The New X-Files Declassified
By Jeff Jensen
Entertainment Weekly: July 3, 2015
They're heeeer. It's been 13 years since we last saw Mulder and Scully investigating little green men and tangling with Cigarette Smoking Man on TV. EW made first contact with the revival as the cameras rolled. And we've bot the intel and photos to prove it.
They arrive by limo, traveling a bumpy road winding through wild territory. They exit the car looking unmistakably themselves, and not. He's missing his suit. She's missing some red in her hair. They are older, of course, but time has only distinguished them, not diminished them. They've arrived at the home of a woman living on the fringes of society to investigate exactly the type of mystery that made them icons of an earlier era. More than a decade after THE X-FILES ended, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are about to be reintroduced to the world all over again. . .
. . .When the phone in Gillian Anderson's pocket goes off, ruining the shot. She apologizes, David Duchovny laughs, and director Chris Carte sends them back into the car for a do-over.
Let's begin again too. It's the sixth day of shooting the next chapter in the saga that is THE X-FILES, the seminal sic-fi franchise that wrapped its nine-season run in 2002 and will return as a six-episode event series in late January. (Don't call it a reboot. They hate the word reboot here.) The premiere, set in the present, finds Mulder and Scully working the bizarre-adventures beat once again, this time at the behest of a politically conservative talk-show host played by COMMUNITY's Joel McHale. Apparently, his devoted audience includes a woman named Sveta (Annet Mahendru of THE AMERICANS) who lives in the sticks and holds to the belief that she is routinely snatched and probed by aliens. In the second coming of THE X-FILES, the truth is still out there.
The only oppressive extra-terrestrial force evident today is an unseasonably hot sun beating down on the set, which is a derelict cottage on an abandoned farm outside Vancouver. As the action moves inside the house, the stars struggle to stifle heat-induced yawns as they work through a scene that's particularly challenging for Anderson. Sveta's story echoes much of Scully's own history - abduction, embryo harvesting, assorted alien-related body horror - and Anderson has to suggest as much with active listening and meaningful glances toward Duchovny. "I hate to ask this because I really don't want to, but can I do one more?" asks Anderson, baking in a dark skirt suit and a wig glued tightly to her head. She cools herself with two handheld electric fans, then dives back into work.
Still, despite the swelter, the characters that made Duchovny and Anderson famous radiate easily from them. Mulder: always the believer, open to exotic possibilities. Scully: the scientist, wired for proof. At one point, McHale's slickly suited cable anchor explains the concept of memory implants to Mulder and Scully. As if they need it. "Thank you," says Duchovny, nailing Mulder's deadpan sarcasm. Scully, drolly clinical: "We're familiar with the syndrome."
During a break, Duchovny, Anderson, and McHale decamp to a shady spot in a thicket of trees, where Nelson, Anderson's French bulldog, is waiting for her. The rapport between Duchovny and Anderson is old-friends intimate. "It feels like we never stopped doing this," she says of their reunion. "Like it was last week," he adds. After some blue banter about Ghengis Khan and Carrot Top, the conversation turns red. Apparently fans have been reacting to paparazzi photos of the stars at work by critiquing Scully's crimson locks. It seems they're not crimson enough for them.
"So this is a meme?" asks Duchovny.
"It's a meme."
"Thanks," says Anderson, whose impossible-to-tell wig looks strawberry blond to this reporter's eyes. "It's getting a little redder."
"Nobody's asked about Joel's wig," says Duchovny.
"I'm wearing a merkin," quips McHale.
At least they can take heart in knowing that THE X-FILES still drives fans wiggy after all these years. Among the show's many legacies - facilitating the geek takeover of mainstream pop; stage-setting today's show runner auteurism - is how it took TV's ability to cultivate the relationship between story and audience to dynamic new levels. Carter certainly gave people a lot to chew on. Inspired by trippy creep shows (THE TWILIGHT ZONE; the NIGHT STALKER TV movies) and mystery-driven cinema (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), and informed by his Watergate-forged skepticism and spiritual yearning.
Carter's unique blend of police procedural, conspiracy thriller, sci-fi horror, and existential angst connected with genre obsessives and adventurous viewers everywhere. Most every episode was its own smart and stylish mini creature feature. Liver-eating mutants. Paranoia-inflicting parasites. Psychotic clones. Giving the series epic sweep was an ongoing emotionally charged mystery with an intricate backstory involving a complex plot by aliens to colonize the planet. Over time, THE X-FILES became a mass audience hit and a pop sensation. Mulder and Scully were outsider heroes working within a corrupt government, and their questing to expose truth and squelch the apocalypse resonated with the alt-culture vibe and premillennial angst of the 1990s. Their increasingly intimate bond - progressing from respectful colleagues to trusted allies to lovers late in the series - made for a stirring representation of male-female friendship.
THE X-FILES bloomed during the pre-DVR era and the dawn of Web-enhanced fandom. In Season 1, Carter's writers used Delphi, an early Internet service, to gauge viewer reaction to episodes. In fact, a key episode, "Beyond the Sea", was inspired by Delphi posters complaining about Scully's continued skepticism in the face of so much certifiable paranormal hoo-ha. Fans also used website chat rooms to theorize about the mythology and debate whether Mulder and Scully should risk their platonic ideal with a close encounter of the sexy kind. X-FILES1.0 taught us 21st-century fandom; it showed us how to "ship" a show. X-FILES2.0 will be engaged by the fullness of the interactive viewing culture that it kick-started. Tumblrs. Recaps. GIFs. Of course, it will be judged by it too. Can THE X-FILES thrill us anew? Can it capture the zeitgeist as it did before? Your Twitter will tell you. Immediately.
At least one hardcore X-FILES fan is already satisfied. Joel McHale used to watch the show with his then girlfriend, now wife. He dug the science fiction. She dug the rapport between the leads. "When the offer came, I thought, 'Are they sure? It's not a prank? Because if it is, that would be very mean, because I love the show,'" says McHale. "So believe me, when I'm on set, and there's Dana Scully and Fox Mulder? Mind. Blown."
THE X-FILES REVIVAL may be a dream come true for fans, but it's not the afterlife its stars envisioned for Mulder and Scully. They wanted to make movies. Anderson - who relocated to London and currently stars in the finals season of NBC's HANNIBAL - hoped for a trilogy that could give fans better closure. The series may have lasted nine years, but it petered out creatively. Not helping the cause: too much complex mythology to resolve, and not enough Duchovny, who limited his presence in the last two seasons following a dispute with Fox over profit sharing. "It's always nice to go out with a bang," says Anderson, "and for whatever reason, we didn't go out with a bang." In 2008, Fox released THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE, a zero-mythology, monster-of-the-week episode writ big-screen large. It attempted to distill THE X-FILES to its essence (Mulder, Scully, creepiness) for the sake of attracting fans and newcomers. It felt like X-FIILES lite. Made for a reported $30 million, the film grossed $68 million worldwide. "Fox wasn't lining up to do the next one," says Duchovny, who spent seven years starring on Showtime's risqué dramedy CALIFORNICATION and currently headlines NBC's AQUARIUS. "It seemed maybe THE X-FILES was dead, at least as a movie franchise."
Yet none of them gave up interest in telling more X-FILES stories. Duchovny led the charge back to television. "I'm acclimated to the 12-episode world, I know that it's fantastic," he says. "The best things are happening on television anyway. Why not just come back and do a severely limited run on television and see what happens?" Last year, with CALIFORNICATION coming to an end, Duchovny says he reached out to Carter, who was game, and Anderson, who needed to warm to the idea. "I do a lot of TV, more TV than I'd like to do," says the actress, who also stars with Jamie Dornan on the British serial-killer thriller THE FALL, which will shoot its third season this fall. "I love film, so it's important to have that in my life to balance all the TV out." But Fox's support of event series impressed her (she cites 24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY), and a shot at better closure pulled at her. "It seems to be the right time for it," she says.
"We have honestly been having conversations with Chris about this for a very long time," says Dana Walden, chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group. "Bringing back THE X-FILES is a huge, undeniable event, and in terms of future development, we're interested in things that fall into that category." After several months of negotiations, THE X-FILES was a go as a six-episode series. (There might have been more episodes if not for limited actor availability).
So what kind of story to expect from this event? Carter & Co. are being stingy with the secrets, but here's the big picture: The new series is set in the present and reintroduces the show's mythology, but reinterprets it from a bleak political perspective. "THE X-FILES ended right after 9/11," says Carter. "A lot has happened since then. A lot of rollback of rights and liberties in the name of our protection. We're being spied on now, we're being lied to - all things that, for me, go back to a time when I grew up, which was right around Watergate. I think we're in a similar and actually much more dire times right now." Spotted in the pocket of his director's chair: the September-October 2009 issue of Utne Reader, with Bill O'Reilly on the cover and the headline "Post-Pundit America: The End of Attack Politics." That might offer some insight into McHale's conservative talk-show host, who'll appear in at least two episodes. Or maybe Carter is just really behind on his Utne Reader.
Still classified: exact status updates for former FBI agents and frustrated lovers Mulder and Scully. When last seen in THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE, Scully was a doctor and Mulder was a lone wolf, and while the film ended with them sharing a kiss, their future as a couple was TBD. Expect to see that both have evolved - or devolved - since then. We can tell you that they're not living together, and that Mulder has become convinced that the alien conspiracy might not be precisely what he thought it was. His obsession has taken a toll. "He's wearing bad jeans, so you can just extrapolate from my wardrobe. He's in a dark, dark place," says Duchovny, who hold out hope of a return-to-form makeover. "The classic Mulder is not this. He belongs in a suit." Will Mulder be popping his favorite stakeout snack of sunflower seeds? "Yeah, I've heard rumors of their existence. I'm sure they will come my way at some point."
Anderson is equally cryptic about the direction Carter has charted. "I like where we find Mulder and Scully in their relationship," she says. "I also like the area of zeitgeist that we step into. It's on point and raises some very interesting issues. And question marks." Carter says that episode 4 will deal with one of Scully's most distinctive character features: her religious faith, a source of conflict with Mulder. (Mulder can believe in many things, but he has serious doubts about God.)
And not to belabor the hair, but it really is a sore subject for Anderson - because it's really painful to wear. Yes, she is wearing a wig for the revival. Anderson says she began losing her hair due to the wear and tear of her recent characters. She wanted to dye her hair red for Scully - "I was really looking forward to it!" - but her hairdresser advised against it. "I was told that if I went red that would be fine, but getting back to blond I would go bald. So unfortunately, it is a wig," she says. "And on my God, it's like wearing a vise on your head. Every day I have a whopping headache. I want the fans to know I'm suffering for the red!"
Mulder and Scully's longtime boss Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) is slated to return, as will their longtime adversary Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), although that'll take some explaining: The cancerous bogeyman was blown away in the series finale. Carter will write and direct three episodes, including the premiere and the finale, both heavy mythology stories. The remaining three will be handled by veterans of the first series who were instrumental in shaping and expanding the storytelling voice of the show. James Wong (AMERICAN HORROR STORY) and Glen Morgan (INTRUDERS) - who worked as a team back in the day and created some of the show's best-known supporting characters, including the Lone Gunmen - will each write and direct their own episodes. (Sorry, Internet, but you're wrong: The second episode, titled "Home Again," won't be a sequel to the infamously queasy Season 4 Morgan/Wong opus "Home," a lunatic love story about deformed, inbred children and the limbless mother they keep under their bed.)
Rounding out the brain trust is Darin Morgan, Glen's brother, whose meta-witty scripts earned him a cult following and the show's only writing Emmy. The titel of his new episode: "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster." Carter also invited X-FILES alumni Vince Gilligan (BREAKING BAD) and Frank Spotnitz, who is currently producing the upcoming Amazon drama THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. Both passed due to work commitments.
One pressure everyone is trying not to sweat: expectations. The cast and crew plan on tuning out the noise (and going radio-silent themselves) for the remainder of the shoot. If the revival is a hit, there could be more, but no one's talking about it. Yet. "I can't imagine waiting this long again," says Duchovny. "But you know, it all depends on the reception of [this] show." Blockbuster success is far from certain. Last year, Fox's 12-episode revival of 24 averaged 9.5 million viewers, down 18 percent from its series average. But THE X-FILES will get some support from the NFL - the premiere is scheduled to air Jan. 24, immediately following the NFC championship game. Citing the enduring passion of original fans and newer ones who've discovered the show on DVD and other platforms, Fox's Walden says, "It feels like there's an entire audience of viewers who are ready for something new here." Anderson's dream scenario would be to duplicate one specific aspect of the show's original success. "I know this is completely fantastical thinking," she says, "but what if this show resparked the whole appointment-television-watching thing?" Where actually people watched it live with friends? Not on TiVo, not on the Internet, not on laptops, but everybody together, at the same time. Wouldn't that be cool?"