July 14-20, 2008
By Craig Tomashoff
Is the Truth Still Out There?
Six Years after leaving the air, The X-Files returns with a new movie -- and the set holds more secrets than Area 51.
The van ride to the Vancouver set of The X-Files: I Want to Believe feels a lot like what approaching Area 51 must feel like. A mystery awaits, although you're not at all sure what kind of clues you'll actually find.
The production assistant behind the wheel is perfectly friendly, talking about the weather (cold), the city (growing), and the best place for Chinese food (pretty much anywhere). But when the conversation takes a turn into X-Files territory, he quickly tucks today's production schedule into his jacket and offers up more news about the weather.
Back during the show's nine-year run on Fox, it was tough enough to unravel the mysteries behind the space aliens, black ooze and that guy who smoked an awful lot. Now, however, it'd be easier to have brunch with Osama bin Laden than to find out what is about to happen with FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully in the movie, out July 25. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are shooting on a nondescript set that might be an office, looking just as they did in 2002 when the series came to an end. They're talking through a scene that has something to do with a crisis of faith that at least one of them is having. But for a couple of agents dedicated to uncovering others' secrets, they're awfully tight-lipped when it comes to revealing a few of their own.
"Even my wife (Tea Leoni) doesn't know anything about the story," claims Duchovny when the scene ends. "When she sees the movie she'll be completely surprised." He pauses. "Well, she does know one very important thing I can't talk about, which nobody should know."
The equally cryptic Anderson adds only that this "particularly thoughtful and important scene" takes place "in a structure that is important to Mulder and Scully, and that brings a certain history." Helpful, thanks.
Still, it's not like there are Men in Black stalking the set, ready to abduct anyone who shares a single story secret. The mood is downright jovial. Producer-director-writer Chris Carter's dog Larry roams free, looking for affection and snacks. Duchovny, his famously idiosyncratic sense of humor intact, wanders around with a pair of scissors and offers free haircuts (there are no takers). Anderson happily shows off pictures of her new addition, adorable toddler Oscar. (The actress is expecting another child later this year with Oscar's father, businessman Mark Griffiths: she also has a 13-year-old daughter from her first marriage).
Everything seems so relaxed, it's easy to forget that this whole production of the movie is basically a covert operation. "We are using any tactic we can to keep things quiet," Carter explains, his voice barely louder than a whisper. "Nobody has been killed in the making of the movie. Yet."
The tactics include requiring all but the two lead actors to turn in their scripts at the end of each day and allowing only a handful of crew members to read those pages (and even they had to do it in a room with video cameras on them).
"There was a day I thought I'd lost my script," recalls Duchovny, kicking back in a director's chair on set during a break. "I thought, 'I've ruined it for everybody.'"
OK, maybe not everybody. But Carter figures that X-philes everywhere want going to the movie to be like opening a present on Christmas morning: The less you know about what you're getting, the more fun it will be. A few stocking stuffers have leaked out, though. For instance, the story is set in winter 2008, so it's happening in real time, picking up with Mulder and Scully six years after we saw them.
"The emotional story of Mulder and Scully is really the heart of the movie," says producer-writer Frank Spotnitz. "It's about their love story."
It's also a stand-alone experience, so anyone not steeped in The X-Files' twisted mythology will still be able to follow along. There are two new FBI agents, played by Amanda Peet and rapper Xzibit, and Scottish actor Billy Connolly steps into priest robes. At some point in the story, reveals Duchovny obliquely, "I rescue Scully and put her in my parka and it looks so ridiculous -- I looked like Kenny from South Park." Holding up a bandaged hand, the actor also reveals that some things never change. "I would love to hit people, but true to Mulder form, I get hit a lot." (Of course, this is Duchovny, so he'd actually like to start an untrue rumor while he's at it: "That I am a wolfman. I wish it were true. I'd love that X-Files.")
It was apparently a lot easier for Duchovny to slip back into his alter ego than it was for his costar. Anderson never doubted that Mulder and Scully would return for their second feature film (following 1998's The X-Files: Fight the Future), but those first few days at work felt "unbelievably familiar and also freakishly foreign."
"I had the worst first and second day," says a frowning Anderson as she scarfs down a boxed lunch in her trailer. "But I realized I've spent such a long time since the show trying not to do anything that resembled Scully." Thus, the actress moved to London after the series wrapped and appeared in several plays there and in indie movies such as The Last King of Scotland.
In the end, it took just a few minutes alongside her partner in crime fighting to bring Scully back. Says Anderson: "A couple times, I've looked over and gone, 'Oh, wow! That's Mulder standing next to me!'" She and Duchovny stayed in touch via e-mail since the series ended, but their first chance to catch up in person was a lunch just after the movie was becoming a reality. "It was the first time I'd seen David in ages," she recalls. "It's emotional. We have a lot of history. I spent more time with David than I have with most of my friends and some family members."
For Duchovny, the initial script reading "was more sentimental than our actual reunion (over lunch). I realized that Gillian and I have changed over the years, but when you start reading these people, they haven't. They are the same and they feel the same way about each other."
Right, but what way is that exactly? Duchovny grins, "There's definitely some skin in this movie," he says slowly. "And not all of it is being flayed or ripped apart. There's some Gillian skin, and some of mine."
Maybe that's the movie's Big Secret. This time around, it'll be more like The X-Rated Files. There will be no more clues from Duchovny or Anderson, though. As they head back to shoot a scene, the weather-obsessed driver has returned to escort prying eyes home. Yeah the truth is probably out there but you'll have to see the movie to find it.
5 Questions with Chris Carter
By Matt Cabral
Fans have really been waiting for this movie. Are you surprised that they're still interested?
Yes... I think the reason we made the movie was because we felt that enthusiasm from the fan base. That being said, I think for this movie to be as successful as FOX would like, we needed to make it a movie that would appeal beyond our fan base, to a broader base, and even to a group of people who didn't watch The X-Files before. I would talk with college juniors, sophomores, freshmen -- they were too young to see the show when it was on the air. It started 15 years ago. So, yeah, we thought about them when we came up with the story.
So can we expect a romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully?
I'm not divulging the nature of their relationship. Let me just say that it's honest to where we felt they'd be six years after we last saw them.
And how about the Lone Gunmen or Skinner -- are they in the movie?
(Cryptically) You will see someone from the series who is not Mulder and Scully. (Pauses) Someone or someones.
With the tendency to seek and post spoilers online, was it especially difficult to keep the movie's story lines under wraps?
Yes, there are so many ways a story can leak out, and the Internet has created a competitive environment for people with information. You get a lot of attention for having information. If you're Harry Knowles (aintitcool.com), you can make a living off of it... There were paparazzi and people looking to capitalize on their proximity or access to our locations. There were call sheets that were intercepted. But knowing we'd run into things like this, we sometimes used counteroffensives, and we're not above -- or below -- the use of propaganda.
Could you imagine doing a new X-Files movie every couple of years or so?
That seems like a natural to me, but this movie has to be successful for there to be another one. I think every time you go out you need to hit a home run. (Laughs) I don't think a double here will do it.
by Frank Spotnitz
The X-Files producer reveals why the movie nearly didn't happen
It was January 2007, and I was about to give up hope.
It was six years since 20th Century Fox called, asking if we were interested in doing another X-Files feature film. Five years since the television series went off the air. And four years since creator Chris Carter and I labored over the story for the new movie and pitched it to the studio.
That was back in 2003. Since then, I had negotiated a deal to cowrite and coproduce the movie, and waited for David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson to close their deals -- only to have the whole process derailed when Chris and the studio got into a legal dispute over profits from the TV series. Fans and reporters kept asking me when the movie would finally be made. And I kept saying I was sure it would happen, just as soon as Chris and the studio resolved their differences. But by last January, it was starting to feel like that day would never come. And then...
The phone rang. It was Chris. His dispute was settled, and the studio was asking abut the movie. "It's now or never," he quoted them saying. Back to work.
Which turned out to be a little difficult. We'd figured out the story by writing a description of each scene with a sharpie pen on 4x6 cards (just as we had every episode of the TV show). But now those cards were nowhere to be found. That story we'd worked so hard to figure out four years ago? We'd have to figure it out all over again.
Of course, we remembered the heart of it -- a creepy, disturbing murder mystery that was different from any we'd told before. But we'd have to reconstruct the plot from scratch.
There's nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, and so -- fortunately, I guess -- we had to work diligently to make sure the script was finished before the impending writers' strike began last November. Reconnecting with the characters proved effortless. It was like they had been waiting there, in our unconscious minds, the whole time. I felt a kind of opening-night excitement as I drove up to Chris' house in Malibu on the sunny morning of October 26. David and Gillian were casually standing in his living room, about to do a "table read" of the script. We quickly realized we had a problem, however: Security on the top-secret script was so tight, we didn't have enough copies for all of us to read along. Chris and I decided we could follow along by reading the files in our laptops.
So we all sat down at the table, they opened their scripts and... it felt more like a seance than a table read. That mysterious chemistry between Gillian and David was instantly back, as if summoned from beyond. But I didn't get the chills until two days later, when they returned for camera tests. David now had his hair cut like Mulder, and Gillian's hair had gone from reddish-blonde to Scully-red. Forget the seance -- this felt like a genuine X-Files, resurrecting the dead.
Filming began December 10 in Vancouver, where the series started so many years ago. We assembled as much of our old crew as we could; it felt like coming home. Although we'd written the movie specifically for Vancouver, much of the story takes place in the snowy countryside of West Virginia. So for three weeks, we filled up all the hotels and motels around Pemberton, a ruggedly beautiful valley north of Whistler, British Columbia.
Pemberton provided incredible scenery, but shooting in below-freezing temperatures 14 hours a day was hard on the crew and the actors, whose on-camera wardrobe wasn't as warm as ours. "Next movie takes place in Hawaii," became a common joke on set.
Reconnecting with Mulder and Scully proved more challenging for David and Gillian as actors than it had for us as writers. After all, they'd spent several years trying to be anyone but Mulder and Scully. Now they not only had to embrace the characters again, but imagine them six years later, living under very different circumstances.
However, I think their scenes together became even more powerful because of their long separation. David and Gillian have always been incredibly disciplined, focused actors. But this was different. After so long an absence, they were determined to bring everything they could to their work together. Never more so than in their final scene, which was so powerful that it hushed the crew and brought tears to my eyes.
As I worked to finish the film these last few months, watching these same scenes literally hundreds of times, I continued to be impressed by the enduring power of these characters. I was also struck by the thought that this whole movie seemed so close to not getting made. And grateful we never did give up.