Sydney Morning Herald
Feb 12-17, 1996
A bizarre program is messing with the minds of millions worldwide. Is it a conspiracy? Who are these people and what do they want? On the set of the X-Files in Vancouver, Agent Jon Casimir investigates.
Two things strike me about Gillian Anderson. The first is that she is smaller, slighter and more finely wrought than she appears on television.
The second is that she looks very sexy holding a gun. Some people look great holding guitars. Other look great wielding FBI-issue Smith & Wesson 1056s and shouting: "Federal Agent! Iím armed!"
The third thing (never was much good at maths) is that, with possibly the exception of Melrose Placeís charming Sydney, Anderson may be the only redhead on American Television who doesnít owe anything to Lucille Ball.
This thought cracks her up. Tucked into the corner of the couch in her trailer, her head tilted back, her features altering, brightening. For a woman who smiles about once every 30 episodes on television, she knows how to laugh.
"I do tend to have a seriousness about me," she admits. "Iím also incredibly goofy, but there is a seriousness about me, sometimes to a fault, that I thin helped me to get the role. The character is written very seriously. She rarely cracks a smile.
Anderson, better known to millions of X-Files fans as Special Agent Dana Scully (ID no. 2317-626, starsign Pisces, e-mail address D_Scully@FBI.gov), is an almost accidental television star.
She says that she has never been much of a TV watcher, and never wanted to act on the small screen. Neither, for the record, has she been an FBI agent. And the paranormal never exactly held a lot of interest, though she does recall reading the UFO section in copies of Omni that her father left lying around the house. All of which is a little amusing, given that she now makes a living chasing monsters, aliens, conspiracies, oddities and aberrations of all kinds across the box with her inscrutably cool partner, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny).
Pushed, she concedes that Close Encounters of the Third Kind had a big effect on her life, as did the Star Wars trilogy. But though Close Encounters was, in many ways, a forerunner of The X-Files, with its alien abductions and government cover-ups, thatís not what she remembers enjoying about it.
"It was the enormity, the complete experience of getting lost in a film." She recalls. "And the excitement of that, the awe."
And does she think the audience ever gets to experience that kind of awe from The X-Files?
"Oh, I donít know," she replies. "People get scared by it 'itís an important show because of the quality and the risks that are taken, but I donít know how life-changing it is'"
"Perhaps the way it is life changing is the response that the public has to the characters. These characters (Mulder and Scully) have become role models for young kids. And theyíre not role models who go out and shoot people up and have swordfights. Theyíre honest, hardworking, straightforward, dedicated, clean individuals."
Itís dark on the edge of town. No lights. Nothing around but fields. No glow from the city only a few kilometres away. And no sound, except for the distant clanking of train tracks shifting at some industrial plant.
The rain comes in fits and starts, drifting in on the wind that blows through the hangar-like BFI recycling plant, picking up scraps of paper, bottles and other detritus, pushing them, and the ever-present smoke, past the cameras and lights.
Thereís a chill in the air. It creeps up on you, gets under your clothes, makes you feel uncomfortable in your skin. Vancouver in winter - perfect X-Files weather. The actors are rehearsing a shot against a background of a mountain of plastic soft drink bottles, hundreds of thousands of them. Anderson clambers over a couple of bales of crushed aluminum cans. Her gun is out (grrrr) and she attempts to persuade the Millennium Man, this weekís apocalyptic bad guy, to let his boy hostage go, rather than send him to his maker via the handy paper pulping machine.
Anderson gingerly negotiates her way through a pile of mouldy, wet newspapers. "Everyone thinks that television is such a glamorous job," one of the crew says. "Itís 11 oíclock on a Friday night and here I am at the dump."
Itís the last of the eight shooting days on Revelations, a third season episode that will screen in Australia this year. Only the final two scenes, the climatic pulping and Scullyís vulnerable confessional box soliloquy, remain to be shot.
Duchovny has a rare day off. This is clearly Scullyís episode. After two seasons in which Mulder has been the centre of the show, her presence has been subtly increased. Anderson in grateful.
"Itís finally starting to feel like we are being perceived as partners," she says. "The first season was about us finding our way, finding who these characters were, adapting to like in Vancouver and 14-hour days. The second season, for me, was about coping with being pregnant (her daughter, Piper, was born in September 1994)."
"Finally, this season feels like weíre in it. And not only are we in it, but Scully is in it more. Everybody talks about how independent and strong they are as characters, 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 didnít see. Now, theyíre side by side."
Chris Carter has been locked up writing for three days. The executive producer and creator of The X-Files has his name on seven of the first 15 scripts of the third season. He also rewrites the work of others, to keep the product pure, as close to his vision as possible.
Carterís office is in Los Angeles. The program shoots in Vancouver. He has more frequent flier points than he knows what to do with, but he says he canít slow down.
"If I felt that the show was going to suffer in any way, I couldnít pull back. This isnít just obsessing or a neurotic compulsion; itís really about trying to make the show as good as it can be."
He too, believes that the show has hit its stride in series three. He says it is maturing, rather than aging, adding that a growing confidence and sense of what makes it work have allowed the creative team to break out of its own parameters, to explore the new areas.
Through programs such as The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents are obvious antecedents, the blond Californian surfer has often said that the inspiration for The X-Files was actually a 1971 made-for-TV movie called The Night Stalker, which spawned a one-hour series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker Which ran in 1974. Like Anderson, he would not call himself a genre buff.
"No, uh-uh, never," he says. "I was never a big comic book reader. Never a science fiction fan. I just loves scary movies, good scary stories, good mysteries and thrillers. Even in my adolescence, things like good political thrillers, Parallax View, All The Presidentís Men, Three Days of the Condor I loved those kind of movies."
Carter says his intent with The X-Files was simple. He wanted to freak people out. But scaring an audience is not what it used to be in these days of gratuitous, over-the-top special effects. So what does he think the rules are now?
"Make it seem as if it really could happen," he says. "Make it a believable situation. We live in fear every day. We live in a lot of denial as well. If you can find the elements of everyday life that scare us and bring them into play, then you have naturally scary situations."
Truth, or a facsimile of it, is his weapon. The motto of The X-Files is "The Truth Is Out There". Carter says he thinks of the phrase as a double entendre: "The truth is out there to be found, but itís so far out there that weíll never find it."
Of course, in keeping with the riddles within riddles outlook, the show also seems to be saying the truth isnít out there, that itís changeable, manipulatable, unknowable. In this way, itís hedging its bets. As Carter did by creating in Mulder and Scully a believer and a sceptic.
So which is he? "Iím a sceptic by nature," he says. "I describe myself as a non-religious person looking for a religious experience. So Iím like Mulder, who has that poster ĎI want to believeí on the wall. I really have a desire, as I believe we all do, to find a reason to believe, to have my scepticism tested."
Thereís no doubt that The X-Files is a zeitgeist program. Its extraordinary success has come because it taps into contemporary themes. We watch ER because we like action and entertainment. We watch The X-Files because, somehow, it speaks about the world we live in. It captures out millennial weirdness: the rise of superstition, paranoia and fear. "It just seems to be incredibly timely right now," Anderson says. "Suddenly, it has become OK, if not trendy, to believe in UFOs, at least in America. It has also become trendy to to admit, discuss and lecture about oneís distaste and frustration with the government, and the governmentís tendency towards secrecy.
"There is also a very spiritual flavour to the show. There is a search for meaning in it. And people are searching desperately for some king of answer, for some kind of hope, for some kind of respite to the norm., to the drudge, to the pain that the experience in everyday life."
For his part, Carter avoids armchair psychoanalysis of his show and its devoted audience. He says he could never have expected the kind of response it has had, but wasnít surprised that it hit a number of chords - one of the reasons he made the show was that he read somewhere that 3 million Americans believe that they have been abducted by aliens.
He says he expected the bizarre end of the response, but wasnít prepared for the prevalence of a basic distrust of authority. As he heads out the door to a waiting car, on his way to the airport yet again, I ask if heís ever felt, around the time of the Oklahoma bombing, that he was making a program that fed into the paranoid, anti-government mentality that provoked it.
"No." he insists. "Thereís no connection. Weíre not suggesting anything revolutionary here. I am not saying overthrow authority. I am saying question it."
Transcript provided by Medellia and appears courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald.