For five years, they have fought mutant sewer dwellers, seven-foot she-beasts, and chain-smoking double agents. Now, have alien forces finally taken possession of Scully and Mulder? Rob Tannenbaum goes to the set of the X-Files Movie and investigates the conspiracy surrounding the conspiracy.
David Duchovny doesn't look much better than his costar, and not only because of the bullet wound Fox Mulder has taken just below the hairline. It's Day 54 of the shoot, a Friday in late August, and all during this difficult summer the cast has raced to finish the film in time to start the fifth season of the series. The film--which will be released on June 19, as a bridge to a sixth season starting in the fall--is set partly in the Antarctic, so the crew has built a fake snowscape inside a Hollywood soundstage. Their fabrication appears so genuine, you might almost believe the crackpots who claim the government faked the first moon landing. Outside, in the ninety-degree heat, an ice chipper churns out fresh snow, which technicions sculpt into tall, snowbanked tunnels, while the crew walk around the slushy set, idly throwing snowballs during breaks.
Now the two FBI partners are crawling on hands and knees through a pipe at the center of the snowy soundstage, and there are long delays between shots. Director Rob Bowman is trying to keep the actors focused. "What I need from you is panic," he tells Duchovny, who's also wrapped in a parka. "This guy is right on your tail." Bowman, thirty-eight, whose straggly dark hair, jeans, and John Deere cap make him look like a Green Bay Packers fan, gestures across the set, where "this guy"--an actor in an alien suit--waits behind a curtain, hidden from snooping eyes. ("Get pissed off," an assistant director counsels the actor inside the suit, who honed his angry-alien performance as the titular monster in Alien Resurrection.) Duchovny, meanwhile, finds his own motivation for the scene: "I'll pretend the alien's trying to fuck me," he announces. As cameras roll, Duchovny turns to Anderson and improvises: "C'mon, Scully, this alien's trying to crawl up my ass."
At sundown, Anderson leaves the set for the day. But at 7:00 PM, the crew is brought cups of coffee, which one alarmed technician recognizes as a bad omen. "They're giving us coffee? How late are we working?"
Bowman films Duchovny, alone, crawling through the tunnel. "What was wrong with that take?" Duchovny asks. "I could make the camera work better," Bowman answers. "Please do so," Duchovny says. After a few more takes, Bowman decides to change camera speed, from twenty-four to about sixty frames a second. "Whatever you need to do, do it," Duchovny tells him sharply. More takes. More delays. "Who designed this fucking set?" Duchovny asks. "You know, it's not supposed to be this hard, it's just supposed to look hard."
Bowman calls for yet another take, and Duchovny rises from the chair to go back into the pipe. "I haven't spent so much time on my hands and knees since I got this job,' he says over his shoulder.
ME: What is the X-Files movie about?
CARTER: I can't tell you, really, but it explains a lot of the government conspiracy--what the government has been hiding from us.
DUCHOVNY: (looking around the snowy set suspiciously) You can't tell anybody that I told you this: Scully reads The Rules, and she starts to change the way she and Mulder communicate. As a gift, she gives him Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. They go skiing, which is what happens here. At the end, they're in bed and she's reading The Bridges of Madison County and he's reading The Horse Whisperer. (solemnly) Of all the work I've done, I'm most proud of that final scene.
ANDERSON: (after a very long, thoughtful pause) Trust.
DUCHOVNY: (when told of Anderson's answer) You know, because people want to see a movie about trust. Huh. Talk about high-concept. "I want fifty million bucks to make this movie. Okay, here's the pitch: Trust." (laughs)
WHEN I TELL David Duchovny that I feel like Mulder, he cackles. "Let me give you hints on how to be Mulder. Never put batteries in your tape recorder. Lose your tape recorder. Get your hands on a script and lose it. Trust all the wrong people. And alienate as many people as you can, so they don't talk to you again."
Do you detect a bit of mockery? Duchovny recognizes what Fox Mulder is: a repressed workaholic who sleeps on the sofa, watches porn, calls phone-sex lines, and is fated to die of autoerotic asphyxiation--oh, and whose only recent kiss came from a guy who may have killed his father and sister. Duchovny thinks Mulder is a bit of a fool. If he could take Mulder aside, here's what Duchovny would say: "For Christ's sake, fuck that girl. Look at the way she's looking at you. Are you blind? Why do you think her mouth is always open?"
Like a protective father who can't recognize the truth about his children, Carter idealizes the relationship between Mulder and Scully. "It's built on respect and shared passions, not on the physical," he rhapsodizes. "All relationships should be as beautiful." You could also argue that the agents are repressed monomaniacs who prefer to communicate through the distance of a cell phone. And you might argue that, if you were Duchovny.
"When people say 'Mulder and Scully are role models,' I say 'Are you kidding." Mulder is a repressed workaholic, Scully is a cold, ungiving, unsmiling, angry workaholic.' Jesus, Kramer is a better role model than we are. This whole shit about role models just makes me laugh."
Duchovny, thirty-seven, might be a bit sick of Mulder. The actor's contract calls for a seven-year commitment to the show, and the ten-week respite each summer offers scant opportunity to do other work. "I wanted a break, I wanted to play other parts. I want to move on, and it's time." He did the movie, he says, out of loyalty to Carter, because Carter asked him. "Chris made it personal. I felt I owed it to him. If the roles were reversed, I'm sure he would've felt that he owed me. It was just a matter of who asked first."
"So write yourself a note," I tell him. "Next year, remember to ask him first."
Duchovny laughs. "Oh, I don't need to write the note. I'll remember."
Everything in Hollywood can change, because of earthquakes, plastic surgery, or money. But right now, you wouldn't want to bet on ever seeing a second X-Files movie.
FUN WITH DAVID DUCHOVNY PART ONE
Is Duchovny the smartest actor in Hollywood? On the one hand, he has degrees from Yale and Princeton, where he wrote a thesis about Samuel Beckett so weighty with critical jargon that he can now barely understand it. On the other hand, he agreed to be in Playing God last year's dreary Tarantino knockoff, in which he costarred with Angelina Jolie's lips.
Duchovny has had a difficult time working at the film's slow pace, and he admits, "Just hanging out on set all day long, doing nothing, makes me a little crazy." He's feeling mischievous, and during delays, he parries the boredom by talking. He's a world-class talker, on topics high or low--after all, even Beckett loved scatological laughs. "Today the only creative challenge is trying to figure out whether 'Bite my ass' is a better line than 'Crawl up my ass.' "
We're in a quiet corner of the set, not far from what looks like a huge alien spaceship--it's generic and ominous, and, of course, no one will confirm that it is an alien spaceship--as Duchovny, still wearing his arctic parka, explains how the Motion Picture Association of America rates films.
DUCHOVNY: The difference between a PG and an R is, you can't direct "fuck" at anybody, like requesting they fuck themselves. It can be an expression of irritation or despair, but once "fuck,"or "shit," involves any kind of activity, like "Rub your face in shit," "Go take a shit," "Eat shit"--that's all R stuff. PG stuff is "Oh, shit," or "Oh, fuck." Or one of my least favorite habits of modern day writing: "Un-fucking-believable."
ME: You object to gratuitous neologisms?
DUCHOVNY: Very good. I wish I'd said that. Why don't you just say that I said that? Say: "David just cannot stand gratuitous neologisms with 'fuck' in the middle." I don't like fuck sandwiches.
ME: So MPAA officials are like NEA referees. You can say "fuck" and not get a technical foul, but you can't say "Fuck you."
DUCHOVNY: You can't be hortatory.
ME: I wish I'd said that. Can I say that I said that?
DUCHOVNY: No, I get'em both.
ME: You can lead a hortatory, but you can't make her-
DUCHOVNY: A Whig. (grins) Sorry to go English on you there.
See, if you interview Tony Danza, you're just not going to hear obscure puns about eighteenth-century British political parties.
Duchovny is on a roll, and he has an audience, and he's really bored. A stagehand passes, carrying a book by Plato.
Duchovny says to the guy: "The only Greek you have to know in L.A is Alpha Beta." Pause. "That's a supermarket." Pause. To me: "Did you get that one?"
THE LAST TIME this magazine quizzed Duchovny, he announced himself a masked man, a coolly suave chocolate-wafer exterior over a messily neurotic cream filling. The former quality is obvious on the set, as he jokes easily with male crew, and quips volubly with female visitors, as smooth and sweet as pureed banana. He chats easily with everyone, it seems, except Gillian Anderson.
"We don't really need to talk all the time or gossip," he says. "We've worked together so much we don't want to. We have a relationship of reliance more than a friendship. The interaction we have, we save for work. We save it all up for the camera. It's like a superstition almost." (When Duchovny and I pass a mannequin with an open mouth, he points at it and jokes, "That's the Gillian Anderson blow-up sex doll.")
ME: WHAT CAN YOU do in an X-Files movie that you can't do on television?
CARTER: I can tell a bigger story. I've got a bigger budget, so I can do big, interesting locations. I can do big special effects, which take a tremendous amount of time to build.
DUCHOVNY: You can say "fuck" and "shit." Other than that, really, nothing. Mulder has thought 'fuck" before, and Mulder has mouthed "fuck," and Mulder has acted "fuck." But there's some kind of joyful release in seeing straitlaced characters act human.
ANDERSON: I get to say "fuck." Or is it "fucking"? I say, "I don't fucking believe this, Mulder." Yeah, that's about all I can tell you.
FUN WITH DAVID DUCHOVNY PART TWO
DUCHOVNY: We've done five pretty interesting years of television by the end of this season, and that's a lot to give. I've worked my ass off on this show. It's just so odd to me that people would presume to tell me what to do with my life. I don't know how much more you can ask of somebody. It's like the Beatles. (he laughs) I'm not saying we're like the Beatles, but people were outraged that the Beatles would have their own feelings about being the Beatles. It's very similar in the intensity of our fans, emotionally, especially as the end of the show becomes inevitable.
ME: Which Beatle are you?
DUCHOVNY: I guess John, because I'm the most outspoken. I never want to be quoted as saying we're like the Beatles.
ME: When John Lennon said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ, he wasn't bragging but was saying it was a sad fact.
DUCHOVNY: Yes, and I might say, "Isn't it sad that we're bigger than the Beatles?"
We continue with the Beatles thread, and I suggest that his wife, Téa Leoni, may prove to be the Yoko of The X-Files. "As in Yoko's case," Duchovny says, "Téa is more talented than any of the other three--Chris, Gillian, or me. I'd love to work with Téa, if she'd deign to have me on the same soundstage as her"
Later, he returns to the X-Files-as-Beatles theme--"If I'm John, then Gillian is Paul, and Rob Bowman is Ringo, because he's got the hair and he plays drums, and Chris is George Martin, who is actually the most important Beatle, they always say "--then quickly declares that he's uneasy about the comparisons. "I want a disclaimer in there--I'm so uncomfortable with the Beatles thing. It's just the kind of thing people love to get angry about"
"Only Beatles fans would get angry," I say. "And frankly, fuck Beatles fans."
DUCHOVNY: I was a big Beatles fan. I liked Paul better, I have to admit, and I'm embarrassed of that. I wish I'd liked John. And now Paul looks like a woman.
ME: A British woman.
Fuck you, Beatles fans.
FUN WITH DAVID DUCHOVNY PART THREE
Already, as the film crew struggles to finish, the TV series crew has begun to shoot the start of the fifth season--as soon as the film wraps, the stars will "back-shoot" some scenes, to place Mulder and Scully in the action.
ME: That's funny.
DUCHOVNY: (not laughing) Yeah, funny for you.
Until this year, the show was filmed in Vancouver. As a consequence of shuttling from Vancouver to Los Angeles to see Leoni, Duchovny has managed to amass a wealth of frequent-flyer miles on Canadian Airlines.
"I have 91,000 points," Duchovny says, "which I think entitles me to have sex with any employee of Canadian Airlines. I also get ... I don't know, I can't think of anything funny, but I'm sure it's there. You make it up. Make me funny."
Then Duchovny says to me, "The good news is, I can have sex with any airline employee I choose. The bad news is, it's Canadian Airlines." Or maybe he didn't say that. Maybe I made it up, to make him seem funny. Hey, it's no worse than his Alpha Beta joke.
The subject turns back to Leoni, whose TV series The Naked Truth went through more face-lifts than Cher before it was canceled this season. For the first time, Duchovny turns coy.
Where was their first date? I ask.
"The first date is still going on," he says, as though reading aloud from a Hallmark card. Within a few months of dating, he asked her to get married, and she agreed. "I used to ask her ten to fifteen times a day. I just liked asking. She'd always say yes." He laughs. "I still ask her to marry me, I like it so much. She hasn't turned me down once."
They were married in May 1997, after dating for four months, in a small New York City ceremony, attended by only three family members on each side.
Duchovny, who did not have a bachelor party, says he didn't hesitate to sacrifice the sexual perks of celebrity bachelorhood. "I always did okay," he says confidently. "A lot of people get into show business to get laid. I was getting laid before I was Fox Mulder."
As we talk, an actor in a Neanderthal costume wanders by. "Hey," Duchovny blurts out, "he's an employee of Canadian Airlines." Here's what Chris Carter says to me later about the stray Neanderthal: "You didn't see that."