"There are a lot of fun, Very interesting shows"
Halfway through STAR TREK: VOYAGER's final season, Tim Russ still hopes for challenges ahead in playing the role of the stoical Vulcan security officer, and has numerous plans for the future.
Tim Russ was no stranger to STAR TREK when he signed to play Tuvok aboard the U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656; he had already made three appearances in different roles, in STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION, STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE, and STAR TREK GENERATIONS. And, way back at the start of TNG, he had auditioned for the role of chief engineer Geordi La Forge. "LeVar Burton had the only recognizable name in that cast; all the other actors were relatively unknown, and they were trying to sell this thing," says Tim. "But LeVar is very much right for that role, and it's purely a case of Roddenberry liking him over me. Rick Berman liked me; that's why I'm on VOYAGER!"
Original Series Fan
Tim was already familiar with STAR TREK "I was always a fan based on having watched some of the original series, and that's the cast I'm familiar with. But there isn't anybody on the entire planet who doesn't know who Kirk is, even if they've only seen one episode. I didn't really watch THE NEXT GENERATION or DEEP SPACE NINE - I only caught a few episodes here and there. But I did see the feature films when they came out."
Tim got to know the other shows at first hand when he landed a TNG guest role, as the terrorist Devor in 'Starship Mine,' followed a few months later by an appearance as a Klingon, T'Kar, on DS9's 'Invasive Procedures.' 'After the DS9 role I came back and read for something else on DS9, hut the same day they asked me to read for GENERATIONS, the feature, and I ended up doing that instead of another episode of DS9."
Tuvok's Mirror Universe
That wasn't the last of Tim's DS9 appearances, however; Tuvok crossed over from VOYAGER to guest star as a mirror universe version of the character in 'Through the Looking Glass' in Season Three. "That was a blast," he says. "It was a very cool concept; all, of course, vague theory, but it's very compelling to put you into another situation where your character's the same, but your history is different than it is in the real timeline.
"The cast were great. When I worked with them before as the Klingon character, they were having way too much fun that day, and then the second time I was just working with a few of them, hut it was still pretty cool. It was like going to visit the neighbors next door literally across the alley from us."
When the Tuvok rose was created, Tim was eager to try out for it, and didn't feel even slightly reluctant to be signed up for a potentially long-running show. "It's a career move," he says. "There's no way in hell any working actor is going to turn down an opportunity to do a series, unless they've got something else going on or have a whole lot of bread and they don't need it. Or they're nuts: one of the two! You're talking about a financial boon, and a chance to get ahead of the game and he able to choose your products after that.
"I did turn down projects before STAR TREK I turned down some shows and I turned down a couple of features even just reading for them, as a matter of fact because they were terrible and I didn't like the character at all, so I just couldn't see myself doing them. But there was no way was going to turn VOYAGER down. As a matter of fact, I made every effort to make sure that I was available to read for it, and consequently I didn't take a few auditions for some big parts because the shooting for VOYAGER was going to overlap. I didn't want to be going a guest spot or a feature spot on somebody's show and miss out on a seven-year opportunity"
As part of an ensemble cast, Tim has to take his turn in the limelight, and Vulcans aren't the easiest characters to write for unless they are given a convincing reason to behave outside the norm. Mostly, therefore, Tuvok is his logical, unemotional self, and Tim has worked hard to gain an appreciation of the Vulcan psyche, not only by watching earlier examples of the race on screen, but through reading about their culture. "Every story I've read about the Vulcan mystique, the Vulcan character and philosophies, has always given me insight, even the ones that deal with Spock's character. I had to read an audio book recently that was based on Spock: there's stuff in there that you can glean to help you. to give you more background.
Revealing The Past
"But the shows are what give the character a backstory, a history. I think the writers and producers want the opportunity to tell interesting stories, and if you give them all that information ahead of time it's possible that they may be locked into it if they use it early on. But if the pages turn gradually we peel back what this person's past is about; gradually we understand the character throughout the seven-year period. It's more fun to tell it through a story, like ?Flashback,' which was a fun and compelling episode that dealt with what Tuvok's life was like after joining the Academy, and what happened after that, and his history with George Takei's ship [the USS. Excelsior] and with Kate and everybody else.
"I think the backstory that you come in with initially is just enough to get your character started in the show and then you let the stories dictate what happened to you in the past. You and the audience learn it at the same time. It's counter to typical character-building as an actor; generally you want to know the history of your character, so that you can found your performance on something that happened in the past.
Despite being happy to let the writers reveal Tuvok's history, Tim feels there's already a great deal underneath his calm exterior. "The Encyclopedia's ['STAR TREK Encyclopedia'] definition of a Vulcan has always amused me, because it says they always considered showing emotion to be in very poor taste. I thought that was a rather accurate portrayal, because as a species they do have emotions; they simply keep them in check. Their whole philosophy has always been about controlling them and not letting them get out of hand. They're not incapable of smiling or laughing or being angry they just don't feel comfort-able doing it. It's not part of their culture. It's not like they don't have these feelings or emotions; Tuvok can feel irritated, and he can feel annoyed. Even Spock was annoyed with Bones from time to time."
Tim enjoys the shows where Tuvok's spiritual side and mind-melding talents are shown, but he has never wanted to see them over-used. "We should only see it once in a while, because it's like putting too many spices in the stew; you can kill it. In the Kes episode ['Fury'] Tuvok knows that something's wrong, but its not a mind-meld thing; they initially had all that stuff in there, and they took it out. I think it's a very special thing that you have to use sparingly"
What about Tuvok's character arc in general - have we seen enough sides of him? "The writers won't have explored everything yet. As I've always said, the stories dictate everything; the stories will give you the opportunity to experiment and learn things. Whether it comes out of the actual dialogue or the plot, that's when the character has a chance to expand, as opposed to saying 'Let's do something that demonstrates this for the character' and then writing specifically for that purpose. You can even be the B-story in one of the shows and still learn something of the character." A great deal is discovered via the various relationships on the show and Tuvok has had connections with many of the other crew members. "It all depends who they feel is going to make the story the most interesting and the most dynamic: whether it's going to be Chakotay and Neelix, or myself and Chakotay, or Seven and Torres.
"I haven't done anything really intense with the Doctor yet. He and I don't get along, generally; he doesn't believe in a lot of things that I believe in - mind-melding and all that stuff he thinks is really ridiculous; it's a dangerous procedure. We're always on each other's case, and there really haven't been any moments where we have seen eye to eye on something. The Doctor tends to be somewhat arrogant, and he's very egotistical. He's obviously more animated than Tuvok and he's very smart, but he's still a machine. He's damn near perfect in that respect, but he does have emotional levels, and we've seen all of them. I think he's not unlike Tuvok in some respects; that's probably why we don't get along so well." Tim also enjoys having
Tuvok thrown off balance, rare though that is. "I've always liked it when you put a Vulcan in a situation he's not used to handling. In one episode Janeway instigates a bluff upon an alien and she pulls Tuvok into it ['Live Fast and Prosper'], and in essence he has to make something up on the spot to corroborate the captain's position. He's trying to improvise along with her and it's a funny situation, but that's something he's not accustomed to doing. That's some-thing that comes from having worked with the captain and observed human beings and how they behave; from a tactical standpoint that gives him something he can use that he may not have had before."
That kind of unorthodoxy is rare for Tuvok; he wasn't too thrilled at Janeway's actions when she was trying to curb Captain Ransom's violations of the Prime Directive in 'Equinox, Part I and II,' but deferred to her decision. "I think there was a moment of protest and questioning, but Tuvok didn't push it. The captain has priority - it's a command decision, and if anybody's going to honor that kind of thing, it's him."
Tuvok faced a challenge of another kind in the Season Five show 'Gravity' when he and Tom Paris were stranded on a planet after a shuttle crash and encountered Noss, who fell in love with Tuvok. "I think he was attracted to her. He found her very compelling, and I based it on the person that he knew as a child, whoever that woman was. He does mention the fact that he finds her interesting because of her wit and her ability to survive on her own, and her independence and her diligence, but I don't think that's enough; I think Noss looked exactly like her, and it brought all of that back to him. That, in my mind, was the rationale."
Tim's next notable show was 'Riddles' early in Season Six, directed by colleague Roxann Dawson. In this show, Tuvok lost his memory and his logic skills. As a result, his relationship with Neelix - normally a source of exasperation - was turned on its head. "It was very good," he says. "It would have been nice to have got another four minutes or so on the screen; we had to cut nine minutes out of the episode, and that's a lot of stuff. I think it would have further lengthened the arc of the character transition between having been struck down by this alien device and developing the relationship with Ethan."
Tim is pleased, though, that Tuvok and Neelix reached a level of communication, however temporary. "Ethan and I have had several shows together; and I think it's a cumulative kind of thing. Each one of the experiences is kind of put away into the closet like an article of clothing, and it's there to be seen when you open the doors up. What Tuvok's character has is a layer in this relationship with Neelix."
'Barge of the Dead,' a few weeks earlier; was a Tuvok based show during its early stages of development, but Tim was not disappointed at the change. "It would have been an entirely different show if my character was involved. That story was about B'Elanna's conflict with her past, and my history had already been covered in 'Gravity' The characters are switched around in a lot of the shows; 'Tsunkatse' was supposed to be me fighting in the arena, and they changed the story to allow Jeri to fight. When a story is pitched, no matter who the main character is, they will consider putting somebody else in the story because it may be more interesting.
That's why 'Riddles' turned out to be my story, because if it happened to anybody else it just wouldn't have been the same. With a character like Tuvok, to strip away all of that and have completely the opposite side of the spectrum is always intriguing."
Several of VOYAGER's cast have had the chance to direct, and Tim's own debut came in Season Four; in 'Living Witness.' "I decided to take the opportunity to direct in order to broaden my career horizons, and I found it a fresh creative challenge - prior to VOYAGER, I had only co-directed a couple of commercials. TV is a producer's medium; the director is just a hired hand for the week, because the look and feel of the show has already been established. You're simply working within the set parameters. But the whole process is challenging and fascinating - the prep can be difficult because you don't have much time and the script changes often, but it was quite satisfying. The process was hard, but the results were very rewarding."
Like many others before him, Tim feels the last couple of seasons of a series are some-what tiring for the actors. "I think that by the sixth season of the show you begin to feel creatively a little worn out, especially at the end of the season, because you've been doing the same kind of thing for X number of years. We're having some very good stories there are a lot of fun, very interesting shows but I think just in terms of the work sometimes you feel a little bit fatigued.
"We have very little control over the creative process, although we have access to the producers for input all the time, which is great, because on some shows you don't. But because of the pace of the show we often get our scripts very near the time when we start to shoot, and some of us have other projects going on as well, so you tend to just sort of roll through it. But from a story point, it's a lot of fun; there've been some good shows."
As far as last season is concerned, Tim especially enjoyed 'Riddles,' and not only because he got a chance to work so closely with Ethan Phillips. "It was the only show in six years that I had a chance to play Tuvok with the full range of emotions, not just the violent ones!" The return of former colleague Jennifer Lien, in the form of Kes in 'Fury,' was also a landmark. "It was very nostalgic. I think everything melded together very quickly. She had a heck of a lot of difficult stuff to do, and a lot of changes; they had days that were horrendous. It was a very tough week for me and Katie too, and Jenny was exhausted. But she did a good job."
Tim also thinks 'Unimatrix Zero, Part I and II,' where Tuvok became a danger to his own colleagues, were worthy of their position as cliffhanger and season opener. "It was pretty bold and dangerous for the crew to allow themselves to be assimilated, and of course Tuvok was susceptible to being taken over. It was a good episode." And, a couple of months into the final year, he's fairly happy with the way things are going. "I think the shows this season have been consistent, although in general there tends to be a few too many hologram-based storylines. Repression' was a great episode to work on: a bit of a challenge from a performing standpoint because of the distress the character goes through. So far, it's been one of the most interesting."
As far as the final arc is concerned, Tim isn't sure the ship should get home too soon. 'All of us are speculating constantly, along with everybody else who's watching the show on what they're going to do. Everybody's got different opinions about it; some people think we should come back in the middle of the season and then deal with all the other stuff, but I think that's a mistake. When they return home, you no longer have the same show; the ship is still around, but it's just another ship in Federation space."
Tim's got plenty of new projects already in view. "I'm working on an animated kids' project, a number of TV series concepts, and two feature film projects. I've got directing things I want to do down the line as well as working with an online production company. I have every intention of being able to spread my wings considerably when the show is off the air." Mean while, like many of his colleagues, he views the end of the series with mixed feelings. "I'll miss working with everybody; I've made a lot of friends there. And I'll miss the steady job!" But with all his plans, it doesn't look like he is going to have too much time on his hands to look back at Tuvok and his crewmates, whatever happens to the US.S. Voyager in the months to come.