The X-Files Magazine [US]
The Uncanny X-Man
He’s the person without whom The X-Files would be nothing- Chris Carter. Ian Spelling caught up with the series’ creator to discuss the past nine years of the show – and his life – as well as what’s in store for the future.
It’s a bittersweet time for Chris Carter. His television baby – The X-Files – is all grown up and moving out of the house. The kid’s not quite gone yet; let’s just say he’s busily packing his bags – in other words, at the time of this conversation production and/or post-production was well underway on the last few episodes of The X-Files and on the two-hour series finale itself, The Truth. During a short break, Carter sat down to talk with The X-Files Magazine and several other publications in an old screening room on the Twentieth Century Fox lot. Carter sounded by turns proud, realistic, sad, and enthusiastic about the situation. And well he should: he created the show, executive-produced all nine years of the program, wrote, co-wrote, or fine-tuned dozens of episodes, directed a good many hours, spearheaded the popular X-Files movie and even made cameo appearances in two episodes (namely Anasazi and Hollywood A.D.).
THE X-FILES MAGAZINE: How hard was it for you to make the decision to end The X-Files?
CARTER: Actually, it wasn’t that hard to make the decision because we aired [Season Nine] against stiff competition. Our numbers were down from Season Eight. We’d always had the good fortune of being the winner for eight seasons, basically, and then this year the ratings were respectable, but we were sort of neck and neck with the competition. We’d been heavily counter-programmed. Saving Private Ryan was against us our first night. The next Sunday, the competition was Britney Spears on HBO. It was like we were taking flak, to use a war term. And so when the ratings had leveled off at about the sixth airing of the show, we came into Christmas vacation and I thought, “You know something, there are going to be articles written now about the show and what it used to be and they’re going to take shots at Annabeth Gish and Robert Patrick, and they’re going to take shots at the show.” I thought that was pretty unfair because they were doing good work. I thought the ratings weren’t justified. I thought the audience just didn’t show up. It’s not like they showed up and then decided they didn’t like the show. They just didn’t come for whatever reason. I don’t know. It’s a mysterious x-factor. So I just decided it was time to go and to go out strong and to look forward to the future, which is hopefully doing some X-Files movies. And I wanted to reward people for watching the show for nine years and to go out strong and give them something and have people say, “Wow, we didn’t realize how good the show was, and now we’re sorry to see it go.”
XFM: You sound disappointed. Are you?
CC: Well, hey, I created the show. For me it’s been 10 years now. It’s been on the air for nine years or it’ll be nearly nine years when we complete this year. It took me a year to get it off the ground. So I’ve been riding it 200 episodes worth. I haven’t written every episode, of course, but it’s something I’ve been doing for quite a long time and I just thought we were doing such good work this year that the disappointment is really the result of that good work.
XFM: How tough was it for you to pass along word of your decision?
CC: It was very hard for me to do it. Actually, I had to kick myself because I started getting emotional. I’m very attached to the show, as you might imagine. I feel very fortunate to be working with the people that I work with. It’s an amazing experience to work with a team, to feel a team spirit. That’s one of the best parts of my job. So it was very difficult, and it was also very difficult to tell the actors.
XFM: Can you go back to the very beginning and then forward in terms of where the idea for The X-Files came from and how ideas come about at this point?
CC: This idea was floating around in my head for a long time. There was nothing scary on TV in the early 1990s. When I was a kid there were good scary TV shows. I liked all these shows – The Twilight Zone, The Night Stalker, The Outer Limits. And so here I was, a television creator, and I was finally asked what I wanted to do. I said, “I want to do a good, scary show.” And that’s how The X-Files happened. And now, coming up with stories, they just come to you in the weirdest ways. One of the best experiences on the show for me has been having these other great writers that I work with come in and expand on what I originally did, and seeing what other people do with the show. I’m talking about people like Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan, and James Wong, and people like Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotnitz. They’re the people who came in and expanded the idea of The X-Files.
XFM: How do you go about wrapping up the show while simultaneously keeping enough of a hook to lure fans into the next film?
CC: You know me well enough to know that I’ve always got a hook, and I do have a trick up my sleeve, but we really look to the movies as an opportunity to do stand-alone movies, not mythology movies. It’s not like what we had to do with the first movie, which I thought was worthwhile, but it was really a movie where you couldn’t have a beginning, middle and end – you could have a beginning and middle, but the end was going to come with the rest of the series, so it prevented us from really making it, I think, as big and blockbuster-ish as we might have. So I’m looking forward to just doing what we call stand-alone stories, but doing them as a movie franchise.
XFM: How quickly can we expect to see another X-Files movie?
CC: I don’t know. It depends on how long I take for vacation. I hope to write it over the summer of 2002 and I hope to prep it over the fall and spring and to shoot it in the late spring and summer of 2003. So I think you would end up seeing it in 2004.
XFM: Do you have the story in your head already?
CC: I have rough ideas and I’m sort of deciding what to do. Frank Spotnitz and I will write it. It’s one of those things where we will just sit down one day and throw out a lot of things and put in a lot of things. It’s a process rather than an idea that’s in my head. It sort of takes shape.
XFM: Any chance that Annabeth Gish and Robert Patrick will be in the next feature?
CC: We don’t know. I’d work with Robert in a heartbeat and Annabeth too. So we might find something. It just depends on the kind of story we’re doing.
XFM: Were you at all surprised that David Duchovny agreed to return as Mulder for the finale?
CC: I wasn’t surprised because we’ve been in contact all year long and any differences that we had seem to have been something we’ve both gotten past. He and Gillian [Anderson] are both very anxious to do the movies. We’ve got to do them one at a time, so I’m only fantasizing about more than one. And so he realized that it was important to the future to participate in the present.
XFM: Take us through the process of David Duchovny both directing an episode in Season Nine and then reprising his role as Mulder. How did that all come together?
CC: I approached him about the finale. I called him up and said, “Well, the show’s over and I’m making the announcement.” He said, “Congratulations, it was a good, long run.” Then I think we spoke some time later about him being in the finale. We’d actually approached him before I had ever made the decision [to end the show] about possibly directing. That looked like it was going to go away because he was going to write and direct. When he ran out of time to write I said, “I’ll write something for you,” and I wrote the episode he directed.”
XFM: In hindsight, was it a mistake to let Duchovny go?
CC: I didn’t let David go. David went. We could have tried to hang onto him, but he wanted to go. It wasn’t a question of not trying. It was a life decision for him and you can’t blame a person. When you do something for so long and you reach a point in your life, certainly around your 40s, you’re going to want to try something else. You’re never going to have another chance to be at that point in your life, so I don’t hold it against him at all. And I still think we’re doing great work. I think the reason that Fox brought the show back this year – and it was their decision to bring the show back – was because our ratings were still good and we were doing good work and David was only in roughly half the shows last year. It looked like the franchise was still very strong. That’s the reason I came back. I didn’t have to come back this year. The reason I came back was because I thought we had an opportunity to do good work and maybe even recast the show, as it were, in every sense of the word.
XFM: Some people think the spirit of the show changed when the production relocated from Vancouver to Los Angeles. What are your thoughts on that issue?
CC: I disagree. We actually had more resources in Los Angeles, resources we didn’t have in Vancouver. I thought we had more to work with, but you can look at it as pre-movie and post-movie. I look at it that way, but I think there was so much good work done after the movie on this show that it’s hard for me to look at it that way. It changed, but I don’t think it actually meant that it changed for the worse. And every show has its season. You know, every show is built on a curve, unless you’re The Simpsons, which seems to have a never-ending curve.
XFM: Why do you think The X Files works so well all over the world?
CC: Because people are scared of the same things. I think scared travels across borders very well and I want to knock some wood right now because I’m very fortunate to have created something that everyone seems to like. I get to write what I’m interested in and people like it, so that’s one of those miracles.
XFM: Would you do another TV series?
CC: If it were the right series and the right task with the right people. If I could surround myself with the right people. I’ve got lots of ideas.
XFM: Which episodes from the last season have you been most pleased with?
CC: You know, I’ve been happy with the whole year. I’m trying to think of a specific episode that stands out for me and the one I’m thinking of right now is Improbable, the Burt Reynolds one. It’s very close to my heart because I wrote it and directed it and got to direct Burt. He’s Burt, so I have to say that’s a standout because it does what the best X-Files episodes do, which is to expand this sort of storytelling possibility, meaning I’m telling a story we’ve never told before. That’s the beauty of the show. And if you’re asking me why I seem disappointed [that the series is ending], it’s because the show’s format and storytelling structure was so incredibly elastic. It was a comedy. It was an intense drama. It was a melodrama. It was a horror show. It was a thriller. It could be so many different things and so that’s what I’ll miss.
XFM: It’s got to be strange dealing with the finale. What’s the experience been like for you?
CC: It’s interesting because we’ve gone so far from where we began and now, as I’m going back to where we began, it feels like just yesterday that we were there. This mythology that people always think is very convoluted and confusing, it actually all makes perfect sense. That, I think, will be very satisfying, that there’s a beautiful structure to it all.
XFM: Did running your own show ever give you nightmares? Did you ever wake up in the middle of the night?
CC: My trouble is going to sleep. I’m a very light sleeper. I don’t sleep very much and so I tend to lie there and I work a lot even when I’m in bed.
XFM: So that’s where your creativity comes from?
CC: Yeah, that and the bathtub.
XFM: You’ve written countless episodes of The X-Files and directed a batch over the years as well. Do you have a preference, writing over directing or vice-versa?
CC: Well, I’m a writer first and that’s how I got into this business, but I have to say it’s a lot more enjoyable to direct because the words are already on the page and you just have to figure out how to get those images you have in your head, the images the script gives you, and get them out on film. That’s a trick, but looking at the blank page is probably one of the more daunting aspects of the business of what I do.
XFM: What’s next for you?
CC: There’s a movie with Miramax/Dimension that Frank Spotnitz and I have a deal to do. This one is about a guy who may be sort of a missing link. And then [I’m contracted to] Fox for approximately a year, and beyond that I was supposed to have written a novel a long time ago and I must get around to that. The novel is about one of two things. I have two ideas that I’ve had for a long time and it’s really just which one I choose to do first. One is historical and the other is a little closer to home. So that’s kind of the order of business.
XFM: Could you have done The X-Files for another 10 years?
CC: Could I have done it for another 10 years? Yeah.
XFM: At this point, do you believe in aliens?
CC: Me, no. But those aliens owe me a visit after all this time. #