"Science has to be humble in the face of the universe."
Australia, July 20, 2008 - Before it opens later this week, IGN Australia sat down with The X-Files: I Want to Believe's co-writer and producer, Frank Spotnitz, for a chat about the whys and wherefores of the long-awaited next film from the house of X. The long-time co-writer and collaborator with series creator Chris Carter gets into the casting of Billy Connolly, the potential for the sequel, how the film ties into the series and a few more choice nuggets of information that no self-respecting X-Files fan can afford to miss. Enjoy!
IGN AU: Season nine ended on a cliff-hanger. Does 'I Want to Believe' fit into the X-Files storyline sequentially?
Frank Spotnitz: It does. It picks up pretty much six years later, since we last saw Mulder and Scully – in real-time. It's not one of the 'alien mythology' stories – it's more like a standalone episode of the series; an individual case. But it is continuous and true to their personal histories and everything.
IGN AU: That's interesting, because David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are both a little older, a little more seasoned. Does the film take this into consideration? Does the plot fill in the gaps?
Frank Spotnitz: Yeah, it does – and we were very aware of that, actually. We first started working on the story in 2003; then the movie got held up – first by deal-making and then by some legal issues between Chris Carter and the studio. Then we returned to it four years later and we realised we had gotten older! [laughs] We had changed in that couple of years – and that made us really reflect upon how much Mulder and Scully would have changed as well.
IGN AU: Has the dynamic changed now? Is the film less action-oriented because of this?
Frank Spotnitz: I think the action and the scares are the same; fairly recognisably 'The X-Files'. But I would say the emotional story and the depth of the characters have changed a bit. As you get older, your perspective shifts.
IGN AU: Mulder and Scully have a kid now - William. The final seasons of the show involved this a little bit.
Frank Spotnitz: The last two years of the show, yeah, Scully had a child and they had to give it up because they believed the child was not safe; that aliens in disguise would come after him, so they had to give him up.
IGN AU: Does that get touched on at all?
Frank Spotnitz: That's something we address in the movie, but it's not what the movie is about; that would've brought us right back into the alien stuff.
IGN AU: Why was the decision made to steer away from the alien conspiracy plot line?
Frank Spotnitz: Well, I have to say ...because we could! [laughs] In the first movie, we really had to deal with that stuff. The TV series was in full swing, everybody wanted to see that stuff and it was upon us to create that big, summer-blockbuster storyline with the spaceship and so on. This time, we didn't feel we had to because the show was over. Most of the TV series was not alien stuff.
IGN AU: That's right – most of the series was bookended by the conspiracy episodes. Openers and closers.
Frank Spotnitz: Exactly. It was kind of a pleasure for us to do something that was simpler and would make sense and would appeal to people who might not know the show.
IGN AU: We've seen the two trailers now and we've seen glimpses of freaky faces and bleeding eyes. Is this a monster movie? A creature-feature?
Frank Spotnitz: I wouldn't – but as you know, we're being incredibly tight-lipped about what it actually is. But I wouldn't quite call it a creature feature and I wouldn't quite call it a horror movie either. It's a supernatural thriller. I always felt that The X-Files was sort of its own sub-genre, not quite like anything else.
IGN AU: What gives The X-Files movies, and the series itself, its own flavour? Particularly when you compare it to shows like Millennium and Dark Skies?
Frank Spotnitz: I think honestly it's the characters; Mulder and Scully. Not just how David and Gillian play them – though, you can't overstate the importance of that – but because of the believer/sceptic dynamic. They're such smart characters that the investigations can't help but be smart as well. That's what makes it feel different from anything else; it's both a scary experience but also an intellectual investigation.
IGN AU: Is that why the series has persisted so long?
Frank Spotnitz: I think that's one reason. I also think that it was also the genius of Chris' original concept – that anything could be scary and that it's about the limits of what we understand. The truth is out there. I think even the most die-hard sceptics among us sense there's something more to the world than we know. Science has to be humble in the face of the universe. And it really could go on for a while. There are still stories The X-Files has to tell.
IGN AU: That's an interesting point. Do you see this being a restart for the series?
Frank Spotnitz: I would love to keep doing these – and it all depends on how the movie does. We wrote this movie recognising that you can't take anything for granted; there might not be any more after this. We were intent on making it a really good movie and being satisfied that, if this were the last one, it would be a good story and that we left Mulder and Scully in a place that we felt good about.
IGN AU: So this movie has a clear conclusion then?
Frank Spotnitz: It does. We wanted to give people their money's worth and make it feel like a great movie, period.
IGN AU: Did either David Duchovny or Gillian Anderson have any input on the direction the story took?
Frank Spotnitz: They had some thoughts after they read the script, but we did it just like we did on the TV show. Chris and I just went off and worked really hard on the story and then Chris and I very nervously drove it out to them to read it. Fortunately they liked it!
IGN AU: Billy Connolly is a surprise casting choice. Did he know what he was getting into? Was he a fan?
Frank Spotnitz: I don't know that he was a fan – but we were fans of his for a long time. We always felt he was underappreciated as a dramatic actor and actually had him in mind and wrote the part for him. Chris met with him and presented him the script; it was quite a bold thing to do, because we were trying to keep the script under wraps and take no chances with it – he wouldn't even leave a copy of it with Gillian and David!
Billy was about to get on a plane to London and he just gave him the script; and I guess Billy stopped in New York and he send the script back – with and note – and it just read, 'when do we start?'
IGN AU: Wow.
Frank Spotnitz: Yeah! We certainly could've turned to some other great actors if he'd said no, but he was our first choice for sure. He was incredibly prepared in every scene and always good. He's one of those incredibly reliable actors. It was his work in 'Mrs. Brown' that got us – that was about ten years ago.
IGN AU: Visually, Fight the Future had an epic scale in some sequences that was quite different from the rest of the series – it was clearly a film, not an extended episode. Does 'I Want to Believe' go for those blockbuster moments?
Frank Spotnitz: It's more intimate for sure – and that's what we wanted to do. We didn't want a bit sci-fi epic; we wanted a more personal, creepy ...I'd even say disturbing... story. That was the scale and feel that we felt was appropriate. With The X-Files, it's always the psychological angle – what you're imagining – that's important. It's scarier than what you actually see – and I think this movie holds true to that.
IGN AU: What episodes – if any – did you revisit during the writing process?
Frank Spotnitz: Y'know, we didn't look at any old episodes – and one of the hardest parts about coming up with the story was trying to find something that was sufficiently different from the 202 hours we'd already done. That was not easy, believe me!
What was really different about it was the emphasis on the characters of Mulder and Scully and their personal lives – which we did very rarely on television.
IGN AU: Will non-X-Files fans be satisfied? Does that even matter these days?
Frank Spotnitz: I think it does. I think if this movie only works for X-Files fans, it's not going to be successful. I think that was one of the things that was most exciting to us about doing this – to introduce The X-Files to a whole new audience. I can't tell you – as disturbing as it may seem - how many people I meet in their twenties who tell me they were too young to watch the show! It started on TV in 1993. There were a lot of people who were 4,5,6 who could not watch the show back then. We would like nothing better than to claim those people as fans now as well.
IGN AU: Thanks for all your time and good luck with the film.
Frank Spotnitz: Thanks, Patrick.