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Newsweek: Q&A with Chris Carter

Q&A with Chris Carter
Suzanne Smalley

‘The X-Files’ creator Chris Carter, whose ‘The Lone Gunmen’ premiered this week, takes on some of his critics

March 8 – The creator of “The X-Files” and its new spinoff, “The Lone Gunmen,” is as renowned in Hollywood circles for the years he spent chasing the perfect wave as he is for the millions of dollars he now commands for dark tales about government trickery and deep-seated paranoia.

Chris Carter’s days as a freewheeling hipster traveling the globe as an editor for Surfing magazine came to an end after he met his current wife, a screenwriter, who encouraged him to give storytelling a try. It didn’t take long for the former itinerant board bum to rise to the crest of his new profession, despite the fact that most toil for years in the sitcom ghetto before making it big. It was already the late 1980s when Carter started at Disney, where he penned several made-for-TV movies. By the early 1990s, he’d created “The X-Files,” which became one of the decade’s most iconic shows. Hardly a typical L.A. story.

And in person, Carter’s not your standard Hollywood power player, either. With his shoulder-length white-blond hair, piercing cobalt eyes and easy nature, Carter seems an unlikely mogul. In fact, the well-compensated Hollywood writer-producer swears he could walk away from the money tomorrow. And the nasty politics of the town are still tough for him to take. Newsweek’s Suzanne Smalley chatted with the man behind the mantra “The truth is out there,” who still makes time to surf every morning.

Newsweek: Are you surprised that the Lone Gunmen have become such a popular part of “The X-Files”? They’re just dorky, average-looking white guys.

Chris Carter: I’d say they’re below-average looking, actually. I think that’s what makes them interesting for me. They are geeks. I think all of us have a sort of inner geek. They speak to all of our more grounded selves.

Didn’t the fans want to see them get their own show?

I don’t think anyone ever even thought of it until we did it. I don’t think anyone ever said this is the ideal or obvious spinoff.

Will the new show be easier for the casual watcher to keep up with and grasp than its famously complex forerunner?

Yeah, in fact I don’t think you even would have to have seen “The X-Files” to enjoy “The Lone Gunmen.” It actually is a show that owes a lot to “The X-Files” because of where it came from, but it owes nothing to it each week because it is not self-referential. There’s a mythology in “The X-Files” that you kind of have to know about. But I still think you can walk into the show and pick it up very quickly. We’ve made a big effort to make sure that everything is understandable all the time.

No other producer is said to be as involved in their shows. Will “The Lone Gunmen” get the same level of attention from you as “X” gets? Some fans are concerned that you’re not as involved.

Well, it’s got really good people working on it in addition to me. I cowrote the pilot and wrote episode four, and we’ve done 12 episodes, so I am involved, just not to the level. There’s not enough time in the day.

You’re one of the most powerful writer-producers in Hollywood. Is the money ever a corrupting influence? How are you sure your greenlighting a project on its merits not just for the boatloads of cash?

It has nothing to do with money. Nothing I’ve ever done, of all the four shows I’ve done, have had nothing to do with commerce. It was all about telling stories.

Is it ever hard to be limited by network sensibilities? You’ve complained about all the time given to ads and about the censoring of themes like necrophilia and incest on “X.” What kind of daring themes or plot lines do you foresee on “The Lone Gunmen?”

I think that if we did anything that was daring it would be a comedic daring. I don’t think we’re looking to press the limits of anything that is a more hot-button topic, for example, abortion. We’re really looking to entertain people and make them laugh. So, if anything, I think it would be pushing the levels of what you could do comedically, probably physically on network television.

By physically you mean …

Seeing the Lone Gunmen’s butts or whatever.


I’m teasing.

You’re said to be very driven and hardworking. You write seven days a week.

Only because I have to.

Some in the industry have called you a megalomaniac and overly controlling, but your crews love you because you care. Who is Chris Carter?

I don’t know how people could call me a megalomaniac. I don’t even know how I would respond to that. What are we talking about? What does that mean? I don’t know. All I want is for the work that I do to be good. That’s my mania.

Did you really go to some “X-Files” fans’ Vegas wedding?

There was a couple that sent me a wedding invitation about four months before my birthday. They were getting married on my birthday, which happened to be Friday the 13th last year. And they were getting married in Las Vegas, and they sent a really cute invitation. And so I thought if people are brave enough to get married on Friday the 13th and send me an invitation and they’re getting married on the lawn at Caesar’s Palace, I’m gonna go surprise them and show up at their wedding. So it was a good way for me to get out of the office for half a day, show up, sign their marriage license, wish them well, and lose about $200 at the blackjack table.

Your show “Harsh Realm” failed after three episodes, and “Millennium” was never as big as “X” and even “The X-Files” star has faded a bit. Is their still a TV audience for conspiracy theories?

I don’t do a show about conspiracy theories per se. I just do a show about paranoia. I’m just trying to scare people and conspiracies happen to scare people. They’re an element of the fear. I think there is still an audience for something scary.

What conspiracy theories do you buy? Do you believe in aliens and government coverups?

Because I’ve never seen an alien or had an experience with one, I don’t believe in them. But I’m willing to believe the many people who say they have had an experience with aliens. Let’s just say I have very little faith in the execution of conspiracies, but I do believe they exist. I like the idea of a conspiracy so great and so vital that it is a perfect conspiracy. The thought of a character piercing the veil of that secret appeals to me.

Do the bad reviews ever get to you? For instance, “The Lone Gunmen” recently got trashed by USA Today.

That reporter has never said anything nice about “The X-Files” despite the fact that we’ve had 53 Emmy nominations. The audience obviously knows something he doesn’t. When someone criticizes you, and you know you’ve done good work, it can be maddening.

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