Cult Times #14, November 1996

Tuvok's Brain

Star Trek: Voyagerís Tim Russ comes over all emotionalÖ

Actor Tim Russ has assumed a unique position in the Star Trek universe. He not only appears each week as Tuvok, the Vulcan Chief of Security in Star Trek: Voyager but has also guest-starred in both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine as well as in the feature length film Star Trek Generations. Recently, he took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his travels in the Trek universe and beyond.

Did you always want to be an actor while you were growing up, or did you have any other professions in mind?

I think that becoming an actor was my primary goal when I went to college to study theatre. I didnít really have any other objective apart from possibly teaching. But, even if I did that, the subject matter still would have had to have been something in which I was interested.

What influenced your decision finally to pursue an acting career?

It would have t be having worked in plays when I was in high school. There were a couple of shows in particular that I did where I found myself really charmed by the whole idea of working in the theatre and all the things that go along with it. Thereís a certain feel to theatre thatís not nearly the same as with film and television and that was what was captivating to me, and, of course, performing in front of a live audience and getting appositive response from it was just amazing.

What was your training when you first started out?

The college program I was enrolled in was set up almost like an internship. The university didnít require students to take a great deal of extra-curricular courses; most of my credit hours were devoted to theatre. This meant that I was allowed to take up to 16 or 17 hours of theatre courses a semester.

We did four main stage shows during the school year and three during the summer, all in repertory style. The school had celebrities come out form Los Angeles to perform in the shows which drew in the audiences and gave the students a chance to work alongside professionals.

As an undergraduate you had the chance not only to act in these shows but also to work in many other different areas such as the sound department, lighting, construction, costumes and the box office. The idea behind the four-year program was to give students enough background experience in each area so that upon graduation you had all the skills needed to start your own theater. It was an excellent program and one that gave me a great deal of experience very early on.

ĎThere are dark corners that the producers have been trying to open.í

How did you first become involved in Star Trek: Voyager and get the role of Tuvok?

It was Rick Berman, the producer, who came up to me while we were filming Generations. He mentioned that they were going to be casting Voyager during the summer and that he was interested in having me read for it. At the time I didnít know what the parts were going to be, so I didnít take any work for three or four months just to make sure I was available to read for a part.

When the breakdown for the parts came out in July the original role was not the right age for me, so it ended up being a situation which his classic in Hollywood of Ďhere one day and gone the next.í I was almost about to write it off before they brought the age down to where I could get in. I went in to read for it and, at the time, I think I was the only one auditioning for it in that age range and was able to nail it.

How would you describe Tuvok?

He is full Vulcan and comes form a people who are, for the most part, pacifists, philosophical and focused. They tend to suppress emotions and do not display emotional,. Behavior Ė a thing very much contrary to their attitudes and way of doing things. Vulcan are very logical and analytical in their approach to certain things and Tuvok is no exception.

Tuvok is in a unique situation in that he has a wife and family. He is stranded on the far side of the galaxy with human beings and other aliens and unable to contact his own people or family. I think what makes him different is that he is compelled to come to terms with and understand the way human beings are. He is exploring, realizing and understanding a lot more about himself. There are dark corners that the producers have been trying to open and we may be doing one of those stories soon.

What was it like working on your first Voyager episode, Caretaker?

It was great because I had a script at least a week or so in advance [laughter], which is a rarity these days, so there was a lot of time to prepare for it. There was some anxiety for the first week because I wanted to get on film. I think everyone felt the same way, because of the search for a new captain [when Bujold left]. It was almost a month before I actually started working on the series.

Was there a difference in doing that scene with Genevieve Bujold as opposed to Kate Mulgrew?

Certainly. Genevieve Bujold is a very good actress. She was doing some very nice stuff and I think that if she had had it together to do that role it would have been very interesting with her in it. Kate just has her own way of doing things. She has a very good range and is just a different personality. I think it was easier for me to do the scene with Kate because she knew the Captain. In Genevieveís case she did not know the Captain; she could not feel this character nor be this character. It did not fir like a glove and it was obvious to everybody, including Genevieve.

Do you have any favorite Voyager episodes?

Out of the episodes that have aired, I would probably say Ex Post Facto and Learning Curve. One of the main reasons, obviously, is because Iím featured in them, but it was also great to be able to work on a nice story arc and go through the whole piece from beginning to end as opposed to just  saying, ĎHe went thataway, Captain.í

ĎI began yelling in his face and singing I Feel Good.í

Can you recall any particularly memorable or amusing anecdotes that have taken place during your work on Voyager?

Kate and I set up Robert Duncan McNeill [Tom Paris] during the Vulcan mind-meld scene in Ex Post Facto. Right at the beginning of the take I began yelling in his face and singing the James Brown song I Feel Good. I was screaming at the top of my lungs and he had no idea it was coming. It was really quite amusing. We wanted to get him back for messing with us on the bridge, which he tends to do all the time [laughter]. The levity is really what makes this thing so enjoyable and all of us have fun on the set.

The camaraderie among the entire cast is quite evident on-screen.

I think it was simply a case of good fortune Ė thatís all it was. Casting people basically fly blind and generally do not look at an actorís personality. For the most part they donít even know the individual or what he or she is like to work with. They knew who I was because I had worked on Star trek already, as had Robert Duncan McNeill. Most of the others, such as Kate and Robert Beltran, had not worked together before. It turned out that weíre just lucky to have a group of people who are very personable, enjoy each otherís company and work together very well. I think itís like being in a foxhole together; when youíre in a foxhole and the bombs are falling, everybodyís for everybody.

You first made you mark in the Star Trek universe when you auditioned for the role of Geordi LaForge in The Next Generation.

When I went to read for the part I did not know that I was competing with LeVar for the role, nor did I know that I was second in line for the part. I went to read for it a couple of times, so I knew that they were interested in me but I had no idea I was that close.

A good month or so after this, my manager mentioned to me that Rick Berman had talked to her and said that he was very excited about having me on the show. He wanted to have me in the part and Gene Roddenberry wanted LeVar. Thatís exactly how it came down. I was just lucky to be in the read for the show, so when it didnít come down the pike I wasnít entirely shattered or upset about it. It was a good opportunity but I missed it, so I went on. Since Gene Roddenberry passed away Rick Berman is number one in command and Iím working, so itís time. It was an afterthought that I was that close.

You did end up guest-starring on The Next Generation in the episode Starship Mine.

The first chance to work on Star Trek was a neat break, especially because it took me eight or nine auditions to get on that show just as a guest, even after having previously auditioned for it so well. Unfortunately, I didnít get the chance to work with the whole cast because the storyline has the entire crew, except the Captain, leave the Enterprise due to the baryon sweep being done on the ship. Patrick Stewart was excellent to work with. It was a great opportunity to get my feet wet with those guys.

What about your work in the Deep Space Nine episodes Invasive Procedures and Through the Looking Glass, where you played a mirror image of Tuvok?

Invasive Procedures was a hell of a lot of fun, relatively speaking, after the Klingon makeup process, which is not very much fun. It was neat to have the chance to play a Klingon character and work with the whole DS9 cast. Having the chance to come back and do Through the Looking Glass was really a thrill. It was only a dayís work but when Rick Berman called me about doing it I said, ĎWhat a kick!í On top of getting to work with almost all the same cast members again, I loved the concept of the episode. It was so cool to be able to play the same person in a different universe.

ĎIím sure it may be difficult or awkward for the guest actors.í

You also popped up in the Generations movie.

I had gone in to audition for an episode of DS9 and while I was there Rick Berman suggested I try out for the film. I went in to read for it and they gave me the part of the human Tactical Security Officer on the bridge.

Out of all the minutes in the movie I could have been in, I ended up in the scene that had Captain Kirk, Chekov and Scotty all in it together. That was a rush and an absolute thrill. It was like, ĎYeah, weíve done it now.í I had worked with Leonard Nimoy a long time ago in the theatre and then to be able to work with all these guys there, at that point in time, was just great.

Having appeared in the other recent Trek television series and the last feature film, how do you characterize the differences between the work on them and that on Voyager?

Besides the fact that I enjoy the character more, the definitive difference is that Iím an integral part of Voyager. As a regular actor on the show Iím looking at it from the other side of the table. Itís our home, and now we have other guest actors in that home every week. They have to come into the midst of what is already going on as well as the relationships that we all have together.

I feel sorry for them because guest actors usually have reams of complicated dialogue and very little time to learn it. On top of that they have to work with us when, half the time, weíre breaking each other up and having a good time because we know each other. They may be sweating bullets trying to get this stuff out and, sometimes, Iím sure it may be difficult or awkward for them. In some cases, though, itís actually beneficial for them to be around us when weíre as relaxed as we are, because then they have the chance to really enjoy the process.

Whatís ahead for Tim Russ the actor?

I always enjoy working in the theatre, but the critical question is time. Iíve also been a guitarist for twenty-five years, and play the bass as well as sing lead vocals. I perform in coffee houses around Los Angeles on occasion, but I usually work at a place called Common Ground. Itís just basically me doing all the vocals and stuff and I hire players to back me up.

My primary goal now beyond Voyager is to produce my own films. Thatís the next step and, hopefully, it will take place while Voyager is still on. I donít foresee myself sitting around at the end of seven years and the phone ringing to do other projects. I really donít believe thatís going to happen.

Steven Eramo