By Stephen Saban
It's as cheery here as an airport runway in winter. It's cold, it's bleak, it's raining. Looking out to the horizon, I'm reminded of the Andrew Wyeth painting with that crippled chick crawling across the grass. If she were in *this* landscape, she'd be dead.
The lone house, set back from a road adjacent to a stretch of railroad tracks, would give even Ed Gein the willies. To the right of it, across a muddy dirt path, is a vast patch of land. It appears to be a field of bad dreams; Disturb it and they will come. Federal agents, local enforcement officers, a camera crew, and curious bystanders hover around a chilling 6-by-10 excavation. Judging by the human bones jutting from the loose soil, it's some kind of grave.
Aubrey Police Department vehicles with Missouri plates are parked around the site. Which is odd, since this is South Surrey, British Columbia. Someone hands me a pair of latex gloves and a small camera, which I hang around my neck. I join the others at the grave, almost as if I belong here. (Quite frankly, I'm not myself today.) FBI special agent Fox Mulder approaches me. "You should moonwalk around this grave," he tells me. I ask him to show me how. "I can only do this much of it," he says, stepping back once on the damp sod. "But it's the appropriate movement to make around someone's bones." He grins at me, or squints.
I'm thinking, *Beat it*. "Don't talk to me," I tell him. "I'm in *character*."
A decade ago, friends used to gather for dinner parties in front of the TV to dish DYNASTY. More recently, younger crowds have ordered in while checking out what's cooking with Alison and Amanda. But right this minute, a more subversive, less social group of people whose members, inspired by the rallying cry of "The truth is out there," feats on their favorite show alone, convening to discuss it only after it's aired. The most dedicated fans of THE X-FILES get together on the Internet (alt.tv.x-files) to critique its plots, dialogue, lighting, mood, gaffes, sexual and political implications, and hairstyles. They call themselves X-philes.
A first-time viewer might find an episode flat, impenetrable, vague. And so dark and atmospheric that it seems possible the director forgot to order "Lights!" But regular fans know that goth is in the details. Their comments on the Internet range from the frivolous ("It looks like Mulder got his hair cut with a Weed Eater. I know they want him to look like a FBI agent, but does he have to look like a geek?") to the trivial ("Any idea why the cigs were named Morleys?") In space, no one can hear you scream. In THE X-FILES, you're encouraged not to. The scripts are purposely unemotional; the plots are grounded in mundane reality; Vancouver's dank weather costars with a steady stream of paranormal beings and nothingness. THE X-FILES is a cops 'n' robbers show, but the cops are special agents of the FBI and the robbers are anything but the usual suspects. Perps of late have been alien abductees; giant fluke worms from the sewer; bloodthirsty computers; genetically altered, viscera-eating serial killers; vampires; manitous; and our own government. Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, played with understated frisson by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, have been relegated to the Bureau's X-files, a cut-out bin for cases it would prefer left unsolved.
How do I happen to be in a van on my way to becoming an X-tra? It's an unexplained phenomenon, of course. The director, Rob Bowman, is in the front passenger seat; I'm in the back with actress Deborah Strang. I'm thinking *Where's the limo?*
An unplugged but no-less-powerful Kurt Cobain belches out of the speakers. Miles pass. We look out the windows and think of suicide. Finally I ask Rob, "Are you playing this to get in the mood to direct?"
"No," Rob replies. "Though I like Cobain, I try to use music without lyrics. Lyrics are distracting. I've found that Henryk Gorecki's SYMPHONY NO. 3 is very effective."
The episode we're shooting today is entitled "Aubrey." In a seedpod, the plot concerns a certain Detective B.J. Morrow (played by the rather strange Deborah Strang), who has inherited serial-killer genes from the man who raped her grandmother. Genetic memory compels her to copy his signature slasher technique. In other words, the girl can't help it. To say too much, if I haven't already, would be to create, in the language of the X-Philes, a SPOILER.
In the script, Mulder confesses, "I have a weakness for women named B.J." As the object of that bent, Deborah gets to morph from sedate detective to scabrous psychotic. I interrupt Deborah as she studies the script to ask if she's aware that the X-Philes will be dissecting her every moment. "Like the size of my *butt*?" she asks, appalled.
According to David Duchovny, Chris Carter "looks a little like Vitas Gerulaitis, or the porn star Randy West. Long blond surfer hair. Very California --handsome, blue eyes, tan, athletic." When I get Chris -- THE X-FILES 37-year-old creator, executive producer, and occasional writer --on the phone in Vancouver, I ask him if he has a philosophy that guides the series. Like Gene Roddenberry had with STAR TREK.
"What *was* his?"
I tell him I'm not sure. But it seems that THE X-FILES preoccupation is with its catch-phrase --"The truth is out there" --which appears in the title sequence every week.
"*and* 'Trust no one,'" he reminds me. " 'The truth is out there' is a nice double entendre. But as for a philosophy, I would just be happy to do the scariest, smartest show possible."
"Are you paranoid the FBI has a file on you?"
"Sure. I'm wondering if they didn't have one on me before."
For eight years prior to creating THE X-FILES, Chris freelanced in Hollywood, writing mostly comedy, including --and here's something the Bureau should investigate --the pilot for THE NANNY.
Last summer, TV GUIDE arranged for Chris, David, and Gillian to tour FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., and the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia. "They said, of course, that nothing like THE X-FILES exists," Chris tells me. "But the FBI is a very big place and they investigate a lot of... uh, stuff. So I have playfully refused to accept that answer."
I believe the truth may be out there, so I place a call to FBI special agent, John Kundts, who conducted that tour.
ME: There are no X-files?
KUNDTS: Not at all. The stories that are presented on TV are fictitious and we offer no technical assistance because we can't; They are not true stories, you know.
ME: Do you have agents who are as attractive as the two stars?
KUNDTS: We hope. We are looking for the best and the brightest, and in order to be an FBI agent you have to be intelligent and outgoing and inquisitive --traits that are exhibited by the actors. David Duchovny was working on his Ph.D. at Yale when he found it more lucrative to be an actor. Gillian is a graduate of DePaul University in Chicago.
ME: If I spotted a UFO and called the FBI, what would happen?
KUNDTS: Good question. Unless the UFO was somehow violating the laws or security interests of the United States, then the FBI per se would not have a legal basis to get into that arena, okay? The Department of Defense used to have an organization that looked into these, called Project Blue Book.
ME: Project Blue Book? Would that be like an X-file?
KUNDTS: The purpose of that office was to look into sightings, and what they were on a scientific basis. I suggest you call the Department of Defense.
ME: I see. So about that three-toed lizard person I have visiting me...
KUNDTS: Well, if you think it's a criminal threat, you should call your local authorities...
ME: He's very gentle.
KUNDTS: Then you should call the scientific community first. You might get more understanding there.
We're in the hair-and-makeup trailer and the more-handsome-than-a-100-movie-stars David Duchovny is getting his coif styled into Mulder's brush cut by Malcolm Marsden. Blue, David's 11-month-old dog, is running free. Though she's a mixed breed, she has quite a pedigree; Her mother was a featured player in the first season's "Ice" episode, concerning parasitic worms causing havoc at the polar cap.
"The X-philes know what kind of underwear you prefer," I tell David.
"I don't wear underwear," he says.
"Perhaps you should clear that up on the Internet. Have you ever made contact?"
"Twice," says the 34-year-old. "And I kinda got depressed, because all they were talking about was why Mulder didn't adjust the car seat after Scully had been driving. And I was like, 'What about my *acting?*' "
"Oh, they talk about the acting," I tell him. But they really get into other more important stuff --like his geek hair. I tell David that the X-philes are also unhappy with Gillian's hair this season. (So was Gillian. "When I was pregnant," she says, "something happened to my hair. I *hated* my hair then. If I could have shaved it all off, I would have been happy.")
"So, I got kinda down," David says, returning to his on-line memories. "But then my girlfriend did a show, and when it was her birthday I went back on the Internet to get some postings that would make her feel good."
Bad idea. That episode, "3," in which Mulder falls for a sultry vampire (David's off-screen love, Perrey Reeves), was not well received. At least not by the Internet's DDEB (David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade; Gillian Anderson has her own troops, the GATB). "They were split about the show," David says. "They didn't like me kissing some woman." (Although they didn't mind his *being* some woman when he camped it up as the transvestite detective Dennis Denise on TWIN PEAKS.)
I switch places with David in Malcolm's chair. I need a haircut. I always need a haircut, but today they're *making* me get one. While Malcolm hacks away, they're knocking at the trailer door. I'm thinking, *Five minutes, Mr. Saban!* Though I'm needed on the set, Malcolm says they can wait; ten minutes later I have a solid union haircut.
"What are you gonna be doing?" David asks me.
"Standing in a field looking at bones," I say.
"A man outstanding in his field?"
I've been in and out of my dressing trailer (next door to the one labeled OLD COKELY --practically my nickname in the '80s) three times. I've been a detective, a policeman, a reporter... a pawn and a king. Wardrobe had asked me to bring a suit, but when they see me in my Barneys pinstripe, they think I look more Madison Avenue than Missouri. Costume change. They find my own clothes unable to pass as a real reporter's. I'm thinking *But I am a reporter.* Finally they dress me in a plaid corduroy shirt, loose khakis, leather jacket, and baseball cap. With the addition of an ID badge --voila! --I'm a police photographer.
I'm thinking, *I'm ready for my script conference, Mr. Bowman* when the first assistant director, Val Stefoff, arrives. Not to give me my motivation, but to give me background information --I'm going to be in the background. He drops me off close to the grave, between the stars and the camera, and tells me that when the officer near me starts to dig, I'm to walk across the field and join the officer standing by the cop car.
When the film is rolling, I do that but don't know what to do once I get there. So I decide to do some business with the cop, who's pretending to write notes in a pad. I ad-lib "Tough case, huh?" His face contorts. "Shhh," he manages to say, without breaking character. Like this gig is gonna get him in Tarantino's next movie.
Like we're even *in* this shot. Next thing I know, my walk-across is revoked. Val places me on the other side of the grave and makes me squat there, virtually immobile. I'm taking photos of the bones, but a cop and a forensics guy are in my viewfinder. Being a Method extra, I want to move closer --but I don't want to be out of the scene. I'm stuck on my mark waiting for the cameras to roll. I take off my cap and try to fluff out my new haircut. Malcolm comes over from the sidelines. "Continuity!" he scolds. Seconds later, a girl runs up and snaps a reference Polaroid of me.
Gillian Anderson makes it clear that none of the factory-installed decor in her trailer reflects her taste. Still, it's spacious and warm and makes mine seem as inviting as a Portosan. "I think the primary appeal of the show, other than the look and the mood and the whole flavor, is the stories," she says. "And so many people enjoy being creeped."
Her 2-month-old baby, Piper, is off somewhere with her nanny or father. Gillian met her husband, Clyde, and X-FILES art director, shortly after she started the series. I'm thinking *Love at first sighting.* "Was it a close encounter?" I inquire.
She laughs, something I've never seen Scully do. "Somewhat," she says. "He was close, and we encountered each other."
I wonder how many X chromosomes Piper has.
"That's a funny question," she says, and then seems to give it some thought, as if I'd been serious. "I have no idea."
She's 26, she's beautiful, and she's mine. At least for the moment. I'm on a break from being a man out standing in his field and she's getting into character. As Dana Scully, a doctor assigned by the agency to keep the troublemaking Mulder in check, she's somber and analytical, and she's usually saddled with long shapeless coats: "We featured the coat at the end of last season and the beginning of this one to hide my pregnancy."
When the baby was due, the X-FILES writers created a 2-part episode that had her abducted by aliens. She disappeared for 2 weeks. (Talk about pregnant pauses.) It was no secret why she was gone, but how did the X-philes know that her baby was delivered by C-section?
"They heard about it before my *mom* knew," she says. "They knew within 3 hours. Maybe it was leaked by someone in the hospital."
Very Scully of her to think of that.
"Do I *care* about any of this?" Gillian says, laughing. We're talking about the paranormal and the paranoid. "I don't get wrapped up in what the scripts might say about our government's involvement. I have a general belief in the power of the mind, in psychokinesis and ESP. My belief is more spiritual. I'm less skeptical than Scully; more like Mulder. I believe that our universe is vast enough for other life-forms to exist."
"I believe in it abstractly but I would need some pretty severe proof," David says. "If they *have* been contacting us, why don't more people know about it? Why don't they just land in the middle of Times Square and be done with it? The stories are all very strange: people being abducted into spaceships and having their every orifice probed."
I shift in my seat, a bit uncomfortable.
"*Exactly!*" he says, grinning.
I tell him I know a nightclub in New York where the probing would be appreciated, and nobody would run whining to the FBI.
"Then they should land *there*," David says.
Morgan Woodward looks so convincing as the murderous Cokely that when I see him emerge from the house, I dare not approach him. If the landscape is remniscent of Andrew Wyeth, then he definitely smacks of Grant Wood --on life support. Cokely is attached, via cannula tubes, to an oxygen tank on wheels.
The sun's sinking fast, and the crew has to set up for night-for-day shooting inside the house. Plastic will be placed over the windows, giant floodlights will be trained through them from outside, and the interiors will be infused with smoke for the "sunlight" to play on.
"So I look like a geek?" David says. We're sitting now in the kitchen of the house. I can see Gillian in the other room, collapsed in an armchair, with Piper on her lap, covered in her Scully overcoat. Awwwww.
"So I look like a geek?" David asks again.
"To the 'Net people," I say.
"I'm supposed to look a little like one --my character is one. Not only that, I'm a geek among geeks. I'm the outcast."
An outgeek. "With your near-obsessive following, do you ever worry about stalkers?" I ask David.
"No, it's not something I can imagine. Although it's possible. I don't carry a gun. Or even a sock filled with sand or coins."
"Or a billiard ball."
"Very good! Obviously, you've been stalked."
"No, I haven't."
David laughs. "You say that so wistfully."
I spot Morgan on the other side of the door, in a corner, on the floor. He's in full Cokely jacket. He may be dead, or dying. Deborah, who plays B.J., his lethal spawn, lurks in a dark, smoky hallway. She doesn't look particularly sane. She's holding a heavy blunt instrument in her hands. Watch out, here comes the SPOILER: She's going to try to kill Mulder by smashing him in the head with Cokely's oxygen tank. Will she succeed?
I'm sorry, that's classified.
Transcript appears courtesy of Details magazine.