John Billingsley is one of those “Oh, he’s the guy…” guys. He is familiar when you see him on screen though you may not know his name. You’ve seen him on many TV shows or movies, you just can’t quite put a finger on which. But to those in the know, he is Dr. Phlox on Star Trek: Enterprise. He is also a wonderful character actor who has been around for quite some time.
John Billingsley’s career began in the late ‘80s and immediately took on a look that would resemble his entire career. He played minor roles in features such as Seven Hours to Judgement, I Love You to Death, and Shredder Orpheus while appearing in TV shows like Northern Exposure, Almost Live!, and Total Security.
John Billingsley then went on a long string of TV appearances, sticking around for a one-episode shot then moving on to another. He was seen in The Practice, Silk Stalkings, L.A. Doctors, Martial Law, The Profiler, Malcolm & Eddie, Nash Bridges, and The Gilmore Girls. He even had a role on Stargate SG-1. You get the point. He was seen often and everywhere.
After pulling down more roles in series such as Time of Your Life, Good vs Evil, Diagnosis Murder, and Judging Amy, John Billingsley grabbed his first true starring role on The Others. In it, he played Professor Miles Ballard, who specialized in paranormal and psychic phenomena. Ballard brings together a group of “others” who combine to use their abilities in efforts to solve the many otherworldly mysteries. Unfortunately, the series was short-lived, surviving only 13-episodes.
John Billingsley moved on from the disappointing quick end to The Others and continued on his familiar working actor path. He was seen in Gideon’s Crossing, Touched by an Angel, and Jack & Jill before a new series came a calling.
JOHN BILLINGSLEY ON STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE
Dr. Phlox is a Denobulan, a new alien species that was created especially for Star Trek: Enterprise. John Billingsley played Phlox, chief medical officer on the NX-01 Enterprise, with a humorous and quirky tone that was, oddly enough, also quite sexual in nature. By sexual, we don’t mean his physical appearance, he just had a way of being perfectly blunt about sexual matters.
John Billingsley is not shy when telling fans about Phlox’s sexual desires. “I was trying very hard to suggest he had a polyamorous relationship with the boys as well as the girls. I do tell people I was the first gay character on Star Trek, whether you were aware of it or not,” he told Trekmovie.
John Billingsley had a much different reaction when he fully realized that the Denobulan’s were a bunch of… well, we’ll let him describe the new alien race. “It’s hard when you are asked to play an alien and there had never been a Denobulan before, you have no idea what a Denobulan is. I only had a couple of small scenes in the pilot script with the doctor, so it is not a lot to pin a characterization on out of the gate. I had envisioned that the Denobulans were the last of a monastic order and there were very few left because they had chosen to die off by not propagating. So, when it turned out they were the biggest f*ck bunnies in Star Trek history and came from a planet of a gajillion, so where the f*ck were they all these years?”
It was the humor, though, that really was the draw to Phlox and John Billingsley captured that essence. He felt that the writers had already done their job by first putting Phlox’s vibe so wonderfully down on the page, but did acknowledge that his way of portraying the character may have helped. “…I guess what you want to think as an actor is you ground it in certain ways that allow the writers to feel they can be more playful with you without it becoming silly. If there were anything I would look back on and feel by and large pretty good at, is that I carried a good amount of the comedy of the show without ever slipping into making him a less than human figure that you cared less about.”
While Star Trek: Enterprise enjoyed a four-season run, it left many in a state of discontent, including John Billingsley. He didn’t feel Enterprise’s creators, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, had the proper time to set the show before they went in front of the cameras. “…I think that they didn’t have time to really quite get a bible for the show the way that you would normally have a bible for a show. If you’re developing a show for the first time, you’re living it, eating it, breathing it, sleeping it every day for a long period of time,” he told SYFY. He added, “I think one of the reasons that Enterprise didn’t work as well as it could have worked is because they didn’t have the time to really arc it through in their brains.”
LIFE AFTER PHLOX
John Billingsley’s career has moved on since Star Trek: Enterprise was beamed off the air in 2005. While returning to his norm, that being a bounce from TV series to TV series, he has made some notable, longer-lasting contributions. He was seen in one-offs on series such as Ghost Whisperer, Standoff, Journeyman, NCIS, and Eli Stone, Billingsley also had longer runs on The Nine, a series in which nine bank hostage hold-up survivors get together to discuss their trauma and everyday lives. He grabbed recurring roles in 24 and Twentysixmiles, and also had a nice run on the vampire series True Blood. Another claim to fame for Billingsley was the series Intelligence, which was led by Lost star Josh Holloway.
As his career continued to evolve in the 2010s, John Billingsley began to see a few more roles in which he was able to stick around for longer than one guest spot. TURN: Washington’s Spies was one such show as was Masters of Sex. He had a recurring role on Stitchers and most recently on The Left Right Game, a podcast that Amazon Studios is now developing into a series.
JOHN BILLINGSLEY FEEDS THE HUNGRY
With all the bouncing around work John Billingsley has done around Hollywood, you might think he’d be too busy to do anything other than act. You’d be wrong. John Billingsley is president of the board at the Hollywood Food Coalition, a non-profit which began in 1987 and is designed to help those in need of a warm meal, basic daily needs, and many times with housing through referrals and placement.
The Coalition has been very active throughout the COVID pandemic, something that has been an eye-opener for John Billingsley. Talking about how broken our system has become he says, “What this all has revealed is how fractured our social safety net is and how fractured our food delivery systems are,” he told Trekmovie.
John also sees a bright side: “Oddly, because a lot of people are perceiving the ongoing threat, there has been a tremendous outpouring of charitable support.” He went on, “We are serving as many as 350 people a night. We are sharing the food we rescue with 20 other organizations. We are sitting down with a lot of other community organizations and non-profits and talking about how we can collectively help build better structures in our community to help people in need down the years. So, bizarrely, in a time of great crisis and bleakness, it is boom time for what I am doing in my life.”
Good news in a time when good news is hard to come by. Thankfully, John Billingsley is on the job.