The X-Files Lexicon's exclusive interview with Darin Morgan on 'Mulder and Scully Meet The Were Monster'
Conducted by Matt Allair in 06/09/2016
Page Editor: Liz Tray
Along with James Wong and Glen Morgan, one of the other surprises when the new episodes were announced in March 2015, and the writing team revealed, was the addition of Darin Morgan to the new season. It was wonderful news, as Darin remains one of the most beloved figures of the original writers that laid the foundation for The X-Files, and many writers, especially Vince Gilligan, would emulate Darin’s unique and humorous approach to storytelling. While humor is a key to Darin’s writing, it isn’t cut and dried to characterize him as a ‘gag writer’, as he often has something insightful to say about the human condition, and this is what separates him from the standard comedy writer. Darin crafted one of the better episodes of the new season, and yet the story is much more complicated than the telling of a new tale. In truth, he wrote the script originally for Frank Spotnitz’s brief ABC’s re-imaging of The Night Stalker in 2005, and the series was canceled before Darin’s episode “The ‘M’ Word”, could be produced. In fact, we wrote up a script review for The X-Files Lexicon Blog back in 2010. So, this story was rechristened “Mulder And Scully Meet The Were-Monster” for The X-Files, and the pairing of this script to the show couldn’t have been more apt. The episode was able to play on a kind of mid life crisis for Mulder. Much in the way that Scully went through a similar kind of life reflection in season four’s “Never Again”, it gave Mulder some fertile ground to look at the absurdities of his life mission.
Most X-Philes know that Darin first got attention playing the Flukeman in the second season, but he also got a co-writing credit for the episode “Blood”, which led to his first script for The X-Files – “Humbug”. Of course, he was also known for playing Eddie Van Blundht in Vince Gilligan’s “Small Potatoes”, and even had a small role in Morgan and Wong’s sci-fi movie The One from 2001. However, it is Darin’s work in season three of The X-Files that is most celebrated – “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose", "War of the Coprophages" and "Jose Chung’s 'From Outer Space'". He went on to helm two Millennium episodes in its second season, taking his first foray into directing with “Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me,” and “Jose Chung’s ‘Doomsday Defense’”. He has remained busy as a producer and writer on such series as Tower Prep, Intruders, Those Who Kill, and as a consulting producer on (The X-Files-inspired) Fringe and the Bionic Woman.
Darin is known to be reticent about interviews, I had been forewarned of this as far back as 2009, and it was a matter of friendly persistence through various circles to get to this point. It was a pleasant surprise when Darin was willing the make the rounds with the press in February, when he appeared in an Entertainment Weekly article, as well as a TV Line piece. But this situation is unique, as he has rarely been interviewed for such a fan reference site as the Lexicon before, and we are very aware of what a rare honor it is he could make the time. I found Darin to be funny, unassuming, kind, self-aware and earnest with his candor, and the interview proceeded as follows…
Matt Allair: Thank you again to taking the time to do this, it’s an honor.
Darin Morgan: Don’t worry, you won’t feel that way afterwards. (laughs)
Matt Allair: Oh, I don’t know about that. You went through a trial by fire over two decades ago with The X-Files when wearing the Flukeman costume. When it came time to design the lizard costume for “Were-Monster”, was there a lot of planning or discussion about making it more comfortable for the actor?
Darin Morgan: Yeah, because I also did an episode of Chris’s other show, Millennium, and they had actors in heavy make-up, they were devils, and I knew how uncomfortable that was for them. I had a lot of problems with that. So, that was one of my main concerns but, right away, Bill Terezakis who was the special effects make up guy, who was actually an assistant to the special effects make-up guy when I was the Flukeman back in the day, he explained to me that make-up technology had advanced a great deal since the Flukeman days. So, it was actually much more comfortable, it was really lightweight. I don’t exactly [understand] what they do, he was talking about some sort of computer scan they do with the body. There wasn’t that same concern, or the ordeal I went through doesn’t happen anymore thankfully to actors. My actor who played the monster, Ryan Biel, you’d see him, and he would be just sitting there [relaxing]. I don’t know how long it took to put it on, but you could tell it wasn’t really that bad of a problem. Whenever I saw him, he would be relaxing, drinking some juice, and I told him he had no idea how good he had it, and I brought pictures that I had when I was getting the make-up on for Flukeman, just to show him what I had to go through, which is always helpful to the actors because at least they know what others have gone through. The Flukeman thing weighed like a hundred and fifty pounds or something, and this was more of a skin-like coating, whereas mine was like a heavy latex suit. It was helpful knowing that I wasn’t making the actor go through physical pain.
Matt: The “Were-Monster” script was originally an unproduced Night Stalker episode, ‘The “M” Word’. Was it a challenge to revise the script and give it more of a Mulder and Scully flavor, as opposed to how the Kolchak and Perri Reed characters would have played it?
Darin: It’s both yes and no, because, I don’t know if you’ve read that script, the basic plot in terms of the monster stuff is pretty much the same, so in that sense it seemed like it was kind of easy, but the Mulder and Scully stuff was kind of challenging, I don’t know why (gentle laugh), you look at the two scripts and they don’t seem that different, and it shouldn’t have taken me so long, or been so difficult, but it was. The thing that’s weird is that the remake of The Night Stalker most people haven’t seen, but the thing that Frank Spotnitz, who was doing that, did was that he made the Kolchak character more like Mulder. The remake had more similarities to The X-Files than it did to the old Night Stalker, so it wasn’t that huge of a change in the sense that this version of Kolchak was more of a younger Mulder, rather than being Kolchak, so changing that stuff wasn’t that difficult. The changes that I did make to Mulder I thought were really helpful to making the thing kind of work for me. I like my X-Files script better than my Night Stalker [script], although the Night Stalker script is actually I think a lot funnier, but I ended up liking The X-Files script a lot more. That’s basically due to the changes I had to do to make it fit for Mulder.
Matt: Did Chris Carter give you a lot of room with the script during the re-write process?
Darin: Yes, that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do season 10, because working on Chris’s show were the only opportunities I had to do what I wanted. Other shows I’ve worked on, either the showrunner or the executives haven’t really let me do what I wanted, and I think the work that I’ve done has suffered. So, I was assuming that if I agreed to do an episode for season 10, Chris would treat me the same way he did before, and he did which is pretty much hands-off.
Matt: The idea of an animal viewing human existence as something so horrible is a fascinating idea. What brought about the idea that drove such a story?
Darin: When working on the Night Stalker, this is kind of unbelievable, but the show got picked up. We were working on the Night Stalker, and we got the order, but we got told by the head of the network that we weren’t allowed to do any stories that were about monsters. Which made no sense because the whole series is about a guy, a reporter writing about monsters, [that’s] the whole premise of the show. We couldn’t even use the word monster, and I just couldn’t believe [it], that didn’t make any sense, and so I basically told Frank, ‘no, I’m going to do a monster episode’ (laughs), and so I started thinking about those old monster movies. To me, monster movies are the old Universal horror movies, so when I started watching those old things the thing that kind of struck me is that their logic didn’t really make any sense at all. The whole thing about a man gets bit by a wolf, and if it’s under a full moon, and the wolf bane is blooming, then he’ll turn into a werewolf and can only be killed by a silver bullet. There’s all these kind of rules that make no sense whatsoever, none of these monster things make any sense, but then you started thinking about human life, and human life doesn’t really make much more sense. It was just kind of that idea of comparing monster movie logic with human life logic, and how there isn’t any of either. That’s kind of where all of that came from, if that makes any sense.
Matt: Glen had mentioned to me that the Universal monster films were a favorite for him. Was “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” a favorite of yours?
Darin: As a kid I watched all those Abbott and Costello movies, but to be honest they don’t mean as much to me now. They haven’t held up as well as some of my early favorites, but like I said, I did go back and watch those old monster movies, and that’s one of the better ones, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, that one’s pretty good, it had some good gags in it and the monster stuff is great. The old Universal monster movie things… I grew up watching that stuff on the Late, Late Show, and that’s kind of stayed with me. I’m not into horror movies anymore, I don’t see any of the new horror films or anything like that, but those old Universal things still hold up for me. What’s nice about that film is that you have the comedy stuff, but the monster stuff is treated like monster stuff: it isn’t just a joke. There’s a bit where Lon Chaney turns into the wolf man and he’s tearing up a chair, and the foam from the chair is coming up, it’s probably just a stage hand throwing it, but I always thought that looked really cool, though it’s kind of a weird detail to remember.
Matt: Rhys Darby does such a terrific job with the role. Was he an actor you had wanted to work with prior to the episode?
Darin: I was a huge fan of the Flight of the Conchords show on HBO, so I didn’t have him in mind. Originally, when I was writing the part and initially casting, he was one of the first actors when I started trying [to find], as I had a very small list of people that I could think of to do the part. His name came up because I thought his kind of comedy would suit the part, but he initially wasn’t available, and then it became a nightmare because I couldn’t think of anybody to cast, then his schedule opened up, and then FOX wasn’t sure they wanted to let us cast him, and we had to audition him, and it kind of became a big fight. But we won, which I’m glad because I thought he was perfect for the part. Everything that I liked about him, that I had seen him in, because I had also seen the What We Do In The Shadows movie where he played a werewolf, all of the stuff I had seen him in I’ve liked him. I thought he pulled off everything. It’s weird because I knew he could do the comedy part of it, but there is some weird little emotional, dramatic stuff in there which he pulled off without any problems, so I couldn’t have been more happy with his performance. He’s great.
Matt: I know Kumail Nanjiani became a friend when you appeared on his X-Files Files podcast, but were you aware of his prior work before meeting him? Was the role of Pasha solely written with him in mind?
Darin: I had seen him on a bunch of things before, but I didn’t know his name. I came across online, someone going “oh, this guy is doing an X-Files podcast”, and I didn’t know him by name but when I saw his picture I went, “oh, this guy is funny”. I had never seen his standup, but he had been in a lot of those kind of like sketch comedy shows but that’s not really what they are. Portlandia and the Kroll Show, those kind of comedy shows, and he was always really funny whenever I saw them, so I check the schedule and he’s an X-Files fan, which is kind of cool. I listened to one of his podcasts, I guess the first one, and I eventually wound up on his show. He’s a really nice guy, he’s really funny, and obviously he’s a huge fan. When I was doing the re-writing of the script, I called Glen, my brother, who was also doing a show, and he had been on Kumail’s podcast, so it was like, “so, which one of us gets to cast him?” We had that debate, but Glen didn’t really have any part for him and I wanted him more because I had the comedy stuff in mind. So, the only kind of part really was the killer essentially, and I go, “well that kind of works out because a lot of people won’t think he’ll be the killer”, spoiler alert (laughs) for anyone who hasn’t seen the episode. I just thought he could do the comedy stuff, and then it might maybe be a surprise, some people won’t expect him to be the villain. I wrote a specific joke just for him, which we had to cut out. Me and him, because we had to do the DVD commentary, I don’t know if they’ll use it, but we did the lines during the scene that we had to cut it out from. I wish his part could have been bigger, I would have liked to have given him a bigger part, but he wasn’t right for Guy Mann I don’t think, so other than Pasha there wasn’t really anything else for him to play.
Matt: Could you discuss the casting process for the episode? What brought about the appearances of D.J. Pierce or Richard Newman, for example?
Darin: D.J. was a video audition, that was kind of a smaller part. I was up in Vancouver at the time when we auditioned, [and] it was an unusual casting because the character is transgender, so we had kind of an array of people come in, all different sexes if that makes sense, and ethnicities. We kind of ran the gamut and D.J., or Shangela*, just gave the best performance, I thought he was by far the funniest. It was the best audition and I’d go, ‘oh, that’s the one’. It isn’t deeper than that, I got some criticism from some people because he is a drag queen playing a trans woman, and that offended some people, which I wasn’t anticipating. I cast based on the best performance. Richard Newman [playing the shrink] came in to audition up in Vancouver. We were trying to get a name actor down in LA that didn’t come through, and Richard again came in and gave the best performance. I don’t know if he’s done a lot of TV work, he’s mainly a theatre guy apparently up in Vancouver, but I loved him, he was just great, and he was great to work with. That day shooting we were a little behind schedule, and we kind of had to shoot really quick and I was worried. If you haven’t worked with an actor before you don’t know what they are going to be like, but he just kind of nailed his stuff and was willing to try new things, and he was just great, so they both worked out.
Matt: While filming in Vancouver for “Were-Monster”, was there a certain location or a set that was a favorite to work on?
Darin: No (laughs), it was all awful. It’s weird because it kind of goes along these lines, and I probably told this joke before, but a lot of people have asked me, ‘oh, it looked like making this thing was a lot of fun’, and it wasn’t. The only person who had any fun was Kumail, you know. It’s just really hard work, it’s a tough job, and so none of those locations I just have a bad memory of all of them just going on (laughs) – ‘I’m not going to finish, I’m not going to make my days’. You’re just under the gun and you don’t really have any time to go, ‘oh, wow this is so much fun’ or ‘I love being here’, it’s just work, so that’s kind of a depressing answer.
Matt: A lot of the fans appreciated the Kim Manners tombstone marker: I understand you had a limited budget with the grave sequence. If you had had free rein, which other alumni crew or actors from The X-Files would you have liked to have paid tribute to?
Darin: We only had a budget to make two headstones. Jaap Broeker, who played the Stupendous Yappi in the Jose Chung** episode, he was also Duchovny’s stand in all those years up in Vancouver, and he passed away soon before we began working. It goes without saying that it would have been better if he were alive and he could have participated rather than us paying tribute to these people. It was really kind of sad when you actually got to the location and you see Kim’s headstone. I don’t know how to phrase it exactly, it kind of put things in a weird perspective. David brought up that he would have liked Randy Stone, who was the original casting director for the pilot, he passed away a few years ago, he was really good friends with my brother as well, and I knew him. You forget there are so many people over the years that have died. Tony Morelli, he was our stunt coordinator, he was going to be the stunt coordinator for season ten, and he passed away just before we started. He was in Jose Chung, he was the guy in the Lord Kimbo suit. There were a couple of others, the crew had people who they had worked with, like I said, we only had budget for two, so there were a number of people I would have liked to have paid tribute to.
Matt: It meant a lot to the fans, Kim’s passing had a real impact on a lot of people, so was just really a nice little touch to see that happen.
Darin: He was a part of the show. It was kind of sad to do this and certain people weren’t around to be able to participate, who knows… I know Jaap would have loved to have been involved again. I’m sure Kim would have loved to have ended his career by coming back and doing another episode, what can you do, that’s life.
Matt: Others have noticed that technicians like Mark S. Freeborn, or Joel Ransom, have done an outstanding job with the new episodes. While filming “Were-Monster” was there particular crew members who were helpful due to their experience?
Darin: You know, the camera guys, you mentioned Joel, I leaned heavily on Joel to help me with directing; there’s two camera guys, Mike Wrinch was ‘a’ camera, and Dave Crone was ‘b’ camera. You rely heavily on those guys, they’re really, really good, you say ‘I want to see this’, you set up a shot, and then they will come up with what you are trying to get, only better, or sometimes they will just suggest a shot which is so much better than what you were planning on doing. I had worked with Mike before; he’s an old friend of Glen’s as well. Mike’s assistant Dean [Friss], those two guys I’ve worked on several shows with, so I was familiar with those guys. It’s always nice to work with people that you’ve worked with before because there’s familiarity, so you don’t have to go through the formality of figuring out how people like to work, or what to say to them. So Mike, and Dean [Friss] and Freeborn, I worked with Freeborn on a couple of other shows, Freeborn is the best. That’s one of the nice things about going back to a show you haven’t worked on in a while, but when you’ve worked with a lot of these people it’s nice dealing with them again.
Matt: Your first directing job came on Millennium with the episodes “Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defense” and “Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me”. When you came on The X-Files to helm this episode did that make the process easier, or it is always a challenge?
Darin: Oh, it’s always a challenge, because every episode is different. Having done at least a TV episode before I knew about the certain pressures of time constraints, stuff like that. That’s always kind of the biggest thing that throws you the first time you are on a set, because you are not familiar with how long it’s going to take to shoot a scene. So that was helpful. But each show, and this is not just directing but just writing, each episode has its own problems, and just presents a whole new set of difficulties you just have to deal with as you go along. I wish it weren’t so.
Matt: Has your working relationship working with Mark Snow changed at all as a result of your prior directing work? How was the experience working with Heather MacDougall on this episode?
Darin: That’s like what I said before: you’ve worked with these people, so you don’t have to go through the weird formality of when you first start working with someone, and figuring out what their habits are, and they’re figuring out what yours are. I’ve cut with Heather before, so it was very easy, even though we both wanted to kill each other (laughs), but we wanted to kill each other back in the old days, so we’re used to that. Mark is the same way. I tend, I think, to use a lot less music than most episodes, which I think Mark actually likes. Mark’s stuff is always great, but if you have any problem, if this is stepping on a line here or something, he has no problems with making adjustments. It’s just the familiarity of working with someone, and you know you are not going to ruffle someone’s feathers, or insult them, and they are not going to insult you. It’s very helpful to not have to worry about that sort of stuff, because it’s easy to do.
Matt: Someone once compared your writing work with Mark Twain. Do you think of yourself as a satirist who writes drama, or a dramatic writer who is a humorist?
Darin: Well, I’m not a satirist I don’t think. I think of myself as a comedy writer first and foremost. It’s weird because I don’t write sitcoms, or sketch comedy. So, I do comedy but with dramatic elements to it, which is why I’m often unemployed (laughs). I guess it’s just kind of a weird category that no one seems to know what to do with, myself included. But my emphasis is always on the comedy, that’s what interests me the most. I like there to be kind of a story to on which to hang the jokes. I’m not just a stick guy if that makes sense. The Mark Twain, I don’t know what to say about that (laughs), I don’t know what similarities I have to Mark Twain.
Matt: Did the experience working on the episode want to make you get back into doing more directing? Is there more we can expect in the future?
Darin: You know, I always wanted to direct a movie and it’s still a dream of mine. But directing for a TV show I find more confining than writing for a TV show, for some reason. I figured out how to do it, I guess on TV, but with directing you are just worried about time and not being too different from other shows, which you know sounds silly because my episodes are so different than the other episodes. You’re still aware that you’re a part of a larger show, and sometimes that can be kind of confining. I’d like to direct something of my own someday, but I don’t know if that will ever happen, who knows.
Matt: If you were asked to be involved with the mooted season 11 would you want to do it?
Darin: You know, yes and no, (laughs), yes, sure, why not. It has both good and bad things. Doing this episode again was great because I got to do what I wanted to do. Some people liked it and some people didn’t, and that goes with the territory. I don’t know if we came back for another season whether FOX would give us as much free reign as they did. Fans have certain expectations of the show, and that’s kind of tough to deal with in a sense. When I came back to do this past episode I was anticipating that there would be some people that wouldn’t like it just because there’s so many fans who don’t like the comedy episodes. You know, there’s going to be some people who are not going to like it, regardless of what you do. But I wasn’t anticipating so many people being unaware that The X-Files did do comedy episodes, and some people getting mad at the fact that we did one because there were only six episodes. Which is just sort of demoralizing, and on one hand it’s easy to ignore, but on the other hand it exists and you go, ‘why do you want to deal with that?’ Well, because you have to, because it’s part of the fan reaction**. The X-Files is a weird show, that you have fans [where] it’s not a united fandom I guess. Some people just want mythology episodes, some people just want it to be about Mulder and Scully’s relationship, some people don’t want comedy episodes, so it’s really kind of fractured. It’s kind of an uphill battle, and it just depends on whether or not you are willing to put up with that. Do I have an idea that I really want to do? That was another reason why I wanted to do season ten. It was the hope that I was going to be able to do this Were-Monster story, which I’ve been wanting to do since I wrote that thing a decade ago. So, if I came up with a story that I want to tell, then I’ll put up with people hating it because I want to tell the story. But right now I don’t know if they’ll be a season eleven, so it’s not like I’m sitting around, stoking ideas because it may never happen. I’ll wait until I hear word that it might. I don’t even know if Chris wants me back. I’m assuming he would, but you never know. They may have different plans. If they come back for season eleven they may just do all mythology, and [then] they really don’t need me, and I don’t know if I’d really want to be involved with that. I’m not very good at that kind of thing. There’s just a lot of factors, so we’ll just wait and see. I know some people did like it so it was worth it just for that.
Matt: Well, thank you again, I appreciate you doing this.
Darin: It was nice talking to you.
We would be remiss to not thank Gabe Rotter for helping to facilitate this interview and going the extra mile.
It was an insightful experience to speak to Darin. We were able to commiserate about pet cats, and we discussed further on about Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein beyond the scope of the interview. The ratings for the third episode were quite good, drawing 8.2 million viewers, and it must have been gratifying for him that it fared so well. We hope that the results lead to more work for Darin and that he accomplishes his dream to helm a feature film in the future, as well as more television if he wishes so. This interview is coming off the heels of the Blu Ray and DVD release of The X-Files Event Series/Season 10, which can be found at your local retail store, or Amazon. The Blu Ray title promises extra information about the new episodes. We wish Darin the very best.
*To clarify the issue about the controversy, Shangela is a drag queen, a performer, and not a trans woman. The choice of a cis-male to play a transgender sex worker character was the issue. In fairness, Jeffrey Tambor, who is straight, was cast in “Transparent” as a trans woman, which also caused controversy but his sensitive and brilliant portrayal has been widely acclaimed. As such, it can be said that Hollywood is still evolving on how to depict such characters.
**To the reader, bear in mind that The Stupendous Yappi mostly appears in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, but he makes a brief cameo in “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’”.