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March 1998 (Issue #43)

Strange Days
By Paul Simpson

As the X-Files builds momentum towards the premiere of the movie this summer, DREAMWATCH visited Vancouver at the end of January. In the first part of this exclusive set report, Paul Simpson follows Gillian Anderson through a day of hectic filming on Vince Gilligan's "Bad Blood" and asked whether her hopes for the fifth season have been realised...

While they might not be quite as imposing as the gates leading into Paramount Pictures' lot on 5555 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, the gates of North Shore Studios, in North Vancouver, form a virtually impenetrable barrier between the outside world and the sets for both MILLENNIUM and THE X-FILES.

Driving up to them on a surprisingly pleasant January afternoon, my bona fides are carefully checked by the guard on duty before he issues me with the necessary paperwork to allow me onto the lot -- and as I pull forward, I realise that walking along the pavement, garbed in a black raincoat and clutching a take-out beaker of coffee, is the start of THE X-FILES, Gillian Anderson.

Our paths cross throughout the day, as filming comes to a close on episode 5X12, "Bad Blood", written by Vince Gilligan. The morning has seen the unit filming scenes at a nearby location, from which they have just returned, and the upheaval that has caused means that there is a little bit of "free time". However, to call any time "free" is a total misnomer for both Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. On this particular day, in addition to working on the episode, they have to "loop" the voiceovers for the X-FILES documentary which is being broadcast the following Sunday, and make time for interviews with E! ENTERTAINMENT as well as DREAMWATCH.

At the front of the lot are two three-storey buildings, one of which houses the X-FILES production offices, the other MILLENNIUM. The parking area in the middle is packed with crane-trucks, lighting trucks, motorcycles, cars, and incredibly large trailers, used by the show's stars. Opposite the offices are the sound stages, numbered from one to seven, which tower over the surrounding activity. Stages 1, 2 and 4 are ear-marked for THE X-FILES, 3 and 5 for MILLENNIUM, while 6 is hired out separately (and occasionally used on THE X-FILES), and 7 is used for recording sound. It is to this that Gillian Anderson is hurrying as I enter the X-FILES offices and officially begin my visit.

Walking across the parking lot to Stage 2, where today's scenes are being filmed, I am escorted by Shannon Petersen, the FOX representative for the 1013 shows. We are greeted by various members of the crew, one of whom asks if I am here to interview Gillian. When I confirm I am, he says, "I can tell you all about her. She's a princess!"

Since Gillian is busy elsewhere, I am taken onto the stage, where I discover that today's scenes take place in Mulder's office at the FBI. For a second I think that Gillian has managed the impossible, and is in two places at once, but when I look more closely, I realise that it is her double who is sitting at Mulder's desk, being prepared for the next shot. The actors' time is precious, and they are only called on set for the actual rehearsals and filming. Chairs in the "corridor" outside the office are ready for Anderson, Duchovny, the director Cliff Bole, writer Vince Gilligan, and others who need them; from there they can see the two monitors which show exactly what the camera is filming.

After a while, the call goes out across the walkie-talkies that the actors will be required in five minutes, and accordingly, that time later, Mulder and Scully arrive to be taken through their paces by the director before committing the scene to celluloid.

As the afternoon wears on, scenes are shot from assorted different angles, until a couple of consistent fluffs gives cause for the director to break for "lunch". In fact it is now 5 pm, and everyone heads out to Craft Services, another trailer set up at the far end of the parking lot. Director, producers, stars, crew (and visiting journalists) pile in to the blissfully hot food and chat about the latest news, whether it be the Clinton scandal, or the Superbowl game the previous Sunday.

There's no rest for the leads, however. Gillian Anderson heads to her trailer to prepare for the evening's filming, and to spend some time with Piper, her three year old daughter. David Duchovny's time is taken with his interview for E!.

Once filming restarts, forty-five minutes later, the scene (for reasons which will be explained more fully in next month's issue of DREAMWATCH) is much the same as the one shot before lunch, but subtly different. Unsurprisingly, for reaction close-up shots, great care is taken to ensure that the right reaction is being given to the right dialogue, otherwise much of the point of the episode will be lost. As one particular section seems to be finally wrapped, Shannon beckons me over, and introduces me to Gillian Anderson.

Seated on one of the "director's chairs" beside me, she takes the chance of a quick respite. "It's a bit of a crazy day," she comments wryly.

When she spoke to Marc Shapiro on the set of the movie, she commented that she still had enthusiasm for Scully when the scripts gave her something a little extra. Have the scripts for the fifth season provided that? "Oh yes, absolutely," she says quickly. "The scripts this season have been incredibly creative and given us a lot of stuff to work with. Especially the last couple -- and I guess the next couple are going to be part of the 'mythology', and they always kind of give us a kick in the butt. Yeah, they've been great this season."

Which ones has she particularly enjoyed? "Well, there was the black and white episode, and this one we're doing now. I can't remember the names of the other ones -- I have a tendency to go brain-dead after we shoot things. Trust me -- there've been a few!"

The two-parter "Christmas Carol" / "Emily" (soon to be released as "File 10: Emily" by Fox in Britain) seemed almost to have a 'reset' button at the end -- all the characters began the following episode as if little or nothing had happened.

Have the effects of finding Scully had a child been followed through?

"Well, there hasn't really been any reference to what took place in those episodes," Gillian agrees. "Which you have to take with kind of a grain of salt working on it, and also as an audience. But I'm sure at some point we will be getting back to those issues. There's only so much you can actually play. You can't be unduly influenced, or play an influence from events like in episodes unless it's actually in the scripts, or it becomes very confusing. So we'll just say yes."

THE X-FILES has changed as a series across its five years, from a predominance of 'Monster of the Week' stories in the early seasons with the occasional "mythology" episode, to a situation in season four where there were more mythology stories. "Yes, there are more 'mythology' episodes," Gillian agrees. "But lately there've been more 'Monster of the Week' episodes once again. There've been a slew of them recently. I think it's a pretty good mix. I think we departed from it for a little while, but we're back to it now."

Which does she prefer working on? "I prefer the epic episodes, the ones which deal with us on a psychological and emotional level -- and also the ones which have more of a comic bent to them. These are the ones which are particularly challenging. 'Bad Blood' is wonderful."

The First Assistant Director, Tom Braidwood (better known as Lone Gunman Frohike) calls Gillian back to the set, and a further take ensues. The break which follows that is going to be about a quarter of an hour or so in length, and Gillian takes the opportunity to be with her daughter. A few minutes later, the boundless energy of a three year old reverberates around the enormous stage, as Piper appears, wandering around, chatting with the crew and the actors, and helping her mom prepare for her next shot.

As the actors prepare to play out the final scene of the day for its first take, Piper goes back to the trailer, so during the next break Gillian and I are able to chat once more, perched on a couple of apple boxes in a clear area just away from the mêlée of Mulder's office. We go back to the start of the season, when Mulder was apparently dead, and Scully terminal with cancer. Two or three episodes later, things are virtually back to normal... "As if nothing ever happened!" she laughs.

Given that Scully's cancer affected her throughout the fourth season, was Gillian happy with the way it was dealt with? "Yes, I was. I think that Chris [Carter] came up with a very ingenious way of wrapping it up and tying it into the mythological, epic stories as a whole. It was good. He treated it very sensitively. He never got melodramatic with it; he never let Scully get melodramatic with it. He never made fun of it in any way. It was very serious, but very tastefully done. I couldn't have asked for a better way."

Scully's family takes a higher profile during the fifth season, with her brother making regular appearances. "Most of Mulder's family's been killed!" Gillian points out. She laughs, then adds, "Most of Scully's family have too. But yes, there have been a lot of family episodes."

Does she feel this works within the framework of the series? Up until then, Mulder and Scully have been portrayed as something of the loners against the system. "You know, I think sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I think it's wonderful to see that side of her and that side of her family, and that's a really interesting plotline. But sometimes I wonder if it doesn't drag the show down a bit, because they're always such heavy conversations we end up having and the show is usually so fast-paced, with the special effects, and the running and the killing and the this and the other... all this kind of stuff brings things to a screeching halt. Equally I wouldn't want to not have them, at the same time."

Is Scully Mulder's 'equal partner' this season? "Yes," she replies unhesitatingly. "I think that the majority of the time -- 98% of the time, no, say, 90% of the time -- Mulder is right, and the stories still center around his version of things, but I think the way they are in the episodes and the way they tackle them, they're more equal than they ever have been."

Is Scully still the sceptic? "Yes, she's endlessly seeing things she shouldn't be seeing. Well, maybe not necessarily shouldn't have done, but one would think that on seeing these things, she would become more of a believer. But she's much more tolerant, and much more open-minded than she ever was. Her life, and her 'raison d'être' is science and medicine and the pursuit of justice, so I think that she just can't help herself. She automatically has to think that way, and has to question."

Without giving away any information about the movie, can Gillian see new avenues the series could take? Co-writer Frank Spotnitz has described the movie as almost a second pilot. "Yes, I think in that way he's right. I think it both closes a lot of doors, and opens a lot of doors at the same time."

Can she see the series extending for years to come? "Well, not years," she says hastily. "But maybe one or two more."

As well as the X-FILES film, Gillian also worked on another movie last year, the release of which has now been put back. "BLACKWOOD's June, and THE MIGHTY has changed to November. It's a very difficult movie to market because it can appeal to kids, and also to adults. It's a very powerful film, but very sensitive because of that. It's definitely not a summer movie. It's definitely a Fall movie, so they're just playing safe, and putting it where it needs to be put, respectfully so. They're going to run it through the Festivals and promote it in the right way."

Would Gillian like to return to doing more theatrical work? "I'd love to. I'd absolutely love to. I've actually been offered a couple of Shakespeare movies this year which I've considered at different times. I'm not sure which avenue I'm going to take for my hiatus."

There's not likely to be another X-FILES movie shot then? "No, not this year. God, no!"

What sorts of roles would she like to try in future? "Everything. I want to work, and I want to work in films that I really care about, that have something to say. That can take many forms -- like independent and foreign films, to features like SCHINDLER'S LIST and FORREST GUMP, to comedies like FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, and THE FULL MONTY, stuff like that.

"I love British films. They're so simple. They're about human beings, and the quirks of human beings. I'm a huge fan of Mike Leigh , and the majority of my favourite films have been British."

Would she like to work on a British production? "THE MIGHTY was directed by Peter Chelsom, who's British, and most of the theatre that I've done has been British. Yes, I've considered movies that are British, and my ears prick up a little more when one of those comes through."

THE X-FILES has accounted for five years of Gillian's life. Does she have any regrets? "No. There have been a couple of projects that I've seen on the screen that I could have been up for, if I was available, and I go, 'Oh, I would have loved to have done that' -- but no. There are no mistakes in life. I needed to be a part of this, and I still do. I don't regret anything that's happened in my life, except not paying enough attention at school, and I can make that up at some point. When I get some time off, I can take some off and take some classes."

Would she consider taking another role similar to Dana Scully? "No," she says instantaneously. "No. And it's unfortunate, because a couple of really good scripts have come my way that are very similar, that have either a sci-fi genre that are written very well, or have a very similar character to Scully. But not now. It's not the right time. Maybe in five or ten years down the road. But not right now. It's important for me to stretch my wings a little bit -- for my own sanity as much as anything else."

In the second part of this special report next issue, DREAMWATCH follows the filming of Vince Gilligan's latest episode, "Bad Blood"...

Transcript provided by Alexander Kavka and appears courtesy of Dreamwatch.

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