It’s Ethan Phillips’ birthday today. The actor, of course, spent seven seasons buried deep within makeup and prosthetics on Star Trek: Voyager as he brought to life everyone’s favorite Talaxian character, Neelix. To mark the occasion of Phillip’s birthday, StarTrek.com is pleased to share 6 Things to Know about Ethan Phillips.
A Boy Among Girls
The only boy among six siblings, Phillips was born and raised in Long Island, New York. His father and grandfather were the original owners of the legendary Frankie and Johnnie’s Steakhouse (and former speakeasy) in Manhattan, but young Phillips eschewed the family business and devoted his life to the arts.
One of Phillips’ competitors for the role of Neelix was none other than… Robert Picardo. The two men had known each other over the years and even appeared together in the film Wagons East. Wouldn’t you agree that the right actors got the right jobs?
Trek Before, During and After Voyager
Back in 1990, well before Voyager, Phillips guest starred on Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the episode “Menage a Troi,” he played Farek, a Ferengi doctor with an absolute aversion/distaste for Lwaxana Troi. During his run on Voyager, Phillips appeared in an uncredited cameo as a holodeck maître’ d’ in Star Trek: First Contact. Post-Voyager, the actor guest starred on Star Trek: Enterprise, once again cast as a Ferengi. The character, a pirate captain, appeared in the episode “Acquisition.” And let’s not forget that Phillips even played a Ferengi, or Neelix masquerading as one, anyway, in the Voyager episode “False Profits.” He was the Grand Proxy.
“Jetrel” and “Mortal Coil”
Phillips is often asked which Voyager episode he felt served Neelix best. The actor always points to two memorable installments. “’Mortal Coil’ was the deepest episode for Neelix, without a doubt,” Phillips told StarTrek.com in a 2012 interview. “It was there he threw away some of the crap he'd been hanging on to. It showed that all that really matters is now and how we treat other people. I think that and ‘Jetrel’ were the best episodes for Neelix in terms of being deep and dramatic and showing the core of the character, where the mask dropped off and we got to see who he was. ‘Jetrel’ showed that he was able to forgive even the most heinous of acts, because he knows that only be forgiving can he move on.”
About That Whole Kes Thing…
The Neelix-Kes relationship never quite coalesced. It just didn’t. Were they lovers? Friends? Something in between? Guess what? Phillips didn’t know, either. “I was never entirely sure whether it was meant as a romantic or platonic relationship,” Phillips told StarTrek.com. “There was a definite joy, though, in working with Jennifer Lien, an extraordinarily unedited and present actor. The bond between the two certainly merited some closure, and that was indeed filmed. (We shot) a scene in the ship's science lab in which Neelix and Kes acknowledge the end of their relationship and decide to always be friends. But this scene was never aired. That led me to believe the writers didn't really put a premium on that particular arc.”
Life After Voyager
Phillips has worked pretty steadily since Voyager ended its run in 2001. He’s acted in dozens of shows and movies, played music and even moved back to New York City to reestablish his theater roots. Among his post-Trek screen credits: Bad Santa, The Island, Criminal Minds, Chuck, Inside Llewyn Davis, Veep, The Purge: Election Year and Girls. His recent stage work has included the triumphant stagings of All the Way and Junk. He also returned to the Trek fold in 2014 to provide the voice of Neelix for Star Trek Online.
Please join StarTrek.com in wishing Phillips a happy birthday.