Why Star Trek: Enterprise's John Billingsley Shot Down An Offer For Strange New Worlds

"Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" will debut on Paramount+ on May 5, 2022. It's a show that only came into being once Anson Mount was seen playing Captain Christopher Pike in the second season of "Star Trek: Discovery," thereby activating the sensitive nostalgia glands of good Trekkies the world over (or at least the Trekkies with access to Paramount+). "Strange New Worlds" claims that it will deviate from the broader, arc-oriented structure of "Discovery" and "Picard," and mercifully revert to a traditional "Star Trek" episodic structure. This, in addition to taking place on the familiar Enterprise NCC-1701, and featuring familiar characters such as Spock (Ethan Peck) and Number One (Rebecca Romijn). Also culled from the nostalgia singularity will be Dr. M'Benga (from the original series episodes "That Which Survives" and "A Private Little War," now played by Babs Olusanmokun), Uhura (now played by Celia Rose Gooding), and Nurse Chapel (now played by Jess Bush). We'll also be introduced to Khan's granddaughter La'an (Christina Chong). If one were to wail her name in rage, would it be spelled Laaaaaaaaa'an! or La'aaaaaaaaan!?

Like "Lower Decks" before it, Paramount+ is positioning "Strange New Worlds" as reference bait for enthused Easter egg hunters. Whether or not it will be a good show remains to be seen.

Given the timeline of Trek events (it takes place immediately before the events of the original "Star Trek" series), "Strange New Worlds" has cleverly left itself open to all manner of cameos and returning characters. There's no reason a young Kirk or Dr. McCoy couldn't come visit, and, indeed, some of the longer-lived alien species from "Star Trek: Enterprise" could even make an appearance. A quick glance over a few half-mentioned details in several episodes of "Enterprise," for instance, reveals that Denobulans — the species of that show's Dr. Phlox — live at least 300 years, if not longer. An elderly Dr. Phlox could, conceivably, visit the Enterprise.

In an interview with TrekNews.net, interviewer Kyle Hadyniak brought up this delightfully nerdy detail to actor John Billingsley who played Phlox. Billingsley was frank about how "Trek" was kind of behind him, professionally.

The returning players

"Star Trek" has always looked after its players, and if you manage to land a minor supporting role on one Trek series, it's likely you'll be asked back. Actor Vaughn Armstrong, for instance, played 12 different characters across four different shows. Jeffrey Combs played four different roles in "Deep Space Nine" alone. More, if you consider that he played several clones of the came character. Armin Shimerman and Marc Alaimo both played roles on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" before landing regular roles on "Deep Space Nine." Majel Barrett and James Doohan played multiple voice roles on "Star Trek: The Animated Series." So it should, perhaps, come as no surprise that the makers of "Strange New Worlds" gave John Billingsley a call, asking him to audition for their new show. 

Billingsley was less than intrigued. He had no interest in returning to the "Trek" well:

"Oh, now here's the thing that got me! I was asked to audition for a small supporting part on Strange New Worlds. And I said to my agent 'Could you just let them know that I was on Star Trek?' I turned it down."

Billingsley is a little baffled as to why he would have even be asked. After all, "Enterprise" had been canceled in 2005 when the show had just completed its fourth season, ending a long run of new Trek shows (and movies!) that had begun all the way back in late '80s. Fans, and Billingsley, understand "Enterprise" to be the deviation from the "Star Trek" model of success. Some even view the show as an embarrassment.

"I think there's a strange disconnect between the folks making the new shows and 'Enterprise.' I think we were seen at the time, fairly or unfairly, to be the red-headed stepchild of the franchise; the show that, briefly, crippled the franchise. So, I'm not sure if there's any great appreciation or even cognizance for the 'Enterprise' cast, with maybe the exception of the captain, as characters to be resurrected. I could be wrong."

Seek out new life

The world of streaming, however, is very akin to a moist grotto that constantly produces an unending supply of affectionate mushrooms to grow out of the corpses of any and all moribund pop culture properties. Add these delicious mushrooms to the fact that all streaming channels have no limit to the amount of programming they want to provide, and you have an entertainment marketplace where bad ideas no longer exist. If a show has any kind of fan recognition at all, there's no longer any reason not to try it out. As such, Billingsley's aversion to returning to "Star Trek" may be underestimating the public's appetite for mushrooms. I promise I will hereby drop the mushroom simile.

Billingsley's refusal to return to the role may also have more practical concerns: For one, he hated the makeup. Voice-acting Dr. Phlox on an animated show would have far more appeal, he says:

"I loved that character. I would happily come back, especially to voice Phlox. Coming back as old, fat Phlox would require me to get into two-and-a-half hours of makeup ... I wasn't crazy about putting a rubber head on every morning."

Billingsley also expressed relief in playing the doctor on a "Star Trek" show, as opposed to a bridge officer. As it turns out, the style of shooting a "Star Trek" bridge scene is vastly different from the types of shot selected for other scenes throughout the ship: 

"Like all actors, I wished I had a little bit more to do sometimes. But thank God I didn't have to be on the f****** bridge! ... [I]t's all oners! If you're not on the bridge, everybody can be huddled together for a three-shot. But on the bridge it's like, 'Eh, that guy is over there, that guy's over there, and that guy is way over there.' The setups are interminable. Those scenes are the ones where you always have to pretend you've seen a horrible alien or have somebody yell 'shake!' at you. I hated that stuff."

If you've ever seen behind-the-scenes footage of the "Star Trek" cast shaking in their seats, pretending that the ship is rattling around, you can perhaps imagine how silly an actor must feel. Billingsley makes a fair point. 

Billingsley is currently the board president of a charity called The Hollywood Food Coalition, which provides meals to low-income families throughout Los Angeles. You can support the HFC here.