Since ending its original nine-year run on Fox in 2002, The X-Files has continued to build a loyal and die-hard following who “want to believe” thanks to DVDs, reruns, streaming, and multiple films. When news that the sci-fi series would be returning to television for a limited, six-episode run beginning this Sunday on FOX, it just about broke the Internet. We were fortunate enough to connect with the series creator himself, Chris Carter, along with stars David Duchovny and Mitch Pileggi at New York Comic Con this past fall. The three shared their thoughts on returning to the series to which they arguably owe their careers, stepping back into familiar characters, and the cult phenomenon the show’s become.
What was the impetus of bringing the show back to television?
Chris Carter: For the reason that FOX called me and told me they wanted to do it. I had heard the actors wanted to do it. It was good timing and good fortune.
Did knowing that you were writing for a mini-series inform the way you thought about fleshing out the plot?
Chris Carter: Not exactly, because if you look at the way we structured it, it would be like a quarter of a season. We put as many mythology episodes as we would have put into a quarter season (of a full 22-episode season), a couple of standalone episodes, and a comedy episode. It was also a feature of “who came back” to do the show. When Darren signed on, we had to do a comedy episode for example.
When you first stepped onto set and watched that first scene, what were your initial thoughts?
Chris Carter: It wasn’t like this loaded moment. We all kind of hit the ground running and it was a big day. Lots and lots of dialogue—you run like crazy just to get the work done. I don’t think we all sort of had a chance to smile and enjoy the moment. We were off and running!
What’s the best part about being back with new episodes of The X-Files?
Chris Carter: It’s a chance to do good work again. When I got the call, I knew it was an opportunity to tell good stories—I already had some in mind, which you’ll see in episode 4. The mythology—how I wanted it to come back and reinvestigate it, so it was definitely an opportunity to do things that I’ve been thinking about.
Do you really just drop the mythology for episodes 2-5 and just keep it to episodes 1 and 6?
Chris Carter: I’d say we more or less drop it, but I’d say the relationship has an arc. So while we drop the conspiracy per se, the relationship continues to follow the path.
What are some of the things you looked to update for the 2016 X-Files stories vs. the stories from the original run?
Technology, obviously. We’re in a different time now. When the show went off the air, we were putting all our faith into the government after 9/11, and we’re in a different time now and if you’re sort of paying attention to what’s going on online and alternative media, there’s a lot of talk about possible conspiracies. So, we wanted to be true to the kind of time that we are living in.
In this age of cell phones and YouTube, are you going to specifically address the fact that unexplainable things like aliens or monsters can’t just disappear now without a footprint left behind?
Chris Carter: You’re going to see in episode 3 we deal with that a little bit—you’re going to see some use of new technology and the results of that. We’re trying to be honest to the time we’re living in.
How are you juggling fan service vs. telling the right stories?
Chris Carter: In the beginning we kind of give you a rundown of where Scully and Mulder are right now—where they’ve been, what they’ve been up to. That’s for fans. It’s also for newbies, for people who don’t know what the show might have been. If you’re coming in new, you have some catch-up to do for sure, but we definitely came back to do this show for the hardcore fans, first and foremost.
How much fun was it to write a character who is even more paranoid than Mulder himself?
Chris Carter: That’s also a combination of what I’ve been paying attention to online right now. These characters who are out there doing exactly what Tad O’Malley (the new character) is doing, fanning flames; so yes it’s interesting to see someone who’s more extreme than Mulder.
What weighed-in to making Tad richer than Mulder, which is obviously a flip to the character of Mulder?
Chris Carter: Opposites are interesting to me. Also, I think a lot of these (Internet hoax) guys are making a lot of money in interesting ways, off of conspiracy.
Will Agents John Doggett and Monica Reyes return in the new episodes?
Chris Carter: Unfortunately Robert Patrick, who played John Doggett, was unavailable currently. Kersh, their boss, was unable to return as well. But, Reyes will come back!
Was there a thought that this new miniseries should inspire fans to go back and re-watch the show a little differently? Based on the first episode, there’s a suggestion that what was happening in regards to the conspiracy wasn’t happening in the way we were seeing…
Chris Carter: Not necessarily the whole time. But, you don’t know to take people at face value; everyone’s got their version of the truth. So, we wanted to sort of throw that out there. I’m not saying there are no aliens, but we wanted to throw another light onto the conspiracy with Tad O’Malley—this is one man talking about it, were Mulder takes it hook, line, and sinker, so we don’t know what the truth is.
Do you think a younger audience is finding something different in The X-Files than the original fans may have?
Chris Carter: When you look at the show in 1993, it’s a little dated. The hairstyles are dated. The wardrobes are a little dated. So are they watching a show that’s historical artifact, or a show that’s fresh? I’m not sure yet.
How much revisiting of the old episodes did you do when you were preparing for the mini series?
Chris Carter: A little bit. I know the show and know the mythology, so I didn’t have a to go back a lot. You’ll see a reference to the second episode in the new series, so I wanted to be as truthful and honest to what we had done as possible. When Mulder encounters a man who says, “Roswell is a smokescreen”, in the first episode of the mini-series, that’s a reference to the second-ever episode.
What’s changed from then to now on The X-Files for you?
David Duchovny: I find it a lot harder to work through the night! Some of it’s harder, some of it’s easier. The hours are harder. The acting is easier. I think we’re all better. We’ve done a lot of work since we started The X-Files. A lot of that work was the show itself! I think you could look at the first season of the show vs. the sixth, seventh, or eighth, and see different actors—Gillian and I. So that just continued on afterwards; we’ve gotten better. That’s been fun to bring that ability to these new episodes.
Now that your kids are older, do you watch the show with them?
David Duchovny: I’m not one of those parents—I’m proud of my kids, I don’t need them to be proud of me! They can’t watch Californication (laughs), but yeah I want them to be proud of themselves—Dad’s ok!
How protective have you become of Mulder now that you’re back?
David Duchovny: I’m very protective of the character. I feel like I’m the caretaker of that man. There are times that you get a script and I’ll talk to Chris or another writer and tell them if something doesn’t feel right, stuff like that. But at this point it’s instinctive and intuitive. But I think every actor is like that. I think every actor will feel that way towards their character. Gillian and I, when we have a scene together, we’re both caretaking together and that could get a little tricky.
The X-Files was a cult for a lot of people. What’s that like for an actor who really just needs to hit his marks and do his scenes in the midst of such adulation?
David Duchovny: I don’t think about it. It doesn’t affect or hurt me. The show has started my career and given me money and opportunities, but most of all it gave me the opportunity to create my own acting school by showing up to work and acting for 14 hours a day for eight years. I’m happy to be back. I like working. I enjoy the people that I work with. I think the show is great, I couldn’t be prouder. There’s so much of it that I’m grateful for, but I don’t think of it— if you’re a tennis player at some point you get to a moment where you stop thinking about hitting the tennis ball, you just do. I just do The X-Files, I don’t think about it.
Is there anything you still find challenging?
David Duchovny: It’s all challenging. I wouldn’t have come back if it wasn’t challenging. It’s the sense of coming back at whatever age I’m at to explore what the 54-year-old Mulder is like. He’s not a 30-year-old anymore. Yet, he’s not a different guy altogether—I have to make changes but they’re not supposed to be that obvious as if he developed a French accent suddenly. That’s challenging and interesting as an actor.
How amazing is it to you that so many fans are young fans? The show has attracted this whole new audience across generations that not many shows manage to do.
David Duchovny: I don’t know. I haven’t been able to get my kids to watch it so I don’t know how anybody gets their kids to watch it? (laughs) It’s amazing. A lot of people have very nostalgic feelings for it. I live here in New York and there’s a TV station called MeTV, and it shows programming from the 70’s. I sometimes watch it, because that’s nostalgic to me. But, I want it to be more than that, which is why we came back to do these six. It has to be more than just an exercise in nostalgia, and I think we’ve made another good set of shows.
Do you hope the show can continue past the new six episodes?
David Duchovny: I try not to hope. If the opportunity presents itself… A lot of it depends on Chris if he thinks there are stories to tell, to figure out a way to go. It’s my impression that the frame of the show is very flexible that we could tell stories for a long, long time. I’m probably being disingenuous when I say that I hope there are stories to tell. I know there are, it’s just up to us wanting to continue in the same space to do it. I don’t want to hope, but it’s possible for all of us to find ourselves in the same city again for three months so we could do more.
Having acted in it, what was it like to watch the first episode of The X Files miniseries here at New York Comic Con?
Mitch Pileggi: It was awesome! I was so pleased, because David and I had not seen it before. We were nervous and hopeful that it was going to be good, and it was. So, I’m smiling. David and Gillian just killed it. Chris was great. I was thrilled while watching it.
You mentioned that a line from the first episode was improvised. Working with a man like Chris Carter, is that a trust that you need to build up to? Is it an easy thing to do?
Mitch Pileggi: It’s a trust thing. I think Chris has been great about taking suggestions. The line just fit with Skinner. And like I had said, it was a line one of my old bosses used at one point, and I said to myself, “Boy, am I going to use that at some point in the future,” and this was such a good spot to use it!
What was it like to shoot that scene in the office with the pencils on the ceiling and the poster on the ground? You must have had a sense of déjà vu.
Mitch Pileggi: It really was. It was weird seeing the poster on the floor. When Mulder kicked it, I said, “Whoa, wait a minute.” That office was empty in the scene and it was kind of strange. It all felt really good though, walking through that door and standing across from David, playing these two characters again.
Where is Skinner at when we pick up during the new episodes?
Mitch Pileggi: Well he’s obviously still in the FBI; he hasn’t progressed far because he still is assistant director. I think a lot of that is due to the fact of his relationship with Mulder and Scully for all those years, and the way those characters left the FBI. So he’s probably been ostracized to a certain extent, and maybe punished. But, he obviously has…I mean who else in the FBI would reopen the X-Files? Who else would have the power to? So he obviously has a very powerful ally somewhere that is helping him do what he needs to do. I think he is connected to someone very powerful.
Did you find it necessary to go back and re-watch some episodes of The X-Files?
Mitch Pileggi: I didn’t. In my mind I know this character, and I know who he is and what he’s about, including his relationship with Mulder and Scully. It’s just ingrained in me, after playing him for so many years. I do go back and watch some of it, like the “Zero Sum” episode that I was live tweeting a while ago. I didn’t let my daughter watch it at first because I thought it wasn’t appropriate for her to watch at a young age, but now I’ve sat down and watched shows with her. Going back and watching the show now is for me so fulfilling because it was really good—at least I thought it was really good (laughs).
Are you able to separate yourself from the show? When you see it, are you watching Skinner, or are you watching yourself?
Mitch Pileggi: A little bit of both. It depends. Sometimes I can see that I really lost myself in Skinner—that I was really acting. As an actor that’s what bothers me. I did a character on Criminal Minds that’s my favorite performance of anything I’ve done on screen, because I lost myself in my character so much. Sometimes I didn’t allow myself to do that for Skinner, but that’s probably me being very critical of myself.
Do you think there’s a timeless quality to The X-Files, to the point where it’s coming back as more than a wave of nostalgia?
Mitch Pileggi: I think it’s very valid right now with the way our world is, and the government interacts with the people (from a negative point of view). There are a lot of stories to be told through this show. We’re a mess. This world is a mess. And if I was an alien, I wouldn’t be coming anywhere near this neighborhood (laughs).