David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson Have a Love-Hate Relationship With Their X-Files Characters
When The X-Flies returned to the small screen in 2016 after a 14-year absence from primetime television, it seemed an impossible dream come true for the legions of fans of the franchise. As star David Duchovny told Esquire.com at the time, “I’d assumed it was dead.”
In what creator Chris Carter (and many other TV writers and critics) calls the Golden Age of Television, the series was able to reboot in a six-episode story arch that avoided the drag of the old-school 24-episode season while garnering solid reviews and getting bang-up ratings in the process. It also, of course, whetted the appetite for the show’s rabid fanbase for more.
And so Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are back as Fox premieres the eleventh season of The X-Files. Over the course of the 10 episodes in the current season, the cliffhanger from Season 10 is resolved, we find out more about Mulder and Scully’s son, and the duo still investigate aliens and the paranormal—all with the not-so-subtle backdrop of the current political climate and the war on the truth the current president seems to be waging every day.
“It's a curious time to be doing the show because everything is upside-down,” Carter told me during an interview at New York Comic Con last fall, where he announced the new season. “There's been a flip since we were first on the air. Now it's as though people don't trust science anymore. In fact, they don't trust anything! Although they do believe in something: They believe in conspiracy theories, more than ever, it seems.”
So how did Carter deal with the current occupant of the White House as a backdrop?
“I’m thinking more apocalyptic,” he says, straight-faced.
At the heart of it all, of course, is the unique and enduring chemistry between Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, one that always made The X-Files so special. One of television’s classic dynamic duos, the pair set the template for the countless male/female buddy procedurals that pepper television today.
“There’s a lot of soul at the heart of The X-Files, and that wouldn't be there without David and Gillian,” Carter says. “I tell people all the time, it's a little bit of a miracle that David and Gillian have so much chemistry, because when we cast them as individual actors we couldn’t put them in a room together and simply say, ‘Chemistry.’ We just hoped that it would work, and remarkably it did from the moment I first saw them on the first day of shooting in Vancouver in 1993. There was just something there.”
“There is a lot of soul there,” Duchovny says, clearly in agreement with Carter. “But, you know, I do think there's also something to the fact that we kind of flip-flopped the gender roles early on, before it was ‘smart,’ or whatever, to do. Mulder was kind of this guy being instinctual, emotional, irrational, while Gillian—Scully—was rational and stoic. At least in TV terms, I think that was revolutionary, and it strengthened our performances because it was something Gillian and I could both sink our teeth into.”
Anderson agrees, but adds that there’s another, simpler component to her onscreen chemistry with Duchovny, as well as the rest of the cast.
“Ultimately, they care so much about each other, and you can see that,” she explains of their characters, adding that as the affection grew between the cast during the long hours filming in Vancouver in the 1990s during the show’s original run, the chemistry also grew onscreen. “It's evident that they have each other’s backs. Whether we're working on a mythology episode or a ‘ghost of the week’ episode or episodes featuring the more personal issues of the characters, the backbone of it is that they are a team and they really care for each other.”
When speaking to Duchovny and Anderson, the sense of camaraderie and intimacy so palpable onscreen is just as evident in person. They joke and chide each other easily, and finish each other’s thoughts like an old married couple—just the way you’d want them to. So it’s no surprise that the new season of The X-Files makes use of that chemistry in a way that would have been impossible in the show’s early days.
“I was learning how to act in front of the camera,” Duchovny jokes of the show’s early days. “I won't speak for Gillian, but to be totally honest, I taught myself how to act during the first two or three years of the show. I was forced to everyday. I had to go to work and act.”
Now, he says, it’s easier. Though the challenges are different.
“Regardless of whether I was playing the same guy or not, you must ask yourself why you’re doing it and what you’re trying to accomplish,” Duchovny says. “With Gillian—and everyone we work with on this show—when we come back, there are things that have happened before that brings up dissociation and memories. Also, as performers, we want different things from the work at hand. We are more questioning and have many different ways to approach any given scene now. We’re able to create fuller, richer characters and performances not just because we have history, but because the material is really good and we’ve grown as actors.”
Carter says the time away from the characters that Duchovny and Anderson have spent on the host of other projects they’ve been associated with—most notably Californication for Duchovny and The Fall for Anderson—has helped them grow as actors in ways he couldn’t have imagined when the series began, more than twenty years ago. But that space away from Mulder and Scully, say Duchovny and Anderson, is precisely what’s made it possible for them to return to the roles.
“In the thick of it there were times when I’d call up Chris and I'd say, ‘I don't know how many more ways to be skeptical. I really I can't say this again. I just don't have it in me,’” says Anderson. “There were definitely times where I was struggling with Scully, and I was not appreciative of the very essence of who she was because of that fact.”
“Mulder is always Mulder, and he has to drive the fucking story. It was something that started to drive me crazy,” says Duchovny. “I was like, ‘Fuck. Somebody else drive the fucking bus. How can he be excited about this stuff every fucking week?’ We had this rock from Mars joke—based on a scene where Gillian and I were tired, and we were shooting some scene and we had a rock from Mars there—and we were reacting as though it was nothing, because I was like, ‘Every week there's a rock from Mars!’”
“After that, whenever we’d flag, Chris would yell ‘Rock from Mars!’ and that meant that we had to kick it in the ass,” Anderson says, finishing Duchovny’s thought. The pair, of course, crack up at the memory.
“The thing is, now, we don’t need that sort of motivation,” Duchovny says. “It’s much, much easier now. Look, we both have love-hate relationships with our characters. I'm sure Gillian loves and hates Scully, and I know I love and hate Mulder. But in terms of the show’s history and where that places us in the new season, I wouldn't change anything about the characters or the way they're written.”
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.