On 'The X-Files' Set: An Extended Interview With Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny
Last July, we traveled to the set of The X-Files to check out the revival first-hand and speak with stars David Duchovny (Fox Mulder) and Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully). Duchovny and Anderson were in the middle of shooting the monster-of-the-week episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” written by Darin Morgan.
During a break in filming, Duchovny and Anderson sat down with TV Guide Magazine/TV Insider to discuss what it took to bring the agents back, the show’s new mythology and guest stars, and why they didn’t want the 2008 movie The X-Files: I Want to Believe to be the end of the franchise.
Here’s an edited version of that chat. (Anderson had to leave the interview early in order to shoot a scene.)
You guys are getting right back into it.
Gillian Anderson: It's really fun. It's cool.
You mentioned that it took a little bit of time to get back into the Scully mindset.
Anderson: It actually took me longer than I thought it was going to. I assumed that it was going to be a lot easier. Most of it is when she's in repose or when she's thinking about serious things, because the other couple characters that I play, have been playing regularly, are so serious. To find Scully, it comes down to a simplistic, find Scully's serious look that's different than other serious looks. That was one of my bigger struggles.
David, what was it like to revisit Mulder?
David Duchovny: The interesting thing about doing the roles is, it's not just trying to find the character again; the characters are different in the different writer's episodes. They're the same characters, but this [shooting of an episode written by Darin Morgan] is not like the Mulder that would be in a Chris Carter episode. We have to slightly tweak the tone of the show we're doing. Which is really interesting and a little nerve racking. This Mulder is a little goofier than the Mulder we would have started with, or the Scully that we would have started with in the first episode.
And those non-mythology episodes usually don’t reference each other.
Anderson: It's weird even to reference back to something that might be more serious.
Duchovny: Yeah, we would do episodes where you'd have this horrendous head wound and the next week, there's no scar. Nothing. “Well, let's not talk about it.”
Let's back up and talk about how this happened. You joined us for TV Guide Magazine’s X-Files reunion at San Diego Comic-Con in 2013.
Duchovny: That's where I know you from.
At the time, we even talked about perhaps bringing The X-Files back as a limited series. But Gillian, you weren't so sure you wanted to do a series. David, what did it take to convince Gillian?
Duchovny: I didn't convince Gillian. Gillian convinced Gillian. I think what happened was, for me, television changed in terms of how many you have to do.
Anderson: That's a new thing.
You no longer have to do 22 episodes in a season.
Anderson: No, not going to do 13, even.
Duchovny: Once the landscape changed in that way, it became a possibility. I hadn't imagined six but it's kind of great. So really it was that. Once we realized that they didn't want to make another movie right now, it was kind of disappointing. We thought, well, it's probably over now because none of us are going to come back and do 22.
Anderson: Also, feeling that if the second film was the way that we went out, it wasn't necessarily the right way to go out. It would have been nice if there was some kind of closure. At the end of the day, when properly considering it, the idea that it might actually be kind of fun was a big aspect of why I thought it might be okay to take the role.
And has it been fun?
Duchovny: There have been fun days.
Anderson: Today is a fun day. Yeah.
Duchovny: Yeah. It's fun to work with Gillian. To me, that's been the most fun part, just doing this thing again that we do.
What was it like to work together again?
Duchovny: It wasn't really any missed beat. It's just kind of a weird thing we can fall into.
Anderson: I didn't think about it before we did it. Then I thought maybe that was a mistake. Then, it's like, that was easy.
Did you talk at all before you got here, gear up for the return?
Anderson: No, I wouldn't say "gearing-up." We have an ongoing relationship that's mostly based on logistics, mostly based in email.
Duchovny: We're not living together?
Anderson: We email each other across the road.
There's a lot of fan fiction out there where you guys are living together.
Duchovny: I know.
Anderson: We talked about it over breakfast a couple of times but, other than that, it was just having the conversation about what we now had decided to do and getting excited. If you looked at the track of our emails, it would be increasing enthusiasm. And then decreasing enthusiasm.
Duchovny: And then no emails at all.
What kind of prep did you do? Did you go back and watch any old episodes?
Anderson: I was going to and then I didn't.
Duchovny: Ran out of time?
Duchovny: It's funny. This thing has been how many years in the making, and then we run out of time.
Anderson: Yeah. Did you watch any?
Duchovny: I did watch a couple, but just the ones that I have on my iPad. There's three on my iPad for some reason, I don't know why. I can't remember what they are. I think one is your favorite.
Anderson: "Bad Blood"?
Duchovny: I think "Small Potatoes.” I don't know. What’s interesting, too, is that both of us have worked a lot since we began the show. It's fun to be a different actor playing these roles. For me, that's the interesting challenge. And I know you, I mean both of us, we're just, I don't want to say better, but we know what we're doing. When we first started, for both of us it was just a struggle to stay afloat. Just a struggle of, "F--k, am I going to be able to do eight pages today, and it's Tuesday?"
Anderson: Also for me, as a 24- or 25-year-old, there were so many things that I was still figuring out. I think one of the things that has helped me to actually get back into Scully is to tap into the innocence that she had back then because I was 25 years old. There actually is an inherent aspect of her that’s different from the other characters that I play: She is girlish in a sense. Once I realized that, I think it made it easier to savor and have fun with her.
These are characters we haven't seen since 2008. How are you guys approaching Mulder and Scully?
Duchovny: They remain similar to what they were and I think that's fair. I don't think it's fair for us as actors to go, "Hey, change these guys around because we want to.”
Anderson: But the scripts also dictate that. As long as we're playing the script, the characters reawaken within us.
Duchovny: They do. It's a very unconscious process, at least for myself, where I can just trust that however many years have intervened since we last did it, those are going be a part of me as I bring it to bare on the work. I gotta figure out what's an eight-year-older Mulder.
What is going on now with Mulder and Scully? What's the relationship?
Duchovny: What do we say?
Anderson: Sex change stuff.
The show's got a very different direction.
Duchovny: Caitlyn Mulder.
Anderson: I think it's already been discussed, already been printed that we're not living together.
Duchovny: We're separated.
The fans won’t like that.
Duchovny: You know you can't keep us apart for that long.
Mulder and Scully appeared to be heading toward a happy ending after the last movie.
Duchovny: We rode to the middle of the ocean together. Apparently that didn't work as relationship therapy.
How are the X-Files investigations revived?
Anderson: Skinner said so.
Duchovny: Skinner. Skinner does it.
Anderson: There are answers that need to be found.
Duchovny: And while we're answering them, we are acting like we're investigating, in a way, but it's my understanding that we're doing this while we're still waiting for the big other shoe to drop. It's like what you said, the world is coming to an end but here's a monster of the week story.
It's a mix of mythology and the classic monster of the week show. Of course, famously, in the mythology, the aliens were supposed to colonize earth in 2012. What happened?
Duchovny: They're on a different calendar than we are.
You mentioned there wasn't closure at the end of the last movie. What were your questions? What did you want to know?
Anderson: I don't know if I necessarily had questions. I just know that, for the fans, we potentially needed to give them more than we did with the second film. And also, people love the monster of the week episodes and that was a lot of what people wanted to see, more aliens. In and of itself, ending on a high note of aliens and monsters is potentially better than however we ended.
Duchovny: I think for me, it was more of a tonal thing because, however dark the X-Files got, or however bad things got for us, there was always a tone of wonder and hopefulness, in a way that I think the last movie kind of lost hold of. It was merely dark. I'm not saying that makes it bad. I'm just saying, if you wanted to end the X-Files, that was not the way to end it. I think what's great about the show that Chris created, it has the sense of, even if the aliens are going to colonize tomorrow, Mulder and Scully are hopeful characters. They're not down. I'm glad to recover that.
Although Mulder seems to be in a little bit of a midlife crisis.
Duchovny: In the first episode, he is down. He is a pain in the ass. Blue. In this one, it's the Darin Morgan funny version of being a pain in the ass. It makes the show very interesting as an actor. Even though it's the same place that Mulder is, it's a different kind of tonal performance.
Joel McHale guest stars in the first episode. It sounds like he sets up the rebirth of the X-Files.
Duchovny: His character, he's a kind of a talking head on a Fox-type, right-wing conspiratorial show. That's really our way back in. He claims to have some information for Mulder that he thinks Mulder will find interesting.
Have you seen some black oil yet?
Duchovny: I have not seen any black oil. Have you?
What was the first day back like?
Anderson: First days suck. Just in general. I hate first days. I suck. I always suck in the beginning.
Duchovny: You're a little nervous ...
Anderson: New crew. Figuring it out. Getting back into it.
Duchovny: I tend to hear the words in my head in a bad way, you know?
Anderson: I care too much in the beginning.
Duchovny: You care too much.
Anderson: And then I remember that I don't have to care so much. It'll all be all right.
Duchovny: The first day was actually similar to this for me. I had a bunch of s--t to say. It was hard because I haven't done that in a while. These guys talk a lot. These guys are blabbermouths. You can't really think your way through it. You just have to memorize it.
How surreal was it to show up on set and there's signs that say The X-Files?
Duchovny: I feel like my life is surreal. It just seemed like part of my life.
Anderson: That's interesting.
What are your expectations?
Duchovny: I try not to have expectations. You, Gillian? Do you have expectations?
Anderson: I initially had an expectation that six [episodes] would be it. I had no interest in doing any more. I think I'm a little bit more open to the idea of doing more, but under certain circumstances.
Duchovny: She's not going to say.
Anderson: I'm not going to say
Don't negotiate with the press.
Anderson: That's one thing I've learned.
Duchovny: It feels like a movie, because of the length of time. I can handle it. I think if it became our lives again... I don't want it that way. None of us really want it that way. We acknowledge the place the show has in our lives and in our careers. It's a cornerstone. We acknowledge for the fans how important it is and we love to do some. But it can't ever be the centerpiece of our lives again. If we can figure out a way to do it, then, I think, I'd like that.
The fans are waiting for more.
Anderson: For instance, I think to only do six every couple of years... I don't know about that. It just doesn't seem right, does it?
Duchovny: Is that not enough for you?
Anderson: Well, no. If we were going to do it, it makes sense that we'd do it every year.
Duchovny: I hadn't thought of that.
You both have very busy schedules.
Duchovny: We could shoot in London. We could shoot in New York. Six in London. How good would that be?
Anderson: It would be really weird.
The world changed a lot. It's funny when you go back to those first season episodes where you don't have a computer on your desk.
Anderson: This is the first episodes that really is dealing with internet, the shifts in internet.
Duchovny: My phone. I can't work my phone.
We live in an age of government surveillance and new conspiracy theories. Is it a ripe time to bring back the show?
Anderson: Chris made an interesting comment during San Diego Comic-Con that, during the Bush administration, it probably wouldn't have worked.
Duchovny: It's too close ...
Anderson: To reality?
Duchovny: Yeah. We started during Clinton and everybody was quite happy. It was the economy. It was the early 1990s. To bring darkness into it was fun. And then I think, when Bush came in, it was like, no, that's not so funny.
How much input did you give to Chris about where Mulder and Scully are now?
Duchovny: We don't really talk about it. It’s like Gillian and I are the curators of those characters, in a way. We let the writers do what they do. What brings us back has to be different. There has to be a decent curveball to start it all up again. I think that Chris came up with something really cool.
Can we expect Mulder and Scully to repair their relationship?
Duchovny: If I was a betting man, and again I am just really speaking as a betting man, not as somebody who knows anything. I would say they'd get back together, in some way. That's pretty much what everyone wants, right?
What the fans want.
Duchovny: So, you know, I think Chris likes to give the fans what they want. Personally, I'm way more miserly. I'd be like "F you guys, they're staying apart." That's why I don't have any friends.
Other guest stars include the Cigarette Smoking Man and The Lone Gunmen. Everyone is dead, but they find a way to come back.
Duchovny: Not a big enough hurdle in The X-Files to be dead. The new guest stars have been great, Joel McHale, Rhys Darby. Rhys was fantastic. So funny, I love Flight of the Conchords. I was really happy when they cast him. We had this guy from Silicon Valley who does an X-Files podcast.
Kumail Nanjiani. People still talk about X-Files. Do you ever look at what they write or say these days?
Duchovny: I don't read what anybody has to say about anything. It's not productive. I know myself at this point. Even if it's great, it's not productive.
You're not a big social media kind of guy.
Duchovny: I see the merits of it, especially because I've got other projects that don't have multi-billion dollar companies behind them. With Aquarius or this, I don't need to tweet. They're going to spend the money to make sure people know that it's out there. With my music or writing, nobody buys books anymore. So I tweet.
NBC picked up Aquarius for Season 2. When do you go back?
Duchovny: November 5 
What’s it like going back to the sixties?
Duchovny: I love it. They did this big experiment by streaming it and obviously, the actual ratings go down. But the number of people viewing it is been really strong and growing. I see it as a long term. [Executive producer] John McNamara sees it as five or six years. I hope we can get there because it's really a broad canvas. There's a lot to happen. No murders even, yet. It's a very relevant time to keep going back to.
In some ways, X-Files was the first show that people binged back in the day, via repeats and VHS tapes. What do you make out of how people watch TV now?
Duchovny: I see my kids do it, especially my daughter who is 16. She rarely turns on a television. She watches her computer or hooks her computer up to the television, which I don't know how to do. She's like a magician to me. I'm like, “You're a witch. How do you do all those things?"
Do your kids watch X-Files?
Duchovny: They’ve seen some. I think they're excited that we're doing it again. My son has seen more. My daughter, I'm not sure if she's seen any of them, really. Which is funny because she likes scary stuff. I think it's just weird to see your dad do stuff. Just weird.
What did your son think?
Duchovny: He likes it when things get blown up.
What else do you have going on next besides Aquarius?
Duchovny: I'm going to do a little touring with the music after I finish this. Then I've got another novel coming out next spring, after Aquarius. I don't know what else to do, really.
People are so passionate about the X-Files, of course. Your fans are your biggest critics.
Duchovny: I won't be paying attention, so feel free to say whatever you want. I think it's probably impossible to satisfy everybody. I think you just have to acknowledge and appreciate the passion of the fans without being attached to their reactions. In the end, we started doing this show before there was any fan reaction. We started doing the show before you could gauge fan reaction, except for Nielsen.
There's a big nostalgia kick going on right now. Can we expect a Californication reboot in, say, 2020?
Duchovny: That is not something I can do as I get too old. I always thought Californication was written as a movie. I thought it had a movie sensibility. When you do a cable show, people never really are aware when it's ended. People still ask me about Red Shoe Diaries.
People are eager to revisit old shows and movies. What do you make of reboot mania?
Duchovny: I still listen to the music I grew up listening to. I like the sound of it and it makes me feel good. Maybe we're like that. I don't know. I like to think that's not a good enough reason to do more shows. I would like to do more shows that are worthwhile, fun, scary, smart and funny. That could be just a lie I tell myself in order to get up in the morning and go to work.
The X-Files, Premieres Sunday, Jan. 24, 10/9c, Fox (after the NFC Championship game) | Timeslot premiere: Monday, Jan. 25, 8/7c