A Star Trek: Voyager Actor Almost Stole LeVar Burton’s Greatest Role

Long before he played Tuvok, Tim Russ auditioned twice for the role of Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

By Michileen Martin | Published

Tim Russ as Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager

Unlike any of his regular Star Trek: The Next Generation c0-stars, LeVar Burton already had two of his most iconic roles under his belt before he joined Trek — Kunta Kinte of the drama Roots and his tenure as the host of PBS’s Reading Rainbow. As it turns out, Tim Russ–who would eventually become a Trek alum just like Burton–came relatively close to stealing the role of Geordi La Forge. In a 2018 interview with TrekMovie.com, Russ said he auditioned to play the role not once, but twice.

levar burton
LeVar Burton as Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation

Russ told TrekMovie that, in fact, the role of Geordi La Forge was the first of many Star Trek parts he auditioned for. “I went in to read for it once or twice and I subsequently went in to read for the doctor’s role in Deep Space Nine and then eventually Voyager,” Russ recalled.

Russ had no idea, he said, that LeVar Burton was also up for the Star Trek: The Next Generation role and speculated the Reading Rainbow host may have had it in the bag. “That might have been a straight offer [without audition],” Russ said. “He was the only well-known name from the States that was in that series, that is one of reasons they brought him in.”

Does Tim Russ have any regrets about not making it to the Enterprise? Not according to him. The Star Trek: Voyager alum said he would much rather play Tuvok than Geordi for one reason: the dialog.

“I am actually glad I got the role as Tuvok over [Geordi], because the role that I had was somewhat more organic and much easier in terms of dialog… I am glad I didn’t get stuck with all that engineering tech talk. I would have not have been as impressed or enjoyed it as much.”

-Tim Russ

While Russ was never saddled with the technobabble talk of Geordi La Forge, he did go on to make his first Star Trek appearance on The Next Generation. In Season 6’s “Starship Mine”–an episode that is often compared to 1988’s Die Hard–Russ plays Devor; the first in a group of thieves who are secretly stealing from the Enterprise who gets taken out by Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart). Fittingly, considering who Russ would go on to play, his character is incapacitated with a Vulcan neck pinch.

Patrick Stewart giving Tim Russ a preview of his future martial arts training in Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Starship Mine”

That same year, Russ played just about the most un-Tuvok Star Trek role he would ever land–the Klingon T’Kar on Deep Space Nine. T’Kar is one of a pair of Klingons working as mercenaries for Verad (John Glover), a Trill who takes the station hostage with the intent of having Jadzia’s (Terry Farrell) symbiont removed from her and implanted in his own body. Had T’Kar ever met Tuvok, they would not have gotten along very well.

Tim Russ as T’Kar on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Invasive Procedures”

Ironically, Russ’s final Star Trek role before he was tapped to play Tuvok was on the big screen. In the opening scene of 1994’s Star Trek: Generations, Russ plays an unnamed Starfleet Lieutenant stationed on the bridge of Enterprise-B when James Kirk (William Shatner) is mistakenly believed to have been killed. According to TrekMovie, when he filmed the scene, Russ was already being considered for the part of Voyager‘s Tuvok.

Tim Russ and the late James Doohan in Star Trek: Generations (1994)

We know that LeVar Burton will once again return to the role of Geordi La Forge in the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard, and it’s seeming more and more likely Tim Russ could once again play Tuvok in a live-action series. Over the past few months, Russ’s former co-star Kate Mulgrew has been increasingly open regarding discussions about her own Picard-like revival series, and Tuvok would seem like an obvious choice as a cast member.

Unlike the rest of Star Trek: Voyager‘s senior crew, we learn early on in the series that Tuvok was already a close friend to Mulgrew’s Janeway long before the events of the series. In fact, when we first meet the Vulcan, he’s working for her undercover as a double agent in the Maquis.