10 years after the first film earned $189.2 million worldwide, the team behind The X-Files returns to theatres.
On The X-Files, whenever FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder wanted to talk to his secret informant, he had to use a couple strips of tape to make the mysterious man’s namesake letter, X, in the window of his apartment and hope for a prompt response. It is not that hard to get a hold of X-Files creator Chris Carter—a couple calls to the appropriate publicists will do the trick.
But it is hard—downright impossible, in fact—to get the writer/director/producer to reveal the super-secret plot of this summer’s The X Files: I Want to Believe, which will reunite the embattled-but-not-embittered believer Mulder (David Duchovny) with his still-slightly skeptical partner Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) six years after the Emmy Award-, Golden Globe- and Peabody Award-winning series ended its nine-year run on Fox and 10 years after the franchise’s first film earned $189.2 million worldwide.
Under intense interrogation, however, Carter was willing to talk—about this second installment’s tone-establishing title, about the enduring appeal of Mulder and Scully’s “cerebral” relationship and about—when it comes to paranormal phenomena—if he himself is more of a Mulder or more of a Scully.
I know the title of this second X-Files film is I Want to Believe, but when it comes to the steps you took to prevent plot leaks, it sounds as if another one of your iconic catchphrases, “Trust No One,” was closer to the truth. Can you tell us a little bit about those security measures you put in place to prevent people like me from knowing what’s going on in the movie?
[Laughs.] Yes, I’ll tell you. Well, we actually took security measures on the television series, and we took, I would say, more drastic security measures on the first X-Files film. We printed those scripts on red paper, thinking that people couldn’t Xerox them. But during the first week of filming, the entire plot was revealed in the National Enquirer. So we realized we had to be even more I’d call it “paranoid” this time around. And so we worked out with 20th Century Fox a system where only certain people saw the script for The X-Files: I Want to Believe. And those scripts had the names of those people on them, and the scripts were locked up. Because, often times in Fox’s experience, it’s not the people you give the scripts to who talk about it. It’s that they put them on their coffee tables, and then other people pick them up and read them, and then they talk about it.
So even David and Gillian didn’t have scripts for the longest time. We let them read the scripts, but then we took them away from them. And we only showed scripts to key crew members. They had to read those scripts in a room where the script was, first of all, under lock and key and, second of all, they were being video taped as they read the scripts so they couldn’t call anybody or they couldn’t take pictures of the script pages, for example. That was all overkill. Most of these people we worked with, we’ve worked with before and we trust them. But we thought, ‘Why not make sure that we’re covering our steps through every part of the process?’ And, in doing so, we still probably have kept the plot a secret, but as you make a movie, more and more people have to watch it in order to finish it. We’ve asked people to keep the secret, and so far everyone seems to have done so.
That’s a really impressive accomplishment, especially in today’s spoiler-centric culture. Makes for a great story, too.
Yeah, it does. But the truth is, I don’t know if we’ll ultimately be successful. But I would certainly like to make it feel like, on opening day, even if people think they know what it’s about, they’re not sure what it’s about.
Even though the plot of the picture remains a secret, I understand that this is a standalone story as opposed to a “mythology” story?
It is, but the more I think about that and the more I talk about that, the more I realize that’s not exactly true. It’s not about the shadow-government conspiracy, it is not a story about aliens, so it does not fit into the “mythology arc.” But it certainly deals with Mulder and Scully’s relationship, and in that way, it is actually a part of the mythology since the mythology episodes also served to explore that relationship.
Was that decision—to not concentrate on the shadow government and the alien invasion—due, in part, to a belief that you had to reintroduce The X-Files, and these characters, to audiences after a six-year break?
In part. But also, because we didn’t have a television series running, we had the luxury and the ability to just do a really good scary movie—or as scary as we could make it with a PG-13 rating—and that was what we were looking forward to doing. We had done the first movie, which was a mythology movie. This one need not be a mythology movie because there was nothing that said it had to be. It also, as you say, allowed us to create something that would play to a broader audience and I think X-Files fans will appreciate that, if we are successful with this movie, there will be another one.
But if there was a third X Files feature film, might that one return to the “mythology arc” created during the series?
We’ve discussed a number of different approaches going forward. But I always get nervous, because I think it’s premature. I don’t want to count my chickens. I want to do a great movie first, then think about what we’re going to do next.
Since we can’t talk about the plot, I wanted to ask about the title of this second film, I Want to Believe. Of course, it was the slogan on the poster in Mulder and Scully’s office, but does this choice also reflect something of the tone that you’re trying for here?
Yes. But I think, more so, it is emblematic of the series itself and the characters’ struggle, which has been between Scully’s faith in her science and Mulder’s faith in his … in the end, in the unexplainable—that nothing can be explained, and his wrestling with his own nonreligious faith. And Scully’s wrestling with her religious faith. All of these things come into play.
Speaking of Mulder and Scully, can you talk about what makes the relationship between those characters so central to The X-Files, why it resonates so powerfully with the fans, and what David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson bring to those roles and to that relationship?
It was an on-screen chemistry that just worked from the very beginning. That’s miraculous, to me. They always just lit up the screen. And we gave them interesting things to say and interesting things to do, but I think what is sometimes not appreciated is how much more they brought to those characters than what was on the page. This so-called sexual tension, really, it was a cerebral relationship, and I think that’s what interests me most about them, the way they relate to one another, the way they protect one another and the respect they have for one another. Those are sadly missing in most relationships. … I imagined it, originally, as sort of my idealized relationship, and David and Gillian brought it to life in a way that nothing that is on the page ever does.
Going back to the tone, one reason that’s often offered to explain The X-Files’ popularity in the ’90s is that it very much resonated with widespread mistrust of the government at that time. Around the time the series ended, though, Americans—in the wake of 9/11—were of a much more “United We Stand” mentality. Do you feel as though we’ve come around to mistrusting the government just in time for this second feature film?
[Laughs.] I think we have. But I think that our mistrust is different now. I grew up in a post-Watergate world. We are now in a post-Twin Towers world, and that mistrust … has a different quality, I think.
Did you feel as though you needed to recalibrate your sensibilities or material at all, then, or did you feel that what you had established before would translate to today?
There wasn’t any revamping that needed to be done. The FBI never really played the bad guys in The X-Files, they played a tool of the bad guys. And because we’re not telling a mythology story, we really didn’t have to go too deeply into that.
When it comes to supernatural and extraterrestrial phenomena, would you say that you’re more of a Mulder or more of a Scully?
[Chuckles.] Ah-ha. That’s a good question. I would have always said that, during the course of the series, that I was more of a Scully. But the truth is, I’m very much a Mulder—I want to believe, also.
But even though, at least at the start, you would have cast yourself more in that skeptical Scully role, this type of paranormal material has been central to your career. What is it about this material that intrigues you—and your audiences—so?
I think it excites our sense of wonder, our natural fear of the unknown. I think those are really the things that we’re playing with, as well as our spiritual nature.
Do you also feel that, within those stories, there is also space to—in the tradition of The Twilight Zone—tackle topical issues?
I think that we’re often times compared to The Twilight Zone, but it’s not really an apt comparison because they dealt with things allegorically. We both dealt with the unknown, but we dealt with it in different ways. And it’s funny that no one has attempted to do another Twilight Zone. I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe that series did it so well that there’s no reason to do it again, but it would be an interesting problem to solve.
One last question: Although you directed episodes of the series, you did not direct the first X-Files film. Why did you choose to take on that role this time?
When I’m writing something, I’m imagining it in pictures. And it is a sort of a natural path to direct your own material. It’s simply a function of, first of all, I love to direct, and second of all, I want to bring those ideas and images to life. Because I had directed episodes, and because I was so deep into the show, having to communicate those things to someone else just would have taken that much more effort.