Star Trek Monthly #25, March 1997

Logical Point of View

On the first day of shooting on Macrocosm, a story written by Brannon Braga, Jim Swallow talked to Tim Russ, in full Vulcan garb, when he stepped outside Paramount Pictures Stage 18 for a breather – and to snack on an apple…

“The Q episode we just completed (The Q and the Grey) I’m not heavy in,” comments Russ on upcoming stories, “and I’m not heavy in this episode at all! So really, I have to take the time to prepare for the next one, which I will be heavy in!” Russ refers to the Tuvok-centered story Alter Ego, directed by his fellow cast member Robert Picardo, featuring a Fatal Attraction-style plot line for the Vulcan.

Russ is very comfortable with being directed by one of his own. “I’ve already had that experience in that Robert McNeill was directing an episode earlier. In reality, I think it’s more beneficial to us as actors to have actors become directors, because they know the show and they know the characters a great deal. We have a rapport that’s already established, we get along with each other and it’s really a lot easier to work with them.”

But, he adds with a smile “It’s also more difficult because the actors know all the tricks! They know if you’re trying to get away with something, they’re not going to let you do it!”

McNeill and Picardo are not the only Star Trek: Voyager crew to have taken the directing path. “Several of us have been interning as directors, and we’ll get the opportunities down the line. I started last season in the internship process, but I don’t know if and when that assignment will happen, and certainly from a producing and directing standpoint it’s a great opportunity to learn behind the scenes about all aspects of this kind of work.”

Although an actor since 1978, Russ has only recently taken to expanding his backstage skills, working as writer/producer on the film East Of Hope Street.

As an ‘alien’ actor, Tim has to work under false ears and eyebrows, but has no problems with it. “My stuff is about an hour to get everything on, but the other guys like Ethan Phillips and Roxann Dawson have a lot more to do… It’s a lot heavier for them.”

“In reality, I think it’s more beneficial to us as actors to  have actors become directors, because they know the show and they know the characters a great deal.”

Unlike the will-known original series character, Spock, before him, Tuvok has less of the trademark technobabble to deal with. Russ notes that the Vulcan speech pattern is sometimes difficult. “The way in which this character speaks is tricky. He doesn’t speak casually, he’s very formal, so he says things more rigidly.” Russ feels that the greatest challenges come with each new script. “Where to go with the character, what to do with him, that’s the challenge. I bring some of myself to the character – some of it is not me, but to a certain degree it is, so that makes it easier.”

“If I’m to take the place of Spock on the bridge, as a Vulcan, I’m very much compelled to try to maintain that integrity of character.”

Working closely with the writers on Star Trek: Voyager also means that the actor can put some of his own input into the character’s development. “I do it as much as they’ll allow me to do it! I’ll look at the script that we’re about to do and talk to the writer about it. It’s the first draft and it’ll change a couple of times and I’ll put in my two-cents once more.” Russ notes that because he’s a Vulcan, Tuvok already comes with a ‘history’. “The character’s culture and philosophy has already been laid down, so I feel obligated to maintain that history, that lore, the culture of this character, because everybody ‘knows’ him. If I’m to take the place of Spock on the bridge, as a Vulcan, I’m very much compelled to try to maintain that integrity of character.”

Does he feel that he’s been able to make Tuvok different from all the Vulcans we’ve seen before? “We’ve achieved that since the first season. We started looking at this character a lot differently than we did with Spock. Tuvok made different choices, he’s gone through a lot more. We explored particular aspects of their culture, like the mind-meld, in detail, and have been able to actually peek under the surface, to see what a Vulcan might be like without the discipline that they use for controlling their emotions.”

The actor reveals a little of the story behind his forthcoming center-stage role. “How does this character who has basically learned to see through emotions and to control them deal with someone who is potentially dangerous to the ship and to himself, and yet is attracted to him at the same time? How does Tuvok deal with it? How does he get this person to release their obsession without the knowledge or tools other than straight-forward logic? That’s a very interesting situation to be in, so I’m looking forward to doing that story because we haven’t done one like that yet. It ought to be an interesting insight into Tuvok’s character.”

We also saw a strong insight into Tuvok during the recent cross-over episode Flashback, released on CIC Video here in January. “It was a thrill to work with George Takei – he’s a wonderful actor and very gracious. We had to re-create a lot of things from the feature film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and it was a brilliant story to tie into the bridge of the U.S.S. Excelsior in that film, having not seen that part of the ship and having me on it. It was a great back story for Tuvok, about why he joined Starfleet, when he got married, why and how, and why he left and then came back to Starfleet. All that information is valuable, just to create more layers of history for this character. It was fabulous,”

Russ also has high praise for the direction and shooting of the story, as well as the writing. “The way we were able to have Kate Mulgrew with me inside my memory, playing with her, and then playing the scene, and then back to her, back and forth… it was… fascinating!”