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'The X-Files' Homecoming: The Truth is Back Where it Belongs, Where it All Started
June 9, 2015  | By Alex Strachan
 

VANCOUVER, B.C.  — The X-Files is back where it started, but a lot has changed in the months and years since the then series finale aired on May 19, 2002.

David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and original series writer-creator — and now director — Chris Carter returned earlier this week to the small cluster of soundstages on Vancouver’s North Shore where it all began in September 1993.

Much has changed, and not just the times. An uncharacteristically early summer heat wave has settled over southwestern Canada and the Pacific Northwest and there is every chance The X-Files’ production team will have to dig deep to reproduce the damp chill and drizzly skies that gave those early seasons of X-Files their brooding look and unsettling atmosphere.

Couple that with 16-hour days of daylight this time of year, and the crew could very well be facing 10 weeks of overnight shoots and wrestling with water towers.

That assumes The X-Files will return to its eerie, supernatural roots, though. And assumptions are dangerous, where the X-Files brain trust is concerned.

The story, plot and overarching mystery are being kept secret, down to the smallest detail. No surprise there. The original X-Files kept stories secret, too, but that was in an age before Twitter, Instagram and spoiler sites. Even the production’s email address — conspiracyoffice — is deliberately oblique, and can be changed in a heartbeat. Perhaps by the time you read this…

Parent network Fox has tipped that these new episodes, billed as an “event series” along the lines of Wayward Pines and 24: Live Another Day, will bow on Jan. 24, immediately following the NFC Championship game.

Production, which began this week, is set to continue until August 15. Original X-Files writers Glen Morgan and James Wong are involved, along with Darin Morgan, who penned the Emmy Award-winning third-season episode Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (left Duchovny with guest star Peter Boyle). Familiar returning faces, aside from Duchovny and Anderson, include William B. Davis, aka Cigarette Smoking Man; Annabeth Gish, as Monica Reyes; and Mitch Pileggi, as FBI assistant director Walter Skinner.

As 24: Live Another Day showed, though, the new X-Files will have to remodel itself for new times and a new day — and not just because the lead actors have aged 20 years. In a world of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, it’s hard to imagine that a single TV series can capture the public imagination, even among those who don’t watch TV, but that’s exactly what The X-Files did in the decade leading up to 9/11. Long before Ed Snowden became a household name, The X-Files posited a world in which the government keeps life-and-death secrets from its people, even in the land of the free and home of the brave.

It’s hard to remember now, but the pilot episode of the short-lived X-Files spin-off The Lone Gunmen (below right), written by Carter with Frank Spotnitz, John Shiban and Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan, revolved around a plot to fly a commercial airliner into the Twin Towers.

That episode aired on March 4, 2001.

In a recent sit-down with this reporter, Carter marveled that X-Files has stood the test of time as well as it has, despite our collective shortened attention spans.

“The fact that we’re still talking about it today shows just what an effect it had, and still has,” Carter said. “It’s humbling.”

The X-Files flirted with cancellation during its first season. It wasn’t until the third season that it showed growing signs of becoming a cultural phenomenon. At the time, Carter called a snap meeting of his actors and crew, telling anyone who would listen that lightning-in-a-bottle might happen only once in a lifetime, where TV careers are concerned, to enjoy the moment and put everything they could into making X-Files the best show it could be while the opportunity presented itself. You never know when a similar moment may come around again, Carter told them. Nothing is worse, behind the scenes in TV, than letting a good opportunity pass and then regretting it later.

His crew, to their credit, listened.

The new X-Files will not just be X-Files 2.0. Mulder is older, if not exactly wiser, still determined to expose alien truths to the world. That world has moved on in many ways, though. Hard as it may be to believe for die-hard X-Files fans, X-philes, the new episodes will need to resonate with a Millennial audience, many of who grew up on Lost rather than X-Files, if it is to be a mainstream hit again.

Back in Vancouver, the past has already proven difficult to avoid. In many respects, Duchovny, Anderson and many in the original crew grew up while working on the original. Anderson fell in love, married, had her first child, and evolved from her 20s to her 30s. Both actors went on to respectable careers after The X-Files. It’s a mark of post-series success when an actor can play another role without forever being compared to the role that made him/her famous. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has done it with Veep; she has evolved far beyond Elaine in Seinfeld. Duchovny did with Californication (above left) and, more recently, Aquarius. Anderson has done it with Bleak House, The Fall and Hannibal — all different roles, different from each other and different from the X-Files role that came before.

Carter has said that he originally brought The X-Files here for the different looks Vancouver provided, everything from the deciduous rain forests of the Pacific Northwest to the flat prairie grasslands of the American grain belt to, in a pinch, major American metropolises like Washington, D.C. (A common joke among the crew, often related with much cursing and swearing, was how to shoot around the “Washington, D.C. mountains.”)

Carter came for the location, but stayed in large part because of the crew.

No hour-long weekly dramatic series is easy to produce, but The X-Files was especially challenging, with its different story locale each week and the need to cast every episode more-or-less from scratch, with a new cast of supporting players expected to take on a different regional accent and look each week, based on where that week’s episode was set.

Carter knew he had a crew he could count on, and in turn the crew had his back.

There’s a story, as told to this writer by a technician who was with The X-Files from the beginning — someone who would go on to be Emmy-nominated for his work on the show — about how Carter, without realizing it at the time, earned the loyalty and respect of the crew.

The story goes that, very early in The X-Files production, Carter (right) showed up unannounced on a Sunday, at the modest North Vancouver studio complex X-Files would call home for five years.

No one was around at the time but the lone security guard manning the front gate. The guard didn’t know Carter from Adam. He assumed Carter was some nut, looking to lurk with intent, and so he denied him access to the lot.

Instead of throwing a Hollywood-style power tantrum — which many producers would have done — Carter quietly acquiesced. He backed up his car, parked it surreptitiously on a side street, went to the back of the studio lot, and let himself in under the fence.

He left the same way — because he didn’t want to embarrass the guard, or cause a scene. He got the work done that he needed to do, and that was all that mattered to him.

When word got back to the crew, there was little they would not do for him from that moment on.

That’s not the reason The X-Files became a hit, of course. A lot more goes into the making of a hit TV series than a loyal, hard-working crew.

But it does explain why the team — including Duchovny and Anderson — has remained tight after all these years.

Later during the X-Files’ stay in Vancouver, when the scene got a bit nutty, with paparazzi chasing Anderson night and day over travails in her private life, and with the non-troversy over Duchovny and his alleged dislike of the rain — spoiler alert: Duchovny loves the rain; the story started because of a late-night comedy bit he did for Conan O’Brien’s Late Night at the time — the crew became a de facto security blanket, doing their jobs and looking out for the interests of their young actors at the same time.

On the final night of filming in Vancouver — I was there, the only journalist personally invited to witness those final moments of filming  — burly grips, electricians, camera operators and others hugged, smiled and teared up after the final “Cut, and print!” It was an emotional scene. I was privileged to see things from Carter and from production boss R.W. “Bob” Goodwin that left an indelible impression.

The X-Files would go on for four more years, successful years at that, in its new home in Los Angeles.

Not one person that night — not Anderson, nor Duchovny, nor Carter himself — could have foreseen that The X-Files would return one day, with new TV episodes. Certainly not 20 years down the road.

And yet, here we are.

 
 
 
 
 
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