Dr. Phlox no more, John Billingsley continues to play smart sci-fi guys both good and bad.
John Billingsley was a prolific character actor long before he landed the role of Dr. Phlox on Star Trek Enterprise. And he has been extremely busy since the show went off the air. But it’s as the NX-01’s good-natured Denobulan medical officer, endlessly curious and optimistic, that Star Trek fans know him best.
In a 2019 interview with TrekToday, Billingsley expressed his affection for the character (although not for the “rubber head” the role required). “Given how many creeps and crumb-bums I’ve played in my life,” he said, “getting to portray a guy who was so buoyant, and balanced, was a real treat.”
John Billingsley’s credits after Star Trek Enterprise are numerous, and they include some noteworthy forays back into science fiction, fantasy, and horror. His “long road” out of the 22nd century has even led him, on a few occasions, to cross paths with other familiar faces from the Star Trek franchise.
Here’s a quick look at John Billingsley’s resume in speculative stories after Enterprise.
John Billingsley plays several professors and scientists in post-Star Trek sci-fi
John Billingsley’s first post-Enterprise genre credit is his role as Harry, a professor of biology, in The Man from Earth (2007). Harry is one of several colleagues of the none-too-subtly named John Oldman, who claims he was a caveman who’s been alive for some 14,000 years, and who has been some significant people in history along the way.
In the film’s trailer, Harry speculates on how a biological quirk might allow for the possibility.
It’s no accident The Man from Earth may remind Star Trek fans of “Requiem for Methuselah,” which shares a similar premise. Jerome Bixby wrote both. He also wrote “Mirror, Mirror,” “By Any Other Name,” and “Day of the Dove” for the original series; and the short story that became the classic Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life.”
The Man from Earth was Bixby’s last story, written and dictated from his deathbed. Winner of several film festival awards, it continues to be well-regarded. A decade later, Billingsley reprised his role as Harry in what was projected to be the first of several sequels, The Man from Earth: Holocene. To date, however, this franchise has not proved as immortal as its title character.
In 2009, Billingsley appeared as another professor, Professor West, in the Roland Emmerich disaster movie 2012. The film capitalized on pop culture’s fascination with the ancient Mayan calendar by positing solar flares would unleash catastrophic natural disasters on the earth.
In the years since, most of Billingsley’s genre credits have been roles in TV series, though he did appear with fellow Star Trek alum Denise Crosby in the 2016 haunted house TV movie The Watcher, and in this year’s Boy Makes Girl: Memoirs of a Robot.
In the short-lived action drama Intelligence (2014), Billingsley played Dr. Shenendoah Cassidy, a neuroscientist and computer scientist who invents a microchip that allows government operative Gabriel Vaughn (Josh Holloway) to interface with any electronic device. About his character, Billingsley told Syfy Wire:
"[Cassidy] is a man of science and a man who is primarily interested in advancing our civilization, who has agreed to work for the Defense Department . . . . Sometimes it feels to him as if his innovations are being used in a morally questionable way . . . . [O]ne of the underlying tensions is that struggle that Cassidy . . . is constantly undergoing."
Billingsley joined his next sci-fi series, Stitchers (2015-2017), in its second season. He had a recurring role as Mitchell Blair, an NSA executive with “ice-cold intent and deadly ideas” about how to use the mind- and memory-infiltrating techniques at the heart of the show’s premise.
John Billingsley has also appeared in two projects with multiple fellow veterans of Trek. Naturally, he has a role in Snoop Dogg’s Star Trek parody Unbelievable! And he joined Doug Jones, Terry Farrell, the late Rene Auberjonois, Ethan Phillips, Robert Beltran, Armin Shimerman, Tim Russ, J.G. Hertzler, and Robert O’Reilly in the cast of The Circuit: Star Crew (2019). The as-yet-unreleased film’s Twitter account characterizes the project this way:
In that 2014 interview with Syfy, Billingsley said, “I’m a working character actor . . . . I think there’s a sense that people have that we have the luxury of choice. I don’t . . . . So we audition. And it’s gig after gig after gig . . . .”
While John Billingsley doesn’t feel he can pick and choose, surely fans who know and love him best from Star Trek Enterprise can’t help but hope many more of those auditions and gigs will land him in the science fiction and fantasy genres!