SciFi, The Official Magazine of the SCI FI Channel, February 2001

The Logic of Tuvok

Tim Russ tells the story of creating the stories for Voyager

by Melissa J. Perenson

Tim Russ's logical Vulcan has softened. In a recent episode, chief of security Tuvok even played a hunch, relying on instinct over logic in a thriller whodunit investigation. Will wonders never cease?

While you may not see Tuvok crack a full-blown grin any time soon, Russ agrees that seven years on Voyager has helped loosen up the staid and controlled Vulcan. "I think [Tuvok] has become much more aware of, and accepting of, human characteristics, and manifestations of that - for example. using a hunch, or a bluff," Russ notes. "And these kinds of things he learned from working with people this closely and this intensely for such a long, concentrated period of time. In an isolated situation like [this], I think that could change anyone. There's much more of a sense of belonging to this unit, much more a sense of the tendency upon others to survive - which is profound in this case. And I think it affects even someone like him."

Although Russ hasn't actively taken part in developing his character over the years, that doesn't mean he's sat idly by as the writers turned out the next week's material. "My input has always been something I've done after the story was written, or in some cases, while the story was being written," explains Russ. Case in point: season 3's "Blood Fever," in which B'Elanna Torres goes through the Vulcan Pon Farr. "There were a lot of areas [regarding Pon Farr] that had not been examined, and that we did not know about - the particulars about how one takes a bride, how one takes a mate, and what happens. So I worked with the writers very closely on that episode as it was being written."

That wasn't the only contributions Russ made; he also worked with the writers on several episodes in which Tuvok was heavily featured. Catching the writers as they write the script - as opposed to calling them up after seeing the script or while on the set - has the advantage of nipping issues in the bud. "I wanted to make sure that whatever we had done made sense, and wasn't going to look silly," says Russ. "There's a lot of input that goes into these shows."

Unlike other Voyager characters, who've virtually been forgotten by the writers as time wore on, Russ's Tuvok has routinely had juicy bits tossed his way over the seven seasons - enough so that he hasn't felt the need to dream up his own plot-lines for his character (although the 6th season was admittedly a dry spell). "I had not gone in that much [to the writers] and said, 'Hey, this is what he did when he went to the Academy and blah blah blah,'" admits Russ. "I haven't really examined the mechanics of this character's past, the details of where he's spent his time, because the writers have all come up with that stuff. What I will do instead is to look at what they've written, and say, 'ok, well this is great, but what about that, why don't we tweak this or tweak that. Or why don't we increase that or make it more interesting.'"

Russ usually gets involved in making sure his character stays in character "just once in a while. Usually when it's a very heavy show for your character, you want to be in touch with [the writers] and work with them closely about certain story points and certain motivations. Sometimes, it may be a story point if you're heavy in a show."

This year, however, with the changing of the guard at the helm of Voyager - exec producer Kenneth Biller replaces Brannon Braga, who's focusing on developing the next generation of Trek  subtle changes to the work environment. "You can't really wing it on the set. You can try, and sometimes you can get away with it. But we've had to reshoot a couple of things this year, because we shot them one way, and then [the producers] saw the dailies or whatever, and they wanted us to reshoot them. We were a little bit more free in prior years to do a few things on our own, a s long as the director said let's try it this way or that way, we were able to do it," observes Russ. "This year it seems a little bit tighter in that area - we're not able to have so much freedom to just go ahead and try something, small bits and pieces like that, on our own.

"Ken Biller is running the show now, and he takes much more of a watchdog approach toward making sure that whatever is the script is being shot," Russ continues. "So you're much more obligated to call in and make sure that whatever you want to try to do is something that's done. You can also do it on the set by just shooting something you want to try two different ways, if there's something you want to try. And then [the producers] can look at it either way, and if they like the change, then it's already done."

That said, this season has seen the delivery of polished scripts to the actors in a far more timely fashion. "I think that's partly because Brannon took a much more active role in hands-on-writing and making revisions last year," hypothesizes Russ, himself many times the recipient of last-minute changes late the night before shooting starts. "And he would personally do some of these things the past few years. I think that was a reason why the scripts were changed or that we got behind in terms of stories."

As Voyager winds down, it seems appropriate enough that Tuvok's alter ego knows what he wants out of the show in this final season - good stories. However, there are no loose ends in particular that Russ wants to see resolved. "The only thing I hope for is if I'm going to get a story involving this character from beginning to end, that I hope that this story is going to be strong. If I'm going to spend a really concentrated amount of time on the set over the week's time, I want something that's going to be interesting to do. Once in a while," he concedes, "as with all of the Star trek shows, and all of the series shows on television, there are some stories that are very, very strong and some that are just so-so. So you hope that you get a strong story."

The story is the key building block in creating a successful episode. As Russ observes, "Tuvok's character is created and designed and built upon by the stories that come his way. Those are where the discoveries are made - in the circumstance that you're placed in. As in life, you're nothing without an experience. That's what builds the individual."

The individual is also built out of the pieces of the whole story. "When you're shooting, it's all out of context, it's all done in bits and pieces, it's scenes and it's sequences, and it's not anything until it's all put together into a story. Makes a huge difference. Sometimes, because of the length of the stories, the length of the shows - only 42 minutes long - it feels like that to me sometimes. To me there's not enough time sometimes to tell these stories. There's not enough time to really enjoy and to milk the moments and the scenes."

One experience Russ could have done without was his transformation into a Borg in the two-part, season finale/7th season opener "Unimatrix Zero I and II". "It was dreadfully uncomfortable, because the costume I was wearing in particular was not custom fit for me; the Borg costumes in and of themselves are inherently uncomfortable. Hot and very thick rubber; it's like wearing a wet suit, basically, and having stuff layered on top of that. So there's a lot of stuff you're wearing. And it's quite long. If you're working the Borg corridor sets, it's very confined; there's no air in there. Until the lights come on, when it just gets a lot warmer. The makeup itself is not terribly uncomfortable, it's not as bad as some others. From a mechanical standpoint - it looks great on film, but it's a trial to get that stuff shot."

So far, Russ has been involved in two intriguing episodes. First there was "Repression," a thriller-style case that puts Tuvok on the hunt for a phantom invader. "It was an eight-day show," remembers Russ, who was on the set for all eight days. "It was a very intense episode for me because of the nature of the story and what happens to the character. And my character has to go through a lot of stuff to get through that show."

"Repression" is another example of where an actor triumphs over writers and directors. "I had wanted to do [the episode] in a certain way, and I was interested in not showing my hand, in terms of the plot, that early. I wanted to cover something up a little bit more. So there were a couple of points in there we discussed."

The 2nd episode that struck Russ's attention this season involves an inevitability that we are all waiting for: Tuvok undergoes the Vulcan Pon Farr mating ritual. "But it's only a B story. The problem with that whole thing is that it's been done," he laughs. "To make a whole story out of it without involving the same things already seen would require an extraordinary plot and story and so on." In this case, the twist is that when Tuvok begins the Pon Farr, the medical staff is ready with an anticipatory measure to help the Vulcan through this stressful time - which is depicted tongue-in-cheek in this episode.

When he's not heavily featured in Voyager, Russ's spare time is filled with music, and running his official Web site, The actor released an album a few years back, and it was received well enough that he's now in the midst of work on his second album. The draw to being on stage, touring nightclubs as part of the band "is primarily about performing," reveals Russ. "Performing live, that's the biggest kick. I write some music, once I'm inspired to do so; but it's not something I see myself doing 24 by 7. I really do enjoy just playing ensemble stuff. It's not unlike doing plays and theater and things like that."