Ethan Phillips: Returning To Sci-Fi After Leaving Star Trek

By Rick Gonzales | 7 months ago

Ethan Phillips

Ethan Phillips has had a long and distinguished, career. His talents have taken him to the stage as well as the small screen and feature films. While Star Trek: Voyager could be considered his calling card, Phillips could also hang his hat on the simple fact that during his eclectic career, he has been willing to take on just about any role for the sake of art.

Ethan Phillips found his wheelhouse pretty much right out of the gate. As a child, he spent a lot of time in the city (New York City) because his father owned the famous Frankie and Johnnie’s Steakhouse, which also happened to be a former speakeasy when it came into existence in 1926. While his father would have loved for Phillips to go into the family business, Phillips found his calling in those early days.

Along with his sisters (he has five), Ethan Phillips would head to Broadway, fascinated by the fact that people actually made money pretending to be other people. It stuck with him, even though when he was in college, he was an English and Latin major. He was looking to be a teacher. His girlfriend convinced him to audition for a play and he was bitten (once again) by the acting bug.

Ethan Phillips and the cast of Benson

Ethan Phillips found himself performing off-Broadway in theaters such as the Direct Theater, the Wonderhouse Theater, and at Playwright’s Horizons, where he starred in Tennessee Williams’ Eccentricities of a Nightingale. Williams even wrote a brand-new monologue for Phillips when it was determined the leading lady needed more time for a clothing change.

Ethan Phillips truly cut his teeth on stage. His list of accomplishments rivals his list of accomplishments on TV and the big screen. In Dennis McIntyre’s Modigliani, Phillips appeared as Maurice Utrillo opposite Jeffrey DeMunn (way pre-The Walking Dead).

Ethan Phillips’s first foray onto the small screen was on the hit series Benson which starred Robert Guillaume. The sitcom was a spin-off from the hilarious, ground-breaking sitcom Soap, where Guillaume was the butler for the dysfunctional Tate family. Phillips played Pete Downey, the Governor’s press secretary, beginning in the series’ second season. He enjoyed a strong five-year run on the sitcom.


Ethan Phillips star trek

After Ethan Phillips left Benson, he began a career that fit his personality to a tee. He loved work, he worked hard, and he very rarely said no, even when he could afford to say no. While he was working on TV, he also continued to work on the stage. On TV he found himself on series such as Hunter, Outlaws, Werewolf, Doogie Howser, M.D., and Father Dowling Mysteries.

Ethan Phillips got his first taste of Star Trek when he grabbed an episode on Star Trek: The Next Generation when he played a Ferengi doctor named Farek. It would take Phillips five more years to revisit the Star Trek universe, during which time he continued on working both stage and screen.

Ethan Phillips also began to find time on feature films. He was seen in Critters, Lean on Me, Bloodhounds of Broadway, Glory, Critters 3 (not in the same role as Critters), The Man Without a Face, The Shadow, and Wagons East. Again, this is only the beginning of Phillips eclectic career. And it all led to his most notable role.


Neelix on Voyager

According to Ethan Phillips, he thinks Star Trek: Voyager’s producers were just too tired to continue auditions, which is why they handed him the job as Neelix, cook on the USS Voyager.

“I think I was coming in toward the very end of the process,” Ethan Phillips told Icon vs. Icon. “I think they had seen every character actor in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles by the time I got onboard with the audition. I think they were just exhausted and said, “Give it to him! I can’t look anymore.” I don’t know if that’s true or not!”

Ethan Phillips
Ethan Phillips as Neelix

Neelix he got and from there he forged his name into Star Trek lore. But as a former Ferengi, Phillips knew what was in store for him, since he already had dealt with Star Trek’s makeup process. “There was a lot of makeup, probably five hours a day between getting it on, taking it off, and keeping it up to par in the studio each day. Prosthetically, it was a difficult job, but it was so much fun!” It must have been because Ethan Phillips wore that makeup for the series entire seven season, 170 episode run.

Ethan Phillips in First Contact
Ethan Phillips in Star Trek: First Contact

Don’t think that when Ethan Phillips was done with Voyager that he was completely done with Star Trek. He wasn’t. On top of already playing a Ferengi and Neelix, Phillips also appeared in the feature Star Trek: First Contact as a nightclub maître d’ in Picard’s Dixon Hill holodeck program. He also showed up on Star Trek: Enterprise as, you guessed it, another Ferengi. This time he played Ferengi pirate Ulis.


Ethan Phillips

Ethan Phillips was never one to sit still. Even after his success on Star Trek: Voyager, he simply loved either being on stage or in front of the camera. His career path continued on, just how he liked it. While Phillips could now afford to be a bit choosier with the roles he could play, he really wasn’t. In fact, he has done so much work that there are times he doesn’t even recall some of the roles he’s played or shows he’s been on.

“It’s funny, if you IMDB me, I’ve done a lot of films but sometimes things will come on TV and I won’t even remember anything about them. That is especially true when it comes to television. My wife will say, “Hey, you are on JAG!” I’m like, “Oh, wow. Did I do JAG? Yeah, but I can’t remember the part.” True, his IMDB is loaded with role after role. There are so many it would be difficult to list.

Ethan Phillips
Ethan Phillips on Better Call Saul

This also goes with his time on the stage, which Ethan Phillips has not stopped performing on. Some of the roles he has found on either the big or small screen include Boston Legal, Criminal Minds, Big Game, The Good Guys, PrimeMates, and The Mentalist. He has also found time to do some voice work and appear on the soap operas Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless.

With all this under his belt, you might think he’d be ready to retire. Not so, according to Ethan Phillips. First off, he’d love to play a bad guy. “I’ve done over 400 television shows and many, many plays but I never get to play the bad guy,” he informed Icon vs. Icon. “So, with that said, I’m kind of looking for the bad guy sometimes. If a character is evil, immediately I’m piqued because it’s a chance to do something I haven’t had luck with yet.”

Avenue 5
Ethan Phillips on Avenue 5

Believe it or not, Ethan Phillips has recently jumped back into space. His latest role comes as Spike Martin on the series Avenue 5 which is led by Josh Gad and Hugh Laurie. Avenue 5 is a comedy series about a space cruise ship that gets thrown off course finding out that they will need three years to get back to Earth.

Chances are, you can turn on TV to just about any channel and you will see Ethan Phillips. He may not remember the role he played, but rest assured he gave it his all when he filmed it.