Now that 'The X-Files' has become a full-fledged hit, can co-stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson survive a salary dispute, tabloid headlines and each other?
It's a Golden Globe. Not a weighty one, like the statues for best drama, best actress and best actor hauled in during this year's X-Files takeover, but a gold-plated key-chain reproduction that comes gift-wrapped in a Tiffany's box and is purchased by idly rich knickknack buffs or Fox executives flush with the show's success and hellbent on sustaining a little momentum.
The trinket rests in its container, which sits in David Duchovny's tidy Airstream trailer on the X-Files set. Duchovny surveys the tchotchke for a moment and then reads the accompanying card. "Dear David," he says. "We're proud to have you on the network."
Duchovny picks up the key chain, twirls it in the light and leans forward as if he's revealing a secret. "At the moment," he says, "we are the network."
A thin, almost imperceptible grin cracks Duchovny's usual stony expression and then disappears as he stands to exit the trailer. He's right, of course, and he knows it. Fox might have lured Aaron Spelling from a life of The Love Boat reruns; it might even have snatched football from CBS; but at the moment, in the midst of the show's fourth season, The X-Files is to Fox what Elvis Presley was to Sun Records. Sure, there were Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis; of course, there are Party of Five and The Simpsons. But 15 million conspiracy theorists can't be wrong.
What they can be, however, is omnipresent. There is a joke on the X-Files set that crew members don't have lives, they have The X-Files. Dark humor abounds when you work 16-hour days, 10 months a year in Vancouver, British Columbia. It's tough to tell, however, whether Duchovny and co-star Gillian Anderson find such things funny. Life is different when you're the poster children for the most scrutinized television series in recent memory. "The fans read into the show a whole lot more than we ever intend," says X-Files director and producer Kim Manners. "They take it apart like a coroner." So, if The X-Files is a program about obsession that has bred an obsessive subculture, it is also a program about paranoia that has rendered its stars a little wary. "The success of a one hour series is different from any other success in film or television," says Anderson, who plays Dana Scully to Duchovny's Fox Mulder. "It is all-consuming. It's not this way on half-hour television; it's not this way when you do features. When you're in the midst of it, you can think, oh, my God, I can't do this anymore."
Mostly it's the hours--another crew truism holds that if an episode doesn't hurt, then things just aren't working--but there's more. With fame has come not only tabloid scrutiny, which has plagued Anderson in particular this season, but a developing apprehension for both stars that while The X-Files is the acting break of a lifetime, its phenomenon threatens to obscure them as individuals for the rest of their careers. Chris Carter, the show's creator, has battled the same fear by developing a new series, Millennium, which demands much of his time; and both Anderson and Duchovny can alleviate some of the pressure by practicing their new hobby of fielding film offers. Nevertheless, both are extremely conscious of wanting to distinguish themselves from the show, which in turn means from each other.
So, when a request is made to interview the two stars together, the prospects initially do not look good. "I'm my own person and Gillian is her own person," says Duchovny. "Why should we do interviews together? There's enough anxiety about the fact that Mulder and Scully seem to be one entity anyway." But, to spoil this X-Files cliffhanger, Duchovny and Anderson finally do agree to sit down for their first dual print interrogation since the show's inaugural season. Before that, though, they'll be portrayed the same way they're most comfortable: separate but equal.
David Duchovny, product of a prestigious New York private high school, Princeton grad and former Yale Ph.D. student, explains his craft. "I had a teacher that gave me a really good lesson once," he says between takes of an ever-stoic Mulder imploring investigators to grasp the simple fact that brought down a 747 somewhere over Pennsylvania. "He had a piece of paper, and he said, 'I like dogs.' And when he wrote down cocker spaniel, Saint Bernard, beagle, German shepherd. He circled beagle, and he said, 'I love beagles.' And that was my lesson."
"It took me a while to figure it out, too," says Duchovny. "What he was saying was that if I like dogs and I love beagles, if we're having a conversation and you mention beagle, I will perk up and pay attention. It's a way of creating a full human being with weird interests. That's the challenge of creating a subtle character that doesn't have to scream out, 'This is who I am!'
The director signals that he is ready for another take. Duchovny smiles and walks toward the set. "Come check out the scene," he says. "You can watch for my beagle."
In person, Duchovny's This is who I am is as much a whisper as it is onscreen, and therefore much of your time with him is spent searching for clues. He is into basketball and yoga, and he reads voraciously. He has had parts in many movies, including Kalifornia and Beethoven, as well as a breakthrough role as a cross-dressing detective on Twin Peaks. He will play a drug-addicted doctor in the upcoming film Playing God and has kept his ongoing role as the narrator of Showtime's steamy Red Shoe Diaries. ("I'm the only one with my clothes on," he says. "I'm like the loser at the hot-tub party who brings a bathing suit"). And not least, he has been linked to more than a few actresses, including Winona Ryder and Naked Truth star Téa Leoni. But despite these tangible guides, it is clear that the 36-year-old Duchovny lives less in Vancouver than he does inside his head--a more private location, without the horrendous weather; and it is his quiet confidence and thoughtfulness that both attract others and keep him at a safe distance. On the set, he is friendly, accessible and funny, while always maintaining a separateness born more from internal detachment than from the external barrier of his being one of the show's stars.
"He's really sensitive in terms of knowing what's going on around him," says Jason Beghe, Duchovny's best friend since the ninth grade and co-star of the upcoming G.I. Jane with Demi Moore. "That's what makes him smart, not that he can tell you about Jude the Obscure. He's a beautiful man, and what makes him extra-beautiful is that he doesn't have to walk in and show you that."
It's now late afternoon, and Duchovny, having just finished his onscreen duties, has retreated to his trailer to trade Mulder's designer suit for his own jeans and a sweater. He pulls the sweater over his head, then sits down for a one-on-one interview. It is midway through the fourth season, and he understands the challenge he faces is less how to maintain the show's cult fervor than how to sustain his own intensity. It is not easy to unleash the beagle continually, and no matter how many casual references he has made to Freudian theory over the course of the day (three, for those counting at home), even Duchovny knows that there are only so many ways to hold a flashlight.
You created this character early on. Now, since each show is driven by strange, outside story lines and you don't delve personally into your character, has it gotten boring?
DD: I like that it's not a melodrama. I haven't had two marriages and gone to AA. Yet if you were to torture yourself at the end of five years and watch 120 X-Files, you would sense that it was a complete human being.
Does the idea of taking a break and making a movie out of your full-time job seem appealing?
DD: No. it's not appealing, but it's......
DD: Well, it will always be lucrative. It will be lucrative five years from now. It's because I want to be done with the show at the end of five years, and I don't, at that point, want to do the movie. So, if I bite the bullet and do the movie this year and then we finish the show next year, I'm free.
What makes you feel trapped?
DD: I don't feel trapped. Even if I was the guy in Quantum Leap, where he got to be different characters each episode, I would still want to be out after five years. It's just grueling, and it's enough, already. I'm proud of the show, but at a certain point it becomes just about turning out product. The only thing that would make me consider coming back for a sixth year would be Chris' leaning on me and using our friendship as a lever. And I don't see him doing that.
You contributed ideas for an episode.......
Is writing something you'd be doing anyway?
DD: I think it is, but I had an in with the show. I knew the producer.
Isn't it often the death of a show when the stars start saying, "Wait, I have an idea"?
DD: Smashing Pumpkins came to visit the set, and Billy Corgan was wondering the same thing. He said, "Is it like when Elvis got writing credits just to appease his ego, or did you really come up with any ideas?" But I actually did the work and storyboarded the shows with Chris. Ultimately, I would like to write.
As obsessive as your fan base is, that obsession seems like the kind of thing that would annoy you. Does it?
DD: It depends. It's not annoying that people love the show. It's not annoying even that people are into every little detail. The only thing that's annoying is when what personal life you do have becomes consumed with dealing with those things.
DD: People that confuse you with the character. When I first came to notoriety with the show, I struggled against it. I wanted to say, "I'm smarter than Mulder, I'm more interesting." But that's infantile, and you get over that after about the first year and a half, and you realize, that's what people want. They want Mulder.
You recently filmed Playing God. Was it a business decision to show you can do other things?
DD: It was more of a spiritual decision. You're Mulder to so many people that you want to say, "I'm a Chippendale's dancer for God's sake, Let me be." The movie was my way of saying, "I'm not Mulder; hear me roar."
How much of a personal life are you allowed?
DD: Not much. Just do the math. There's a lot of hours. I'm in a city that I came to for the job. So, it's not like I have a base of friends. But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.
What have you learned?
DD: I've never run a marathon, but I imagine, the first time, you feel like you're going to die. Now, it's tiring; but it's not scary anymore. Before, I feared for my life, in a way. It sounds a little melodramatic, but I'd get up in the morning and not know if I could make it.
The way your life is now sounds lonely.
DD: It is lonely, but I'm not going to sit here and ask for sympathy. It's lonely, but in a Spartan way it's fulfilling. I like having the responsibility and having so much work to do.
Are you able to trust in friendships and romantic relationships, now that you're well known?
DD: I never had trust. (Laughs) I'm not interested in that many people, so it's not like I have much weeding out to do.
Did living in New York give you a tough shell?
DD: My nickname in high school was Hayseed. I was from a different neighborhood, and they thought I was innocent like a farm boy. I hated it. I knew what was going on; it just didn't seem like it. What New York does is make you very aware of what's around you but at the same time unaffected by it. It's a real neutrality.
Does your focus come out of that?
DD: If you act as much as I do, which is every day, as opposed to four months out of the year, you can't stay in character all the time. It makes you learn how to focus 100 percent right away.
It all sounds very controlled.
DD: It depends whether you think control is a nice word or a dirty word. A lot of people say, "Oh, control freak." For me, I get enough nerves and wild release just thinking about what I do and how many people are going to see it. What I do in my own head can be fun. I don't need to sky-dive.
You talk like someone who has been in therapy.
DD: I've spent some time in therapy. I've spent some time trying to figure out who I am with the help of other people. It's so weird how things change. Self-knowledge used to be what the journey and odyssey was about. You went through all this shit so that you wouldn't foist yourself on others and hurt them.
Is it hard now that people can't relate to your reality anymore?
DD: My own family has trouble with it. So, it must be true. I've asked my mother, "Is it weird that I'm famous?" it feels like I'm lying. And she said, "Yeah, it's weird. It's weird that people talk about you and people print stuff about you. You're mine."
Is there a responsibility that comes with celebrity?
DD: I don't know. I think you have a responsibility to develop some kind of integrity of your own and be true to yourself in some way. The most important thing you have to sacrifice when you become a celebrity is that you really can't be that whimsical anymore.
Doesn't that make you incredibly self-conscious?
DD: (Long pause) Well, I guess you have to consider how long it took me to answer that question. (Laughs)
What's been printed about you that's been hurtful?
DD: Specifically, nothing, really. What it is, it's just a lot of noise. And noise can get in the way of personal relationships. It makes it harder to focus on the issue when you have all this noise around you.
What are some of the stranger requests that have been sent to you?
DD: People send me wedding invitations. I just think, how odd. Why don't I show up and get drunk and try to f--- the bride. "You know, we did invite David Duchovny, but he got drunk, and made a pass at the bride and then got into a fight with the groom."
Gillian Anderson's trailer is much larger than David Duchovny's, but then, she comes with more baggage. There is the type that makes her happy--the type that comes with sharing a space with her daughter, Piper, and the 2-year-old's nanny. And then there is the variety that makes here want to bolt the door and never emerge--like the tabloid stories of her marital separation from freelance art director Clyde Klotz and the sexual-assault charges (made by other women) facing a man she had supposedly been dating. So, if Anderson's on-set accommodations are more plush than her co-star's, she certainly deserves the cocoon in which to escape.
It's 4 o'clock, and we've just now reached the midday break. In a short while, Anderson, 28, will be lying prone on a makeshift operating table; but at the moment, she is warming lunch in the microwave and popping a cassette into the VCR while Piper naps in the trailer's second room. The video is for a one-off dance single she has cut with an ambient-music group called Hal, and the video, well..."It's all me," says Anderson. "All me in every respect, and it's a bit too erotic for what I need to be doing right now." She laughs. "It's going to change."
The single (a spoken-word, not singing, debut) came about as a lark after Anderson narrated a nine-part BBC series called Future Fantastic and loved the show's background music. During this X-Files season, Anderson, who is simultaneously cleaning up her daughter's mess in the kitchen and writhing on the television screen, also has plans to film two small movie parts, as an alcoholic in The Mighty, with Sharon Stone, and as a Southside Chicago woman in Hellcab, with John Cusack. Clearly there are enough sides to Gillian Anderson to ensure she will never be called a square.
"She has a deep intensity about her; it's a real dramatic focus," says Shawna Franks, a close friend of Anderson's since the two were drawn to each other as punk rockers at DePaul University's Goodman Theater School. "But that's just one side to her. She's funny and spontaneous and warm, and there's a spiritual side to her. She can be incredibly goofy."
Anderson's shaping began in Chicago before her family moved to London and then to Grand Rapids, Mich. "I think it all made me stronger," says Anderson of the relocating. "I never really had close friends. It forced me to rely on myself and become a stronger person." Along the way, she discovered the pains of adolescence and plenty of bad habits, before eventually turning the emotion outward by working in theater in both Chicago and New York. Then came a few minor parts (in the TV series Class of '96 and the film The Turning) before she got her break with The X-Files.
On the set, Anderson bides her time by mothering her daughter and the rest of the crew. At one point, when director Rob Bowman is unhappy with a take and throws down his headphones, Anderson walks behind the lens and says, "Rob? Sweetie? Are you OK?" It is as if Anderson's own fragility disappears when she takes on the responsibility of others. Where Duchovny exudes a detached confidence, Anderson is all warmth and uncertainty. When there is no one in front of her, her gaze can suddenly drift away as if she is hypnotized; yet when others are near, she is extremely attentive. She smiles and laughs easily; and when you talk to her, she speaks slowly, as if she wants to make absolutely certain you understand.
Do you feel like you're the same person you were when the show started?
GA: Not even close.
Is that a good thing?
GA: It's a very good thing. Everything was very heavy for me for most of my life, continuing into the beginning of this show. I carried a lot of things in my head and in my heart. Over the past two years, greatly due to Piper, my perspective has changed. Suddenly there was a very palpable, important reason for me to get better and to grow up.
You seem more melancholy than I would have guessed. Is that accurate, or is that just a mood?
GA: That's accurate. But on the set I tend to be up and goofy and having a good time, just trying not to spend too much time in my head.
Do you know where that comes from?
GA: For whatever reason, I came into this world restless and with a certain degree of disease. Wow, I'm trying to find out how to get around something and make sense at the same time. A lot of things have happened in my life. Some is stuff that has happened, some is stuff I've created, and some is stuff that could have been prevented. When things take place that you feel you have survived in some way, there is always the fear of some kind of cloud or doom.
How much have the marriage troubles and tabloid stories forced you to change the way you deal with things in your life?
GA: I have adopted a new policy to not comment whatsoever on my personal life. I just need to do that because stuff has been so misconstrued. I say purple and they print pink, and there's nothing I can do about it.
Are you more guarded in friendships now?
GA: Oh, God, I have learned so many lessons. Three times in the past couple years, I have been in a completely open, trusting situation with a friend and just been in shock that they were a different person than I knew. It's scary because you don't want to be so guarded in your personal relationships, but I have not and will not talk to anyone about anything. There are only two or three people in my life that I know that I can trust.
You were a rebel. Did you really go to depths, or was it pretty standard rebellion?
GA: The punk-rock thing was an exterior representation of what was going on inside. I never took it to the extreme that I was a huge vandal or beat up on people. But the inside of that went as deep as it could go.
At the beginning of 'The X-Files,' how competitive were you in terms of wanting attention equal to the amount David was getting?
GA: It really didn't start our equal. I was coming in off of very little experience. He'd had a great deal of experience in film. So, it was just a given at the beginning. As the show started becoming more and more popular, it wasn't so much that there was competition; it was, "Hang on a second; is it not the two of us?"
The obvious example is the salary discrepancy.
GA: So much attention has been brought to this lately, and it was something we were trying to bring up among my representatives and Fox very privately. It started out, rightly so, that I was making less than half than him because he was coming off a lot more credits. That was acceptable at that point, but it has become unacceptable because of the nature of my involvement in the show and the popularity of the character.
Initially, was 'The X-Files' to your taste?
GA: No. I was snobby. I swore that I'd never do TV. And this has been incredibly rewarding. I couldn't have asked for a better extended period of time in which to learn the craft.
Were you a sci-fi fan?
Because if this show wasn't done so well, it would be the dumbest show on television
GA: Definitely. I have never watched an episode of Star Trek in my life; I had no interest whatsoever in sci-fi. I was fascinated by certain spiritual aspects of the paranormal--people being able to increase their body energy to the point that they can start fires or heal people. That was fascinating, but it wasn't something I was addicted to.
You play Scully, but do you like her? Yesterday you said she doesn't have a personality.
GA: There are many layers to Scully we haven't seen, but I like her mildness. And there's been room now and again for humor and sarcasm.
Does she still have a brain tumor?
Does this bode well for her survival?
GA: I have no idea.
Aren't you afraid that the contract stuff will not get resolved and suddenly they'll say, "Oh, by the way, Scully's dead"?
GA: Honestly, then it would be time to move on. There's nothing for me to worry about.
Of course there's something for you to worry about. You might be off a show that is extremely popular.
GA: Of course it would be sad. The closer we come to the end of the show, the sadder it gets. But if it's something they decide they want to do, that's the way the cards will be played. I've got other work to do.
People might know they'll fly when they leave the nest, but that doesn't mean they want to be pushed.
GA: At the beginning of the fourth season, I wanted out more than anything. I didn't talk about it with many people, but I was so ready to walk. I have mended that feeling of restlessness. I tend to have an open-minded approach to my life. I believe that we are where we're meant to be at any given time. If I'm not meant to be a part of this show anymore, then there's more to be revealed.
When David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson finally sit down together for an interview, it is politely, like family members who come together a few times a year purely out of obligation but who nonetheless recognize each other's importance in their lives.
It is midafternoon the following day, and the show is on location at a drive-up-style motor lodge that will play home to some suitably strange X-Files behavior, stranger even than Duchovny and Anderson's being queried together. We duck into a rented room and, because the only furniture in sight is something that will later double as an operating table, slide onto the worn shag carpeting in the room's corner.
Duchovny has talked Anderson into the two-for-one interrogation, but now that the time has come, he is slightly more impatient, answering tersely and waiting for the next scene to be completed, because then he will be done for the day. "I'm sorry," he says before we start, "but the second we finish filming, I'm not staying a minute longer." For her part, Anderson seems content to speak at length, if only to ensure that the story is told correctly.
They are not similar people, Anderson and Duchovny, but they are forced together in a coupling that the public views as idyllic, and because of this there is an oddly conspiratorial feel to their interaction. "It's a difficult relationship because it's like an arranged marriage," Duchovny says. "We didn't choose to be together." When the first question is asked--"How has your personal dynamic changed over the course of four seasons?"--they look at each other as if to make sure they're on the same page, and Duchovny begins speaking.
"It changes all the time, right?" [Anderson nods in agreement.]
Duchovny: It's not that it used to be one thing and it's another thing now. It's cyclic.
Are you in an up cycle at the moment?
Anderson: Today, yes.
Duchovny: Or else we wouldn't be here.
Is it really that day-to-day?
Duchovny: It's like any relationship, only intensified, because we can't take a break. I can't say, "I'm going for a walk." [Anderson laughs.]
There's a feeling that fans want you to be great friends off the set.
Duchovny: Or to be fighting.
What's the reality?
Duchovny: We've never socialized. Since the pilot, we've not gone out even once.
Why is that?
Anderson: Soon after we started, I got married and had a baby. On top of that, after working so closely during the week, the days off are time to spend with other people.
Do you every communicate with each other through the press?
Anderson: Well, most of the time when we have discussions about the press, it has to do with mending things and saying, "It's not how I feel."
Duchovny: Like, "When I said you were an a--h---, I meant to say a motherf---er."
Why don't each of you say what strengths the other brings to the show.
Anderson: This is like a therapy session.
Duchovny: I think there should be a therapist that works only with television ensembles. Like Dr. Katz, TV therapist, sitting down with the cast of Friends. [Anderson laughs.]
Duchovny: OK, I'll start. At this point you can't imagine anybody else playing that part. There's not just one thing she does. She's made it her own part. So, there's nobody else to do it. She brings whatever her talents as an actress are.
What about David?
Anderson: One thing I don't think people realize is a lot of the humor in the character of Mulder is not only heightened by David but a lot of times he will add his own lines. A lot of Mulder's dry sense of humor comes out of David than anything the writers can conjure up.
Duchovny: So, what we've come away with is, I'm just f---ing lik my character, and Gillian is a wonderful actress.
Anderson: [Laughs] That's not what I meant.
Do you turn to each other for career advice?
Anderson: There have been defining moments over the past four years where we have, not necessarily for career advice, but when we have both been there for each other for support.
Examples? We love examples
Anderson: Well, I won't give any.
Duchovny: When my goldfish died.
Anderson: But most of the time, we have our own separate support systems and deal with things in our own way.
Duchovny: I guess the only thing we'd talk about now is when we want to do The X-Files movie. I think we both want to do it as soon as possible so we can get it over with. [Anderson looks genuinely startled]
Duchovny: Oh. [Pause] I don't know if you do.
Anderson: Have we talked about it?
Duchovny: We did a little bit early in the year.
So who will make the final decision about the movie?
Duchovny: We're all gambling on Chris right now because he has to come up with the script. Both of use are holding out on other things out of loyalty to him. But it's going to be ugly if we don't do the movie and end up not having anything to do during the hiatus because we waited. It won't be a happy set.
Duchovny stands. There has been a call from the director, and the two stars glance at each other as if they are pleased to have survived something together. They walk out, one after the other; and a few minutes later, as the scene starts and the camera rolls, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny immediately morph into Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, the partners considered to be one of television's most romantic duos. It is a feat of incredible closeness, considering how naturally it happens once the camera rolls.
As Kim Manners explains it: "They're totally different human beings, but they can just look at each other and know exactly where they're going in a scene." He stops for a moment before continuing: "It's weird. David and Gillian are best of acquaintances; Scully and Mulder are best of friends."