As part of CNET’s coverage of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, we talked with a dozen cast members from across the franchise about everything from Star Trek’s inclusive message to how actors show emotion when their character has none.
By Ian Sherr
Tim Russ may be among the most-cast actors in Star Trek shows and movies, but don’t call him a Trekkie.
In fact, the 60-year-old actor, who appeared on “Star Trek: Voyager” from 1995 to 2001, for many years saw Star Trek as just another job. Sure, he’d seen reruns of the original series, mostly since there weren’t many TV channels when he was growing up. But before he began his Star Trek career, he knew about as much about the franchise as he did about “Gilligan’s Island.”
“It was my job,” he said. “It could have just as well been ‘Baywatch.'”
Russ is a sci-fi nut, though, and when he was cast, he took the part because he remembered how interesting and edgy the original Star Trek show’s stories were.
“They had social commentary,” he said. And to a black kid growing up in the turmoil of the ’60s, the issues the show tackled hit close to home. Gene Roddenberry, the creator, “dealt with the conditions of what was happening,” Russ said. “I was very much aware obviously of what was going on with the turmoil of civil rights and Vietnam, and that was all brought out in his stories.”
Russ was first cast on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as a terrorist named Devor, not the character he’d ultimately play. Russ held two other roles — one as an unnamed “Lieutenant,” the other as a Klingon mercenary called T’Kar on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” — before being cast as Tuvok, the Vulcan head of security for “Star Trek: Voyager.” He called it a seven-year audition process.
Russ likes to think about big-picture issues, which is probably why he appreciates sci-fi so much. “It allows you to challenge the human condition,” he said. He particularly enjoys self-contained stories, like H.G. Wells’ novel “The War of the Worlds” and the TV show “The X-Files.”
The actor is still involved in Star Trek, though not in an official sense. He’s directed and acted in fan projects like “Star Trek: Renegades.” Some of his most recent work outside the Star Trekuniverse includes “Junkie,” a gritty film he directed about a small town riddled with a heroin epidemic.