Service With A Smile - Actor Ethan Phillips Talks Star Trek: Voyager

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Actor Ethan Phillips in full make-up as Neelix in Star Trek: Voyager, and sporting a much more terrestrial look in the photo directly below

When you are a stranger in a strange land, it helps to have the advice of someone who knows the locals. Fortunately, when Captain Kathryn Janeway and her crew of the U.S.S. Voyager were flung 70,000 light years from home and into the Delta Quadrant, they were able to count on an alien named Neelix to help show them the way through this foreign and dangerous part of outer space.

A native of the planet Talax, he became a wandering trader when his home on Rinax - a moon orbiting his world - was destroyed by an alien weapon. Janeway offered Neelix and his Ocampan girlfriend Kes passage onboard Voyager. In exchange, he happily offered his services as ship’s cook and also acted as morale officer and goodwill ambassador. While he never lost his entrepreneurial spirit, the Talaxian’s new life as a member of Voyager’s crew gave him a renewed sense of purpose, much to the delight of the actor who played him, Ethan Phillips.

“Neelix began life on Voyager as sort of a roustabout,” notes Phillips. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that he was a nefarious guy, but he certainly was involved in his share of shady dealings, as we found out when he met up with his old pal Wixiban [James Nardini] in the episode “Fair Trade.” However, in the show’s seven years he changed and became somebody who wanted to take more pride in his accomplishments.


“Neelix had a big heart, you know? He was like a life-size teddy bear with a fierce determination to be of service. That can sometimes be a little obnoxious and, quite frankly, a bit freakish,” jokes the actor. “However, I’d like to think that’s something I would strive for in my own life; to have the altruism, empathy, and compassion Neelix had. He really enjoyed being a do-gooder.

“As an actor, you’re so close to your character that sometimes you’re really not conscious of his or her story arc or where it’s headed. That was true of me with Neelix. I’m not even sure what the writers saw when writing for him.

"They just came up with their stories and if Neelix featured heavily in one then that was great. If he was featured in an episode where he had an awakening of sorts, then that was all the better. I wouldn’t say that he was an individual who was heavily focused on during Voyager’s seven seasons. Neelix was more of a secondary character on the program.

"At times, he was comic relief, other times he was almost non-existent. There were blocks of shows where you barely saw him, but he certainly had some strong episodes.”

“I think they did a good job with my character. I would’ve liked to have, perhaps, developed more of an outlandish sense of humor with Neelix. Yes, he became part of Voyager’s crew, and that was fine.  However, it would have been fun to have seen him, not just by virtue of his looks but by his behavior, be a bit different or a little more alien. I’m talking funnier, wackier and slightly stranger.

"That may have been up to me to do, who knows? Then again, I have no problem taking any cues I’m given and going with them. It’s difficult because sometimes you really don’t know where your responsibility with your character begins and ends. I regret not having made more of a mark than I did with Neelix, but having said that, I feel that he’s a fine addition to the pantheon of Star Trek.”

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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