Star Trek Magazine #131, March/April 2007
Interview by Ian Spelling
"It's coming together about ten times better than anticipated."
"I was just sitting around one day and the phone rang," former Start Trek: Voyager star Tim Russ says, explaining how he came to direct and co-star in Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, the upcoming three-part mini-series webisode that features a dozen Star Trek favorites, many of them reprising their legendary roles. "It was [producer] Doug Conway who said he had a project he wanted to do. He was asking if I would be interested in playing a role in it, and I said I would if I could direct it as well. Since there was no one attached and I had already directed Roddenberry on Patrol, he thought that would be a good idea."
Russ plays coy when asked to describe the Of Gods and Men story, which was penned by Conway in collaboration with freelance Star Trek: Deep Space Nine scribes Jack Trevino and Ethan H. Calk. Trevino received "story by" credits on Little Green Men and Indiscretion, while Calk received "story by" credits on Children of Time and Visionary. "Well, I can't really give away the story, and everyone always asks that question!" Russ says. "Let's just say it features cast members from several of the Trek series and it will not be a prequel. I can say that it does tackle current issues, like terrorism, and the reason why some people choose that direction. And I can say that many of the characters from Star Trek that are featured in the story are either not playing themselves, or they are playing dual roles."
The casting is nothing if not remarkable. There's Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Grace Lee Whitney, all from the original Star Trek series. Former ST:VOY regulars Ethan Phillips and Garrett Wang reunite with their old pal Russ. And then there's Alan Ruck, who played Captain HArriman in Star Trek Generations, ST:DS9's Cirroc Lofton, Chase Masterson and J.G. Hertzler. Finally, look for Trek guest stars Celeste Yarnall, Arlene Martel, Gary Graham, Jack Donner and Crystal Allen. "My jaw dropped when I saw some of the performances," Russ enthuses. "This story has a lot of emotional moments There were differences of opinions and some arguments here and there over dialogue and who was going to say what, but that sort of goes with the territory. Everyone delivered, and that's the main thing. Acting in it myself (as Tuvok), that was distracting for the most part. During moments when my character wasn't speaking for a particular length of time, I sometimes had to stop myself from listening to or watching the scene while I was acting in the scene."
Russ, as his many fans know, is no stranger to directing. He revealed early on in ST:VOY's run that he hoped to step behind the camera and he did so with the fourth season episode Living Witness, after a long prep period during which he shadowed several of the show's regular directors. Russ also directed The Heartbreak Café, The FBI Files, the short films Eye of the Beholder, Déjà Vu and the upcoming After Market (which may be retitled Plugged), as well as the aforementioned feature Roddenberry on Patrol. Asked how his previous experiences as a director carried over into Of Gods and Men, Russ replies, "The best experience I could have going into this was having worked on other projects without much prep, if any. I didn't see the sets until the day before I was to start shooting. But in this case I was aware of what the sets would look like pretty much before I got there. The first part of the shoot was very difficult because there was no proper production management on the ground prior to shooting, and hte location was on the East Coast. There were several departments that either were not prepared or simply didn't exist. If some key people who just happened to come along for the ride didn't pitch in, we wouldn't have had a film to talk about. That plus the logistical problems, the heat, the bugs and the noisy sound stage made everything just wonderful. But it's coming together about 10 times better than I anticipated. It looks amazing, again because of the expertise of a few key people in the right place at the right time."
Actually, it could be said that Russ is in the right place at the right time, too. He's been directing online enterprises for a long while now and, he notes, projects like Of Gods and Men and the assorted Star Trek stories realized under the New Voyages banner are soon to be standard operating procedure within the entertainment industry. "They are doing what all of the networks and studios are just now gearing up to do," Russ says of his producers. "It's the way we will all be watching movies and TV shows in the very near future. There are no duplication or printing costs and no inventory to deal with. It's much cheaper to distribute that way."
Switching gears, Russ has kept busy on several other fronts as well over the past year or two. On the short-lived John Lithgow-Jeffrey Tambor sitcom Twenty Good Years he played the recurring character of Marty, "a stiff-shirt, paper-pushing, by the book hospital administrator who has no sense of humor," and did his best to make life miserable for Lithgow's character, a surgeon. "Marty was as much a stiff shirt as Tuvok was," Russ says. "My character's humor is dry for the most part. And I really liked working on a sitcom. The challenges are different, because you end up doing a live audience performance, and the lines change often, right up to and including tape day." Russ also turned up in the indie film The OH in Ohio with Mischa Barton, Paul Rudd and Danny DeVito; an episode each of the popular series ER, Navy NCIS, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and Without a Trace; and even several episodes of the soap opera General Hospital. "My agent put that together for me one day out of the blue," Russ recalls. "He called and asked me if I would be interested in playing a recurring role on that show. I didn't even read for it. It was planned as just a money gig, to keep me busy between other jobs. I think the directing has been the most challenging and interesting work for me. The creativ epalette is mcuh broader when working from the perspective of a director." Meanwhile, over on the music end of the spectrum, the acocmplished singer-songwriter-musician stilll fronts his own trio and still plays the blues with another group, Disciples of Redemption. "I may record some new tunes soon," Russ reveals. "Those will most likely be available via download [from his website, timrusswebpage.com]."
"My jaw dropped when I saw some of the performances."
Hearing Russ speak now, it's hard to believe that it's been well over a decade since Russ first donned Tuvok's Vulcan ears on ST:VOY, for the Caretaker pilot that launched the show's seven-year run. Russ - who prior to ST:VOY appeared in Star Trek Generations and had guest starred on both Star Trek: The Next Generation and ST:DS9 - admits it boggles his mind as well. "The years I spent doing Voyager seem like another lifetime ago," he says and the conversation draws to a close for now. "But lately I've come to realize and accept that I will always somehow, some way, be associated with that show. The Voyager experience was really a godsend for my career went. It opened up so many doors that I might have never had a chance to get through. I also enjoyed the fringe benefits of being on the show, the increase in income, job security for that time and the travel. I, of course, would do it again if I had the chance to do it all over."