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Canadian National Post: Lone Gunmen Tom Braidwood Interview

Canadian National Post
Lone Gunmen Tom Braidwood Interview
Howard Howell

VANCOUVER – It”s payday for three Vancouver actors, the stars of an X-Files spin-off series called The Lone Gunmen. Shooting begins this week at North Vancouver”s Lions Gate Studio, which was home to The X-Files for five years before production moved to Los Angeles.

The new show will feature Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund and Bruce Harwood, the paranoid, computer-hacking triad of nerds on The X-Files. Fox has ordered 13 episodes, the first of which, the pilot episode, has already been shot.

“We”ve taken a huge step up in having a series built around us,” says Braidwood, sitting outside the set. “We always joked about it, the three of us that played the parts, but I don”t think any of us in our wildest imaginations thought they”d do a series about it.”

At the studio, Braidwood gets a lot of congratulations and handshakes from the cast and crew of other shows using the lot. For Vancouver, a city perceived predominantly as a service town to the Hollywood film industry, The Lone Gunmen series is the move everyone”s been waiting for. All the show”s stars are Canadian.

Braidwood, a small, unassuming man with bushy eyebrows and big glasses, began his career in experimental theatre in Vancouver in the 1970s. When he moved into the film industry in the “80s, he focused on directing and producing, never giving much thought to acting.

But in his role as hacker Melvin Frohike, the 52-year-old father of two now has his face on coffee mugs, T-shirts, trading cards and hundreds of Internet sites. He even has his own “estrogen brigade,” a female Internet fan base that calls him “adorable” and “a real softy.”

The story of how Braidwood, an assistant director on The X-Files, came to play the part of Frohike is now a Vancouver legend. The director, when casting the role, said he was looking for someone slimy, like Braidwood.

Braidwood explains that he rarely shaved and often wore the same clothes to work. Frohike”s own trademark wardrobe — black fedora, combat boots and fingerless gloves — wasn”t far off the mark from Braidwood”s unique, real-life style.

Braidwood, Haglund and Harwood all expected their parts, conceived as an homage to Internet-based X-Files fans, to be a one-time deal. But the popularity of the Lone Gunmen characters was an unexpected surprise. The Scully-lusting, conspiracy-craving Frohike became a particular fan favourite, an eccentric figure whose one-line witticisms, such as “My kung fu is the best” (“80s slang for hacking), were an unexpected hit with the audience.

With the new show, which Fox will begin airing in March, Braidwood is certain to gather more fans. But being a star is not a role he feels comfortable with. He says he still doesn”t understand the appeal of his character and the success of his role.

“I wonder myself who will watch the show,” he says.

Braidwood, who will continue to perform in The X-Files, says there will be some crossover between the original series and its spin-off.

“Some of the same characters will show up,” he says. “But it will be more government conspiracy and less supernatural, science fiction. You will get to see more of what the Gunmen do in their lives.”

Executive producer Chris Carter and much of the old X-Files crew will be involved in the new show. They”ve added a woman, a hacker, who Braidwood says “is more attractive than we are,” and another guy, not a hacker, “who will be the hunk.”

“I guess we weren”t handsome enough,” says Braidwood, who is constantly joking about how funny looking and weird the Gunmen are.

But perhaps the biggest kick for Braidwood is how American the show and the Gunmen themselves are. “It”s perfectly clear that we”re Americans in the show,” he says. “We live outside of Maryland and we talk about Uncle Sam. They”re not playing the show like it”s Canadian. And it”s quite a hoot that three Canadian guys are doing this American thing.”

On his way to the dentist to get a mould for a scene he won”t explain except to say that it will be “really funny,” Braidwood admits such a large role for Canadians also comes with a lot of pressure. “We have to do a good job. I certainly don”t think we can be lazy about it.”

After all, even if he won”t admit it, the reluctant star is having much more fun as Frohike than he did as a slimy assistant director. The Hollywood service industry may be a good way to make a living, but it”s also an easy way to get stuck doing the same thing for years.

But Braidwood isn”t worried about getting stuck now. Even if he ends up playing Frohike for decades (and he”s already been at it for seven years), there will likely be nothing but surprises — at least if his career path so far is any indication.

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