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enterprise • john billingsley

selected from TV Zone #144
cuckoo phlox

The actor behind Enterprise’s eccentric alien doctor holds court on being a superior intellect, urinating in sinks and squawking…

John Billingsley as Enterprise's Dr. Phlox

Enterprise - coming to Sky One in February 2002. See this issue for in-depth first episode review!

When it comes to the medical profession, Star Trek has always been an equal opportunity employer. Its chief medical officers have included a Southern gentleman, a beautiful and brainy woman, a genetically engineered Human and even a hologram. In the newest Trek incarnation Enterprise, the crew’s health and wellbeing are the responsibility of the very capable Doctor Phlox. To John Billingsley, who plays Phlox, the character is an enigma and one whose background he is eager to explore.

“I was having a conversation with someone recently in which I suggested that Doctor Phlox comes from a race of highly intellectual philosophers,” says the actor. “Of course, this is my own backstory. It could very well be contradicted by what [series creators and executive producers] Rick Berman and Brannon Braga come up with. However, it’s my sense that his people are incredible navel gazers who have essentially become monks. As such, they really haven’t had a great deal of exposure to other species. Conversely, my character is, at least to a certain extent, anomalous in that he considers it vital to be an extrovert as opposed to an introvert."

A native of Pennsylvania, Billingsley’s family travelled around quite a bit while he was growing up. Upon receiving his degree from Bennington College in Vermont, the actor moved to Seattle, Washington and began to hone his craft working in regional theatre.

“My first job was a play called Creeps, which was about people with Cerebral Palsy,” recalls Billingsley. “I played a retarded boy with CP. Everyone involved in the show studied the effects of this disease and we got to know the residents at the local CP home, all of whom were incredibly supportive of the production. I still remember that first night walking on stage. My character revealed himself to the audience, relieved himself in a sink and then ate a cigarette. It was a splashy entrance,” laughs the actor, “no pun intended”.

On TV Billingsley has guest-starred in such shows as NYPD Blue, Martial Law, The Pretender and The X-Files, plus a regular role in the short-lived series The Others. Although he had to read for the part of Doctor Phlox on Enterprise, he later discovered that he was Rick Berman’s and Brannon Braga’s first choice. “I thought the first audition went pretty well,” he says. “The thing I reacted to the most when I read the sides for the character was his high-spiritedness..."

Because his character appears in just a handful of scenes, Billingsley worked only five days out of the five weeks it took to film the show’s pilot episode. The actor laughs out loud when asked about filming his first scene for Enterprise.

“When I originally read for the role I was told they wanted a character with a slight alien accent,” notes Billingsley. “I didn’t quite know what that meant, so I chose to talk with a kind of plumy voice as if Phlox had learnt proper English from listening to tapes. I also decided that whenever he got excited when speaking he would squawk in between sentences. Well, they hired me and I was never sure if it was because of or in spite of the squawks.

“I walked onto the set the first day not knowing whether the squawks were in or out. We rehearsed the scene and, naturally, I squawked in places I thought were appropriate. The director [James L Conway] came up to me and said, ‘So were you just screwing around?’ I said, ‘Do you mean the squawking? I did it in the audition.’ In the end, they decided they didn’t want me squawking for seven seasons, which was fine by me,” he laughs.

Steven Eramo

class of 2151

Phlox in a Box!

Character traits
Immense enthusiasm, curiosity about other races on similar lines to Sato, only Dr Phlox is more interested in internal matters. Happily dissects things at the drop of a hat and has expert knowledge in a variety of alien medical techniques and procedures, some of which are a little ‘out there’.

Distinguishing features
Spots, bumpy forehead, the usual designators of being an alien on a Star Trek series, even if it doesn’t have that prefix. Mad grinning face.

Star Trek character most like
Neelix. He’s got the same irritating cheerfulness and looks a bit like him. Though somehow Phlox isn’t anywhere near as annoying. Also similar to The Doctor in the way he acts superior to anyone who visits sickbay.

Likely to say
“How lovely to see you! How have you been keeping? I do hope you’re not contagious. Come over here and I’ll get out a few Altarian slime worms; they’ll soon clear that up.”

Unlikely to say
“This ship is so dull. You Humans aren’t of great interest and this whole Deep Space assignment is really getting me down.”

Biggest danger
Becoming extinct. His race hasn’t appeared in any ‘future’ Trek series as far as we know, so something must happen to it sometime in the next couple of centuries. Maybe he evolves into a Talaxian, confirming our worst fears.

profile by Paul Spragg

More from Billingsley, plus a full set of crew profiles in TV Zone #144

Pictures © Paramount TV
Feature © Visual Imagination 2001. Not for reproduction.