As Mulder and Scully return to TV screens, Tara Bennett interrogates the stars to discover what awaits us
On the spectrum of impossible things, the chance of The X-Files returning to TV with original stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson seemed about as likely as Cigarette Smoking Man packing in the Morleys. Well, Chris Carter’s era-defining conspiracy saga is back this month as a six-episode event series, reuniting former FBI agents Mulder and Scully for new adventures chasing the truth behind secret government cabals, alien abductions and a whole mess of other zeitgeisty weirdness. SFX speaks exclusively with Anderson and Duchovny about returning to the series that changed their lives…
Did you want to have a say in where you imagined your character would be now?
GA I’ve never been collaborative about the direction of Scully. Other characters I have played, definitely, but not Scully. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s that Chris [Carter] always had such a clear vision of how she was going to be into the future, or I never really had any interest or didn’t see any room for it. It’s one area that I’ve never really pitched aside from the episode that I wrote and directed (“All Things”).
DD The characters are set after so many hundred episodes that we did. That’s not going to change. Mulder now is not exactly who he was in the pilot so there has to be some kind of nod to the passage of time. I think Chris understood that and we could play that on the day we were shooting it too.
Did the possibility of directing an episode ever come up?
DD It was a matter of seeing what the season would look like. I assumed it would be 12 episodes and then it became 10, eight and then six. At that point it became clear to me that the only way I could write and direct an episode would be if we did at least 12 because it wouldn’t be fair to make myself light in one out of six. At that point, I bowed out of writing or directing one but if we would do say 10, I would be happy to write or direct one.
It’s been eight years since you last played these characters. Was that a good span of time to be away from them or did it make it harder to find them again?
DD I think the long time between doing it was good for me because I got to rediscover it myself as we went along and not try to do the same things with the character. Just in terms of my comfort as an actor, going back to the pilot in 1993, it was our first jobs. Now we’re much more comfortable in extending ourselves in different directions. I would say it took the first three or four years to start to know what we were doing as professional actors. Now, it’s a different equation. It’s a much more comfortable place to be in to try to do good work.
GA I think I pushed her so far away to make room for other characters that she was harder to find than I had expected. It didn’t help that I was needing to wear a wig and it wasn’t the right colour or shape at the beginning. Finding my way to her past all that was challenging. But we got there.
Was it surreal being back on set in Vancouver with a lot of the same cast and crew?
GA Yes, but the thing that feels different is the thing that is most obvious in that we’re older [laughs]. We have different life concerns and different ways of looking at things. Doing this with grown up and varying ages of teenage children is a different experience from what it was at the beginning so all of that plays into it. It was different in that respect but great to see and have the opportunity to work with many of the same people. Many of the people who started on our show were in [Vancouver] working on the Star Trek feature so they’ve moved up and I got to visit a few of them. It was nice to see everybody and have that level of talent alive and well up there.
How was it working again with David after all this time?
GA It was different because we are older and more mature and more understanding of our own process. Also the different pulls and tugs that are on us as human beings, outside of the fact we are actors, all of those things are helpful in maintaining a friendship and working relationship. I feel like we better served each other this time around than we did in the old days. It was fun and great to have him as a companion walking that same path as a friend. It was cool.
DD What we have is actual history where we spent eight or nine years together working for many, many hours and the life-changing experience in terms of a show that gave us careers and profiles. We have a long-standing, deep appreciation and friendship for each other because there is nobody else on the planet that really understands exactly what we went through. If you have that, you don’t really
The cornerstone of the series is the nature of their relationship
have to act. You just stand on your mark, look at the other person and allow it to be.
David, you left the original series before Gillian. Were the things that frustrated you back then still an issue this time? DD No, the struggle I may have had once upon a time with the procedural aspect of the show, which can be very dry as an actor, I accept that now. At one point, that was all I was doing working on the show for 10 and sometimes 12 months a year. I know I wanted more as an actor than to crack the case. But as an actor, I’ve learned how to bring it in while we’re doing that and Gillian has too. Even if some scenes are dry or have exposition, we can bring life to them, I hope.
In season opener “My Struggle” we meet a Mulder wrestling with a new level of worldweariness. How did you get him there? DD World-weariness gets a lot easier to play as you get old. It comes naturally [laughs]. Saying that, Mulder was always the one who drove the show with his belief and we start this iteration where he doesn’t have that. It’s tricky to start the car without the motor and then the motor has to pick up quickly.
Was the estrangement between Mulder and Scully something that made sense to you, given they were a lot closer the last time you played them? GA It made sense to me the direction Chris was taking them. The cornerstone of the series is the nature of their relationship. It holds the dialogue together, it holds the motivations together and it holds the stories together so it made sense that Chris would re-establish us back in that dynamic again rather than where we had left off in the film where it was a much more intimate relationship. I wouldn’t even know how to begin with that unless we ended up in a Thin Man situation, which could work too but it’s not what we’re about, so I got where he was headed.
What sort of stories should The X-Files be telling in the 21st century? GA The subject matter in the first episode that continues into the next one is current and prescient and important. Conversations about privacy and security and drones and war are the topics. How our government deals with those topics has always been fodder for our writers and it will continue to be that way, I imagine, for some time given the way history is developing. It will be interesting to see the climate, especially in America, and what the temperature is to speak openly and be forthright about opinions. DD I don’t really know because I’ve never been a science fiction guy myself. It’s really about the humanity of the world of the characters and that’s what resonates with this show. I don’t think the show ever tried to be in fashion and I think that’s what makes it fashionable. Conspiracies will always be interesting drama and they have always been with us. The science of it has always been interesting to me and to Chris. He surrounds himself with people who have given him cool science to spark his imagination so there are different stories to tell. In the last movie, we had head replacement and Chris was sure this would be happening in a few years but he’s obviously wrong. We jumped the gun a little on head replacement but that’s the kind of thing you can do as science fiction becomes science. That’s really the game Chris is playing – taking smart science fiction and saying, “This is science.”
Would you come back for more? DD I don’t know. I hate to disappoint but I take things as they come. Each day on the set had its own challenges and charms and problems. But when I sat down and watched it, I saw that the show still worked and the characters still worked. I have never not believed in the frame of the show as being so flexible as to be almost infinite. We have a show that can be comedy, drama, science fiction, mystery, thriller, horror and not feel like it’s a different show. Doing six is maybe not enough to show that flexibility so maybe we have more to do. I don’t know, we’ll see. Having gone through it again, I think we’re all okay with moving forward with more. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I would. GA It’s possible but not probable. It will be an ongoing conversation. We have to see how it does and if people are enthusiastic about it and have the same interest. I think it’s all dependent on that.
The X-Files returns to Fox in the US on 24 January, and will air on Channel 5 in the UK.
Scully’s still happy to get her hands dirty in the lab.
Er, he doesn’t look a day older.
Reunited: but how close are they to each other now?
Men in hats are always conspiracy theorists.