Dreamwatch #44, April 1998

Tim Russ leans back in his seat, and smiles. Which is totally disconcerting when you have just been watching him, as I have, playing the emotionless Tuvok on the bridge of the Starship Voyager. Catching a break while make-up is applied to some of his comrades, he is able to give a brief insight into the changes he has seen on Voyager since its launch three years ago.

What does he consider to be the greatest change? “I think the writing has improved every successive year,” he says immediately. “The writers have found their feet and gotten to know the details about us and our characters in a certain way. And we have developed the characters, certainly. Put those two together, and they are now writing for the cast, the ship and the characters on the ship more specifically. It’s more fine tuned. That’s typical, I think, of television shows. It should get better and better as the years go by.

“I think the change in our cast this year, with the introduction of Seven of Nine [Jeri Ryan], has proved positive. She has a dynamic, having come from a race from this part of space, which stretches well into the Alpha Quadrant as well, and has contact with all these alien civilizations. Having accumulated all that knowledge, she can only assist our situation immensely in our task to get the long way back home. And she adds that friction dynamic as well to the cast. She’s a very good addition."

“My character’s standpoint is always one of caution”  

“As well, we took on a couple of new writers last season, and that’s expanded the pool of writing talent, and the pool of new stories. All those things have contributed to the net improvement in the show.

“I think the direction will probably change again next year, in terms of the type of stories – maybe they’ll be a bit edgier, more spicier perhaps. Jeri Taylor is retiring, so Brannon Braga will be one of the Executive Producers, along with Rick Berman, and Brannon’s style tends to be rather edgy. He likes to push the envelope a little bit. I think you’re going to see a bit more of that. We’re going to be bringing on some more layers as well.

“It’ll be a new mix, man. It’ll be a load of new stuff coming up. I think it’s going to be even better again.”

Stories in the fourth season have tended to focus around seven’s character: either it’s Janeway and Seven, or Chakotay and Seven, Tuvok and Seven… “That’s because they hit the introduction of this character hard into our cast. They really wanted to promote and get the public to notice the character quickly, so we could get her integrated into us, so what they had to do was pair her up with several of us on several different occasions, so we can get that interaction going – whether there’s going to be friction or not, whether there’s going to be symbiosis or not. The quicker they get her introduced to all the characters, in that way, the quicker she gets assimilated (if you will) into our cast.

From the standpoint of the network, and promotions and that, because she’s a new character, the standard procedure is to promote what is new in a show – and they really promoted it this year! They went way out to get it going. I think it’s worked quite well for them, in terms of people being curious about the show. People whom a not have been watching it before have tuned in to see what is going on. That’s all we need: once they tune in, the door is open. I think this year they were very pleased with the numbers since we started. We came out with a huge bang from the gate – so I think we’re doing pretty well.”

How does Tim see Tuvok’s relationship with Seven? “We have similarities. Our perception of human beings is very similar, hers and mine, and I think that gives us some kind of bond in that respect. I think that she is lacking some degree of discipline – she is headstrong, and even though she was a member of a Collective that doesn’t allow individual thinking, she is still very, very independent in the way she does things, because she’s still sort of attached to that format.

“The Borg also saw themselves as superior to human beings, and Vulcans have some degree of arrogance about that – some sense of being more together than human beings, or having some advantages over them. So I think there are some similarities that we both perceive about the other people on the ship and the way we interact with them. But other than that, I think the differences lie in the structure – the pattern of her behavior is different. Very often he’s trying to get her to follow orders and do things.”

Is there again an element of the teacher? “Not as much as it was with Kes. It’s not the same. I think it’s more that I always look at her with a suspicious eye because I thought she could cause us a great deal of headaches. I’ve always thought of her as a very dangerous being.

“My character’s standpoint is always one of caution, keeping an eye on her, which he still is, and of keeping her abreast of how we do things on the ship, which is my main concern as protocol and security officer. I think that’s the relationship I may have with her at this moment in time. That may improve. It may turn out to be something different. Obviously, she will have to evolve into a human being eventually, and it will change in terms of how she reacts to recovering all these things that she never had a chance to develop.”

In the early episodes of Voyager, there was some friction between Tuvok and the ship’s First Officer, Chakotay. Tuvok had been acting as a spy aboard Chakotay’s Maquis ship, and the latter found it hard to trust him. Has that changed as time has gone by?

“I think, as long ago as the beginning of this past season, the friction that existed between us generally came out when we’re discussing what to do in the Captain’s absence. There’s usually a difference of opinion between the two of us. Some of it’s based on just the way my character is, and some of it’s based on the fact we still don’t entirely get along.

“There have still been some incidents during this past year that whenever we’re discussing a plan of action, and debating it, we generally go at odds. There’s still a bit of edge between us, and I think whenever we get an opportunity to play it, we play it.

“Over the course of time, it would make sense that Chakotay would basically come to trust Tuvok, and I think he does trust him in that sense. He does know and understand, on the surface, that what Tuvok did was part of his duty, but now that we are all together on the ship, he has to move on onto something else.

“What I think would help a lot is what we haven’t had yet: Chakotay and I working heavily together. We have not been paired up yet. I think that would make a difference ultimately in establishing a new foundation, a new direction to that relationship, and tightening it up.

“I would like to see us have a crisis that we have to get through together, and see how we actually get through. We’ve had some bits and pieces, but not a good ‘A’ plot – not even a strong ‘B’ plot where we have a tough decision to make, or a difficult task to do together and achieve something. If that comes through, I think it will make all the difference in the world.

“But to date, I think that Chakotay trusts me as a crewmember; he understands how I think, how I react and how I feel, and in general, he knows that Vulcans are trustworthy.”

What about his relationship with Janeway? “I think that we’ve established that that has not changed. It’s just a question of whether or not they will show it within a story itself.

“I think they’ve decided so far not to get too deeply involved in it. Keep it at a professional relationship on the surface – and below the surface play the emotional connection. Obviously, in the original series, there was much more of an emotional connection between the three major characters, and even in The Next Generation, the same thing, and within these shows we all have an emotional connection with each other as well as a professional connection. I think it’s important that these particular people, with their professional connection, will always have that emotional undercurrent to play there. The tension will always play there, which is important.”

“We all have an emotional connection with each other”

Are there any other directions Tim would like to see VOYAGER head in? “No. I think the general note is to push the envelope of pure science fiction stories. The STAR TREK world has always been one of a great deal of learning about human nature, exploring mores and morals, principles, social and cultural differences. I think that has always been pretty consistent and I’d like to see that continue, but I’d like to see them pushing the envelope in terms of types of stories we do. More science-fiction orientated: conceptual sci-fi. Getting into some of that, as much as possible.

“We are, of course, limited by practical, budgetary requirements, so we are not able to do the big, expensive shows all the time. Sometimes we do some very quiet shows, and in those, we can build the characters and our relationships with the characters, or explore something with an alien.

“I’d also like to keep the humor laced in whenever we can. The show that showed recently, Prey, had some very funny bits and pieces, which broke it up very nicely. We enjoyed that with the original series – Spock and McCoy had that layer of humor running trough it all the time, and I think it’s very important to keep that going. Data in THE NEXT GENERATION the same way: there was a great deal of humor in his interaction with people. We have a number of characters that can provide it – the Doctor can, so can Paris.

“Sometimes my character provides it by being the straight man. There’s some very funny scenes coming up between Tuvok and Chakotay talking about Neelix. Tuvok theoretically makes a joke, and the Commander tries to pin him with it. Tuvok of course denies it, and in denying it, he makes another joke. From the time that I read it, to the time that I played it, I never really decided if it was a joke or not. He’s very dry to begin with, and he does have a sort of sarcastic dry wit, and he does use it on occasions. I think in doing that deliberately, he does have a sense of humor that way, but he’s not deliberately trying to be funny.

There was a rumor that the final scene of The Gift, in which Tuvok lights a candle in the window to light Kes’ return to the ship, was a late addition. “It was always scripted,” Tim confirms. “It was an optical – a very expensive shot. To have the camera pull away and see the whole ship was paid for and planned!”

How did he feel about Kes’ departure, with the alterations this would mean for Tuvok? “I thought it was handled very well. I thought her exit was very gracious, and exciting, and poignant. To help us along the way, to tie into the story directly – I thought it was a beautiful story in the way it was done, and I think it had quite an impact on the people who were watching it. As far as Tuvok is concerned, if anybody is going to accept reality, he’s going to be the first. That’s the way it is, there’s nothing you can do about it, so move on.”

Did he feel Kes’ absence left a vacuum in Tuvok’s life? “No. Tuvok always uses the expression of ‘someone or something remaining in his thoughts’. The memory of this individual, and the experiences he had with this individual, will always be with him, because he grew in some ways working with her and mentoring her. That will always be part of his life. She will always be part of his thoughts. But it’s never going to be something that is going to be painful to him unnecessarily, or debilitate him in any way, shape or form, in terms of moving on to other things. I’ve always liked the expression: someone being in his thoughts.”