Chris Carter on Nature

Adam: Yes, that iconic music signals that the X-Files have been reopened. A brand new movie version of the supernatural investigations of FBI Agents Mulder and Scully is now in cinemas. As ever, Scully, the scientist, is the definitive cynic, but Mulder errs on the side of the unworldly. In an exclusive interview, I spoke to Chris Carter, creator of the TV series and director of the new film, X-Files: I Want To Believe.
Adam: I started by asking him how long we've been missing Mulder and Scully.
CC: Yes, you've been missing them for six years if you were a fan of the TV show, ten years if you saw the last movie. I can tell you that it is a suspense thriller, it is a stand-alone episode, it is not a mythology episode that the show has become known for, aliens, government conspiracies, etc., this is a story that stands on its own. It is in keeping what we think was the scariest part of the X-Files, which it takes place with the realm of extreme possibility.

Adam: All right, now, let's talk a little bit about the science. I've always thought that science really is one of the key aspects to the X-Files, Scully is rational to the core. Now bearing in mind the aliens, the cryptozoology, and the monsters, how important to you as its creator is it to get the science right.
CC: For me, it was all about the science and I actually even resisted the science-fiction label because I thought it took place in what I would call the world of speculative science. I think that Stephen Spielberg said that about Close Encounters, which I always liked that, the idea that it's just over the horizon, it is on the frontiers of science, and actually it's funny that when we were writing about cloning back in the first season of X-Files, which is 16 years ago, that was science fiction to some extent, then a sheep named Dolly came along.

Adam: Yeah, that was published in Nature in 97 so you got the front line on that. So, how much do you allow scientific verisimilitude to get in the way of plot?
CC: It's important to us. We were actually always very rigorous on our science because it really represented Scully's point of view. It was the centre of the show. Scully actually was, she represented us, and Mulder represented I would call it the radical portion of the show, he was always pushing the limits of knowledge, belief, understanding. And Mulder always won, that is something that I guess would be a blow to science and scientists, but it made the show more interesting. But in keeping with that, when we did our rigorous science it was very interesting always to see that if you talk to two scientists you realize that whatever people consider to be conventional science is subjective.

Adam: I understand that, yeah. I can remember an episode in which Scully performs a Southern Blot, which is a type of DNA analysis. I used to do this all the time. She was looking for a fifth nucleotide from alien DNA. She was much, much better at it than I was and did it in one day. Do you ever get complaints, do you ever get scientists saying, you know, this is too far from the reality?
CC: No, you know, I think that scientists like the show by and large, and I remember that particular episode you're talking about, and I had very specific instruction on that episode from a virologist, Dr Anne Simon, who became, I would call it, our sort of official/unofficial scientific advisor. We dealt a lot with DNA, with genetics, with viruses, and the whole idea of nucleotides really sort of came as a result of my conversations with her.

Adam: I remember her saying at the time that working on the X-Files was more interesting than working as a virologist. Now, you mention the viruses, that's a key aspect of the main overall story arc throughout the X-Files, but my favorite episode has an explicit reference to hox genes, which I was working on at the time, I was doing my PhD. I think that was one that you directed, The Post-Modern Prometheus, was that a particular cause célèbre for you.
CC: That also came through Anne Simon. She had a fellow scientist and a friend who was working on the drosophila fly, as a lot of scientists do, I've come to find out. And I travelled to see him, I still don't know how I found the time to do that. I spent a fascinating day going through with him his experiments and seeing how he was somehow promoting the growth of arms and of eyeballs and, I guess it wouldn't be eyeballs with flies, that is where that science fiction came from, if you will.

Adam: All right, here's a question for you. Scully's rationality is normally overruled by Mulder, as you said, because the monsters tend to exist. Do you think the X-Files has contributed to a sort of an anti-science movement and the rise and the rise of conspiracy theories where, you know, where parsimony is not the benchmark that science needs it to be?
CC: I would argue that. So many scientists that I've met came to science, to become scientists, through the love of science fiction. And we're not promoting anything. I once had to fly to New York to Buffalo, to face down I'll call it, the folks at the Committee for the Scientific Investigation into Claims of the Paranormal who basically took me to task for the same thing, and I explained to them very simply that I'm a writer, that science oftentimes has a way of explaining the worst of our fears and/or shining a light on them, and that fiction and literature and writing oftentimes is the thing that leavens science and gives us hope and deals with human emotions. And that the X-Files is entertainment as much as it is about science. It does not promote anything antithetical to science, I believe.

Adam: You know, I think that's right. I mean, the beating heart of the X-Files is the conflict between Scully's skepticism as a scientist and Mulder's desire to believe. But Mulder continually pushes her to extend her rational boundaries, and I think that's the chemistry that makes the show work, not the sexual chemistry.
CC: I've been talking about this a lot because I've been on the road a lot, speaking about the show and the characters. And people talk about the chemistry, I guess it's the scientific term. I've come to the conclusion that it's more Newtonian than that, that it really is two opposing forces here we've got with Scully and Mulder. Two people who have very strong points of view and personalities, and while it is always respectful they are basically two immovable objects.

Scully: Mulder.
Mulder: What does animal tranquilizer doing in the tissue sample of a man's severed arm?
Scully: I can't even begin to speculate.
Mulder: He said he heard barking dogs.
Scully: Who?
Mulder: Father Joe.
Scully: Mulder, what are you doing?
Mulder: Is it a tranquillizer that you might give a dog?
Scully: He's a phony, Mulder. He pulls these so-called visions out of thin air, and now he's got you straining to connect them.
Mulder: When I see a man cry tears of blood at a crime scene he recognizes without ever having visited it, I need to go out on a limb. You know what I'm saying?
Scully: Tears of blood?

Adam: But the irony is that Mulder's actually the cynic and Scully is a devout Catholic.
CC: Yes. The characters have built-in conflicts which makes them interesting from the beginning, I hope, which is Scully's Catholicism and her being a scientist, she's got a dilemma, personal dilemma. Mulder is a non-religious person but he is a believer in, for lack of a better term, the spirit world, and so they come to the party conflicted.

Adam: Now, how far do you think that stories in the X-Files, particularly the story arc ones, the government conspiracy, how close do you think the stories that you are writing, which are fiction as you've said, how close they are to the reality, the sort of repression of information.
CC: I have no reason to believe that I was anywhere close to the truth, although I did have someone from the government come to me and say ' you don't know how close you are', that person could have been pulling my leg, I don't know. But there are obviously certainly where you folks are there, investigations into unidentified flying objects, I think there were just files released. I actually was given, by someone who worked at the Rand Corporation here, the official Blue Book documents that were from decades ago, and I have no reason to doubt they exist, I don't know that there is anything else that is buried. But it certainly for me was an interesting way to explore what I would call power, the abuse of power, and being I would call myself a product of the Watergate area, it was for me a perfect metaphor for the Big Brother.

Adam: Yeah. I see the parallels between the fictional suppression of information, scientific information, in the X-Files, and the current climate change debate, particularly with climate change deniers.
CC: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting these days. I've made a joke that I'm going to change the mantra of the show from 'The Truth Is Out There' to 'The Wikipedia Truth Is Out There'. That there is, I mean, there seems to be no standard-bearer any more, it is all bias and opinion, and we live in a world where there is no gauge or true measure any more of, I guess, the truth.

Adam: Yeah, and there's one thing responsible for that - the internet.
CC: Well, the internet is a beautiful thing and I think that like any beautiful thing it actually has its flip side, or its dark side as well.

Adam: Now, I've got a few quick fire questions, just to see what I can get from you for our fans. So, answer as quick as you can. What's your favorite episode?
CC: Oh, I don't have a favorite, but I have one that I feel, you've already spoken about it, the black-and-white episode, The Post-Modern Prometheus. I think that for me it's the final images of Mulder and Scully dancing together which were sort of, I think, sweet and wonderful to render.

Adam: OK. Favorite monster of the week?
CC: Home is one of my favorite episodes and it's I think beloved for the mother we saw pulled from under the bed, and it involves mutant brothers who keep their mother, their freakish mother, under the bed.

Adam: OK. Is there going to be a third movie?
CC: It would depend on the success of the second movie, and I'm knocking wood right now that the second movie finds an audience.

Adam: Is there a continuation of the overall X-Files arc?
CC: Is there is a continuation - I certainly think that we would consider the continuation, we've already talked about it. In the literature, and I put that in quotes, about the subject of extra-terrestrials, UFOs and such, there is a looming date out there, and it exists on the Mayan calendar and it is the date 2012, so I'm certain we would look at that in some way.

Adam: What can we expect in 2012?
CC: You can expect us, if we look at 2012, to hopefully give you our X-Files take on what we believe would be the significance.

Adam: So, on that line, you know, the world has slightly changed since the X-Files, since the series finished, what with the attacks in New York in 2001, and the massive, massive conspiracy theories that go with that, is that something that Mulder and Scully might look into?
CC: Those are all very interesting phenomena, if you will, the conspiracy theories that have popped up, and how many people, I never actually believe them, I am neutral on the subject, I tend not to believe in conspiracies, I think that given human nature it's too hard to keep a secret just in your own household. But it's interesting as, I call it, a social trend.

Adam: Quick question: will Mulder and Scully ever get it on?
CC: (laughs) Do they hook up, that's been the question of the hour, or for me about the last six weeks. Let me say to you that if you go to see this new movie, and I don't know when this will air, but if you go to see the new movie you will see Mulder and Scully certainly looking at their relationship and involvement in a way that I think anyone would after sixteen years together.

Mulder: I need you on this with me.
Scully: No, no, Mulder.
Mulder: You asked for me to get involved, Scully. Now I'm asking for you stay involved.
Scully: Mulder. You helped them already, you broke the case for them. Why don't you just let the FBI pursue it?
Mulder: We're so close now.
Scully: And I'm asking you to let it go.
Mulder: It's not that simple.
Scully: No, it's complicated.
Mulder: What's that supposed to mean?
Scully: Something that I knew would happen, that I've been afraid of, that I haven't had to face until now.
Mulder: What? Just say it.
Scully: I'm a doctor, Mulder. That's not my life anymore.

Adam: When is this set in terms of their relationship?
CC: It is set now. It's set essentially 16 years after Mulder and Scully first met, it's set six years after the end of the television show, ten years of the last movie. It's set in the here and now, or I should say it's set in last winter is when it was set.

Adam: And what's it like working with Billy Connolly.
CC: Fantastic, working with Billy Connolly. he is one of the true gentlemen in my business. He is funny, he is kind, and he has got a filthy mouth.

Adam: (laughs) We certainly know that, if you've ever watched any of his comedy. He plays quite a difficult character, not one that you often see in Hollywood movies in that he's a psychic pedophile priest - is that about right?
CC: Yes, I think that psychic pedophile priest - that's three p's, that's exactly right.

Adam: Are you expecting any sort of backlash against that, that is quite a strong character.
CC: It is, but I think it makes for an interesting character, and I have to say Billy Connolly somehow makes that character - he gives him humanity and I think that's important to not just the story but it's important to the verisimilitude, as you said, of the piece.

Father Joe: So you believe in these kinds of things?
Mulder: Let's just say I want to believe.

Adam: It's been a great pleasure to meet you and interview you, and good luck with the new film. And I do hope that there is another one coming in 2012, or even earlier. And I hope that Mulder and Scully do get in on.
CC: (laughs) Not quite. Thank you.

Adam: All right, thank you very much, Chris Carter.

From Ann Simon's book, regarding the Southern Blot:
After explaining the procedure in exhaustive detail to Chris, he asked me how long the experiment would take. I replied that if Scully was very efficient, maybe two days. Chris then told me that Scully had to complete the experiment in six hours. No way, I replied - not exactly the words that Chris wanted to hear. Still, he was adamant. She had six hours. So I conceded scientific accuracy to artistic licence. However, I engaged in a last-ditch effort to save face among the 0.1 percent of the population who would know that this experiment could never be done in this amount of time. I suggested to Chris that Dr Vitagliano tell Scully that he was sceptical that she could complete the experiment in the time allotted; at least not unless she could make the virus DNA, known as the 'probe', extremely radioactive. In the episode, Dr Vitagliano tells Scully that she will need a 'blazing hot probe' - science slang for a very radioactive probe. After the episode aired, Chris's wife Dori told me that they were worried the line would not make it past the TV censors, something that I hadn't even remotely considered.

 
 

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