According to Ethan Phillips, he bears very little resemblance to Neelix, the gregarious character he portrays. He may not be able to cook in real life, but he certainly has a lot to say. Find out in our latest Q & A session with the man behind the latex, Mr. Ethan Phillips.
Q: Do you ever wish that Neelix would get another love interest?
Jennifer W., NV
EP: Sure, all the time.
Q: Do you consider it an advantage to play a role with so much make-up, making you more anonymous on the street? And what is your fondest memory of your years on Star Trek: Voyager?
EP: The anonymity is a real treasure for me. I have a lot of wonderful memories. One of the memories is walking down between [Paramount] Stages 8 and 9 with Tim Russ, the day that we began shooting the pilot. He and I just chatting and getting to know each other — that was amazing.
Q: Was your decision to audition for a role in Star Trek at all influenced by your former Benson co-star Rene Auberjonois’ success as Odo on DS9?
EP: To a certain degree. When he got the job on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, we had lunch once and he explained it all to me. But at the time, I had no idea I’d be on a show like that. When I did get cast, I sought out Rene and Armin Shimerman and they were both very generous with their advice about the make-up and the hours. They were very instrumental in me getting adjusted.
Q: What did you think of the return of Kes? Do you have a favorite alien concoction of Neelix’s?
EP: The return of Kes? I don't know why it happened. I didn't understand the show too much as I have trouble with time-travel stuff — I can’t figure it out. It was a little confusing for me. Alien concoctions? All of it’s in my cookbook! [Star Trek Cookbook – Pocket Books]
Q: What can Neelix expect to do when, and if, he reaches Federation space?
EP: I would expect he’d become some kind of instructor at the Academy teaching about the Delta Quadrant. With his experience, they may even ship him out again somewhere. He could be of service that way.
Q: Hello. Although I did not know you as an actor before Voyager, I now recognize you from other acting jobs by your distinct voice. Has this helped with your character or your career?
Jenni D., Ontario
EP: I do some cartoons and different voice-over commercials, although not a lot. I like working with my voice because you don’t have to worry what about you look like.
Q: From a Neelix point-of-view, do you think he would survive if he were to be dropped off in Los Angeles to fend for himself against the ravages of fast food?
EP: I suspect he’d survive — he's a survivor.
Q: In "Star Trek: First Contact" in the holodeck, was that you who got thrown by the Borg or a stunt double?
EP: That was a stunt double. They used a "ratchet-gag." It’s a very advanced stunt gag. They would never put a regular actor in there. You have to get somebody who is familiar with it.
Q: Growing up, who was your hero?
EP: Alastair Sim, a Scottish actor [1900-1976] who played Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" . I really dug him. When I was a boy, I also liked [baseball legend] Mickey Mantle a lot; when I hit my teens it was Bob Dylan.
Q: First, I think you’re doing a great job on the show. How would YOU like to see the show wrap up after seven years trying to get home? And do you think they WILL get home?
EP: I don't know. They haven't told us anything whether we're getting home. We're all in the dark. I don't really have anything vested in it, in terms of my character. This isn't home to him, so as far as Neelix is concerned, whatever happens to him is fine. He's not dying to get to Earth. His home is Voyager. Maybe, subconsciously, he wishes they didn't arrive home. Then he could continue to be in his position. But if they were to arrive home, I don't think he'd make a fuss. He'd be happy for everybody, as he has that generosity of spirit about him.
Q: Which episode did you find the most rewarding? Denis T., Calgary
EP: "Mortal Coil"
Q: Are the concoctions that you serve on Voyager actually edible?
Tim G., Tasmania
EP: When crew people have to eat, then it's edible. Sometimes it's just for effect, for color or the architecture of the food. It's designed to be alien looking, but not to be eaten.
Q: How do you and Tim Russ ["Tuvok"] get along in real life?
EP: We're good friends. We get along real well.
Q: Can you cook as well in real life as you do on the show?
EP: Oh, no. I'm not a good cook at all. I wish I were.
Q: What is your most favorite food?
EP: Spaghetti and meatballs, or a nice porterhouse steak.
Q: What is it like to have one of the other actors direct an episode?
EP: It's pretty much the same in many ways. There's really not that much difference. When they put that hat on, they're really like all the other directors. They have to plan their shots, move things along. If you're doing everything right, the director doesn't even bother to talk to you. That's how you know you're sailing along. The only thing they're going to attend to is a problem. If there isn't a problem, they won't say anything, just move on.
Q: When you looked in the mirror and saw your face in Neelix's make-up for the first time, did it scare you?
EP: No it didn't scare me, it thrilled me. It's a great illusion.
Q: Have you had any adverse reactions with your make-up over the last seven years and would you consider another role with this much make-up preparation?
Jim F., Missouri
EP: I've been pretty lucky, but when I wear it a lot I start to get blotchy and dry skin from the alcohol used in the removal process. I would do [another job] if I were paid a lot of money!
Q: Who is the nicer person, you or Neelix?
EP: Neelix. Way, way nicer!
Q: If you could write the character Neelix into any storyline, what would it be?
EP: He and Seven of Nine! What else can you say?
Q: What’s your favorite type of music and your favorite artist?
EP: My favorite kind of music is jazz and my favorite artist is [pianist] Art Tatum. I’ve been listening to a lot of Johnny Griffin. I also like Sonny Rollins, the Jazz Messengers, Bird [Charlie Parker] and Cannonball Adderley...There are so many.
Q: Do you play a musical instrument?
EP: I fiddle with the saxophone a bit. I played it seriously for four or five years, way, way back. I also pretend to play the guitar a little.
Q: Do you have a favorite character in The Simpsons?
EP: The dad, Homer.
Q: What is your opinion about B'Elanna and Tom having a baby aboard Voyager?
EP: I’m sure Neelix is really happy for them. I think it's a great thing.
Q: With the series coming to an end, there are a lot of character stories to tie up. If you were a producer for the show, is there a particular story line or character from a previous episode that you would like to see revisited for the finale?
Scott J., Dallas
EP: Not really, no. I'd prefer to explore something new.
Q: Do you enjoy not looking like everyone else in the Star Trek: Voyager cast?
Nathaniel J. NY
Q: How did you feel when you knew your character was going to die, only to be brought back to life?
EP: I thought that was a beautiful show ["Mortal Coil"]. It was very existential. Neelix goes under, dies and comes back very depressed. Yet, he decides anyway to do his best despite there being no God or afterlife. Very powerful choice he made, with the aid of Chakotay who brought him into that thought process. Wonderful show, and very well directed by Allan Kroeker.
Q: If Neelix were to open a restaurant on Earth, what would he name it?
EP: Neelix's Chop House.
Q: What do you like more, dogs or cats?
Q: How does all that Talaxian make-up feel on your face?
EP: It's tight and it's warm. It's very uncomfortable and you can't itch. After a couple of hours you start to sweat.
Q: What was your favorite Super Bowl commercial?
EP: I didn't watch the Super Bowl. I'm not into football, I don't care about football. I'm a baseball man and I like basketball.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
EP: I hike a lot. I'm a backpacker.
Q: What's the worst scene you've had to play?
EP: The most difficult was probably saying goodbye to Kes. The most difficult was a scene in the Science Lab that was never actually aired. They never really addressed Kes saying goodbye to Neelix. She left and that was it. There was very little reaction from Neelix, no highlighting of his pain. I always thought they should have tied up that arc.
Q: What is your favorite Star Trek episode of all time?
EP: I love "Far Beyond the Stars" [Star Trek: Deep Space Nine]. I like a lot of the Original Series, episodes like "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" and "The Trouble with Tribbles." Voyager episodes I like are "The Gift," and "Mortal Coil."
Q: What are you plans after Voyager wraps up this year? Thanks for all the great, memorable moments.
EP: I’m going to do a play here in Los Angeles when the show's over. I'm also going to take a little time off with my wife and maybe just travel around America for a little while.
Q: Other than your own character, who is your favorite character on Voyager?
EP: The Captain, Kate's character. She's just a perfect blend of strength and femininity. I find that unbelievably appealing, powerful and authentic. I think she's a very spontaneous actress. She has endowed that character with great, great dignity.
STARTREK.COM: Thank you for your time Ethan.