Born in 1980, in Sunbury, Victoria, Australia, the curly-headed, genially-faced Aussie Nathan Phillips began on the small screen, as so many rising actors do. He landed his first credited appearance with a recurring role on the Australian soap opera Neighbours (1999), just before the curtain rose on the new millennium. For about two years, Phillips limited himself to that medium, fully charting the possibilities of a television career for a young actor. This period included roles in two additional Aussie series: the soap Something in the Air and the children's series The Saddle Club.
A bit part in the 2001 Disney/ABC telemovie Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story followed, before Phillips made the leap to cinemas down under with the lead role of Gary "Blacky" Black in Paul Goldman's 2002 sports drama Australian Rules (2002). Penned by Mark O'Toole and Dave O'Neil, this intelligent social conscience picture explores the hot-button issue of anti-aboriginal racism, by dramatizing the cross-cultural friendship between Caucasian Gary (Phillips) and aboriginal Dumby (Luke Carroll), and the surrounding community that falls to pieces when Dumby's winning goal on the soccer team lifts the floodgates on a torrent of controversy. Though little seen outside of its own continent, Rules received outstanding Aussie reviews, in festivals and cinemas from Sydney to Perth; The Urban Cinefile's Andrew L. Urban wrote " Comedy and tragedy, sweet and sour, Australian Rules is impressive for its economy and power in handling a complex handful of issues and themes."
Anyone clinging to the notion that Phillips wanted to stick with socially relevant themes and ideas for the duration of his career doubtless felt those hopes dissipate given the actor's appearance in the 2004 horror outing Wolf Creek. Phillips plays Ben Mitchell, one member of a group of campers drugged, bound, and tortured by a psychopath during a rural excursion in Australia. The film purportedly features lengthy sequences of female mutilation and buckets of gore. It opened in the United States over Christmas 2005, and even as some critics praised what they perceived as ingenuity, it repulsed innumerable others; Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun Times indicated that the picture made him want to leave the theater and keep walking.
Wolf Creek did phenomenal business, however, earning up to 16 times its original million-dollar budget in the U.S. alone.
Phillips headlined twin 2004 Australian releases -- the comic thriller Under the Radar and the visceral family drama One Perfect Day, before making his Hollywood debut in the 2006 Samuel L. Jackson starrer Snakes on a Plane. As a thriller that involves federal agent Jackson taking on an aircraft full of venomous (and carnivorous) serpents, critics and journalists roundly predicted cult status and a runaway hit for this August 2006 vehicle. In it, Phillips played Sean Jones, a Hawaiian surfer assigned to testify in court, and protected by Jackson.