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Archive for September, 1996

Toronto Sun: It’s Work that Woos Nick Lea

September 28, 1996
Toronto Sun
It’s Work that Woos Nick Lea

Over the phone and over-caffeinated, Nicholas Lea talks about the aches and pains of an action role and the aggravation of uncertainty.

“I’m pacing around like some kind of caged animal,” Lea says, jacked up after breaking a coffee fast.

The actor is restlessly playing the waiting game until Fox decides whether to expand tomorrow night’s TV movie, John Woo’s Once A Thief, into a weekly series.

The film, Woo’s first for television, airs at 8 p.m. on Fox, at 9 on Global. An adventure about a crime-fighting trio, two defectors from the Hong Kong underworld, played by Ivan Sergei and Sandrine Holt, and a former cop, played by Lea, the movie is marked by the stylish action and tongue-in-cheek violence that are Woo’s trademark. Lea’s and Sergei’s characters meet in a balletic fight scene in which the asthetically-appreciative pair take pains not to nick the furniture.

“To the two characters, it’s deadly serious,” Lea says of the extremely funny sequence. “Physically it was pretty tough. I’ve got to say the next day I was in some pain. This is one of the first jobs I’ve had where I show up every day with elbow pads and knee pads.”

Executive producers Glenn Davis and William Laurin describe Lea’s character, ex-detective Victor Mansfield, as a “Gen-X Steve McQueen.”

“Wow. I’ll take that as a compliment,” says Lea. “But right from the beginning when I read the script I saw this guy as having more of an edge than I think they saw. They wanted him to be the everyman kind of guy that everyone could relate to. I saw him as being much darker but that’s sort of my take about a lot of things anyway. I like to look for the dark side, the incomplete side, of characters.”

Fox has ordered six more Once A Thief scripts and is considering it as a midseason series. Lea signed a standard five-year contract and until the network votes yea or nay, is obligated to remain available.

“You have to sit back and wait and I’m not good at that. I get a little impatient,” he admits. “I’m still trying to find a way to creatively fill my time when I’m not working. For the first week, I sort of feel like I deserve it, even though that might not quite be the truth, but I just like to work. As an actor, when you’re not working, you’re going, ‘What am I? What the hell am I?'”

What Lea is is a Vancouver native who studied art at college and sang lead for the alternative rock band Beau Monde before breaking into acting. Although he still plays and sings on his own time, he’s yet to have a singing role on TV or film.

“Hopefully one of these years,” he says. “Like another Eddie And The Cruisers would be cool.” Suddenly, there’s a low buzz on the phone line. “Maybe there’s some surveillance going on,” Lea jokes, in a paranoid fashion in keeping with his best-known role as The X-Files’ duplicitous FBI Agent Krycek.

Krycek was last seen alien-infested, locked in a secret military bunker and presumably done for. “Nine lives,” Lea presumes of plans for at least two more Krycek episodes, although he doesn’t know yet how he managed to cheat death.

“I know nothing. I’m going to call and see if they can give me something, like if I should stop eating now if Krycek’s supposed to be totally emaciated or whether he was kept in kind of a time-suspended-animation thing. I’m really curious.”

( … Nick Lea plays a former policeman in John Woo’s Once A Thief. The actor also portrays the duplicitous FBI agent Krycek on The X-Files.)

Los Angeles Times: TV's New Season

Los Angeles Times
TV’s New Season
Brian Lowry

Small Screen, Big Headaches

Talk about static. Three top series creators get together to discuss the future–and find an ominous new ratings system, intrusive network execs and increasingly demanding talent, among other concerns.

How do some of television’s top producers feel about the state of the industry?

Seeking to take the pulse of TV’s creative community on the eve of the new prime-time season, Calendar brought together three producers of current hits–Steven Bochco, Marta Kauffman and Chris Carter–to explore that question.

Bochco, 52, will soon be inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame and can claim one of the best batting averages in television history. Through the years, he has been associated with such hits as “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” as well as the returning ABC series “NYPD Blue” and “Murder One.” Bochco has also earned a reputation as a risk-taker, someone who seems to welcome controversy. His latest show (and first under a new deal at CBS), “Public Morals,” focuses on vice squad cops and is expected to air with a parental-discretion advisory because of its language and subject matter.

Kauffman, 39, with partners David Crane and Kevin S. Bright forms the producing team responsible for NBC’s “Friends,” an enormous ratings draw entering its third season, whose cultural influence has ranged from fashion to hairstyles. Before that, Kauffman and Crane created the popular HBO comedy “Dream On.” In addition, the “Friends” trio has a deal with NBC to produce a new comedy starring “Cheers” alumna Kirstie Alley, tentatively scheduled for next fall.

Carter, also 39, created Fox’s top-rated show, “The X-Files,” which will move from Fridays to Sundays in late October. With the possible exception of “Friends,” the series has become prime time’s most-imitated program, with NBC alone introducing three new Saturday dramas designed to attract the same sort of audience. Carter’s latest series, “Millennium,” is an even darker hour about a former FBI investigator with a facility for profiling killers. With the series taking over “The X-Files” time slot, Fox’s fortunes ride to a large extent on Carter’s shoulders.

Calendar asked these producers–representing shows on all four major networks, as well as comedy and drama–to assemble for an informal round-table discussion about issues facing the industry. Bochco and Carter had met briefly, but neither previously knew Kauffman.

Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge involved finding a time when all three could meet. The interview ultimately took place in Bochco’s office.


Question: What issues, as the season approaches, are top of mind with you relating to television?

Kauffman: All three of us seem to have one issue in common, and that’s the V-chip TV ratings system issue.

Carter: Or the C-chip: the content chip.

Kauffman: That’s what I’m afraid of. That’s what scares me. We have lesbians in our show; does that automatically give you a rating, just because there’s an idea that some people may be uncomfortable with?


Q: Does it change the way you approach the shows? Each of you has shows that specifically have raised different issues.

Bochco: It’s not going to affect what Chris is already doing or what I’m already doing.

Kauffman: Oh, yes it does. Very much so. We came under such fire once we moved to 8 o’clock. As the climate changed, it became more reactionary. It’s affected us enormously.

Bochco: What I’m concerned about, and what I’m sure Chris is concerned about, is what’s going to happen with development [of new shows]. That to me is the most chilling part. It’s one thing to say, “Well, ‘Friends’ is ‘Friends,’ ” and of course it’s a big hit. If tomorrow they moved it back to 9 o’clock, you’d then be dealing with a different set of standards, more akin probably to what you started with.

The thing that I find so potentially distressing, and I’ve said this before, is that I don’t think in this climate I could develop “NYPD Blue.”

Kauffman: I couldn’t develop “Friends” in this climate. One of the issues is we are suddenly being asked to write something we are not familiar with. The show makes certain demands on you as a writer. After a while that takes over.

Carter: I actually developed something that is definitely pushing the limits of standards, so I don’t know that you can’t develop [risk-taking programs] in this climate, although we have the luxury of having proven ourselves with what we do. A case has already been made, so I was able to push the limits of content to an extent–not violence per se but content.


Q: Isn’t that the assumption: because you’re associated with hit shows, you have more latitude?

Kauffman: I don’t believe so. It may be different in the 8-10 p.m. hours. My fear is that once the TV ratings system is in place, people are going to say, “You know, I don’t think we want to develop those kind of shows anymore, because we know that these advertisers are not going to want [to support them].” I think that this year is less of a concern than next year.

Bochco: I’m less concerned with how we execute a show once it’s on the air. I’ll fight those battles, and I think you can win those battles. Because in fact once your show is on the air, particularly if it’s getting any sort of viewership, the truth is you’ve got [the network] over a barrel.

The other issue may well be that this is an election year, so just from a purely practical point of view, all of us are going to be scattered and none of us are going to be able to develop any momentum in the early going. For an established show it’s not a problem, but for a new show it is going to be a problem.

Once that election is over, politically, who knows? This could really go away. Listen, you can’t un-ring a bell. I’ve been in television for almost 30 years, and I’m here to tell you it doesn’t go back. It goes forward. It’s not an unbroken line. If you graph it, it’s spiky here and there, but inevitably this medium is dragged [forward] kicking and screaming.

Kauffman: I think we think we’ve gone farther than we have. We’ve made a little progress here and there.

Bochco: But it’s a different medium now than it was. Twenty-five years ago, you couldn’t have a real dialogue with broadcast standards, and the rules were such you couldn’t show two married people in bed together. You couldn’t say the word “damn.” I remember the first time I ever put the word “bastard” in a script, the [expletive] hit the fan. It’s just a different world.

Kauffman: I have to say, I react as a mom too. I have two young kids, and I find the whole V-chip TV ratings system incredibly offensive. First of all, my kids watch my show, and most of it goes over their heads. The only questions my kids ever ask me is “What’s a lesbian?” and I should answer that question.

Beyond that, I think it [leads to] uninformed decisions being made by the government, not by the individual or especially by the parents.

Bochco: Every show is rated already, just in terms of the fact that nothing that gets on the air is an unknown commodity, so there is a book on everything. No one’s going to tune in to “Public Morals” unaware that it’s kicked up a little controversy by virtue of its language, so to that extent everything out there is already informally rated.

To me the chilling part is hooking that rating to a technological system that then becomes by definition censorship. That’s the part of it that’s scary.

Carter: I’m doing a show, “Millennium,” and it’s very intense. As a responsible producer, there’s a limit to which I think kids will be too young to watch this show, and without putting an advisory on the beginning, I don’t know how to put that point across except in that way you’re suggesting, which is this informal ratings system. The press does this job, the media does this job, of informing viewers.


Q: In some respect, isn’t an advisory liberating? If you know “Millennium” is going to get an advisory, then you can play with it a bit more?

Kauffman: It’s one thing to have an advisory, and then you go back to content, which to me is the scariest issue here. When you start advising about content, you’re talking morals and judgments and a system that just doesn’t make any sense.


Q: Do you feel you’ve been well informed about this process?

Carter: I don’t. It’s always changing, [and] I don’t know quite what is going to be incorporated when. My fear is that the dialogue will end, that there will be a final, definitive decision.

Kauffman: When we did our lesbian wedding episode, NBC put on extra operators. That night, they had four phone calls. That’s it. Months later, the mail started pouring in: Rev. [Donald] Wildmon got a bunch of people together to complain, and he never saw the [expletive] thing. They knew it was something with lesbians, and they got mad.

Carter: I just hope the dialogue continues. I don’t want, once these things move farther along, for us to quit talking about what it is that we are going to be censoring or governing.

Bochco: I may be a little more cynical, to the extent that I’ll believe it when I see it. I am more skeptical than most people in this creative community that this will actually eventuate into a coherent system of ratings and technology.


Q: Let’s cut to another issue, which is not just the content of the shows but getting them launched with the low ratings the networks have had over the summer.

Bochco: That’s going to be tough this year. It’s always tough in the fall with the glut of new shows. You’ve always got events, with the World Series, the playoffs–and this year you’ve got a presidential election and debates.

Then, by the time most everything gets on, you’re going to be deep into October, so you’re into the holiday season and those holiday preemptions. It’s real tough for new shows.

Carter: I keep saying, all I can do is just the same good work and hope that people come.

Bochco: “Murder One” is a perfect example of a show that just got killed in terms of its time slot, getting yanked off for seven weeks, then coming back in a different time period. You couldn’t have asked for a more horrific scenario, and yet we’re back, because we kept our eye on the one thing we did have control over, which is the work.

I have no control over where they put me. I have no control where they move me or preemptions. All I can control is the quality of the work.


Q: What do you think of the quality of television generally right now?

Bochco: I think there’s an awful lot of good stuff on television. That said, none of us can watch it all, and there’s so much stuff that the majority of it will always be mediocre.

Kauffman: A lot of people will probably get [angry] at me for this–and maybe it’s because I don’t do drama and don’t have the same harsh judgment–but it seems to me that drama has really improved, and comedy for the most part still sucks.

There’s very little comedy I can watch and really enjoy. I think it’s banal and stupid.

Carter: I sort of agree, although it may be unfair because I’m taking potshots at a format I’m not working in. I think what bothers me about it is that it’s that same proscenium show; it’s all the same. The lighting is the same, the rhythms are the same. It’s setup, joke.


Q: Do you attribute any of that to the glut of shows?

Kauffman: Honestly, what I attribute it to is people feel they can write TV from whatever they were doing. Lawyers go, “You know, I can do that.” What happens is there were no people who learned theater, who learned dramatic structure, who learned how to write a scene.

Bochco: Everybody thinks they know what funny is. What’s funny is like music–everybody’s an expert about music, because everybody has their own sensibility. When it comes to what Chris and I do, you tend to get a little more regard, because most of those folks at the network don’t have a clue about how to do what we do, but they all think they have a clue about how to do [comedy].

It’s been 15 years since I’ve ever submitted an outline to a network or even told them what we’re doing. The first time they know what we’re doing is when a script plops on their desk, and then we go and shoot the script. That’s it. Nobody ever calls and gives me notes on a script from the network. You get your broadcast standards stuff, then you go and make the show.

“Public Morals,” and I’m sure it’s the same with every other half-hour, you go to your table reading [rehearsal], and there [the network executives] are. They’re hovering, and they have their notes, and then comes the night of the taping and the filming, and there they are again, and they’re rubbing their hands. You look over and you see somebody from the network, and of course they never laugh, they never smile. You think, “Where do they find people to work in comedy who never enjoy what they’re doing?”

Kauffman: We must have very good network people. Chances are, we’re going to be a lot harder on ourselves than they will ever be on us.

Bochco: Yeah, but Marta, you’re doing “Friends.” They can afford to come in, have a Diet Coke and chortle and giggle and have a good time.

Kauffman: I got asked a lot last year about “Friends” rip-offs. I think one of the problems with quality is that networks and studios somehow believe it’s a formula–“There’s a hit, so this is what it was about, let’s just do that again”–without taking the time to find anyone who has a passion for saying something.

Carter: I see it as a hedging of bets. They hedge their bets all the way along by wanting a proven commodity. In the beginning, much less now, I felt like I was sort of dared to succeed–they were always spending as little money as they could because we were going to fail anyway.

Bochco: It gets you to that fundamental difference between the business that they’re in and the business that we’re in. They really are in the manufacturing business and the selling business, and we, God help us, are sort of in the art business.

Fifteen years ago, no one in our position would have the arrogance to use the “A” word in television. I started using it eight or 10 years ago with a slight embarrassment, and I don’t anymore. There is a lot of fine art being produced and written for television.


Q: You all have to staff your shows with writers. What does the number of shows do to the talent pool?

Kauffman: Three hundred scripts you read to find 10 writers, and maybe six of them you’re interested in. I get very, very upset about this, that people get title promotions only because they’ve done it for a year. Suddenly it says “supervising producer,” and they can’t spell.

Bochco: On “Hill Street Blues,” 13 years ago, there was a staff of writers on that show five deep, every one of whom could go off and write a great “Hill Street Blues.” I’ll bet you there’s not an hour show in television that can boast a staff five deep, any one of whom can go off and write a script like that.

Carter: What I’ve found too is that when you do find somebody that’s good, all of a sudden I feel like a major-league manager running a farm system at the same time, because the network or the studio is going to take that person I’ve found and try to develop [new shows] with them. It’s like mitosis, wanting to divide the cells and grow new ones.

Kauffman: It’s so frustrating, when you’ve found people and groomed them, and you finally get somebody who can take over your show someday, and they’re gone.


Q: What about talent demands? Have talent demands gotten more difficult or less difficult? Is it just that we report on it more now?

Bochco: Obviously, you hear more about it. The amount of interest in what goes on behind the scenes of what we all do is unparalleled. I’ve never seen anything like the way it is now. All of us, in a certain way, are of interest to the audience as much as the actors are.

When [producer] Dick Wolf took those two guys [the stars of “New York Undercover,” who briefly tried to hold out for more money] behind the shed, everyone in our business, and I suspect everyone reading about it in the papers, said, “Atta boy, Dick. Those two guys are dopes. What a pair of mopes they are. They really stepped in something squishy, and they got what they deserved.”

Kauffman: That’s the worst part of it. Negotiations are never fun for anybody, but they’re negotiations and you get over it and keep doing the work. The problem is when it gets out [publicly], it’s very disruptive, and things get bent out of proportion.

Bochco: If I’m an actor on one of those ensemble comedies, where maybe two or three or four of them look exactly alike, there’s every reason to believe they may never have a success like they’re experiencing now. It may never happen again.

It’s like being a professional athlete. You’ve got a real small window. This man [pointing to Carter] is going to make 10 more shows and going to have more [expletive] money than God. This woman [Kauffman] will do the same thing, and so will I. Actors may never have another opportunity.

The truth is, I’m sympathetic to them. I’m married to an actress [“Murder One’s” Barbara Bosson]. Smart actors know that. I’m for them getting everything they can legitimately get within the boundaries of professional behavior, [understanding] that we all have contracts.


Q: Beyond the obvious, because you’ve all experienced something very few people will, what’s the best part and most aggravating part about being associated with a hit show?

Kauffman: Truthfully, the best part is doing something you’re proud of. It’s an amazing feeling. You don’t get to do that a lot.

Bochco: And doing something that everybody also acknowledges, because I’ve done things that haven’t succeeded I’ve been very proud of.

Kauffman: The worst part for me is not seeing my family. It’s so hard.

Bochco: It’s a crucifixion. Nobody knows, nor need they know, because it’s not anybody’s problem. They shouldn’t see how hard we work, but it’s routinely six- and 6 1/2-day weeks, nine months a year.

Kauffman: It’s also really hard to go to work, for me, and look at those women [in the “Friends” cast] every day.

Carter: Actually, what really makes me happy is doing something that people respond to. It sort of vindicates your view of the world. As a storyteller, you’re telling a story that people want to see and to hear.

Also, when I get a group of people working together and it clicks, there’s actually a team, an esprit de corps that happens. It’s really special.

Kauffman: Collaboration. It’s invigorating.

Exposé: Middle Man

September 1996
Exposé #2
Middle Man

Nicholas Lea, alias Mulder’s one-time partner Alex Krycek in THE X-FILES, talks to EXPOSE. By Jane Killick.

The last time viewers saw Agent Krycek, played by Nicholas Lea, he was locked in an
underground vault, apparently left to die. But as we know, appearances can be deceptive in THE X-FILES.

“I’ll definitely be coming back,” says Lea. “They’ve assured me that I’m over the death hump. They haven’t really given me an idea of how or when or how many, but I know that I’m coming back.”

Nic Lea became a semi-regular on THE X-FILES at the beginning of the second season when Scully was abducted. As Alex Krycek, he was the fresh face straight out of the academy who wormed his way into Mulder’s confidence to become his partner, but who was secretly working for Mulder’s adversary, the Cigarette Smoking Man. Nic spent a long time speaking to the show’s writers and producers to hone down his character, as well as doing some research of his own.

“Any kind of research that you can do, for me, usually helps,” says the actor. “It helps to ground you in the character and helps you feel more prepared to take on the role. So when you walk in front of the camera, hopefully there’s something interesting there. I read a lot about the FBI and the training and double agents. I looked at people who’d worked undercover in certain circumstances and what lengths they’d gone to change their identity or their personalities in order to be more successful in their undercover job.”

One side of Krycek was eager and exuberant, but the other was less sure of himself. He was a man in over his head, nervous about his double life, trying to maintain his cool with Mulder, while consciously working for the other side.

“I was trying to bring a certain tension to it or an intensity to it. He’s not nervous, but when he’s not that fresh-faced, straight-out-of-the-academy young agent, there’s some tension.”

Nic is a native of Canada where THE X-FILES is filmed, and made his first appearance in the show as Michel, a nightclubber attacked by a sex-changing alien killer in the episode “Genderbender.”

“A few of the crew members had already worked on a show I had previously been in called THE COMMISH, so I already knew a lot of them on a friendship level. I never felt uncomfortable or like an outsider on that show. They’ve always treated me with respect and been really warm and supportive.”

When he was re-cast the following year as Krycek, it was originally only for three episodes. But once the character had been established, the option to bring him back and do more interesting things with him was taken up. That was great for Nic, not only because it meant more work, but also because he feels there is something special about working on THE X-FILES.

“I love being on the show so much, so I get energized by it and my creative thoughts start to flow. I mean, I’ve worked on other shows and I always try to put in as much input as I can, but sometimes…” he hesitates before admitting, “…sometimes I can’t be bothered. But on this show, specifically when I work with Rob Bowman, who’s directed quite a few of the episodes that I’ve been in, he’s really great as far as listening to actors is concerned. Right from the first time that we met, working on “Genderbender,” I had a lot of ideas about what I could do here and there. Ideas with make-up and ideas about what I was doing physically in the scene, and he always listened to them and quite often took the suggestions. It’s great to be able to do that on shows. Often you get, ‘No, you do this and you do that’ and it tends to confine you creatively.”

Krycek was brought in partly to be more of a physical threat to Mulder. Although a brooding undercurrent of danger has always existed with characters like the Cigarette Smoking Man, Mulder rarely got a chance to confront his foes face-to-face until Krycek came along.

“It seems that most of the time he and I are physically at odds now,” says Nic. “If [Krycek wasn’t] an intellectual threat, he certainly posed a physical threat which nobody else on the show does. It’s been described to me that I’m sort of the dark counterpart to Mulder, which is kind of interesting. I never really thought of it that way before, but I’m the Yin to his Yang.”

The physical aspects of playing Krycek are obviously appealing: “I love it,” he says. They range from the fist fight he had with Mulder at the end of the second season to his dramatic escape from a car primed to explode at the beginning of the third.

“There was a great deal of preparation,” he says. “What they had was a car filled with gasoline — huge containers of gasoline — and they said ‘You can stand beside the car and then you start running.’ But I said “Wouldn’t it be more interesting if I was actually sitting in the car when the shot starts because then there’s a little more energy and excitement behind it?’ And they thought about that and they talked about it with the demolitions expert and he thought it was okay, so we went ahead and did that.”

“It was pretty scary because all that’s separating me and death is a guy with his finger on a button. I would run from the car and a certain point I would hit a mark and he would press the button and ‘boom!’, it would explode behind me. We went over it many times, we had about five cameras going on it and we had a huge crowd gathered to watch it. It was pretty much a one-take deal, it really had to go right the first time. It was scary. We had a little prayer before we did it and then we did it. I could feel the literal push from behind and I could feel the heat on the back of my head and the back of my jacket. That kind of stuff, I love. You’re taking a few chances — you are and you aren’t — but it’s definitely exciting.”

The finished effect looked fantastic as the car burst into flames behind Krycek and the force of the blast sent him flying to the ground. But it didn’t quite turn out as Lea had hoped.

“Do you remember PATRIOT GAMES?” Nic asks. “There that scene in the alley when they get attacked by rocket launchers and there’s a great scene where the thing explodes behind him and he dives towards camera and you see the camera looking up at him. That’s what I wanted to get. But what happened was I hit my mark and got a few feet past it and then they exploded it, so when I got blown out of the frame I was almost standing. I was all padded up on my arms and my knees so I could dive onto the cement, but I dove out of camera, so you didn’t get to see that.”

For the two episodes in which Lea appeared at the beginning of the third season, “The Blessing Way” and “Paper Clip,” ‘the look’ of the character was very much his idea. The actor grew his hair longer and swapped his suit for a leather jacket. He’s also been able to change a few lines which is very unusual for a guest actor.

“One that stands out in my mind is after the Cigarette-Smoking Man tried to blow me up in the car. There’s a telephone conversation I have with him. The line was something like ‘If I ever hear or see form you again you better start thinking about who’s going to play you in the movie,’ or something like that, a really enigmatic line. I called [Executive Producer] Chris Carter and we um’ed and ah’ed over it for a day and we couldn’t decide what line would go well there. So I thought that if he ever became famous, it would be the worst possible thing you could do. So that was the idea I had about saying ‘I would make him a very famous man.’ They liked that, so they kept it.”

From that moment, Krycek is out on his own, trying to stay alive and to keep away from the Cigarette Smoking Man’s cronies. Later on in the third season, Mulder catches up with him in Hong Kong. They have several violent encounters, with Mulder still angry at Krycek for killing his father. One of those encounters happened by a phone booth at the airport.

“He cracked me over the head with the phone during one take and knocked me off my feet and I had this big welt over my forehead,” laughs Nic. “As I come around he hits me over the head with the phone and one time I walked too close or he went too far with the phone and actually cracked me across the bean with it. It was pretty funny.”

In this two-parter, “Piper Maru” and “Apocrypha,” about an alien entity that has been trapped under the ocean since the Second World War, Krycek becomes possessed.

“It was difficult to prepare for because they wanted Krycek to be emotionless and that’s hard to do. So I watched TERMINATOR 2 and what Robert Patrick [the T-1000 Terminator] had done. They said they were really happy with it, so I was glad to hear that.”

One of the most memorable sequences is when the alien entity oozes out of Krycek, painfully squeezing its black substance out of his eyes.

“It was good,” acknowledges the actor. “It was a pain in the rear to do, but it was fun.”

The black stuff came from a pump which forced it down tubes that went through his hair and came out near his eyes.

“It was a prosthetic mask that I had to wear. Putting it on and taking it off a couple of times — horrible! At first I was excited about it and then after an hour it became really tedious because I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breath properly, tubes all running through my hair and everything.”

THE X-FILES has been good for Nicholas Lea in many respects. It’s certainly raised his profile and he now gets offered jobs in Canada without having to audition. He’s also just finished a pilot show called ONCE A THIEF for Fox, the same network that makes THE X-FILES.

“When I went into the audition and I met the head of Fox television — The Head! — I walked into the room and he knew who I was, and you can’t really buy that. It’s priceless.”

But that doesn’t mean Nicholas Lea will be turning his back on THE X-FILES. His enthusiasm for the show comes across as genuine, as that’s hardly surprising considering its popularity and the chance it gives him to play a character that continues to develop.

“That’s one of the things that is fascinating for me. Every time I get the scripts, there’s always something quite different from what I have done the previous time. It keeps on evolving and changing and that’s a treat as an actor because you never have to do the same thing twice.

“I like the idea that I’m the guy in the middle. There’s characters like Skinner, Mulder and Scully, and on the other side there’s the Cigarette Smoking Man and X and the evil ones, and I’m somewhere in the middle. He’s neither here nor there, he’s neither good nor evil, he’s neither in the light nor in the dark. He’s in that grey area in between which I think is a very important part of the show. Nobody’s really good and nobody’s really bad and I think that’s what’s really interesting.”

Skeptical Briefs: World Skeptics Congress Draws Over 1200 Participants

World Skeptics Congress Draws Over 1200 Participants
Skeptical Briefs Volume 6.3, September 1996
Tom Flynn with Tim Gorski

[Original article here]

Amherst, N.Y. — More than twelve hundred skeptics representing some twenty-four countries flocked here for the “twentieth birthday party” of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) on June 20-23. The First World Skeptics Congress was held at the State University of New York at Buffalo’s Amherst Campus and at the nearby Center for Inquiry, world headquarters of CSICOP. Titled “Science in the Age of (Mis)Information,” the congress probed the role of the media in promoting scientific illiteracy and contributing to the spread of pseudoscientific beliefs.The events began on Thursday, June 20, with a press conference that drew a record media turnout. It was there that conference organizer Paul Kurtz, chair of CSICOP, Kendrick Frazier, editor of Skeptical Inquirer, and many others presented examples of the media’s pandering to pseudoscience. Kurtz announced the formation of CSICOP’s Council for Media Integrity, a new watchdog group that will monitor and respond to media mishandling of the paranormal. “The media have now virtually replaced the schools, colleges, and universities as the main source of information for the general public,” said Kurtz, according to press reports. “If you look at these shows, Unsolved Mysteries, Sightings — there are a whole slew of them — they make it seem as if what they’re portraying is real. Yet they don’t provide any scientific evidence.” Kurtz called for either allowing a fair chance for the rebuttal of questionable material or presenting it as fiction.

CSICOP fellow Joe Nickell also made comments that were picked up by the media. With respect to claims of UFO abductions, he was quoted by Ulysses Torassa of the Religious News Service as saying, “I’m now encountering children who believe that they might be abducted by extraterrestrials.” Also quoted by Torassa was Australian skeptic and TV moderator Phillip Adams, who pointed out, “We are seeing a new delivery system for pathological states of mind.”

The congress itself opened formally with remarks by Erie County (New York) Executive Dennis Gorski and a performance of selected movements from Gustav Holst’s The Planets by the Buffalo Philharmonic Ensemble. This performance was accompanied by a special video production based on NASA images of the planets, for which the suite’s movements are named, refocusing The Planets from the composer’s original astrological conception of the work.

Milton Rosenberg, Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago and longtime radio moderator, chaired the meeting’s first plenary session, “The Role of the Mass Media in (Mis)Informing the Public.” Panelists included George Gerbner, Professor of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania; Piero Angela, Italian TV journalist; Phillip Adams, Australian columnist and TV moderator; and John Allen Paulos, Temple University Professor of Mathematics and author of Innumeracy. Nationally known radio commentator on medical subjects Dr. Dean Edell also participated by live radio feed as part of his syndicated radio show which airs on several hundred stations. In what was perhaps the congress’s only misstep, one of the panelists onstage mistook Edell’s scheduled participation as an interruption in the program and criticized Edell for disturbing the proceedings. The error was redressed minutes later when Paul Kurtz appeared on Edell’s program by telephone for about six minutes clarifying what had happened and outlining CSICOP’s call for heightened media responsibility, a call which Edell himself has long advocated.

The Conference Address, “A Strategy for Saving Science,” was delivered Thursday evening by Leon Lederman, Nobel laureate in physics and Director Emeritus of Fermilab.

The congress resumed Friday with a plenary session entitled “The Growth of Anti-Science,” chaired by John Maddox, former editor of Nature. The participants included Paul R. Gross, director of the Center for Advanced Studies; Norman Levitt, Professor of Mathematics at Rutgers University; Susan Haack, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Miami; and Victor Stenger, Professor of Physics at the University of Hawaii.


Skeptical Inquirer editor Ken Frazier and X-Files creator Chris Carter.

A luncheon address was given by Chris Carter, creator of the Fox TV series The X-Files. Carter defended his series against critics who say he promotes paranormal beliefs. He claimed that the series is meant solely to entertain and should actually heighten, rather than dull, viewers’ skepticism. But at least some congress participants doubted such an optimistic assessment of the program’s effects.

The afternoon was devoted to concurrent sessions. One session was on UFOlogy, given by Philip J. Klass, James McGaha, and Robert Sheaffer. Another program dealing with astrology was given by Cornelis de Jager, J.W. Nienhuys, and Ivan Kelly, while homeopathy was considered by Wim Betz and James “The Amazing” Randi. Vern Bullough, Bela Scheiber, and Dale Beyerstein examined therapeutic touch. Prominent anti-health-fraud activist and author Dr. Stephen Barrett discussed chiropractic. And National Center for Science Education Executive Director Eugenie Scott and Professor of Anthropology H. James Birx looked at the evolution/creationism controversy.

The Keynote Address was given by Harvard University paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who drew (according to one local media estimate) some two thousand persons to an illustrated lecture on Darwin, evolutionary theory, and the role of skepticism in forming and evaluating hypotheses.

Saturday opened with a plenary session titled “Parapsychology: Recent Developments.” This session was chaired by James Alcock, Professor of Psychology at York University in Canada, and featured: Ray Hyman, University of Oregon Professor of Psychology; Richard Wiseman, University of Hertfordshire (U.K.) Professor of Psychology; Jessica Utts, University of California-Davis Professor of Statistics; and Stanley Jeffers, York University Professor of Physics and Astronomy. The focal point of this session was the disagreement over interpretation of laboratory studies of parapsychology by Hyman and Utts, who had come to contradictory conclusions after analyzing data from the U.S. government’s Stargate project. Utts believes that meta-analysis has clearly proven the existence of some sort of cognitive anomaly such as psi, so that further research should be aimed at probing its nature rather than multiplying efforts to establish its existence. Hyman believes that the existing studies are generally so flawed that they do not constitute proof of any anomaly, so that the existence of psi remains a very open question and one clouded by more than a century of laboratory failures to isolate a replicable psychic phenomenon.

John Maddox, emeritus editor of Nature, spoke on the importance of the scientific method at a gala luncheon at The Center for Inquiry, located across the street from the State University of New York at Buffalo’s Amherst Campus.

Saturday’s concurrent sessions included “Mechanisms of Self-Deception” by Barry Beyerstein, Thomas Gilovich, and John Schumaker; “Alternative Health Cures” with Jack Raso and Wallace Sampson; “Philosophy and Pseudoscience” with Paul Kurtz, Daisie M. Radner, Lewis Vaughn, Theodore Schick, and Tim Trachet; “Psychoanalytic Therapy and Theory After 100 Years” with Adolf Grunbaum; “Critical Thinking in Education” with John Kearns, Clyde Herreid, Lee Nisbet, Carol Tavris, and John Corcoran; “Spiritualism and the University at Buffalo Expose” with Joe Nickell and Gordon Stein; and “The Paranormal in China” with Chinese skeptics Madame Shen Zhenyu, Lin Zixin, Sima Nan, Zu Shu-Xian, and Guo Zhenyi.

The last two of the above-mentioned sessions were of special interest. For as it happens the University of Buffalo (UB), a precursor of SUNY at Buffalo, was celebrating its 150th anniversary during the congress, and one of the first “extracurricular” activities undertaken by UB faculty a century and a half ago was one of the earliest scientific examinations of the Fox Sisters, three young women whose floor-tapping activities launched nineteenth-century spiritualism. The UB investigators succeeded in partially unmasking the Fox Sisters’ fakery, an expose which was, tragically, insufficiently noted at the time. In later life, the sisters themselves confessed to having been frauds.

The session on paranormalism in China, meanwhile, represents the latest fruit of a long and productive relationship between CSICOP and pro-scientific persons and organizations inside mainland China. The session also included a report by members of the CSICOP delegation to China, which recently returned from an expedition of fact-finding and investigation of Chinese paranormal claims.


Stephen Jay Gould accepts the CSICOP “Isaac Asimov Award” from new CSICOP Executive Council Member Eugenie Scott.

Leon Lederman accepts the CSICOP “In Praise of Reason Award” from astronomer Cornelis de Jager.

An awards banquet followed Saturday’s sessions at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Buffalo. CSICOP bestowed the Isaac Asimov Award upon Stephen Jay Gould. The In Praise of Reason Award was presented to Leon Lederman; the Public Education in Science Award to Dr. Dean Edell, who accepted via videotape; and the Distinguished Skeptic Award to James “The Amazing” Randi. The Distinguished Skeptic/Lifetime Achievement Award was given to talk-show host, humorist, author, and general Renaissance man Steve Allen, and the Responsibility in Journalism Award went to Phillip Adams, Piero Angela, and Pierre Berton. The banquet was also marked by news that independent astronomical working groups had succeeded in naming asteroids for Paul Kurtz and CSICOP. The CSICOP asteroid ended up being named “Skepticus” after concerns were aired among astronomers that people might not know how to say “Csicop.” Steve Allen, author, entertainer, and creator of the original Tonight Show, provided entertainment at the banquet.

Sunday’s session was devoted to a three-hour “World Skeptics Update” in which leaders of skeptical groups from across the globe described the situations in their home countries. Participants included Tim Trachet (Belgium), Mario Mendez Acosta (Mexico), Amardeo Sarma (Germany), Michael Hutchinson (UK), Miguel Angel Sabadel (Spain), Henry Gordon (Canada), Stephen Basser (Australia), Lin Zixin (China), Massimo Polidoro (Italy), Cornelis de Jager (Netherlands), Valery Kuvakin (Russia), Rudolf Czelnai (Hungary), Premanand (India), and Sanal Edamaruku (India).

The congress attracted unprecedented media coverage, including partial coverage on C-Span. In addition, National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation: Science Friday” program made a rare trip out of the studio to originate from the congress site with host Ira Flatow. The congress was also distinguished by the raising of more than $200,000 toward the “Fund for the Future” campaign, a $20 million Center for Inquiry program and endowment fund. Congress proceedings are now available on audiotape.

Satellite Times: Two Types of Spy for the FBI

September 1996
Satellite Times
Two Types of Spy for the FBI
By Alex J. Geairns

Mitch Pileggi plays Assistant Director Skinner, Nicholas Lea is Agent Alex Krycek in the mysterious world of THE X-FILES. Alex J. Geairns tracked them down on a recent tour of the U.K.

X-FILES fans have a very specific idea of what Skinner, the long-term boss of FBI Agents Scully and Mulder, is like. Round-rimmed glasses, over-starched shirts, and a cold demeanour, and Nicholas Lea is the man they all love to hate — the weasel-like, shadowy character whose motives are almost always unclear. The transformation from well-to-do new partner for Mulder to a force for pure evil is gradual, and his is certainly one of the most well-drawn characters in the entire series.

With these visions of the pair of them in your head, it’s difficult to come to terms with them in real life. Both are easy going, dressed in jeans and causal shirts. If it wasn’t for their striking features, you’d probably pass them by on the street.

Landing the role of Skinner was a case of third time lucky for Mitch Pileggi. On two previous occasions, he had auditioned to play FBI agents on the series, but when the original Section Chief, Blevins (Charles Cioffi) was unavailable for the episode “Tooms,” Skinner was created. Skinner’s been helping keep The X Files active, despite many attempts to shut them down. Mitch came to fame in the Wes Craven movie SHOCKER, playing the murderous Horace Pinker. TV work has included roles in KNIGHT RIDER 2000, DALLAS, and CHINA BEACH. As for Nick Lea, he’s appeared in such series as HIGHLANDER and THE COMMISH in guest roles. He made his first appearance in THE X-FILES as a survivor of a nightclub attack by a sex-swapping entity in the episode “Gender Bender.” That was enough to get him noticed, and director Rob Bowman immediately thought of Nick to play the part of Agent Alex Krycek in the episode “Sleepless.” Since then, Krycek has turned from Good Two Shoes into a double-crossing double agent.

Since I last caught up with the guys last October, when the Cult TV Production Crew flew the pair of them over for CULT TV 1995, the Appreciation Weekend for all TV with a fan following, Nick Lea has been working on other projects, as well as making a couple of appearances in THE X-FILES.

“I filmed a new pilot, which is going to be picked up in the Fall (Autumn),” announces Nick. “It’s called ONCE A THIEF, and it’s Executive Produced and directed by John woo. It’s basically the story of three people who come from different backgrounds, my character being an ex-cop, the two others being ex-thieves, and w form an international crime-fighting group. It’s sort of THE MOD SQUAD for the 1990s!”

And Mitch? Has he had time for anything else other than playing Skinner?

“I have to keep myself available for the possibilities of Skinner being written into an upcoming show, and they’ve got me under contract now, so it’s hard for me to really go out and book something else. If they need me, they need me, and I’ve got to be there.”

This being their second appearance in the UK, they seem to have acquired the roles of Ambassadors for THE X-FILES. I wonder if it ever gets boring answering the same questions over and over, having to deal with the media’s obsession of asking what David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are really like?

“At times you’re just tired of it,” comments Nick, “but when we’re not, you realise that different groups of people are going to be reading it, or seeing it, listening, viewing or whatever, and you want to make it interesting for them, too — there’s responsibility there to represent the show in a positive light. We both have a great loyalty to it, and I think that it’s important to give it our best shot.”

“Occasionally, when I get real tired, I just want to start making stuff up,” jokes Mitch. So what’s the best gag they’ve come up with?

“That David’s having a testicle reduction,” Nick announces, straight-faced, and the pair of them crack up with laughter.

Recently on Sky One, we’ve seen Skinner get show in an episode. Did Mitch think his number was up when he saw the “Piper Maru” script, where this takes place?

“No, not at all. Chris likes the character and he’s not going to kill him off…yet. I know that he realises the popularity of the role, and the writers like writing for Skinner, so I don’t think that they even consider it.”

Krycek, the last time we saw him, was imprisoned in a UFO silo, seemingly with no chance of escape. Is Nick hoping to come back next season?

“Yes, and you can be sure I will be! I’ve been told I’m now over the death hump, because were originally going to kill me — Chris Carter saw no other way that my character could go other than being erased, after having done so many awful things. I called Chris on the phone, a little irregular, I know, and pleaded for him not to kill Krycek, as I enjoy being on the show too much. Low and behold he didn’t. He said that I brought too much to the show to kill me off, which is something of a compliment. I didn’t cry, though, to influence him — I didn’t quite stoop that low.”

But what about the situation he’s in? It’s going to be a little bit difficult to get out of. “How Krycek is going to get out of that predicament is yet to be seen, but it will happen in the new season very early on.”

Some jolly japes reckon Krycek has a key in the heel of his shoe. “I heard a better one,” Nick remarks, “somebody suggested at one of the conventions we were at that there was a back door to the silo.”

The final episode of the latest season is again a cliff-hanger. Any major revelations that Mitch could tell us about?

“Skinner pops up briefly in the last couple of episodes, and isn’t an integral part to what is happening. What it’s going to translate into for the beginning of Season four, even we don’t know.”

What do they enjoy most about the UK, now that they’ve become regular visitors?

Nick is gushing in his praise. “I really enjoy the people. I find them to be better educated and wittier.”

“It’s really vibrant here,” notes Mitch. “We went to the theatre last night, and afterwards walked down the streets, and they were packed, the pubs full of people enjoying life.”

Nick has family connections which add another dimension to his trip. “My heritage is English, so I’m proud to be back here. We went to the British Museum, and I was looking up my family in the books — pages and pages on it. I really enjoy it here — at one point I was going to come over to live, maybe even try and get in at RADA — it’s probably a little too late for that now. Life seems less complicated here. Another thing I didn’t realise, when I went out for a run in Hyde Park, we come over to England thinking we’re so different, that life is different, as we live on the other side of the world, but you watch people doing exactly the same things you’re doing — Hyde Park looks so much like my home town. It makes you realise that people are the same wherever you go.”

Both of them are coming to terms with being recognised out on the streets. Mitch certainly has the presence not to be missed. Storyline wise, I note that some people reckon the series should stick to developing the conspiracy theory story, and not be distracted by other plotlines.

Mitch ponders for a moment. “I think it’s smart for them to continue having all these different avenues to take. You get the monster shows, you get the paranormal stuff, you’ve got the X-FILES mythology that revolves around the conspiracy. I think it’s refreshing to not stay on one track too long, as the audience might get bored of that quickly. Every once in a while, throw in something different — it’s very wise and astute to do so.”

Nick knows what he would like to see. “A few more mythology episodes would help, because that would mean I could be in it a little more! The mythology episodes are the backbone of the show. In STAR TREK, they’re normally revolving around the same theme, finding a new life form or intelligence, but in THE X-FILES we go all over the map, both in terms of people and format.”

A lot more people are discovering THE COMMISH on Sky One, in which Nick is a recurring character, the easy going cop Ricky Caruso.

“I did about two and a half years on that show. It was a great experience in terms of being in front of the camera and learning technique. It changed my life in a lot of ways — before I got that role I was just going from job to job, not really having enough money to be able to do what I wanted to do. You can be in an acting class all you want, but you don’t fully learn until you get off that stage and in front of a camera.”

I know that guest stars in THE X-FILES have always been unknowns, at least that has been the rule up until now. The reasoning being that such a celebrity appearance would detract too much from the storyline (not to mention the possible ramifications to the budget!). However, in the final episode of the third season, Roy Thinnes (who played architect David Vincent in the long-running 1960s series THE INVADERS — currently screening on The Sci-Fi Channel) is a guest star. Was this a conscious decision by series creator Chris Carter to pay homage to one of the inspirations of THE X-FILES?

Mitch hadn’t considered this before. “I honestly don’t know, but you have to admit, it was a piece of very smart casting.”

Nick adds, “I know they were trying to get Darrin McGavin, who played KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, to have played Mulder’s father. That would have been a real homage to the show’s influences, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to do it. I think Chris knows the legacy that THE X-FILES is going to leave behind, the excitement that it produces, and want to acknowledge the shows that motivate him from what he’s watched in the past.”

Mitch liked sharing screen time with the one-time star of THE INVADERS. “Roy Thinnes is brilliant, just wonderful. It was so neat working with him.”

Some people have suggested that psychological horror that as more evident in the earlier episodes of the show has been replaced with more horror of a graphic nature. How does Nick see it?

“I think the show has become more violent. Why this is happening, I couldn’t even begin to tell you. I’ve noticed it, but I also think the quality of the show has stepped up at the same time. When you’re doing a series like this, you’re constantly looking for new ways to excite your audience. The programme’s evolving constantly, and it may well go back into more psychological horror — these things tend to go in cycles in long-running shows. They’re still keeping up the wonderfully inventive storylines, for instance when that movie SEVEN came out, it’s fairly graphic, but very good.”

Speaking of clever shows, SLIDERS has been renewed for another season. Does Nick feel any remorse in passing up the chance to be a regular in the series?

“There was certainly talk at one point about me joining the cast. Tracy Torme, the show’s creator, called me up a while ago and told me he was under pressure from the network to do particular things in the series, which unfortunately didn’t involve me. But he does want to have me back as a guest star sometime this season — whether I do so or not all depends on whether I have the time.”

And what next for Walter S Skinner? Can Mitch throw any light on the next season?

“They’re opening up the character. He now has an ex-wife who’s a succubus, had a relationship with a hooker, and he will continue to evolve. It opens up a whole bunch of possibilities. The episode where they spotlighted Skinner (‘Avatar’) was a real treat to do, and my favourite of last season.”

And what was Nick’s favourite from last season?

“It’s the one called ‘Wet-wired,’ all about manipulation by the media. It was written by our special effects supervisor Mat Beck. My other favourite is ‘D.P.O.’ about a kid who attracts lightning. I mean, that’s a story that doesn’t work on paper, but when you see it, the performance by the kid makes it. I’m much like everyone else now — I sit home and watch the show.”

Does Mitch ever put forward script ideas to the writers and producers?

“No, I’m just too lazy. I come up with typical X-FILES character names sometimes though — SAM CLUTCH, for instance. That’s a character from my childhood — he was the bogey man who would feature in scary stories my mother would tell me. Stuff that had been passed on down my mom’s family — maybe that might be the basis of a good episode.” Indeed in the world of THE X-FILES, the unexpected is never too far away.