David Duchovny And Gillian Anderson On Keeping ‘The X-Files’ Relevant In An Utterly Different World


On the latest episode of The X-Files, FBI Special Agents Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) attempt to unravel the latest mysteries presented by the series’ ongoing alien conspiracy mythology. And just in case you were wondering, yes it’s 2018 and not 1993. Chris Carter’s popular science fiction series first premiered on September 10th, 1993 and ran until May 19th, 2002, but it returned for a short six-episode revival in 2016, which went well enough to produce yet another round.

Whether the 10th season was worth it became a subject of some debate, but a (better received) eleventh season premieres tonight. We spoke with Duchovny and Anderson about it at the 2017 New York Comic Con in October, at which point half of season 11 had been filmed. Despite the convention’s otherwise intense atmosphere, the pair was excited about the prospect of continuing Mulder and Scully’s respective storylines into the 21st century for a new batch of 10 episodes.

Coming back to this world for the second time in as many years, what’s been the biggest surprise?

Gillian Anderson: I guess the biggest surprise was how much fun it would be. We’ve had a lot of fun, and I don’t want to say this because there’s no wood around to knock on, but we’re halfway through it and it feels like the hours have been kinder to us this year. We haven’t been pulling many 17-hour days, which we used to do all the time. As an older person, that’s quite nice. So it feels like we are delivering everything that is expected of us to deliver, but it’s more manageable somehow.

David Duchovny: I don’t know if I’m surprised. I think what’s interesting to me is to think about how the world has kind of caught up to Mulder’s conception of it. You know, this was a guy who was telling us our government was lying to us back in ’93 and only a few people believed him. It’s an interesting proposition to take by putting this guy into a world that is maybe more receptive to his way of thinking. I think a lot of what makes the show interesting is that Mulder’s such an underdog. I’m not sure he is anymore. It’s such a different proposition.

You said what Mulder believed in 1993 is now seems more mainstream, yet what made him Mulder was his always being an outsider. Has the character changed now that his beliefs are no longer all that extraordinary?

Duchovny: Yeah, he would have to be. It’s interesting to think about it in terms of the internet, because back in ’93, and even until we stopped the run of the show, Mulder was getting his information from blogs, little newspapers, and other clandestine sources. Now that kind of information, false and true, is open to just about everyone. It’s an interesting question. I think there are interesting questions to be asked about how you play a character years later, or how the world has changed to either catch up to that character or make them utterly obsolete.

Ultimately what makes the show — or any drama, piece of entertainment, or art — enduring is actually something that never changes, which is our humanity. Our capacity to wonder, or to imagine. I think that that’s what the show was always about, and I think this or that president, the internet or not, phones or not — all of these things are as deep as they impact us all, but they’re actually superficial things. What the show is actually about, and to me what makes it enduring, is its humanity. Is it human? I hope so.

Now that the world has gone the way of Mulder, where does Scully’s skepticism fit? Does it?

Anderson: Even in the olden days the statement would be, “I didn’t see it. And even if I did see it, it still probably doesn’t exist. It can’t possibly exist.” You can still question the existence and the impossibility of something even though it’s right in front of you. So let’s say that an alien is standing in front of me. In that moment, you can still have the conversation about how that is even possible. David can still talk about its possibilities and I can still talk about its impossibilities, and yet we can both be looking at the same thing. This dynamic hasn’t changed at all, and maybe Scully’s degree of skepticism has shifted somewhat, but she is still a scientist and a doctor. She still has to ask those questions about the universe, to Mulder or anybody else she can talk to.

Back in 1993, could you have envisioned playing these characters almost 25 years later?

Duchovny: Well the way you put, it sounds like a nightmare. [Laughs.] I probably did. I remember agreeing to do the pilot and thinking, “I don’t really want to do television.” And then a life and a career happen. It’s the John Lennon quote: “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” Having said that, I have no regrets and nothing but gratitude for being able to do this. Not only is the work on this show gratifying, but it has enabled me to have a career that I don’t think I would have had otherwise.

I mean, who knows what kind of career you’re going to have? I wouldn’t have had this life unless I did the show, and I really can’t see what’s happening in an alternate universe. I remember talking with my manager at the time and saying, “This is a show about aliens but I like the pilot, so let’s do the pilot and then I won’t have to do any television because nobody’s going to watch this. It’ll be a good pilot, but it’ll never catch on.” [Laughs] This is why I’m an actor and not in marketing.

How have you seen television change over your careers? After all, The X-Files remains a significant part of the medium’s past and present.

Anderson: Well it certainly feels like this show was at the beginning of the type of TV we see today, for which so much money is put into the cinematography. When so much attention was paid to those kinds of details. It felt very cinematic from the very beginning, and I think it introduced something to audiences that was so addictive, people had to come back every single week and watch what came next. We were very much at the beginning of that addiction and might be a little responsible for it — especially now that streaming has become such a way of life. Plus, we were also at the beginning of modern science fiction on television. It feels like every other new show is, or has something to do, with the sci-fi genre.

But one of the things that we have always done, which doesn’t seem to be picked up by others, is mixing serialization with one-off episodes. All of our episodes are quite different, and there are three different types that we do — mythology episodes, comedic ones, and “monster of the week” entries. Somehow we were able to sell that in a way that audiences accepted as being a part of our world and our reality. I think that’s an element that fans have come to appreciate with this show and this genre.

Are you approaching Mulder and Scully any differently now that you’re doing shorter seasons?

Duchovny: No. I mean, it doesn’t really factor into an actor’s consciousness. Maybe in the sense of, say, wanting to kick ass in a couple of episodes and risk hurting myself — I think about that because we’re only doing 10. If it’s 24, however, I’d say, “Let’s maybe take it easy.” Though nothing in terms of a mental or spiritual approach to the role. Physically? Yeah, maybe physically. Then I’m more down for some badass action and fighting.

You both have these sturdy foundations to rely on with Mulder and Scully. Coming back for this new season, was there anything new you wanted to bring to them?

Duchovny: Maybe in the back of my mind, but that’s not really fair, you know? I can’t suddenly tell the writers, “Hey guys, I want purple hair,” you know? Mulder is who he is, the show is what it is, and my job as the guy who plays him is to make sure he’s as believable as possible. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s scary, but it’s always supposed to be as real as it can be. The performances shouldn’t cater to my own whims as an actor who wants to be seen one way or another. I can’t just show up and say, “Hey, he’s got a French accent!”

Obviously not to such extremes. Even so, I think it’s a fair question to ask since The X-Files returning must factor in the changes these characters have experienced over time.

Duchovny: Sure.

Anderson: I think one of the biggest questions for me as an actor coming back to something after so much time is the fact that I don’t look like the young Scully. My face is much more angular, and I’ve obviously aged a few decades. If that’s the case, and I am emulating somebody that exists in celluloid who is so much younger, what are the elements of her that are still evident? Which elements are appropriate and which are inappropriate? Because they’re a matter of one’s age and how one ages or matures, but you don’t want to commit any kind of ageism. That’s been an ongoing thing for me, though it isn’t necessarily a conundrum. I just want to do right by her. From the very beginning of her inception, Scully has been at the forefront of representation of women on television. I want to make sure I get it right.

The 11th season of The X-Files premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.