Leaving past controversies behind them, 'X Files' stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson unveil some new weird science
It's not often that a motion picture from a TV series gets a sequel — but that's what's happened with the cult series "The X Files," which made international stars of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson and morphed millions of sci-fi fans into a new identity as X Philes.
"The X Files" aired in the U.S. from Sept. 1993 until May 2002 and was syndicated across the world, picking up several Emmys and Golden Globes along the way. It centered on the investigations of FBI agents Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson), who tackled marginalized cases involving paranormal phenomena. Its heady brew of conspiracy theories and close encounters of the inhuman kind made it a phenomenon all of its own.
In 1998, the first "X Files" movie was successful, even though critics said it was really just a super-episode. A decade later comes "The X Files: I Want to Believe," which is a big-budget big deal — with massive publicity and ad budgets — and is being touted by series creator Chris Carter as "completely surprising and rewarding." Film reviews have been sharply divided, with some saying the plot is muddled. This has not affected its box office, which is respectable, grossing $21 million in the U.S. in the two months since its July 27 release date.
The film is set six years after we last saw the two main characters in the TV show's finale. Mulder is a fugitive, and Scully a hospital physician. She is called in to help the FBI find Mulder, whose help is sought in the hunt for several kidnapped women, among them an FBI agent. Of course, the case has a paranormal bent, with a defrocked priest claiming to be receiving psychic visions about the crime, and eventually escalates into a thriller of murderous proportions.
A happy coincidence for the filmmakers is that the Sci Fi Channel has arrived on cable TV in Japan in time to whet the appetites of old and new fans by showing reruns of the series. The station is currently showing the third of nine seasons, with reruns of series four due to start Nov. 3. But the cast are keen to point out that this new theatrical release is more than just an extended episode.
"This is not just a big-screen version of what you saw on TV," explains Duchovny over the phone. He emphatically points out that movie versions of other TV series have tended to be "something that they could just as well have done on television." Despite critical opinion of the first movie in the series, Duchovny believes they are offering something more.
"What we have here," he says, slowly and portentously, "is completely different. This could not have been on television. I'm a picky customer, as an actor and a viewer, and I would not have done this film if it hadn't been really special. It's a chance to be involved in something quite, quite unique."
While Duchovny has not become a major film star post-TV, he believes "The X Files" has strong franchise potential, like the "Star Trek" movie series. His other big-screen forays have included "Playing God" (1997), his first starring role after finding fame in "The X Files," where he played a doctor who falls in with a crime lord; "Evolution" (2001), an alien-based action comedy that costarred Julianne Moore; and "Trust the Man" (2006), a limited-release movie about extramarital temptation also costarring Julianne Moore.
"I get lots of work. I keep busy, or as busy as I want to be. I can't do everything I'm offered. But after Chris and the guys came to me and told me the concept, went through the story, and once the script was up and running, I knew there was no way I wasn't going to return. I also knew there was no way someone else was going to take my place, either as Mulder or any other male lead."
Gillian Anderson has been less busy professionally than Duchovny, in part due to Hollywood's sexism — and ageism, where actresses of even 40 (which she turned this August) are concerned. But it's also because she's been focusing on motherhood; at the time of writing, she is pregnant with her third child, due in October.
It's no secret — thanks to the rumor mill initially, and then to Anderson's own public statements — that the actress portraying skeptical FBI agent Dana Scully did not always get along with Duchovny. She has been quoted by Daily Variety and "Entertainment Tonight" as saying: "It's sometimes difficult to act opposite or try to befriend an actor who actually believes that he's worth the bigger salary which he's getting, even though we're both the stars of this series."
Anderson also wasn't fond of having to stand on apple boxes in some of her scenes with the 184-cm-tall Duchovny (she's approximately 160 cm).
Post-"X Files" (the series), Anderson has done more than Duchovny to distance herself from the role and the TV series. Apart from Hollywood projects, she has worked on British TV and film projects, including a motion picture of Edith Wharton's classic 1905 novel "The House of Mirth," helmed by cult British director Terence Davies. It did minuscule business in the U.S. and little in Britain.
The actress recalls: "It was disappointing, but not unexpected. When we were doing the picture, I was so psychologically involved with its being a period picture. I was deeply involved, even emotionally, with fabrics and costumes and customs of a much more repressive yet sensual time. I knew in the back of my mind that this was an art film; it would have a small audience. I knew we were making it for the ages. We were doing the definitive film version of a magnificent literary work. Still, when it came out and drew such small numbers of moviegoers, I couldn't help being disappointed."
Perhaps offsetting the disappointment were her typically glowing reviews and the numerous awards that came her way, especially via British institutions: She won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress for "The House of Mirth" in 2000.
From age 2 until 11, Anderson, born in Chicago, lived in London, but then her parents Edward and Rosemary moved the family back to the U.S., where she was teased in Michigan for her English accent.
"That was tough," she recalls. "Children are naturally . . . well, rather cruel. They seize on any difference and exaggerate it. Some part of me knew that they were reacting against what they were intimidated by, and at times I'd have to lash out and say, 'Well, I am speaking English, after all — there's no such thing as American.' But that's just how kids are."
From an early age, she was drawn to the theater, which she said brought her out of her shell in the U.S. In high school, she was considered "wild and rather crazy." She admits: "I loved pranks. I tried to do things that would get me attention and, looking back, I suppose much of it was trying to fit in."
Although she was voted Sexiest Woman in the World in a poll by Britain's FHM magazine in 1996, she no longer seeks to fit in. Her first marriage was on a golf course in Hawaii, and performed by a Buddhist priest. Her second took place in Kenya. She has even said — as have a number of actresses in recent years — that she sees nothing wrong with being in love with another woman. But of her private life, today or in the past, she will not speak. Nor about "The X Files: I Want to Believe" in any specific way.
What drew her back, besides the obvious motives of money and the glare of the spotlight?
"It's like many jobs that people have," she replies. "They do them. They do them well, they get a bit tired of them, and then the job's over. And what comes next, or eventually, is a . . . nostalgia for that job. For the circumstances and the people you worked with. You know, I have to confess that I always knew David and I had a great chemistry together. It's been said that costars who aren't lovey-dovey with each other off the screen can often still share great chemistry. Sometimes being at odds is beneficial to what's up on the screen. . . . Chris (Carter) said that when we reteamed for this movie and he saw us working together on our first day, he could feel and then saw — in the rushes — that our old chemistry was as strong as ever. When Chris told me that, later, I must say I was mighty pleased."
The movie is also a chance for Anderson to play a leading role. In most of her postseries projects, she hasn't had the lead, but has done memorable work in supporting roles, as in the feature film "The Last King of Scotland" (2006).
As for having another child at a relatively late age, she feels: "Generally speaking, a mature mother is a mother more sure of herself. And possibly a mother better able to appreciate her child. I always had a . . . an uneasy feeling when I would hear about women, or girls, in their teens having children. How much of a competent, able and confident mother can a person of 16 or even 18 be? But I do love motherhood. It beats marriage, any day. Fathers come and go, if I may point out the somewhat obvious. But a baby remains. You get a child for at least 18 years. There is no such guarantee with a husband. Not that I'm anti men. But I don't think men are the be-all and end-all, and modern reproductive science is proving that out."
I was warned by an executive assistant on the film not to ask Anderson to verify whether she is a natural blonde, which she reportedly is; nor to ask about her parents or siblings, even though she has spoken out to raise funding for and awareness of neurofibromatosis, from which her younger brother suffers (she also has a younger sister). The disease often involves skin abnormalities, possible tumors or bone deformities.
In discussing the new "X Files" film in general terms, Anderson doesn't sound as emphatically enthusiastic as Duchovny, and when told that her costar is strenuously boosting the movie, she laughs and says: "He's really something. He can be very serious, and he usually plays these serious types. Yet he can be so gung-ho on something that it reduces him to a sort of little boy for a while, and that's when I like him best: When he's not being pompous."
Duchovny, also born in August, is eight years Anderson's senior. He was born and reared in New York, where his father Amram was a publicist for the American Jewish Committee (he died in 2003, and Duchovny is proud and willing to talk about him and the organization). Duchovny's mother Margaret is of Scottish origin, and he has a sister, brother and stepbrother, but doesn't discuss them, preferring "to guard their privacy."
"You know, some sci-fi aficionados want to know everything about the actor embodying the character, including all about his family, but I think that's going too far," he says. "It's one thing to be nosy about me; it's another to drag my siblings and the rest of my family into it. Even if these weren't difficult and troubling times, that simply wouldn't be fair to them."
Duchovny is in the gossip columns more often than Anderson, simply because he's married to a fellow celebrity, actress Tea Leoni (since 1997). She has made public comments about the fun of doing love scenes with other actors, and how a bit of jealousy can spice up a marriage. Perhaps it was a little too spicy — Duchovny's lawyer revealed in August that the actor had checked in to a rehabilitation facility to treat his sex addiction, and on Oct. 15 it was announced that the couple separated some months ago.
Duchovny and Leoni have a son and a daughter, and try hard to keep them out of the limelight and what Duchovny calls "a shallow showbiz upbringing."
"We try to get our children to be more into reading than television, and we do restrict their TV viewing," he says.
David comes from an intellectual background, and earned a master's degree in English before aiming for a Ph.D. that failed to eventuate when he chose to give in to acting.
"I think acting is a wonderful way of expressing and extending yourself," he says. "It allows you to dive in and explore. Most people, in their professions, don't get to explore themselves very much. Or explore other people — the people they work with, or the characters they choose to enact. This aspect of acting always appealed to me. Doing it can be very exhilarating. Not to mention the fact that it can be, on certain levels, extremely well paid."
For two seasons, beginning in August 2007, he has been starring in the U.S. TV series "Californication." He's also directed a feature ("House of D," 2004) and episodes of "Californication," "Bones" and "The X Files," and spends his time "reading scripts and writing, and entertaining ideas and offers." He is known to take on smaller roles or even unbilled cameo roles "if the context appeals to me. I'm willing to do most anything once, just out of curiosity. I think curiosity and change are incredibly important in life, because when you stop changing, you stop. Period. Death is the end of change."
How did he like returning with Gillian Anderson in the new movie? Was he apprehensive? And had her previous statements about him cooled his attitude toward her?
"Well, one thing we all have to keep in mind in this business is that statements can be attributed to people that they never, in point of fact, even made," he says. "I know Gillian had some concerns; at times she even had some valid complaints. It isn't easy to deny that an actress has a tougher time of it in this business than an actor has. But you know, I've had my own rough times. I was in a movie I'm not going to name ("Connie and Carla," 2004) that was supposed to be The Next Big Thing. The star had just come off a huge hit (Nia Vardalos of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"), and although the movie starred two women (the costar was Aussie actress Toni Collette), I was the leading man. Everyone thought this was going to be a big hit, the smash comedy of the year. I got fooled into thinking it too — I'm not sure why.
"To cut to the chase, it was a huge flop. Very sad, especially as a vehicle for (Vardalos). But it did taint my career, even though the movie revolved around these two women. I could tell that some people in Hollywood — powers that be, bigwigs, you know — were avoiding me because of the smell of failure that emanated from that movie and which, for some time, clung to me. That really stressed me for a while, and was a big lesson.
"But yes, it was good to get back together with Gillian. It was like fitting back in a groove. Only this time, without the pressure of a TV-series schedule, and with the luxury of a big-time motion picture and of a project you have cause to be excited about. I'm just very pleased with how things have turned out, and that is not something I'm in the habit of saying after I complete a given film."
It's been hinted in movie-trade periodicals such as "Variety" and "The Hollywood Reporter" that if this movie does as well as expected, there's the possibility of a continuing "X Files" film series, in the manner of "Star Trek."
What does Anderson think about that? She snorts softly, then declares: "I think it's much too early to speculate about that. Regardless of how well this picture does. Remember that with the 'Star Trek' franchise, they kept adding in new characters and . . . or was that the new (TV) series ("Star Trek: Voyager") they did? I'm not really familiar with all the 'Star Trek' projects, either on TV or at the movies. But I know that today's 'Star Trek' is not yesterday's, and now they're making or have made another (film), and it's a new bunch of actors almost entirely, or so I gather." (The movie, due out in the U.S. in May '09, has the working title "Star Trek Zero," and stars Chris Pine, Simon Pegg and Winona Ryder.)
Duchovny is a bit more enthusiastic about the possibility of another "X Files" movie. "What got this going, and flying, as a series, and then the two movies — and particularly this movie," he notes firmly, "was and is Chris Carter. No Chris Carter, no 'X Files.'
"The stars also do have a lot to do with it. You don't often have a series that is so centered on two individuals, and we've managed to carry it off, and very well. But, again, Chris is the driving force, and his is the vision. If anyone can deliver new 'X Files' material that keeps the fans out there coming back, and clamoring for more, it's Chris. He just has to be involved in the project. That's needless to say. And he has to do his very, utmost best — which, with this feature movie, he has certainly done. The last movie — I'm just being frank here — was good. I was not ashamed. But this . . . this is much better. I think anyone can and will objectively say so after seeing it."
Obviously, X Philes will flock to this picture. Presumably, many or most will enshrine it among their sci-fi favorites. As for the rest of us, a good movie is a good movie, and according to all the hype, it should be — and better be — very good. But as Anderson says, time will tell.