Tim Russ played the Vulcan Lieutenant Commander Tuvok for seven seasons on Star Trek: Voyager, but he almost landed the part of TNG’s Geordi La Forge.
Star Trek: The Next Generation nearly cast Tim Russ, who would go on to play Lieutenant Commander Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager, as Geordi La Forge, a role that eventually went to LeVar Burton. Russ was just beginning his acting career when he auditioned for the part of Geordi in 1987. Though he missed out on the role of Geordi, Russ would spend the next few years building up a solid resume of TV guest appearances and minor movie roles in projects like The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air and Spaceballs.
While the role of Geordi La Forge ultimately went to the more established LeVar Burton, Russ made an impression on the TNG producers. They kept him in mind when casting the spinoff series Star Trek: Voyager, and he ultimately won the role of Tuvok, the stoic Vulcan officer who served as one of Captain Kathryn Janeway’s (Kate Mulgrew) closest friends and advisors. While Voyager‘s writing didn’t always do the character justice, Russ was never less than excellent as Tuvok, making him one of the more underrated characters from the show’s ensemble. Tuvok was Russ’ ultimate Star Trek achievement, but it was far from his only brush with the final frontier.
Voyager’s Tuvok Was Almost Cast As TNG’s Geordi La Forge
An extensive casting search was undertaken for the primary crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Like many other early aspects of TNG‘s production, the casting process was heated and chaotic. Gene Roddenberry infamously didn’t want Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard due to his baldness, and Marina Sirtis and Denise Crosby switched roles at the last minute. Jonathan Frakes had to audition seven times before he was given the role of Commander William Riker.
Multiple actors auditioned for the role of Geordi La Forge in Star Trek, including future movie star Wesley Snipes and former baseball player Reggie Jackson. Tim Russ very nearly won the part, but he was beaten out by LeVar Burton. At the time of TNG‘s premiere, Burton was arguably the most famous member of the cast, noted for his performance in the acclaimed miniseries Roots and as the host of the educational program Reading Rainbow. Russ has graciously acknowledged Burton was the right choice, though the decision deferred his Star Trek adventure by a few years.
Every Character Tim Russ Has Played In Star Trek
Russ impressed the TNG producers in his Geordi La Forge audition, and he would end up in several Star Trek projects before joining the cast of Voyager as Tuvok. Russ’ first Star Trek role was in the TNG episode “Starship Mine,” where he played Devor, a member of a mercenary group who attempted to steal the dangerous substance trilithium from the Enterprise-D’s engines. Devor notably had a physical confrontation with Captain Picard, who rather ironically subdued him with a Vulcan nerve pinch.
Russ played the Klingon T’Kar in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Invasive Procedures,” part of a group determined to remove the Trill symbiont from Lieutenant Jadzia Dax (Terry Ferrell). His final non-Tuvok role in the franchise would be in the film Star Trek Generations, where he played an unnamed lieutenant on the bridge of the USS Enterprise-B. Tim Russ may have missed out on playing the iconic Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but his Star Trek legacy is more than secure through Tuvok and beyond.