By John Casimir
I think we just started in Japan big time. And it's been a pretty huge reception.
They took to Twin Peaks, which is kinda similar
You were not going to do television, were you? So how did you end up here?
Yeah, I was somewhat, um, pigheaded about that. In a way. TV represented a kind of a stepdown or a sellout in some way to me then. I think the whole framework and quality of television has changed in the last four or five years. So yeah, that was something I felt pretty strongly about.
Is that a phase that every actor goes through?
I don't know. I have run into many actors whose dream is to be on television.
It's interesting that you say TV has picked up. It seems very strong in America in the 90s. The 80s weren't crash hot, but the 90s have seen a lot of quality drama and comedy. And yet, at the same time, the film industry in the US seems to be having a hard time of it.
It seems like the better drama and film is coming out of other countries and always has. I think that's because the industry in America has become so selfish, and it has in a sense peaked in an area of action films, and it can't go anywhere else. It's stuck. Out of Australia, New Zealand, England, with Almodovar doing stuff ... there's so many wonderful foreign films coming in. The audience is taking a deep sigh of relief and going to see them for the first time because they're so tired of what America has to offer.
When you saw the pilot script of the X-Files, what was it that stirred you? And don't just say the prospect of steady work.
Um, it had been about a year since I had worked. And that definitely influenced me. It was one of the first few television scripts that I had taken a look at. It was so different from anything that I had read, film or television wise. The relationship between Mulder and Scully was so interesting and compelling, their intellectual repartee. The whole dynamic and the tension between them was wonderful on paper. And the idea was brilliant. Everything. Certainly,when I was sitting at home reading that script, I didn't expect that this would be the result of me reading that script for he first time.
Was Scully fully mapped out?
I think Chris (Carter) is very particular about these characters and has a very strict formula of who these characters are. He helped in the beginning, through the audition process and throughout the shooting of the show, to guide me in that direction. He was very helpful at the beginning in describing to me his vision of this character. Her throughline is strong through every script. It's pretty obvious reading these scripts who these people are.
He argued for you at network level, did he not?
Yeah he did.
What was he seeing in you?
I'm not sure exactly. There was something in me or in my performance I guess that he saw and said this is the character that I wrote. I don't know exactly what that was. My answer before was that I tend to have a seriousness about me. I'm also incredibly goofy, but there is a seriousness about me, sometimes to a fault, that I think helped me to get the role. The character is written very seriously. She rarely cracks a smile. She is always very straight forward, very singlemindedly dedicated to her work. Maybe that came across in the audition.
As an actor, could you feel her immediately?
Yeah, I actually could. Sometimes it doesn't happen when you're reading a script. You have to search for it or fight for it in some way. Sometimes I think thats what deters actors from some scripts. The guiding point is when you read a script and something doesn't click. But something did. And I could feel her very strongly. I have fallen in love with this character, in many ways, straight from the beginning. I put it down and I said God I'd love to be involved in this. I'd love to be part of this process, to play this character. Then I took the steps to do that.
What did you think it would be? It's such an unlikely show. You must have had every reason to believe it would just be a pilot or thirteen episodes or maybe one season.
I had no clue. Mostly because I was ignorant about television. I didn't know what a pilot was, what going to network was and what auditioning for network was. I didn't know and I didn't care up until then. I was excited when I got the role. And I assumed that I would be going up (to Vancouver) and shooting the three weeks of the pilot. I didn't know what it meant to be picked up or that things had seasons. I was very ignorant as far as television was concerned. And when I finally understood that, during the shooting process, I started to wish that it would continue, not knowing the ratios of what is picked up and what isn't. I didn't have a clue.
Sounds like a blissful ignarance.
Yes it was. And it still is. I'm still very ignorant as far as television is concerned. So I just assumed that it was going to be picked up, because it felt strong. But I had no idea what I was wishing for or talking about. It was just blind faith that it was going to be picked up. And it was.
Was there a point, an incident, where you realised you were onto something, in terms of it being as successful as it has become?
I don't really remember a specific point. I remember during the first year, begin up here and shooting, we were in a vacuum, and a very difficult one. First of all it was getting used to the hours and the rhythm of television. And it was hard to deal with the ups and downs, the emotional ups and downs, being away from home. All of that was getting in the way of experiencing the potential enjoyment of our success. We'd hear that the ratings were getting better. We'd hear that there was a cult following and all this stuff. I didn't really have any frame of reference, so it didn't mean anything to me. I would have been just as happy to ... I was very happy that I had a job on something that I believed in and was gathering the success and respect ... but I would have been just as happy for it to end and to move onto something else.
Was there a point then, at the end of that first season, where you went home, went shopping and thought why are all these people staring at me?
That has really only happened in the last year. Yes, people would stop me and say hello, but it has now gotten to the extent that I basically cannot go anywhere without people stopping me. Except for Europe. I did some publicity in Europe last summer and maybe one person stopped me in the entire six weeks. Which was blissful.
Did you ever have any interest in science fiction or TV of this variety?
No, but I'm fascinated by the subject matter. When I was a kid I used to read the UFO section in Omni magazine and stuff like that, whenever it was lying around. But that was really the extent of it. It has not been something that I have studied or sought out in any way. I saw my first episode of Star Trek last year, one of the original episodes, which is the only way to go.
Was Close Encounters a big film for you?
It was actually. Close Encounters was for me. And the Star Wars trilogy. But not in a way where I thought God, that's what I want to do or that is something I'm interested in. It was the enormity and the experience of them, the complete experience of getting lost in a film. And the excitement of that, the awe of that. I knew, and I still know, that I want to be involved in films that allow the audience to experience that kind of awe, whether its from a big special effects related film or a smaller film where you sit back and get really taken by something.
Do you think people get that kind of awe from the X-Files?
Oh I don't know. I think people get scared. They get freaked out. And are in a position to talk about it with people... It's an important show because of the quality and the risks that are taken, but I don't know how life-changing it is. What's interesting though ... I think the way it is life-changing is the response that the public has to the characters. These characters have become role models for young kids. And they're very positive role models. They're not role models who go out and shoot people up and get into swordfights. They're very honest, hardworking, straightforward, dedicated, clean individuals. Thats excellent
So you took the part, turned around and got pregnant. Were you worried that they might let you go? Was it far enough into the program to be safe?
No it wasn't far enough in. It was halfway through the first season. It seemed like it was far enough in. It seemed like it had been going on forever, but in retrospect it was only halfway through the first season.
How did you cope with fourteen hours a day on set?
There were different stages. The first stage was a lot of uneasiness and fear and frustration and not knowing how to be. It wasn't public information. It was something that only myself and some producers and the wardrobe people knew. The crew didn't know until I was quite a few months along. That was the hardest part. Once it was let out of the bag, it was much easier on an emotional level. Also, the crew helped out tremendously. They were very loving, very helpful, from experience and from sympathy. It was intense. I no longer felt like the person that they had hired to be this character.
You felt like a fraud?
When a woman gets pregnant, her hormones change and she becomes, for a short period of time, a different person. I mean, I'm different than I was before I was pregnant, but when I was pregnant, I was really different. Nothing about me felt familiar. So with that in mind and also the fact that I was (she laughs) six times my size, and that I had a baby kicking around inside my belly in the middle of scenes, it was a very strange, odd time.
Would you do it again?
I want to pregnant again eventually, but not during this series. We're in the third season, so there might be a three or four year gap.
The show used that pregnancy to write you out for an episode and use less of you in a few others. At that time, it explored more of David's character. Will Scully become more fleshed out in the third series?
A tiny bit yeah. Not to that degree. But yep, there have been a couple of episodes that reveal a bit more of Scully.
The show works on the balance of the characters. We now know what drives Mulder. We also need to know what drives Scully.
It's finally starting to feel like we are being perceived as partners. Granted, the first season was about us finding our way, finding who these characters were and adapting to life in Vancouver and fourteen hour days. The second season, for me, was about coping with the pregnancy and post pregnancy. Finally, this season feels like we're in it. Not only are we in it, but Scully is in it more than she was at the beginning. Everybody talks about how independent and strong they are, how they are considered as equals. But still, Scully was always five steps behind Mulder, always the last one to show up, always the one you didn't see. Finally in the third season, they're side by side.
How much of the relationship is dependent on the no sexual tension rule?
There isn't a no sexual tension ruling. There's nothing that says there should be no sexual tension. There's just not meant to be sex. It's only a platonic relationship, but we can toy around with the sexual tension as much as we want or as much as is appropriate for any scene.
Do they fancy each other?
Yes, in an odd way they do. I think they hugely respect each other and are incredibly intimate because of everything they have been through. I think they're both well aware of the boundaries that they need to keep in order to keep this working relationship going.
They're very yin /yang. One sceptic, one believer. Do you embody either end?
A bit of both, I'd say. It depends what the subject matter is. I believe in ghosts, but if one actually appeared to me, it would scare the hell out of me. There are certain things that I believe in and certain things that I need to have proved.
Has anything in two and a half seasons made you uneasy?
Yeah, there have been a few episodes which have made me uneasy ... anything that has to do with voodoo or possession or devil-related things.
It's very negative. There are other issues we deal with, paranormal situations, which are more spiritual than negative. Voodoo to me is purely about doing harm to other people. In terms of the Aborigines, how do the general population in Australia feel about the culture and the spiritual practices of the Aborigines...?
( I say a whole lot of stuff here that doesn't matter )
I think there's going to be a day sometimes in the not too far off future, where we're all going to have ... I keep having this image ... to have to look back collectively at what we have done, and how we have not only destroyed the gifts that we have but also we're going to realise collectively what we could have learned from the different cultures, from the American Indians, from the Aborigines.
What are the contemporary chords this program is hitting?
You know, it's hard to pinpoint what it is. I think aside from the look of the show, the mood of the show, the special effects, the writing, the co-stars, everything, it seems to be incredibly timely right now. Why is it timely? Suddenly it has become OK if not trendy to believe in UFOs, at least in America. In other countries, they are taken for granted as being a reality. Suddenly it has become publicly OK to discuss them and believe in them. Also, it has become almost trendy to admit, discuss, lecture about one's distaste and frustration with the government, and the government's tendency towards secrecy and cover-ups.
It seems to me that we're living in a time when all of the central pillars of society - the judicial system, government, religion - are no longer being seen as the answer. People have lost faith in all of them. And the X-Files kind of feeds into that, by saying look, there aren't any absolutes.
Also, there is a very spiritual flavour to the show, whether we're dealing with flukeworms in the body or whatever. There is a spiritual throughline in one way or another. There is a search for meaning in it and I think that is primarily what the appeal is. The books that have become the most popular over the past few years ... The Celestine Prophecy, Mutant Message From Down Under, there was a book on angels ... I think that people are searching desperately for some kind of answer, for some kind of hope, for some kind of respite to the norm, to the drudge, to the pain that they experience in everyday life. In some way, whether it is through escapism, or through some kind of spiritual or otherworldly connection, they're finding that in some odd juxtaposed way, from the show.
One of the things the show does is refuse to resolve its storylines. It says the truth is out there, and then says the truth is changeable, manipulable. Maybe people find this comforting now. We don't get everything in our lives resolved, tied up neatly.
And also, from a marketing standpoint, if you don't close things up, it makes people question. It makes people verbalise their questions. ANd discussions are had. They're had that night, the next day ... you're at a table with someone who hasn't seen the show, you're talking about it, it gets passed. Because of the unresolved nature of it, it forces the show to become popular through hearsay, as well as through all the publicity.
I think, in dramatic terms, that's the biggest risk the show has taken. It's often a drama without an ending. I don't think it has been recognised what a radical step that is.
No. It hasn't and I'm not sure exactly if I myself have felt the weight of that risk because of my lack of knowledge of other television shows. Because I don't enjoy television very much, I have never really had a show that I have watched or followed. So I don't know. It has never occurred to me that these shows have endings, this one doesn't.
Have you been on the convention circuit yet?
No, there is one in January that I'm going to go to.
How much of fandom are you privy to?
Not much of it. I hear bits and pieces. I read the fan mail that I can and respond when I have time. I am aware of the degree of discussion that takes place on the Internet. But that's about it. I don't think I want to know.
From the acting point of view, what is key to show? There are so many outlandish things going on. Is the job just making sure the characters stay believable?
Umm, I think that Chris's take on these characters, and something that was injected into the scripts form the beginning, was a dead seriousness about this information, about the paranormal, about the situations these two characters get put in. He completely took himself and these characters and his writing seriously, to the point where even in the notes between the lines, you would never hear a joke turned in on himself. Now there is a writer who is on his third episode for us, who has a sense of humour and is being allowed to put that into the script. But that is the first time. From the beginning, David and I, without actually talking about it, fell into the rhythm of trying to, knowing that we may be called upon to react time after time after time to odd strange peculiar scary, freaky, bizarre situations, that we had to develop some way of being, some way of reacting, that could last that period of time, some way that we absolutely completely believed what we were dog and seeing, even with Scully being a skeptic. And whatever rhythm it was we fell into has worked.
Is that the hardest part? Or is it the tech talk?
There isn't really any hard, hard parts. There are a few aspects of shooting this series that collectively make it difficult, tiring, frustrating. For me those are the hours, the particular kind of dialogue that we share with each other and the other characters. In one hour television, you have so little time to work on the scenes, to rehearse the scenes, to shoot the scenes, that you get into a rhythm of making choices that are good enough. Sometimes there is a luxury ... when I first started doing the show, it was so frustrating not to really feel like we had the scene. We know it, we have it, it's working ... certainly some of them were written well enough for that possibility, but not having the luxury of time you get into a rhythm of making quick choices and the frustrating part is doing a scene where you feel like you have made these choices already, you've done this, it's old, it's boring. And getting frustrated with that, just wanting to have the opportunity to eplore other characters, to explore this in a different way, to do anything but say these same words, do these same actions, react the same way<.br>
Does that make it hard to watch yourself on TV?
Occasionally. It makes it hard in my head, in imagining that the public is going to have a hard time or get bored or say God, she's still skeptical, didn't she see?
She has to mature.
Yep. And she has. Over time. Finally. She's getting to a point where she is seeing, she is beginning to believe, she is questioning her beliefs, struggling with them, growing up.
What is the biggest joy of playing the part?
I guess the joys are almost like stepping stones. Once in a while, a scene comes around in a script where you really have something to get into, to work on, to express another part of myself, another part of a character. Something more is revealed. I can come out of it feeling that I have done good work, that I have had something to say. Then we get back into the next x-file. So that's where the joy comes in, in feeling good about something that I have done. And also in working with this crew. I love this crew. That's been a pleasure. They really care about the show.
Transcript provided by Judy Routt and appears courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald.