John Billingsley is one of those veteran character actors who can — and does — turn up in anything at any time. He’s at nearly 150 film and television credits already, and he’s not slowing down. Billingsley spent four years in the Star Trek universe, portraying Dr. Phlox on Enterprise. As he celebrates his birthday today, StarTrek.com turns the spotlight on him with 6 Things You Should Know About John Billingsley…
Given Billingsley’s tremendous film and television output, along with his status as a voracious reader and activist, perhaps it should surprise no one that he was born in Media, Pennsylvania. Yes, Media; that’s a real place. According to Wikipedia, “the borough of Media is the county seat of Delaware County, Pennsylvania and is located 13 miles west of Philadelphia. Media was incorporated in 1850 at the same time that it was named the county seat.”
“Dear Doctor” was the first Phlox-heavy Enterprise episode, and in a 2013 interview with StarTrek.com, Billingsley explained that he appreciated the fact that a Phlox hour followed the Trek tradition of tackling an issue with a lot of gray area. “I definitely agree that, just for me personally, aesthetically speaking, the episodes over the arc of four years that I thought had the most impact and held the most interest for me were the ones that actually did deal with issues,” he said. “The cloning episode (“Similitude”) in the third season was particularly good. There was an episode (“Cogenitor”) in which Trip interferes with a couple’s decision to use their quasi-servant as a person to breed for them. That was one that got people’s panties in a twist a little bit, and those are the kinds that are interesting. So I’m glad that ‘Dear Doctor’ was one that provoked some folks. It was dark. It creeped people out: an entire race of people is going to be doomed to extinction. I rather liked the darkness of Enterprise when it chose to be dark. I always wondered, ‘Gee, what would Enterprise have been like if were a cable show?’ The fans might have rebelled. It might not have been what they wanted, but to me it would have been interesting.”
That Enterprise Finale
What did Billingsley really think about the controversial final episode of Enterprise? “There are obviously mixed feelings among the fans about the legacies of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, but they were largely responsible for shepherding the franchise through many, many years of shows that people loved and kept watching,” Billingsley replied when asked that question in a 2010 StarTrek.com interview. “So they deserve a lot of credit. I think for them, the idea that they were going to be saying goodbye to Star Trek had a tremendous emotional weight. So they felt, and I can understand this, that they wanted to write the last episode of Enterprise. Having said that, the last season had so much of (writer and executive producer) Manny Coto’s fingerprints on it that I think one of the things fans felt was a tonal and almost spiritual disconnect between the nature of the scripts throughout the fourth season and the final script. It was as if suddenly somebody from another cosmos dropped in and wrote the script, above and beyond the fact that the Enterprise’s story was swallowed up by the framing device. I think people had just gotten used to Manny’s voice. I missed it in the final episode. Frankly, it should have been a two-parter. Our storyline needed to wind up… I’m all over the map on this one because I have a lot of different feelings about it. My problem with the final episode, ultimately, was that by jumping ahead however many years we jumped ahead, it was as if anything we did in the third and fourth seasons had no real weight. It seemed like the third and fourth seasons were being dismissed, which I’m sure was not the intention, but that was one of the things that bothered me.”
Billingsley and… Chekhov
Back in 2010, StarTrek.com conducted an interview with Billingsley in which we used questions provided by you, the fans. One fan asked, In your career so far, what are your favorite roles, aside from Phlox? He answered, “I had a long stage career, and probably the best thing I’ve ever done or the thing I’ve enjoyed the most was working on Chekhov, particularly a production of The Seagull I did with a woman named Robin Smith. She was a teacher and a colleague of mine at a school I worked at, and she directed that production of The Seagull. It was a marvelous opportunity for me. I played Treplyov, who is a troubled young wannabe poet with mother issues and is at the heart of The Seagull. On the other end of the spectrum, I loved my episodes of Cold Case. I played a horrible, psychotic killer for a couple of episodes. And I loved working with Denzel Washington in Out of Time. Carl Franklin, who I’d done another film with, was very open to letting me improvise a bit, which was nice, since it was a comedy. And Denzel, when the cameras were rolling, was very open and accommodating to my improvisational riffs. So those are the ones that pop into my head.”
Billingsley has long been married to Bonita Friedericy. The actress is most recognized for her role as Gen. Beckman on Chuck. Star Trek fans will recall that she guest starred on Enterprise as Rooney, the scientist assimilated by the Borg, in the episode, “Regeneration.“
So far in 2017, Billingsley has been seen co-starring with Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried in the film The Last Word, and guesting on such series as Man Seeking Woman and Code Black. His return to the small screen soon with guest shots on the Twin Peaks revival and in season three of Stitchers.
Please join StarTrek.com in wishing Billingsley a Happy Birthday!