- Trek Galaxy's Voyager Tribute -
By Gregory L. Norris & Laura A. Van Vleet exclusively for TrekGalaxy.
Day 04 - Tuvok, Tactical and Tim Russ
The famous water tower on the Paramount Studios lot, "B" Tank, dominates the horizon to our backs. We arrive early to stand outside the nine Star Trek: Voyager actor trailers, hyped and ready to speak with the resident Vulcan, Tim Russ, who portrays Tactical Officer and Security Chief, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok. Hungry and edgy, we cross to one of the many catering trucks selling good, cheap eats to Paramount employees and buy some breakfast sandwiches - fresh eggs, bacon, and potato pancakes between warm, buttered English muffins. We wolf down breakfast and gather our belongings, then hurry to the Tactical Station, where Tim Russ waits.
The open bridge set is a thing to behold. On this day, a small shop vacuum cleaner sits in clear view, and as we are reminded, no food or drinks are allowed on the set except for water (for fear of damaging the slate gray carpets). Russ is an imposing man but with a genuine smile, and as we've learned from Kate Mulgrew, he's got a wicked sense of humour.
"Mr. Russ," we greet. Laura leads the interview. "We understand you and the Captain have an ongoing war of pranks. Can you share any details of the latest casualties?"
"I believe we called a truce a while back, and she had the last laugh. Rank hath its privileges," he says with a devilish smirk. "Most of the practical jokes I have perpetrated over the years have been for the cast and crew's benefit, to keep the atmosphere light."
I ask, "You have a long history with Star Trek that predates Voyager. Didn't you audition for the role of Geordi LaForge on The Next Generation?"
"Yes, that's true," Russ says. "I auditioned for that role, but Gene Roddenberry chose LeVar Burton as he already had recognition in the States, which he felt would help the new series."
"Well, we love Tuvok, and have enjoyed your work," Laura states. "How would you sum up the experience of being on Voyager?"
"First off, thank you," says Russ. "I'd say it has been a very quick seven years of work. But being on the show has opened many doors of opportunity to me that simply would not have been easily made otherwise. I have also had the good fortune to work and travel making appearances here and abroad. It's been an amazing experience, and it's great having full time work. You know, TV gigs are temporary, and it's unheard of for them to last this long. But it will be nice to have control of my time to pursue other projects."
"A little trivia," I say. "Laura and I created and pitched the episodes that became 'Counterpoint' and 'Gravity', the later of which you were fantastic in."
"Congrats on that!" Russ enthuses. "'Gravity' was a really good episode."
"Thanks. Do you have a favourite episode?" "Yes, 'Future's End', as it was a lot of fun to shoot. It was a nice break from the routine to do that episode."
"Speaking of the routine," Laura segues. "Can you take us into the daily world of life on a Star Trek series?"
"It's really like working on any other one hour drama. It begins with getting the script and learning lines. Then you get a call time to show up on the set. First stop is the hair trailer, then makeup, where they apply the Vulcan ears, then to the set for a rehearsal which can take anywhere from five to twenty-five minutes. Then we wait for them to light the shot, after which we shoot the scene. You don't usually get to meet the guest actors until the day you work with them, and there is no cast read through of the script prior to shooting. You can be at the studio shooting from one to sixteen hours, depending on the day. But the average full day is twelve hours long. There is not a lot of glamour in shooting television - it's sometimes painfully routine," Russ laughs.
"What will you miss most when all is said and done?" I ask.
"Simply," Russ answers, "working with this cast and crew."
"Could you talk about your friendships among the cast?"
"We all get along very well," the actor says. "We don't really get to socialize outside the set as a cast due to the demands of shooting the show, but I'm closest with John Ethan Phillips [Neelix]. I met him our very first day when the entire cast came to have lunch with the producers back in '94 as we walked up the alley between to Stage 8. On April 9, after we wrap for good, we both plan to walk down that same alley together. Occasionally, I get together with Jeri Ryan and Garrett Wang off the set."
"Do you have a favourite memory of your time on the set?"
Russ smiles and nods. "Yes, I do. During one of our episodes featuring the late Ray Walston [Starfleet HQ Gardener and ear to the captains, Boothby]. Ray was in the show My Favourite Martian. We were shooting a scene that was very heavy with dialogue, and Ray was having a tough time with the lines. Some of us were, too. It took all day to film this one scene, and during a short lighting break, Ray spoke a line from Hamlet. Then Robert Beltran answered him perfectly with the next line from the play and the two of them continued to recite the lines for about two or three minutes - perfectly. You could hear a pin drop on the set it was so quiet. We all applauded afterwards. That was a great memory."
"Oh, how neat!" I say. "What's the funniest thing that's happened during your time on Voyager?"
Russ's smirk returns. "Probably the time the rear end of Robbie McNeill's spacesuit caught on fire - while he was wearing it! I'm sure it was not quite so funny to him, but it ranks up there with some of the practical jokes I've pulled."
"Oh my God," we chuckle as the hustle of people around us again becomes apparent. "How did that happen?"
"Robbie's suit caught fire from the sparks they shot out of the rocket pack to make it look like it was firing [in the episode "Day of Honor"]. The sparks were just too close to his rear end."
Russ will soon be called back to work, so we quickly wrap up our final questions. "What are your plans for after Voyager wraps?" Laura asks.
"I hope to do more directing on other projects, as well as produce my own audio books and feature films. I've got at least four new projects underway, including my next music CD for Crescendo Records. The new CD will be out this week, and will debut at the Grand Slam Convention here in Pasadena, California. I'll be singing in a concert on Saturday night at 9 pm, then selling the CD at the convention itself."
Russ is called back to tape, so we wish him well, shake hands, and exit the bridge. We quickly return to the Mess Hall for our next interview - with the man that many consider Voyager's ambassador of goodwill both on screen, and off, Ethan John Phillips.
Next stop, Neelix!