Filming ‘The Unnatural’
[Original article here]
Friday, March 19, 1999
Approximately 8:30 P.M.
Los Angeles, CA
Site: Filming of “The X-Files” (20th Century Fox/Ten Thirteen Productions)
Title: “Shades of Gray” (Episode 6×20) Rumored to be the story of an alien who falls in love with baseball during the era of the Negro leagues set in Roswell, New Mexico.
Tentative Air Date: May 9, 1999
Director: David Duchovny
Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson
SUMMARY: “The X-Files” star takes advantage of his writing and directorial debut to treat devoted fan-addicts of the wildly popular franchise to his playful take on the tender stuff simmering beneath the sleek, polished veneer of the partnership between two of television’s most Special FBI Agents. Duchovny cleverly employs a time-honored Hollywood romance gambit to manipulate Moose and Squirrel.
ADVISORY: Proceed at your own risk. The following narrative contains a small but significant spoiler of a single scene in this episode. I do not mean that it is significant to the plot, as I have no idea its context in the story. By significant I speak in terms of FWM/DKS interaction. It doesn’t spoil the plot but it definitely divulges a marvelous scene. Whether you choose to read it or not is obviously up to you, but it is simply too special for me to even think of not reporting it. And yes, if you haven’t already figured it out and such info figures into your decision-making, this is ‘shippy, not Titanic ‘shippy, but very ‘shippy nonetheless. In any event, “spoiler” is a misnomer here. Nothing could spoil this scene regardless your relationship persuasion. You are advised, though, that you just might enjoy the scene more if you save this to read after viewing the episode during May sweeps.
Please forgive all errors in spelling, punctuation, formatting, and grammar. This thing is too dang long to edit properly and still get it posted before the episode airs. And of course it is very long ’cause I never, ever, do the good stuff short.
When I arrived at the shoot location, which was a well-lit outdoor baseball diamond on the spacious Cheviot Hills Recreation Grounds, about 20 or so fans (curiously, at least half of whom —both male and female— were auburn-tressed!) had already congregated around the set and were watching DD as he actively engaged in supervising his crew ;^) in setting up cameras, lighting, and other equipment for filming on the baseball diamond. (If you’ve never been to one of these things you cannot begin to imagine the clutter!) The temperature was frigid and he was wearing a navy calf-length, heavily padded nylon ski coat beneath which was visible a few inches of black denim slacks and black athletic shoes.
Everyone’s breath hung in the cold, damp air that had been forecast to bring rain all evening.
Shortly after my arriving, DD stopped prepping and began to devote concentrated time and energy on batting balls thrown at him by a the kid who was to be in the scene or, alternately, that were being hurled from some type pitching contraption—baseball ain’t my game so I really have no idea. Over and over and over he swung on dozens of pitches—hitting them far afield, far a-fly, or hitting nothing at all but innocent wasps. This went on too long for my tastes and severely taxed the limits of my attention span, but later it became apparent to me that this exercise had served to increase his comfort level in face of the balls hurling toward him and to relax his body movements in handling the bat, all to figure into the scene he was prepping to shoot. I didn’t get the impression, though, that he felt particularly burdened by or in any way preoccupied with the pressures of his directorial responsibilities during this extended play period. Based on my observations, I could easily be convinced, even, that he’d managed to forget he was “at the office.”
A skimpy aside, FWIW, is that David’s wife Tea was in the stands with one or two people that appeared to be perhaps family and/or friends. She was so bundled in a huge coat that only her profile and hair was visible. At one point either she or one of the persons with her loudly called DD and he dutifully made his way, bat still in hand, to his wife and her friends (or whomever) from home plate. After a brief moment with them he returned to the plate to resume batting. One of the crew members (I’m sure if I knew anything about this business it would have been clear what role he played, but…) inquired of DD “Is she alright?” to which he replied “yeah.” One can only assume this may have had reference to the pregnancy, but I’ve absolutely no idea.
Like I said, skimpy and FWIW…
At this point I looked up to see the unmistakable “Special Agent Dana Scully” coming toward the set. She was accompanied by one woman lagging some distance behind her. The enormously bulky, extremely padded, very long overcoat she wore —very similar in style to DD’s but in black quilted cotton instead of nylon — did nothing to disguise the shock of flame atop her head and her distinctive Scully-like gait (which, if not coincidentally her Gillian-gait as well, tells me that, along with her hair and make-up, she had already gotten her “Scully” on, too.) Everyone seemed to notice her at once. It was nearly impossible not to.
When DD looked over and noted her arrival, he was ready for them to immediately begin rehearsing their scene. Gillian was obviously wardrobed, coifed, and made up, ready to start. DD called her over promptly. (I admit I felt foolish each time it occurred that I experienced a mental hiccup as I was watching “Mulder” call to “Scully” but referring to her as Gillian =^). Each shed his outerwear and made for home plate.
(At some point during this time I happened to notice that Mrs. Duchovny and her associates had departed.)
Though I am loathe to dignify a subject that so repulses me each time the bleepin’ thread rears its disgusting head, in the interest of journalistic thoroughness and integrity ;^), I report from a very close-up firsthand observation that underneath her tremendous overcoat “Agent Scully” was v-e-e-e-e-ry trim in a moss-green hip length jacket with lapels, lightweight black slacks, and thick-soled, nearly-square toed black suede boots (the heavy heels of which along with her heavy stride reverberated loudly wherever she walked on pavement, causing us to chuckle). The T-shirt she wore underneath was dark, probably black, rather —not obscenely— snug. Her hair was somewhat fuller than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing this season, its overall length appearing not so much longer as its layers from her summer cut seeming to have filled in.
As I watched her, “absolutely adorable” was the unbidden description that found its way repeatedly to mind.
Beneath his long ski coat, “Agent Mulder” wore a gray baseball jersey with the name “GRAYS” across the front and the number “20” with the name “Gibson” across the back. (When I mentioned this to my brother the next day he said that he thought it must have reference to a ballplayer by the name of Josh Gibson who was with the league in that era —which got him very excited about the episode, btw. And, in case I’ve failed to mention it before, I’d have no idea.) I seem to recall DD’s also having on a long-sleeved navy T-shirt underneath the jersey. For some reason I’m blanking on this, but I think I’m remembering it correctly ’cause I’m fairly certain I would not have forgotten seeing his arms on such a cold night.
Over and over, Duchovny and Anderson rehearsed their scene, she asking questions of him, he responding and they discussing while he positioned her and himself according to his preference. At no time did my attention span waiver during the rehearsal of this scene. The only time I was not watching them was whenever a gaggle of crew types blocked my view or I became briefly engaged in conversation with other philes present, who also paid rapt attention.
Finally DD was ready to begin filming. He attended to things on the set while GA walked back to her trailer to wait for her call. She patiently indulged the fan requests on her walk back to her wagon (a distance of sufficient length that I was a bit surprised she chose to walk it rather than take advantage of one of the motor carts and drivers available to her. In fact, DD didn’t either.). I will briefly cover this toward the end of the report.
About 15 minutes later, GA returned to the set, her escort in tow (rather than the other way around!); DD had called for her; he was ready to shoot their scene.
Mulder stands behind Scully as they both stand at home plate. While Scully holds the grip of a large bat (the one with which DD had earlier been practicing) with both hands as though readying to swing, Mulder lightly admonishes her about her grip (and something else I was unable to make out). As he does so he simultaneously leans down and over her, proceeds to bring his arms around her—completely enveloping her in his embrace—, and places the palms of either of his large hands at the outside of either of her much smaller ones at the bat’s grip. He begins to swing the bat—and her in his embrace—over and over as balls are pitched to them.
Rarely has the disparity in their heights and sizes been more evident than in the execution of this scene. DD is tall (as I’ve said before, he is definitely taller than 6′ or I have definitely shrunken to shorter than… nevermind) but does not look in the least bulky until he leans over and literally wraps himself around the diminutive GA in this scene. Towering over her, he practically absorbs her—even in her stacked-heel boots— as his arms enfold her to show her how to hold and swing the bat. She was fairly invisible except for her legs when I viewed one of the takes from directly behind them. Another point of fact is that they are as spooned as two individuals of such disparate heights can be and maintain plausible denial that they are congenitally conjoined (!)
It was impossible to tell if he was going for the particular outcome in the scene or whether it was inadvertent on Duchovny’s part (I can’t wait to find out), but because Mulder seems to only barely blunt the force of his swing in consideration of her size, nearly every swipe of the bat finds Mulder twirling Scully so vigorously that her at least one of her feet, sometimes both, lift from the ground necessitating his having to hang onto her to slow their combined momentum, steady her on her feet, and help her regain her balance. Several times they land a full ¾ circle (135-degree) turn from their starting position before he has steadied them.
Now, just prior to each swing, as Mulder is showing and describing to Scully how she is supposed to stand and hold and swing the bat, he turns his smiling face into hers. In more than one take her face is also turned into his. I don’t know at what angle the scene will appear in its final cut but I saw it shot from a few different angles and their faces are right at each other’s. It is quite, well, it’s uh…
<ohmyohmy…hold on a minute.>
<I gotta take 10 here to grab a glass of ice cubes. Talk among yourselves; I’ll return shortly.>
Okay. Now where was I? Oh yes.
Again and again, with the cameras rolling, Mulder and Scully, very snugly spooned together, swing at pitch after pitch. They both laugh, Scully quite delightedly, as they complete each swing of the bat as Mulder rights her each time preventing her bounding and plunging to the ground. (Seriously, a few times she appeared very nearly airborne were it not for his embrace.) It is a very playful, affectionate moment between them.
ADVISORY: A description of PG-13, possibly R-rated, shenanigans follows.
Whether for our amusement or his own or, more likely, ensuring choice cuts for the crew’s private blooper tape, I cannot say, but, at *least* once, immediately after the “ROLLING” shout, David took advantage of having Gillian trapped “within” him, as it were, and —sorry, folks, no other way to describe it— busted a positively lewd move on her —wriggling and well…, uh…thrusting “himself” into her. Several of us who spotted it (primarily the two of us with bionic-binocs that zoomed the couple into our eyelashes— and we were all pretty close to begin with) gaped at each other and gasped in astonishment — “… did you see what he did???”— . As for Anderson, the way her giggling carries, there was no inferring that she was in any way offended. She never once insisted that filming stop and it didn’t until “CUT” was shouted by Director Duchovny when he decided it was time to get down to business.
Needless to say that this …uh, maneuver on DD’s part is unlikely to show up on screen.
<END OF RATED MATERIAL>
Once the cameras began to roll again, DD stopped his “antics” and Mulder kicked in. For the scene, though, even though not obscene, if you will, he continues to imitate the animated batter’s wriggle that, because of their positioning, engages Scully in the motion along with him. As they perform this in-tandem wiggle ‘n’ jiggle in virtually every take of the scene, there will have to be some monstrously (and I use that term advisedly) creative editing if the intention is that none of this appear in the final cut that makes it to screen. In truth, I can’t imagine that David had it shot this way over and over just to have all of it scrapped. There was no question in our minds as we viewed this scene rehearsed and shot at least a ½ dozen times respectively that DD and GA were executing this precisely as DD was directing it and as he intended it. I trust the reader will decide for himself what significance to assign this. I’m settled in my mind that it’s a view David Duchovny wants us to glean of Agents Mulder and Scully from his script.
As this was an outdoor shoot, much of the dialogue was indecipherable. I could make out only pieces.
Prior to the first pitch, Mulder yells to the kid, “Okay, let’s have it, poorboy.” I think he said poorboy. If he did, I don’t know what it means in the script.
After he’s played the great tutor to Scully, Mulder takes a whack in the butt-thigh region by the ball. He jumps around yelping in pain.
“Clarify something for me, Mulder. Are you actually supposed to hit the ball with your ass?” Scully asks him in one take as she is giggling at his discomfort.
In another version, she laughs and says “Tell me Mulder, is the ball actually supposed to hit you in the ass?” This version was clearly a flub.
And another, “Tell me Mulder, is the ball actually supposed to be hit by your ass?”
The whole time Scully is giggling away. Mulder is not amused. “Very funny, kid” he yells out to the boy.
Mulder and the boy seem to have some kind of wager going and as each successive ball hits him or nearly does so, Mulder gradually capitulates, yelling to the kid “$???, $18.50… okay, $20 then.”
After each take DD and GA and certain crew members would move over to several monitors that were mounted nearby on which they’d review the take just shot. By an unbelievable stroke of good luck, we were able to observe DD and GA as they together, facing us, watched the monitor of their previous take and, by means of a monitor facing toward us, were able to see what it was they were seeing.
With DD either standing slightly behind and to GA’s left or sitting on a stool beside where she stood so that they were nearly the same height with their faces at the monitor, they, again and again, together boomed loud laughter as they clearly were amused by what they’d gotten on film. Gillian’s delighted squeal and David’s leaning back in a full-throated laugh caused us to laugh ourselves at times at the very spectacle of the two of them. This cycle continued as they alternated take after take followed each time with viewing at the monitor. I wonder at the level of perfectionism on the part of these two in that, despite their and the crew’s apparent delight in each successive take, they continued to agree to one after another. Perhaps different aspects of different takes worked best in their view. Like I said, filmmaking is not my business and I know next to nothing about it, but I do know that my attention span never wavered during a single one of these takes. Each time was as good as or better than the one before. These two look divine together—no other description suffices.
Gauging by GA’s reaction to each take, I’m convinced that she must be as pleased with DD’s script as he has himself expressed being.
BEHIND-THE-SCENES QUICK TAKES
—–Appearing quite the relaxed director, DD goofed a bit with crew members, snacked on something candy bar-like in a wrapper and beverage in a Starbucks cup between takes, graced with the occasional smile those of us who made up the small audience in attendance, and even scolded the kid pitching him balls — “…and this time let’s have none of that argument from the last time…” before one take he shouted in an exaggeratedly paternal tone he’s obviously been practicing! It was quite charming actually and very authentically authoritarian.
—–At one point, while the doubles were being shot, GA and DD stood off to the side out of the camera’s view. GA, with her back to us, having pulled back slightly her hip length jacket, had her head down with both of her hands gesturing near her waist, drawing DD’s attention to something at the vicinity of her midsection. As he was facing in our direction, I could see him peer down to whatever she was indicating at her midsection and say something to her presumably about whatever she was showing him. His expression was neither that of amusement nor real seriousness, just interest or perhaps curiosity. Sorry, I have no more than that. I couldn’t, and still can’t, imagine what it could’ve been about. Just another skimpy aside.
—–When, between takes, shooting was delayed while the crew moved cameras and other equipment or were otherwise occupied, DD once or twice picked up the bat and resumed swinging at pitches. Frequently his effort yielded only newly-plowed soil beneath his shoes or the exploded remains of the poor insect whose unwitting flight pattern brought it to an untimely demise. But many times DD connected with and slammed the ball well beyond the diamond out into the park. And he looked pretty darn cute doing so I might add.
—–Not to be outdone, GA, twice between takes, took her turn at bat as well. With each swing of the bat she drilled herself deeper and deeper into earth’s center as the ball whizzed past her. Once she seemed to muster her strength and find her balance, however, she started knocking balls high and far into the outfield (okay, I suppose even a baseball ignorante like myself cannot have been born and reared in the Los Angeles area without having picked up a wee bit of the terminology, summer after summer, from our beloved Vin Scully.) Tittering all around ensued each time the loud crack signaled that little Gillian had nailed another ball. An incongruous sight to be sure given that the bat was nearly as long as she is tall.
NOTE: I’ve been trying to recall whether there was any filming being done of either “Mulder” or “Scully” while either was batting alone. My best recollection is that I never heard “ROLLING” or “CUT” during this time and that this was not being filmed for the episode, however, I could be mistaken. It was a long, cold night <g>
Seems both “Mulder” and “Scully” got game.
—–When time to film, GA returned to the set sipping from her ever-present bottle of Crystal Geyser, which no typical Southern Californian—myself included (!)—-is ever without.
—-GA’s laugh over something or other rang out unself-consciously time and again. Her voice and laugh carry every bit as far as anyone’s on the set.
—-Occasionally, between takes, the hair stylist would approach DD and reach up to dabble in his hair, pushing and pulling it this way and that. As I watched her, I found myself thinking “Enough of that already; he looks enough like a porcupine ’bout the head this season.” Thank goodness it seems he’s let it grow out some—just in time for this summer’s weedwackado =^).
—-Once I observed a make-up artist and hair stylist attending simultaneously to Gillian between takes. Another time she fussed with her own hair while peering at her image on a monitor.
—–As it grew later, from about midnight on, as the crew grew confident that none of us was a wild-eyed, slobbering phile looking to take DD or GA hostage (and the security guards had disappeared to snag some zzzzz’s), they practically gave us free rein of the place. The only thing anyone ever did was to ask us to move a bit in a certain direction so that we would not be in the shot. And they thanked us for doing that! Although we didn’t presume on their generosity, we were able to view the shoot from quite close-up. At one point, set workers even dragged cable, drove motor carts, and moved equipment around us instead of asking that we move—which, of course we always did if we got any inkling that we were in the way. Even the guards, when they were around, were extremely courteous and respectful—one even inviting me to help myself to refreshments from the gourmet catering wagon. Naturally, I declined. It was quite remarkable really. Much more relaxed than my two previous outings in the summer of ’97.
Even if I’d had any expectation of seeing “Scully” in this ballpark scene (and I absolutely did not; I’d just come to watch DD work as director on his script and had resigned myself to probably having to endure watching ballplayers do that thing they do), I never would have expected a scene such as this. The joy of watching it may be surpassed only by the knowledge that it was a choice Duchovny made for his very own episode. Although I’d previously observed the two of them performing in the same scene during filming of FtF, there was no interaction between them as the scene was the one of unconscious Scully being gurneyed into the Syndicate’s “ambulance” and a frantic Mulder asking to what hospital she was being taken while getting himself capped in the temple over and over and over =^). What I’m saying is that I would have enjoyed a chance to see any interaction between the two characters—even an argument!— and it was sheer serendipity that I managed to catch one that turned out to exceed anything I would ever have dared hoped for. All of us in attendance were clearly delighted by this most welcome surprise.
I’ll say also that, imo, this earns its place among the very ‘shippiest x-f scenes—“Irresistible,””Pusher,” “MeMo,” “Redux II,” et al—ever between the real-deal, drug-free Mulder and present-day, conscious Scully. I find it all the more powerfully significant given that the writer and director are the very life force behind Special Agent Fox Mulder. Any man who manages to work a scene like this with his onscreen “wife” into his first script— one that focuses on one of his other loves, a sport— ranks as one of the sexiest alive.
Now, anyone familiar with my past write-ups of these little escapades of mine know that I don’t consider my purpose served until I’ve dished some dangerously sexist and gratuitously superficial comments regarding the physical attributes of one David Duchovny (or The Carter, for that matter, when he’s present, which he wasn’t this time—@#$%$#@!!) Feel free to scroll past if you don’t wish to be subjected to such demeaning tripe.
I’ll give you time.
<Jeremiah was a bullfrog; he was a good friend of mine. I never understood a single…>
Plainly stated, Duchovny is criminally handsome. A felony walking. Three strikes—pun intended— (mind, body,and talent) should put him away for life. I, once again, had the pleasure of observing for myself, up close, that he is far from the notoriously snobbish sort relentlessly portrayed by his detractors. Rather than logically walk past us on the wide green expanse surrounding us, DD chose to meander right through the center of the little cluster of about 6 of us (yeah, the dude’s surely got a set on ‘im to take such risks!); he spoke, grinned a magnificent smile —in perfect Chris Carter imitation—and looked around at each of us. His skin, I mean…, that is, his face <G>, is well-tanned (in contrast to his coloring when here filming the movie) and well, he is, quite simply, drop-dead gorgeous. This impression of him, for me at least, tremendously benefits from my knowing the keen mind—the brain ever the sexiest organ— his packaging wraps.
In deference to his new role as father, I’ll be more respectful this outing and leave this discussion here. I trust my point, though succinct, is clear and thorough.
Now unlike my courageous antics in a previous similar very-close encounter of this erotic…uh, that’s close kind I said, I regret to inform that I failed to live up to my own …uh, high standards, offering not so much as a congrats on his recent awards. What did I do this time? Same as the other few in our group. As he casually strolled through (so casually, in fact, that for a second I was convinced that it had to be his double, who was on the set along with GA’s performing the same scene as they) — taking time to look directly at each of us, saying “hi”—we all, every one of us, stood riveted to the ground, grinning up at him; drooling on ourselves like sweet and innocent dimwitted imbeciles gazing up at the cover of TV Guide mag featuring Jay Leno on Sloppy Joe Friday.
Once the spell was broken and I’d come to my senses, such as they are, I cannot believe that I, of all people, didn’t manage to at least convey our delight at the FWM/DKS scene he’s chosen to include in his script for our enjoyment! Either I’m losing my edge or the proverb is proved true: Sometimes life imitates the WB Network.
I must say, though, that my profound sense was that the expression on Duchovny’s face —along with that 100-watt grin— betrayed the fact that he was enjoying our stupor a bit too much.
As with most things, I guess I could be mistaken on this <g>.
Both David and Gillian, separately, during different breaks, demonstrated themselves to be very approachable, patiently taking the time to sign autographs and have their pictures taken with those who asked. Thankfully there was no silly mob-like frenzy; the requestors were generally calm and well-mannered. Mostly it was the younger women who had brought some mags with great covers of the two stars to be autographed. Although it’s not my thing, it was great fun watching how nervous and excited those became —yeah, I mean you, Jill Anne and Angel—who got their treasures signed. Unlike with Duchovny and The Carter, I’ve never gotten the opportunity to express to Anderson my appreciation of her talent and the work she’s done over these 6 seasons. Not a collector of celebrity-type things, I do make it a point to extend my congratulations on good work when I can. As adorable as she is, weak-kneed Gillian does not make me…as does that other one <g>. My tongue was quite loosened and she was a gracious sweetie in response to my comment.
Finally, this occasion afforded me the added pleasure of meeting some of the great long-time philes I’d hoped to see at last month’s Xeminar here in L.A. —for which I’d made reservations but was finally unable to attend due to some impossibly inflexible commitments that weekend. One new phriend, Rayna— Hi Rayna!—was thoughtful enough and had the presence of mind to bring delicious granola bars to share with us.
Every ½ hour one of us would declare that our intention to depart. Cell phone emerged from every car and satchel as each hour passed and someone was forced to call and advise that s/he was going to be arriving home somewhat later than earlier thought. (I’d saved myself this grief by earlier coaching my husband not to go wiggy cuz I was gonna be way late.)
Most of us left at about 1:30 a.m.—with my beginning to dread the fact that I had a 10:00 a.m. meeting to attend. A few others stayed, one fan and her daughter hoping to give Gillian Anderson a gift of some kind, I think. The shooting was continuing even though it had begun to rain lightly.
There’s been hellacious griping about “The X-Files” this season. Virtually every episode has had its vehement slammers and detractors and I expect “Shades of Grey” will be no different. I admit I’ve had my occasional beef, too (“There is more trust to be put in bruises from one who loves than in effusive kisses from one who hates.”—Proverbs 27:6)
For my part, though, as regards this episode, I don’t care if it is about the Negro Baseball League, aliens loving baseball, or Negro aliens who fall in love with baseballs (before any gets his panties/boxers in a Morris Fletcher twist, know that I and some of my very well-connected family members used to actually be “Negro” and would cherish a visit with any extraterrestrial kinfolk— even those who space travel here to abduct baseballs, okay?). I know already from the microscopic glimpse I’ve gotten of this episode that I am not only going to like it; it is guaranteed to be one of my all-time favorites.
And this is likely to hold true even if it turns out not to mean I have a Great-Gramps visiting here from Reticula.
And that’s the truth.