Presidents Day Weekend in Atlanta marked the debut of Trek Trax, a new fan-based convention devoted to all things Star Trek. The Backstage Beat dropped by to check things out and meet the celebrity guests and some ordinary fans.
The headliner was Tim Russ, best known for his role as Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager. Russ spent seven seasons as the Vulcan science officer, but this was hardly his first connection with the Trek franchise. In the mid-eighties, he auditioned for the role of Geordi LaForge in Star Trek: The Next Generation, ultimately losing out to LeVar Burton. A few years later he landed a small role in TNG, followed by an appearance in the big-screen Star Trek: Generations. Russ also played the Klingon T’Kar on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine before being cast as Tuvok.
Russ holds the distinction of appearing with more Star Trek captains than any other actor. In addition to Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway on Voyager), he has shared screen time with Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard on TNG and Generations), William Shatner (Captain Kirk in Generations), and Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko on DS9). Asked if he had a favorite, Russ said he enjoyed working with Patrick Stewart. “We were able to talk about some of the differences between England and America, in terms of social things and politics,” he said.
He also cited his long collaboration with Mulgrew on Voyager, noting that they got to know each other very well over the years. Although he shot scenes with Genevieve Bujold, who famously quit the role of Janeway after a single day, he said Mulgrew was “ideal for the role….She came from soap operas so she was able to get pages and pages of dialog very quickly.” Bujold, he said, was “obviously a very competent actress, she’s amazing, but she was not really suited for that kind of kind of set up for television.”
Russ talked about the challenges of playing a Vulcan. Having seen the original series (TOS, as it’s known to fans), he was able to bring that knowledge to the role. This proved important, he said, “because that character was already established. [Vulcans are] an alien race that’s already been established, so I’ve got to get that right. I just made sure I kept it in line with what the movies and the series had laid down.” Asked if he’d gotten a chance to go beyond that and play with the Vulcan personality a bit, since he played Tuvok for so long, he said, “It’s really the writers. It’s the stories that determine the character. They start picking and choosing stories that feature this character, give him a dilemma and choices and circumstances to work his way out of, and that determines what he’s all about. They gave [Tuvok] a past, they gave him three kids – that wasn’t my idea, that was the writers. But if they see what you’re doing and it’s working, they’ll write in that direction…. The character develops over time, because it is a series. Each time your character appears, another layer is developed.”
Since Voyager ended, Russ has kept busy with many projects. He directed an episode of Voyager and has since directed over a dozen TV episodes, short films and full length productions. The most notable to Trek fans are Roddenberry on Patrol, a comedic short that featured George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig, and Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, starring Nichols, Koenig, Garrett Wang and Alan Ruck. On screen, he has been seen as the sarcastic doorman on Samantha Who?” and has a recurring role as Principal Franklin on the Nickelodeon series iCarly. He also does voice work, most recently on Sym-Bionic Titan on the Cartoon Network.
Next up: The Backstage Beat meets Barbara March and Gwynyth Walsh, who played Lursa and B’Etor, the Klingon sisters in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
(photo credit: Dan Carroll)