Seven years after David Duchovny left the TV series and 10 since the first ''X-Files'' movie, odd couple Mulder and Scully resume their search for the truth
David Duchovny is sitting on the porch of a farmhouse about an hour north of Vancouver, squinting into the wintry afternoon sun. It's late in the process of shooting The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and he's pondering the choice Agent Mulder had to make in the series finale: perfect happiness or the truth? ''I don't think of Mulder as a happy guy,'' Duchovny says. ''He's like a quest hero. That's why I like him so much. He just doesn't give up.'' Costar Gillian Anderson passes by on her way to the set. ''It's all lies!'' she yells out with a grin.
Hey, it might be — after all, ''deceive, inveigle, obfuscate'' was one of the TV show's taglines during its nine-season run on Fox. But six years after the series ended (and a decade since the last film), the new movie promises to be a lot more straightforward than fans of the show might expect. Written by series creator Chris Carter and his right-hand man Frank Spotnitz — and stemming from an idea they'd been kicking around for years — it's a stand-alone story, set in the winter of 2008, that Carter describes as a ''suspense thriller'' akin to the monster-of-the-week episodes from the show's early days. Gone is the occasionally baffling mythology — Black oil! Ice picks! Bees! — that came to define the series. The new film is designed to satisfy the faithful while courting a new generation of fans raised on Saw and Hostel. ''Oh, it's a great relief to not have to reweave all the strands of the narrative,'' says Spotnitz. ''We just wanted to tell a really good story with characters that we love.''
Details about said story are tough to come by, but here's what we do know. Billy Connolly plays a priest of what Spotnitz calls ''dubious character,'' and Xzibit and Amanda Peet show up as two new FBI agents. Carter says we can also expect ''an appearance or appearances'' from X-Files alums (though, tragically, the Stupendous Yappi will not be involved). Other clues? They'll tackle the subject of Mulder and Scully's extraordinary son, William, who was given up for adoption. And Carter — a former skeptic who's got more ''faith that it's not all meaningless'' these days — cites influences like string theory and the work of religious scholar Huston Smith, saying a phrase from one of Smith's lectures actually ''became'' the movie. (Fans, start Googling.)
But whatever happens, Carter and Spotnitz both believe the real key to The X-Files lies in Mulder and Scully's relationship, which promises to be a big part of the new film. The series ended with the duo in love and on the lam, and Carter says the movie will be ''true to the stories that we've told, and to that final episode.'' But just like here in the real world, time has passed. ''Mulder and Scully have not been frozen in ice,'' Duchovny says. ''They've been leading some kind of life, together or apart, in some parallel dimension. They've had experiences that we'll never know about.'' Despite paparazzi photos of two actors who look suspiciously like Duchovny and Anderson locked in an embrace, Carter is quick to caution against focusing too much on make-out sessions. ''It's two people who are passionate about the same thing, from different perspectives,'' he says. ''It's a romance of intellect.''
When the first X-Files film hit theaters in 1998, the TV show was at its creative and commercial peak. Launched in 1993, the series quickly built an obsessive audience — one that heralded the fanboy culture now fueling geek-TV fare like Lost and Heroes — and the movie pulled in a solid $84 million at the box office. Then things started to slip. Duchovny walked away in 2001 (after the previous season's legal dispute with Fox), and without him, the plot descended into chaos. The final season, premiering two months after 9/11, averaged only 9.3 million viewers (down from 19.8 million in its heyday), numbers both Carter and Spotnitz attribute, in part, to the mood of the country at the time. A second film was planned for release possibly as early as 2003, yet despite constant rumors that a script was almost done, a shooting date never materialized. The actors, exhausted from the series, were happy for the break — ''I needed a long sleep,'' says Anderson — but nobody thought the time off would last as long as it did. Eventually, Duchovny and Anderson moved on to other projects: Duchovny directed 2005's House of D and in 2008 won a Golden Globe for Showtime's Californication; Anderson moved to London, starring in the BBC's acclaimed 2005 drama Bleak House and 2006's The Last King of Scotland. ''I think I got my distance within a year or two of the series ending,'' Anderson says. ''I don't think any of us really needed six years.''
In 2005, Carter filed a lawsuit against Fox Television over syndication profits; he now says that suit was ''the'' thing that prevented the movie from happening two, or even four, years ago. Once the case was settled (the terms are not public), he and Spotnitz finally began writing, and a rough script was completed by August 2007. With both actors available and the pending writers' strike breathing down everyone's neck, the studio was more than happy to give the green light. ''It's always been a project we were interested in,'' says 20th Century Fox vice chairman Hutch Parker. ''The audience hasn't had a chance to connect with these characters in a while.'' Neither have the actors: Anderson says it was ''really f---ing weird'' to slip back into Scully's high but practical heels. ''I'd do things, and Chris would go, 'I don't think...' and I'd go, 'That wasn't her, was it?''' Carter says this ''jet lag'' didn't last. ''They're both so smart about those characters,'' he says, ''and they always have been.''
But if the actors had trouble remembering Mulder and Scully, how much will audiences care about The X-Files in 2008? Will the fanboys (and girls) who felt betrayed by the show's deterioration stay home? ''I understand why a lot of people checked out,'' says Spotnitz of the post-Duchovny season. ''It wasn't Mulder's quest anymore.'' But he thinks six years gave people a chance to miss the show, and if this year's comic-book convention WonderCon is any indication, he's right: An X-Files panel was greeted by 5,000 fans making ''that screechy sound,'' as Duchovny puts it. ''It's always surprising to me to see that there are people out there who still are engaged in this show on almost a daily basis,'' admits Carter.
Duchovny, for one, would prefer not to speculate about the film's commercial prospects. ''If you try to anticipate an audience, then I think you get into trouble,'' he says. ''We'll make it, you enjoy it. And if you don't enjoy it, then we didn't hold up our end of the bargain. I hope that we deliver. I think it's possible that we could deliver. I don't think it's just bulls---, just trying to cash in on something that's half dead. I always felt like The X-Files as a movie franchise had real life in it.''