SDCC | After 20 Years, Fans Still Want to Believe in ‘The X-Files’
After 20 years, nine seasons, one spinoff, two movies and a recently launched comic book series, fans still want more of The X-Files.
The Comic-Con International panel celebrating Chris Carter’s influential sci-fi series brought together many of the show’s writers to discuss the broad and deep legacy of The X-Files in front of a massive crowd in Hall H. Carter and writers/producers David Amann, Vince Gilligan, Howard Gordon, Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan, John Shiban and Jim Wong took the stage first — and after moderator Michael Schneider of TV Guide provided their introductions, stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson took the stage for an unannounced (but not unexpected) appearance.
Carter began by talking about the earliest days of The X-Files, when he was trying to garner interest from television networks. “I pitched the show to Fox once, they said, ‘Thank you very much,’” Carter said, but the network didn’t want it. “I pitched it again, I took some visual aids, but I don’t think they knew what they had until we finally aired.”
For the 20th anniversary of the show, Schneider asked whether fans would get “the Mulder and Scully sex scene they’ve been waiting for.”
“We shot it, we shot it,” Anderson joked.
As to how the show influenced the panelists’ careers, Gilligan, who went on to create Breaking Bad, said, “There would be no Breaking Bad without The X-Files.” “I learned everything I know about writing for television and producing for television from this job,” he explained. “It was like going to film school but getting paid to attend.”
“The show was so flexible and could encompass so many different ideas,” Duchovny said. “My thought was, whenever we can come back to it, we should. And we will.” Although prompted, Carter refused to confirm a third X-Files film.
Carter said that if The X-Files had premiered today now rather than 20 years ago, “I don’t think that much would have changed,” other than minor adjustments due to changing technology, such as the ubiquity of cell phones. “Even then, it was advanced for its time — they were using cell phones in ’93.”
“We were just talking about how, for the pilot, we had a cell phone on set, but it was the brick-in-a-briefcase,” Duchovny said. “I don’t think we actually used cell phones on the show for a couple years.”
Carter added later that it would be possible to launch The X-Files today because of the pervading culture and a fascination with conspiracy theories, but it would not have been possible to launch a similar series in, for example, 2002, because then “people trusted, or wanted to trust, the government.” “There was a period when The X-Files wasn’t relevant.”
Asked about playing the Flukeman, Darin Morgan joked that he enjoyed “interacting with David in the pool.”
Shiban’s son Jerry, who played Scully’s baby in Season 8 when only 6 weeks old, was invited on stage for a brief appearance. “He looks like me,” Anderson joked.
Carter then spoke about IDW Publishing’s recently launched X-Files Season 10 comic, which he said is made for the medium and would not necessarily feed into the next movie. “Writer Joe Harris has some really terrific ideas, so I think they’re going to be really good on their own,” he said. “They are kind of their own mythology.”
Shiban spoke about the deaths of the Lone Gunmen in the 2002 episode “Jump the Shark,” describing them as great characters. However, he explained their role on the series had run its course, and when the spinoff wasn’t picked up for a second season, “that’s when the discussion began” about how to handle them. “We want to give people closure,” Shiban said. “Their death came up, some of us were against it, some us were for it — I think it was an honorable death.”
Glen Morgan described the origins of the infamous episode “Home,” which he said was inspired by the documentary Brother’s Keeper, about three brothers in a rural farming community who allegedly murdered a fourth. “It’s a great documentary,” Morgan said. “They’re kind of incestuous, and they murder each other.” Working this into The X-Files, he added, involved looking for ways to tie it into where the characters are in their arcs — such as Scully’s desire to be a mother.
The other inspiration for “Home,” Morgan continued, was a story he recalled about Charlie Chaplin’s vaudeville days, when he lived in a tenement house. “There was a family there, and he had dinner with them and they took a liking to Chaplin, because, you know, who wouldn’t?” he said. “And they go, ‘We like you, we want to show you something. And they took him back into this back room that had just one bare bulb and a cot. Under the cot, they rolled out a teenage boy with no arms and legs. And they stood him up, and the family just kind of stood around and clapped and the boy kind of danced. And then they put him back on the roller and put him back under the bed. And Chaplin immediately left.
“I’d been thinking about that for a long time, wanting to put something like that in a show,” Morgan said. Wong added the piece that “It’s the mother” that would create the germ for the classic episode. “It had one airing and it was banned, so Jim and I don’t get rerun money for that.”
Asked about favorite Mulder/Scully moments, Duchovny cited the scene in “Postmodern Prometheus” where “we all get up to dance.” Anderson said that although “the conversation on the rock” is often mentioned by fans, “I don’t remember it.”
On the subject of favorite bad guys, Amann said John Lee Roche, noting that, “You got to do a lot of character work with the villains, it was something the show paid a lot of attention to.” Gilligan cited the character played by Peter Boyle (Clyde Bruckman), who wasn’t a villain but was the antagonist for an episode. He also noted Bryan Cranston as “a fruitful villain,” named Patrick Crump after one of Gilligan’s high school teachers. Gordon, who created Krycek, said the character began as a stopgap during Anderson’s maternity leave but grew into a major character. Darin Morgan said his favorite baddie was Flukeman, to general but light laughter. Shiban was asked to speak about “the Butt Genie” from Season 8. “It was a learning experience for me, and that was question what you’ve done and see if you can make it better, make it scarier.” He said the pitch was based on an Indian myth about a man who could make himself tiny, crawl in a person’s ear and control him. “Chris said, ‘It would be scarier if he crawled in his ass.’ And I said, ‘Goddammit, he’s right!’”
Wong said his favorite villain was the Cigarette Smoking Man, who also began as a small role.
Duchovny recounted an anecdote about a scene he had to film without the actor playing the villain, and not knowing what the baddie would look like. “I was told by the director, Michael Watkins, that this was a hideous, terrible, terrible monster, and that I was going to be terrified of it,” Duchovny said. “Then the guy came out in the suit, and I’ll never forget, Michael Watkins said, ‘He looks like the guy who fucked Mrs. Butterworth!’”
The floor was opened to questions, and a fan asked what Mulder and Scully would do if they ever went on a real date. “Have sex,” Anderson offered. “Then maybe go to a movie,” Duchovny added.
Carter said, “Scully was kind of my fantasy woman. She was strong and smart and opinionated and resourceful and tough, all of those things that like.?
Referring to the otherwise-skeptical Scully’s faith, a fan asked why Carter wrote a religious aspect into “a show about extra-terrestrials.” “It was a natural for me, because she was a scientist, but that made her sort of slightly a one-dimensional character,” Carter said. The religious upbringing brought internal tension to her perspective, he said.
One fan praised the series creators for pioneering open-ended storytelling on television, and while Carter acknowledged The X-Files wasn’t the first, he agreed it was nevertheless influential in that regard. “People had done the open-ended thing successfully,” he said, “but we showed you could actually have an ongoing spine to the mythology people would keep coming back to.”
A fan said that Scully inspired her to study physics through to her PhD, and asked whether Anderson had heard other stories like hers. Anderson cited an article called “The Scully Effect,” which suggested there was a spike in women studying physics after The X-Files aired.
Although Anderson had said she never wanted to do TV again after The X-Files, she said that after a while of turning down what could have been quality material, she ultimately decided to make her return with The Fall and Hannibal. “It was mostly just because of the time commitment,” she said of desire to leave television behind.
Schneider, the moderator, asked whether Anderson and Duchovny might guest star on each other’s show. “Apparently not,” Anderson mock-pouted. Duchovny said, “I always felt there was something so special about Mulder and Scully. I love Gillian and I love working with her, but it would have to be something so special for me to cross that line.”
Anderson concluded the panel with an impromptu live auction for a signed Mulder and Scully cardboard standup for charity. Bidding shot quickly to $1,500.
“This is how we’ll get the movie made!”