I haven’t fought as much as I had the first year. The stories haven’t demanded that much of a battle. The first year [I was] just yelling and screaming and hollering and demanding. I think that after the first year they were aware of this character. When they write a Tuvok story or somebody pitches a Tuvok story, they probably think to themselves, he’s going to come in here raising holy hell about this, so we better make sure that everything plays and makes sense.”

How does Russ communicate with the writer/producer? He said, “I usually am on the phone with them before the final draft is done, if I can get them to give that information. Sometimes they’re reluctant, because a few of us will want our hands in the pie as it’s being put together. I definitely talk to the writers. If it’s Brannon [Braga] script, I talk directly to him. Generally I go to Joe Menosky. If it’s a Jeri [Taylor] script or if it’s one of the other writers I go to Jeri and ask for some changes to be made. And I usually get them. You manage to come to some kind of compromise. They’re writing for the whole story and all of the elements that come together, and their attention is in different places. They may have overlooked something specific to your character.”

Of course, the writer/producers and the audience want to learn more about Tuvok. Russ noted, “Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do, which is very difficult, because they want to explore him. In order to do that, you have to open him up on occasion. You have to look under the surface. It’s very hard to look under the surface of a Vulcan because the façade is very strong. It’s very hard to get up under there without a really good reason. Since the first season we’ve done four or five stories where his defenses have been breached, by a virus [or] alien creatures. There was one in ‘Cathexis’ and one in ‘Flashback’ which was ultimately a virus. There was the mind meld problem (‘Meld’). We’ve had a number of situations where his control has been taken away or lost. We can’t go down that path too many more times.”

So what did we learn about Tuvok in season three? Actually, quite a lot, starting with the episode “Flashback,” which shows us his early years on the Excelsior with Captain Sulu (George Takei). Even though the flashbacks were caused by a virus, the memories of the Excelsior were real. It was Russ’s prompting that suggested the details for Tuvok’s backstory, as told to Janeway in his bunk on the Excelsior. “Initially that whole speech wasn’t in there, a page and a half of dialogue,” said Russ. “She asked me, ‘What made you come back to Starfleet?’ and [Braga] had written some line which really wasn’t consistent with Vulcan character. I said, ‘Brannon, the line itself doesn’t work.’ So I said, ‘Give him a real reason why he came back to Starfleet.’ I expected a paragraph, and I ended up getting a page and a half of dialogue. Things like that do make a difference.”

When Tuvok encounters an alien femme fatale in “Alter Ego,” Russ made sure that Tuvok behaved in a properly Vulcan way, and was not romantically involved with Marayna (Sandra Nelson), the alien woman. He talked to writer Menosky before the story was written. Russ told Menosky, “It has to be right on the line of not looking as though he is romantically attracted to this woman, but that he is interested in her intellectually. He wouldn’t be involved with anybody at all. He sticks to his wife.”

In the story, Tuvok teaches her Kalto, a Vulcan game no one else on the ship but he can master. Noted Russ, “All of a sudden there’s someone to play with as opposed to a machine, which makes it much more interesting. Engaging in conversation and ideas and thoughts, that’s something he’s into very heavy duty, until she’s perceived as a threat and it switches.”

In “Rise” the relationship between Neelix and Tuvok finally came to a head. This had been brewing ever since Neelix first started calling him Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok’s lack of patience with Neelix is almost always visible, but was shown in an alarming way during “Meld” when Tuvok mind-melded with the murderous Suder (Brad Dourif). Tuvok killed a holodeck Neelix during that episode, and while he was not his normal self at the time, it seemed hatred might be the emotion Tuvok would have for Neelix, if he had emotions. As it is, clearly Tuvok does not enjoy Neelix’s company. They are stuck together in “Rise” along with aliens that Neelix understands better than Tuvok. “Everything comes to  a head in terms of our relationship, and we come back looking at it differently at the end,” said Russ. “The last scene basically reflects the way that our relationship has been, and continues along that path, but with a different understanding. His character drives a great deal of it, and I think his character also drives the exploration of the relationship.”

Not only Neelix, but the other aliens present a challenge for Tuvok. “Not everybody is the same as you, and not everybody can be expected to rise to this level and behave in the same way as you do,” said Russ of Tuvok. “That was examined and it was brought out. In situations like that he really has to deal with certain things in certain ways. He has to make realizations, make some adjustments, or try to understand other beings and the way that they are and the way they behave.”

“I am on the phone with the writers before the final draft is done. They may have over-looked something specific to my character.”

Between “Alter Ego” and “Rise” Tuvok seemed to acquire a new appreciation of humans and other emotional species. Throughout the season his banter with other characters began to be reminiscent of the dialogue between Spock and McCoy (DeForest Kelley). It did not seem like imitation, but rather that Tuvok is beginning to express his thoughts out loud, and the other characters are willing to tell him what they think.

Russ fights for his character, as will many of the other actors. He hopes the audience understands how hard it can be. He said, “I’m hoping that they appreciate it, and also that they appreciate that you don’t always get what you want. Because you’re an actor, unfortunately the audience sees that, and all they see is the actor doing it. They don’t realize that the production company said, ‘You’ve got to [whatever].’ The last resort is maybe, you get on the set and play the dialogue a certain way with a certain tone. If it’s something you really don’t like doing, you can find some ways around that. Maybe if you play it this way, with this inflection, with this expression, or play with this type of blocking, all of a sudden it doesn’t feel quite so awkward, it doesn’t feel quite so wrong.”

What would Russ like to see Tuvok doing in the future? “I would like to see stories with circumstances that challenge this character, his belief system, also stories that challenge the strengths that the character has, things that he can do well,” he said. “But it’s all entirely going to come out of the context of the shows, whether it’s going to be a Harry Kim or a Chakotay or a Tuvok story. All I do is wait and see what happens.”

Noted Russ, “Overall I still think the stories have gotten progressively better each season. I think just the tone of this [third season] has changed. The tone is more and more of really having some fun with this crew and the ship. I mean that in the sense of broadening the scope of the stories and possibilities for the stories, and the mood of the piece, the mood of the characters. We’re still trying to keep and refine some of the relationships for these characters.”

Russ’s fellow actors are appreciative of his work. Robert Picardo said, “I’m a particular Tuvok fan. I don’t know why, I just find something about his performance, his dignity, I suppose.”

George Takei, who worked for so many years with the original Vulcan, said, “Tim is the curator of STAR TREK history. There he is, he fourth generation of STAR TREK, and he’s filling me in on the lore of the years that I had lived through and forgotten about. It was kind of an eerie feeling. He’s very Vulcan in that respect. I guess all the actors who get cast as Vulcans really have something in them. The kind of integrity that Tim felt was essential, that’s the way Leonard felt about his character and the culture that he was creating, and the fidelity to the core of that culture that was established.”