Nov. 15-21, 1997
by Daniel Howard Ceron
TV Guide visits the ultrasecret set of the X-Files movie and returns with a highly classified preview
It's late afternoon in the Mojave Desert. The temperature is a scorching 110 degrees, and progress on the first-ever, highly secretive X-Files feature film, due out next June, is slow. After waiting two hours for the crew to set up just the right lighting, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, who play FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, emerge from their trailers in their tailored G-men suits to film a scene. Behind them a wind machine blows, while a crew member dumps handfuls of dirt into it.
"I don't know, Mulder, I don't see any evidence of an archeological or any other kind of dig site," Anderson says, surveying the desert expanse as the camera rolls. Gazing at the image in director Rob Bowman's monitor, it's startling to see Scully and Mulder framed by a panoramic vista rather than the tight confines of a TV set.
"This is where he marked on the map, where he said those fossils were unearthed," Duchovny says. They make the transition into talk of deteriorated fossils, viruses, and chemical tests -- not much here for an eager reporter determined to learn about the movie.
No expense has been spared in shielding creator Chris Carter's secrets from what he describes as the "rabid interest" in the $60 million film. Scripts are printed in red ink on red paper so they can't be photocopied. Each one is numbered, and the recipient's name stamped on it. Those who read it sign nondisclosure agreements. Supporting players were given only their scenes to read. And visitors not wearing passes around their neck are immediately escorted away.
Sitting on a picnic bench in a specially constructed -- and unexplained -- grassy oasis, the 41-year-old Carter takes time out to talk to a visitor with a pass. "This movie is a chance to blow the series open," says the X-Files creator, who is attempting an unparalleled feat in TV history: He will have the cliff-hanger of this season's The X-Files lead directly into the movie. "I could have taken this idea for the movie and incorporated it into the TV series, but I thought it should be an event. My plan has always been for the series to get better and better, for it not to suffer that entropic effect that TV series often suffer in the fifth season. I feel that if we are heading toward this event, which is the movie, then we are moving toward something, rather than any sense that we are fading away."
The X-Files (Fox, Sundays, 9 P.M./ET) shows no signs of fading. Ratings last season were the highest yet, with a weekly average of nearly 20 million viewers. And if Carter's plan works, the show and the movie should dovetail perfectly. "You hold back and hold back and hold back, and now you have a chance to give a lot of big answers to what the series has set up," he says. "You want to do it well, and you want to do it big, and you want to do it carefully, and you want it done artfully. This is our opportunity to do that with more time and more resources, taking advantage of the newer technologies out there."
The confidentiality surrounding the X-Files movie is almost impenetrable; even the title is a mystery. The film was code-named "Blackwood" most of the summer after a fictional Texas town in the film. Then last month, word had it that the movie had been named "X-Files Fight the Future." A week later TV Guide learned that the name would be changed yet again.
Regardless of what the X-Files movie is called, here's what we know: It opens with the bombing of a Dallas office building. The feature's plot reportedly involves the Elders, a secret group -- FBI, among them -- who meet in periods of crisis and influence world events. Central to the story are the personal quests of Mulder and Scully. Their search for the truth. Their need to uncover a conspiracy. And the movie will deal with the abduction of Mulder's sister. Most of the series' best-known recurring characters are involved -- Mitch Pileggi (FBI assistant director Skinner), William B. Davis (Cigarette-Smoking Man), John Neville (Well-Manicured Man), and the trio of Dean Haglund, Tom Braidwood, and Bruce Harwood (The Lone Gunmen).
One other thing is clear: Everyone involved is taking it very seriously. "To me, it's like the fulfillment of a boast we have made all along, which is that we are doing 24 episodes a year of feature-quality work," says Duchovny. "Now it's time to put up or shut up."
Even though they're playing the same roles as in the series, Duchovny and Anderson say the experience of shooting a big-budget movie has been different. On the TV show, "the actors are the focus of the day," Duchovny says, "because we have pages to shoot. Here, it is much more technical. Like any big-action moviemaking, it's not about the actors, it's not about the performance. There is the challenge. You have to stay on top of it."
Anderson agrees. "In the beginning I thought there was going to be a lot of differences," she says. "I put a lot of pressure on myself to make it bigger and better. And then I realized that if anything, I just had to make it smaller, because you're so much bigger on the screen."
On-screen, things may be coming together, but behind the scenes, getting the X-Files movie off the ground was often a touch-and-go process. Guarantees and financial negotiations -- including Anderson's demand for pay equal to Duchovny's reported $4 million salary -- were required to secure the services of both actors, who would have preferred to star in their own movies. In addition, talks are under way to move The X-Files from its Vancouver home to Los Angeles after this season, which has created unrest among the loyal Canadian crew members. "Being there the first three years was probably beneficial because you had a Spartan attitude," says Duchovny, who wants to be in Los Angeles to be near his wife, The Naked Truth's Téa Leoni. "You didn't have your friends to distract you. You didn't have your normal hangouts to distract you. Basically, you were a working machine. It also served us well in that we weren't exposed to any of the hypeon a regular basis, which made the show great. But now...you know? That time is past. We have all changed."
Duchovny's not alone in his desire to relocate. "I think that is the interest of David's and Chris's and mine," Anderson says diplomatically. "I think we are all counting on that taking place. I love Vancouver. I think it's a beautiful city. But it is not and never has felt like home. Los Angeles feels like home."
The priority in Anderson's life is her 3-year-old daughter, Piper, who spends every day on the set, supervised by a nanny. "It is challenging," says Anderson, 29, as she relaxes in her air-conditioned trailer during a break. "It's hard to make the choice to work on the script because you have a challenging scene coming up when I'd rather play with her." (Split from her husband, former X-Files art director Clyde Klotz, Anderson now dates actor Rodney Rowland.)
Any perception of Anderson as a secondary cast member on the show officially ended in September, when she won an Emmy as best actress in a drama series. Her paycheck also recently increased, and she now makes as much as Duchovny, a reported $100,000 per episode. Though her failure to recognize her X-Files colleagues during her acceptance speech caused a stir, Anderson quickly made amends by placing full-page ads in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety warmly thanking Carter and Duchovny for their support and inspiration.
Could it be that the stars are simply being worn down from the tough schedule? Both actors have contracts that tie them to the series for seven seasons, and Duchovny at times sounds as if he regrets having signed up for so long. "You come up against your own imaginative limits," he says. "Every year, every month, every day, there is a new psychic challenge for you. I have just come out of resenting the fact that I have to play Mulder again this summer into the happiness of trying to make a great movie and then backsliding a little in resenting the time it was taking away from me."
Duchovny attempted to expand his repertoire and kick off a feature-film career this fall with his first starring role in a major release since The X-Files took off. But the thriller, "Playing God," in which he played a defrocked surgeon who reluctantly goes to work for the mob, received generally weak reviews and did poorly at the box office. It's not surprising, then, that Duchovny would be open to the idea of X-Files movie sequels -- "If the responsibility wasn't too great. Like every five years or so would be nice. I don't want it to be my career, which is what it turns into the more you keep doing it. It's not about the money. It's not about the fame at all. It's really about fulfilling something within yourself that has nothing to do with the show. You have to find a way to make your existence on the planet worthwhile to yourself creatively."
Transcript appears courtesy of TV Guide.