Ethan Phillips - Thankful For Neelix's Low UsageBy Amy
March 30, 2001 - 6:11 PM
Reaching the halfway mark in their ten-part Voyager retrospective, the Trek Galaxy have posted the latest instalment of Gregory L. Norris & Laura A. Van Vleet's behind the scenes Voyager set tour. This time, the focus of their interview is Voyager's moral officer and cook, Neelix, played by Ethan Phillips. Over recent years, Phillip's character has played an apparently ever-declining role within the series. Describing his character as "more of a pitch hitter for the series", he explains that "his function was more like spice to the main course. A cooking metaphor, I know, he added a little flavour when you needed it but he wasn't part of the main bulk of the stew."
"I think over the last few years, the writers got real caught up in the Doctor's character and in Jeri's," he continues. "The general perception is that they are the most popular characters, which I believe to be true. Writers love to write for those kinds of characters, those individuals who are so 'Sci-Fi' by their very nature - a hologram, and somebody who's been compromised by the Borg. They really bring ideas to a writer's head, and also, they just like writing for them. I think it's been a matter of who the writers like writing for, and also, the kinds of stories they buy. That's just the way the cards played out."
On the other hand, as time progressed, he became thankful for every bit of time he could avoid spending in makeup. "And I have to tell you, the last couple of years, the makeup became so horrendously difficult to wear for me that I was glad to not be featured so heavily in the storylines. It became real torture to wear that stuff for seventeen hours a day. I couldn't take it. You can't sleep after you've been in makeup that long, and you can't think."
And just how bad is that makeup, which takes three hours to put on? "Imagine having a rubber ski mask glued to your head for seventeen hours, with contact lenses and teeth," Phillips says. "It's extraordinarily hot. I remember saying to Rick Berman the first year I put it on, 'this is not so bad'. Berman said, 'talk to me in four years', and he was right, because once you start sweating under that mask, it feels like ants crawling around your head. The removal process, which takes an hour and a half, is just a bath of oil and rubbing alcohol, and it stings. Oh, it's just disgusting."
"I'm close with all of them," Phillips replies when asked about his friends among the cast. "We have great friendships going here. I get along with everybody. There's not a clinker in the bunch. I'm very close with Kate, who I absolutely adore and admire. I think she's an extraordinary person. She has an unbelievable heart. She's the most professional person and the most generous actress I've ever worked with. If I don't know what I'm doing in a scene with her or I have any confusion or doubt, I just look into her eyes and I find my performance right there. She's just so giving, and always on in a scene. She's the least lazy person I've ever worked with as an actor. She's everything. Jeri, I love. We have a very warm and wonderful, fun relationship, which I also have with Roxann. Robbie McNeill gets a kick out of me, because I constantly wear a Robert Duncan McNeill Fan Club pin on the set. I've become close to Bob Picardo, who is just bright beyond belief. He can juggle a thousand things at once in his head and still make sense of all of them. Garrett is great. He's growing so much as an actor. Robert Beltran is one of the funniest people I've ever met in my life. I've become good friends with Tim Russ. He's an amazing musician. I go to see him play."
Phillips also has some comments on the departure of Jennifer Lien (Kes) from the show. "Well, the official word," he says, "is that the writers felt they had come to an ending as to where they thought they could explore her character. They wanted to bring on somebody new so they could kind of stimulate themselves and use their imaginations." However, her personally believes there was a little more to it than that.
"I think it is probably true that they really did want this new character, and they thought about this Borg having her journey from being part of the collective consciousness all the way down to an individual. There were budget restraints that wouldn't support having ten regulars on the show, and in the final analysis they felt they'd explored Kes enough. That's my take on it. I'm out of contact with Jennifer, but I think she's doing pretty well. She's done some movies and she's back in school now."
Potentially adding the speculation that Phillip's character is leaving the show in the second-last regular episode shot, 'Destiny' is his announcement that he's scheduled to start work on his next project the day after the show wraps. "I'm going to do a play right after this, over at the Pasadena Playhouse," Phillips revealed. "It's called 'Side Man'. It picked up the Tony Award, and of interest to Star Trek fans, Andy Robinson ('Garak', Deep Space 9) is directing it. We wrap Voyager on the 9th, and I start rehearsals for the play on April 10th. No grass is growing under my feet!"
To read the full interview with Phillips, follow this link to the Trek Galaxy. The next instalment of the Retrospective will see Norris and Van Vleet speak with the woman who plays the show's volatile chief engineer, Roxann Dawson (B'Elanna Torres).