X-Files’ David Duchovny talks success and the return of Mulder and Scully

The truth is finally out there: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson did not get along while they were making The X-Files series from 1993 to 2002.

Of course, it is all smiles now that they have reunited to reboot the hit show, the pair putting aside their long-rumoured differences to promote their new six-episode miniseries, which debuts in Singapore on Monday and Tuesday on Fox (StarHub TV Channel 505 and Singtel TV Channel 330).

With a little prodding, however, Duchovny, 55, reveals that he and his 47-year-old co-star “acted crazy” when they first played FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, whose investigations of paranormal phenomena and other strange cases became a pop-culture sensation in the 1990s.

In an interview with The Straits Times and other press in Los Angeles, the actor says: “When you’re doing a show like we did, you’re talking about eight or nine years of working 12 to 14 hours a day with the same person.”

Adds Duchovny, who won a Golden Globe in 1997 for Best Dramatic Actor for his role: “On top of that, we went from complete obscurity as actors and people to worldwide stardom and I think we both went somewhat crazy.

“The thing about being crazy is that you don’t know you’re crazy. But, with time, I think we can both look back and appreciate why the other was crazy and forgive.”

At a press conference earlier in the day, he and Anderson say it took years before they stopped feeling typecast because of the long shadow cast by the show – then a genre-bending Emmy and Golden Globe winner whose writers went on to create hits such as Breaking Bad and 24.

Anderson, who later found acclaim as a stage actress and was the star of two serial-killer dramas, Hannibal (2013 to 2015) and The Fall (2013 to present), says: “It took a good decade for me to start thinking of it as the gift that it was and appreciate the opportunity I had and how fortunate I was to play a great, iconic character in a show.”

Duchovny agrees. “It took a while to recognise it as the gift that it is and that’s why we’re able to come back now,” says the actor, who picked up another Golden Globe in 2008 for his TV comedy-drama Californication (2007 to 2014).

All this may seem like an odd thing to care about if you are not an X-files fan, of course. But you do not have to be one to acknowledge its role in the birth of modern fan culture and the ascendance of the once niche science-fiction, horror and comic-book genres.

The series, which remains one of the longest continuously running sci-fi TV shows, began as a cult hit, but soon brought its ideas about aliens, the supernatural and government conspiracies into the mainstream.

The relationship between Mulder and Scully was also an early prototype in the phenomenon now known as "shipping", whereby fans imagine or encourage a romantic relationship between two characters or celebrities.

Duchovny hints that the new series may give many viewers what they want in this regard, even though it will begin by disclosing that they did get together at one point but broke up.

He says: "It seems important to certain fans that Mulder and Scully be together romantically, but stasis and a good relationship are not exciting dramatically because you want your show to move.

"So I think the fans would be more pleased knowing that if you start broken up, you're probably trending towards getting back together rather than the other way round."

The Yale- and Princeton-educated performer - who has a 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son with his ex-wife, actress Tea Leoni - has had a lot of time to mull over the show's broader cultural legacy, though he freely admits he failed to anticipate any of it.

Doing a sci-fi show "was not something I ever wanted to do", he says. "In fact, it would've been a mark against it because, at that point, they were campy, kitschy and badly acted.

"And I think The X-Files kind of changed that. We approached the show as sci-fi, but we tried to be real people, we tried to have depth and play it as realistically as we could."

Still, he was "shocked our show did well - I was shocked people were into aliens and liked sci-fi, I was shocked every step of the way.

"So I've been behind the curve and blind to that movement."

He adds that he stays away from social media and watches few TV shows apart from the reality dating programme The Bachelor, which he views with his daughter and finds "to be way more frightening than The X-Files".

When it comes to The X-Files' success, he is "happy to be part of it and happy to have a job", even though he "couldn't care less" that shows and films such as these have come to dominate the entertainment universe.

He continues to be surprised by the show's influence on the sci-fi and supernatural genres, although he jokes that the theme song from the Twilight vampire movies sounds suspiciously "like The X-Files song, with one note missing".

"How come nobody's ever mentioned it? It's like it goes, 'doot, doot, doot… dooo' - am I wrong? It's great what they're doing there, but they can come up with their own tune!"

When it comes to the idea of government cover-ups, which the show helped popularise with its storyline about a conspiracy to hide the existence of aliens, Duchovny says he remains sceptical even in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations about the American government's secret surveillance programmes.

"My personal view on conspiracies is that people can't keep secrets. I've never known one f*****g person to keep a secret, so I find it hard to believe they're keeping aliens from us because it's pretty juicy. You can't come home and go, 'Honey, I've got to tell you something, but you've got to promise not to tell anybody - I saw an alien today!'

"Does the government keep secrets? Sure. Are some worse than others? Sure. But why would they be hiding this?" he says, adding that it is just "good storytelling" by X-Files creator Chris Carter and the other writers that makes this seem plausible.

Duchovny thinks the new TV landscape lends itself well to The X-Files' unique formula, which blends sci-fi with horror, comedy and drama, and procedural cases with an overarching narrative.

This is why he agreed to reprise the role for a short "event series" instead of doing a third film or a traditional 24-episode season.

"When I stopped doing the series, it was my understanding with Chris that we would extend it into a movie franchise. I thought we were a natural fit for the movies because it always felt like we were making movies on TV.

"And our first movie did well, but the second one didn't do well and it seemed like we were done," he says of The X-Files films made in 1998 and 2008.

He adds: "And then TV changed itself - cable started doing the most amazing TV and ushering in seasons of six to 12 episodes, rather than being locked up for 24. And then it became clear that we can do it this way and maybe this is where the show does best because it's such a flexible and varied show and it's too hard to fit all of that into a movie."

He will not speculate about the franchise's future beyond the miniseries, or on rumours of plans for a spin-off based on the two new FBI agent characters played by Robbie Amell and Lauren Ambrose.

But he feels like The X-Files will endure in one way or another.

"This character is so special to me - it was the beginning of everything for me and the show was special too because in some ways it didn't leave the culture.

"You're lucky if people want to continue to see characters you've done."

  • The X-Files returns with a two-night premiere on Fox (StarHub TV Channel 505, Singtel TV Channel 330) on Monday and Tuesday at 9pm. Episodes 3 to 6 air on subsequent Tuesdays at 9pm.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2016, with the headline 'When Mulder met Scully'. Print Edition | Subscribe