Fifteenth Anniversary: The X-Files – “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (October 13, 1995)
[Original article here]
Fifteen years ago today, on October 13, 1995, “The X-Files” aired what might be its best, and most philosophical, episode, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” Concerned with dilemmas presented by fate, and guest starring the late Peter Boyle, the episode garnered much popular and critical acclaim. We here at Chronological Snobbery remember this episode fondly, and for its fifteenth anniversary, we present this piece, which includes not one but four original interviews with members of the episode’s cast, those being Dwight McFee, Greg Anderson, Frank Cassini, and Stu Charno (who played the villain, known only as “The Puppet.”).
Reached by e-mail in November of 2007, before this site went on its extended hiatus, actors Dwight McFee (pictured above), Greg Anderson, Frank Cassini, and Stuart Charno, were kind enough to submit to brief email interviews. McFee played Detective Havez, who is ultimately slain by the killer while protecting Bruckman. Cassini played Detective Cline, a local cop assisted by Mulder and Scully. Anderson played a jaded crime scene photographer, while Charno, as aforementioned, plays the killer. For the most part, I asked all four actors the same set of questions, and so for the sake of ease and clarity, I’ve included them below collectively.
1. You appeared in what is widely regarded as one of the best episodes of The X-Files. Looking back twelve years, how do you view it and your performance therein?
MCFEE: It’s hard to believe that that was twelve years ago! However, I remember it clearly. Why do I remember it that clearly? The buzz on the set . . . was clearly that the show was taking off. The buzz was great and Mr. [Chris] Carter had nurtured the baby along with interesting and relevant stories. Cast and crew had been together for awhile, the enterprise was gelling. And now there was more money per episode. The time could be taken to make the episode as clean and perfect as possible. This episode had an several extra days to shoot. Sincerely, there was a feeling that maybe this was more than TV, but ‘classic’. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but each director, (in my case the inimitable David Nutter), had a small stable of actors who were used somewhat as a repertory company. In other words, we appeared in several episodes in different sized and kind of roles or voice overs. It was a thrill to be able to participate and contribute in the growth of the series. We were given the confidence of Mr. Carter and our director and it made us feel that we had a stake in making this series as good as possible. As to ‘Clyde’, it was early in the shooting season and it was like old home week. And we had Peter Boyle. The care that David Nutter took with the episode and the great story, well, I just knew this one was going to be good. As it turned out, my instincts were right. Regarding my performance: I did the best I could and felt it worked for the episode. I generally let other people do the judging.
ANDERSON: In all honesty, I have never seen the episode. I have seen the opening scene where I am flashing a picture of eyeballs.
CASSINI: Well, I do agree that it was one of the best episodes. It had a humor about it that was so intelligent and witty. I think it still stands up really well. Looking back at my performance is fun. Saying those lines with a straight face was challenging but it was the only way to do it.
CHARNO: I think that the idea of an insurance salesman who can see the future, is brilliant. Darin Morgan, who deservedly won an Emmy for the writing of the script, created (as he always does) some very interesting characters. Peter Boyle also won an Emmy, for playing that ironic insurance salesman, so marvelously. The Puppet, which was what my character was called in the script, “couldn’t help” doing what he was doing. And all the characters he eviscerates, are fortune tellers, to whom he goes for help, to find out why he’s doing these terrible things. With the first fortune teller we see the Puppet attack, played by Karin Konoval, he says to her, “you’re a fortune teller . . . you should have seen this coming.” Brilliant. From the view of trying to bring to life what Darin created, I took him to lunch to ask him some questions. Until that time, like the character I was playing, I had no idea why I was doing what I was doing. My lunch with Darin was no help. The writer’s process and the actor’s process aren’t necessarily usefully coordinated. Darin (who is also a trained actor, and played a major character in one episode of the show) said that sometimes certain things the writer has to do, are just what the television story requires. It wasn’t about the characters’ logic. That was revelatory for me. As far as my performance goes, I always wish I could do it again. I see that as a general symptom of any artist, though. A performance (acting, playing an instrument, dancing, etc), is whatever runs through the artist at that moment, and looked at later, it will either “feel right” or not, to the artist. It’s the unscratchable artist’s itch, which continually drives them/us to make efforts/practice to improve. . . . I personally find acting, to be the most difficult art. Needless to say, this varies from person to person, but personally, I just don’t like getting upset for make believe reasons — which is what acting mostly is. If you look at anything on TV right now, you’ll see actors “getting upset” for make believe reasons. Some people love doing that. I’m not one of those people. This is important, I think; I never intended to be an actor. I graduated music college, and had every intention of earning my way in the world, through music. I was sitting in a place in Manhattan, watching a friend sing, when a woman at a nearby table, who had been looking at me throughout the evening, sidled her chair over to my table, and asked, “Are you a comedian?” I smiled and said, “Well, I feel funny.” She gave me her card. Yvette Bickoff was her name, and she was an agent. “Go study some acting. I want to represent you.” A couple of months later, (and a couple of acting workshops later), she started sending me on auditions. I got three movies, back to back: The Chosen, Friday the 13th Part 2, and a TV movie for ABC. Now I had to learn the art of acting.
2. How did you prepare for your role as this character, and how would you describe him?
MCFEE: After I read the script and found the script ironic and kind of off beat funny, my first impression of these two detectives was that they were fish out of water. Kind of discombobulated over the whole thing. And the FBI were involved! Just think of the first scene. Camera pan to an eye in a tea cup with two federal agents! And look, I mean, the character’s name is Havez. When Mr. Nutter and I talked we had a good laugh over that one. As Mr. Nutter said, this guy is even confused about his identity. My first thought was that we were going to dye my hair black and put a moustache on me (I had done that one on a double episode of “Wiseguy” with Paul Guilfoyle). But after talking with Mr. Nutter, he was right: It’ll be funny and confusing to have a blond Havez. And that’s where I started. Then it called to mind and I did a little research on those thirties and forties detective movies (Dick Powell, Cagney, Mitchum, etc.) where there are two detectives following the evidence while the lead really knows what’s going on. The detectives are a bit klutzy and awkward, enamoured with the oddity of the situation and forgetting what they are doing. And I’d say that that was Havez. There he is, having to protect the star witness, and he’s more concerned about whether he will die of cancer from smoking. And it’s funny. The pulling of the cigarette from the ear and heading into the bathroom with a “Don’t open that door.” Then being attacked by the bellhop. Cut to a cigarette on the floor burning with a long ash. I did love that sense of seriousness and ‘send up’ in that episode. And with that character. One of the lovely things about that series and episode was that Mr. Carter used the supporting cast not just to deliver plot but was able to use the supporting cast integrally to establish the mood, the world that this series lived in.
ANDERSON: I remember being very happy to have this job. I also remember David Nutter saying to me, before we shot anything, “It’s just a job and he (my character) is just doing his job.” That is what I went for. The “seen it all before” thing. Nothing would bother me. Not even eyeballs and flesh on a table.
CASSINI: This was one of those roles where I relied more on David Nutter, the director, to guide me through because of the distinct style he was going for. Again, dry and straight. I saw the character as someone who wanted to do well. To solve this mysterious crime. So he went to work.
CHARNO: As an actor, the work that I learned (I trained for 4 years with Peter Frisch), was to put myself in a quiet creative space, and use my imagination to fill in a life for the character. With this character, I inexplicably kept coming up blank. My imagination supplied nothing. The lines in the script felt like I was just saying them — like a puppet — which is what Darin named the character. Suddenly, it made sense. Just saying the lines, like a puppet, with no “real internal feelings” about them, seemed the way to play it. That’s all my imagination could come up with, to explain the terrible things my character was doing. He just didn’t think about it. The director, David Nutter, in the scene with Peter Boyle in the hotel room, where [Bruckman] and I finally meet each other, told me to “play it very casually. Like it was no big thing.” So that’s what I tried to do/show. For me, some of the intensity of their meeting, is lost with that choice, but that’s what directors do, to get what they want. So many arts and artists come together — writing, acting, photography, music, sets, costumes, etc., — and archived on film, that directing attention to any single art, loses the bigger “picture.” Everyone who works, is part of what’s seen, but few are actually on screen.
3. What was it like working with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson? Do you have any specific memories of him on the set that you would like to share? What about Peter Boyle?
MCFEE: I never really got to know either David or Gillian except to watch them work or with them in a scene or small chit chat waiting for the next set up. As actors, though, we got to know each other. For instance, because “Clyde” had a certain playfulness and off beat humour to it, shooting the tea scene opening was a lot of fun and you could tell David was having a gas. It was a kind of release. To be able to, I guess, not take it to seriously. Which was right in keeping with the script. It wasn’t, in a way, as serious as the usual events for Mulder. But it became serious. So shooting that scene and [the Stupendous Yappi scene] was to be ‘played’ with for David. For Gillian, it was all serious all the time. Her work had a weight to it. Not unlike working with Richard Widmark or Cliff Robertson whom I had worked with just before this episode. However, watching them progress over the episode and the series, they had two contrasting styles. One loose and kind of improv and the other classical and straight. Which of course was perfect for the series, as well as the writing being excellent. In this episode, the two got to stretch it a bit and even they could be incredulous until they work it out. These are only observations from an actor watching and learning. Both created a thinking, working serious environment. And generous. Which was great.
As for Mr. Boyle, I had followed this wonderful actor’s career since Steelyard Blues with Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda. After all, Mr. Sutherland was a Canadian. Way back then, I was doing a lot of theatre (still do) and in some instances, playing several parts in one play (not any more). Mr. Boyle played all the other parts in Steelyard and it was amazing. Plus, I had a few scenes with him! What more does a guy want. Mr. Boyle was (and you have to be when you’ve got a guest starring or large role when you ‘drop in’ on a series for one episode and a few days) totally focused on the role. Consummate in his concentration. Which is so helpful in accomplishing resonance and life in a scene. That kind of experience and craft and giving makes a scene percolate for all involved. He was a pro, God rest his soul.
ANDERSON: I had a great time on set. I remember David being very dry and funny and Gillian being very quiet. She would sit, and then all of a sudden, something very obscure would come out of her. They were both fun. Peter was great. Very intimidating. I have always been a fan of his. The thing I remember most is me coming out of my trailer and going to hair and make-up. It was very late, and the set was down town. Peter had just flown in and came from the airport to the set. I saw him, and he smiled, a tired smile. That was it. That smile and his messy hair.
CASSINI: Working with Gillian and David was great. They’re both very professional and friendly. They both have the capacity to remember a lot of dialogue seemingly with ease. It was great to watch Peter at work. A real committed actor.
CHARNO: Peter Boyle was just a delicious human being. We went out for dinner one night, and a little kid came up to me and asked me for my autograph. There I was, sitting with Peter Boyle in a restaurant, and the kid wanted my autograph. I smiled, and started to look for paper and pen, when the kid asked me, “Are you Frankenstein?” I looked over my shoulder, at his parents, who were wildly gesticulating, trying to get their son to go to the other guy, Peter Boyle. Young Frankenstein. Peter happily signed. Most people don’t know this; David Duchovny does a great Christopher Walken impression. He did it, under request duress, and we howled. I’d worked with David’s brother, Danny Duchovny, who is a director, on some commercials over the years, also. A fun gene pool.
4. What do you think this episode says about the nature of fate, and do you agree with it?
MCFEE: What does the episode say? That all is pre-ordained? Is it? What IS inevitable? Certainly the ideologues of Globalization and corporate crony Friedmanite capitalism would have you believe it is inevitability. That all nature is Fate. I don’t think that episode says that or that Clyde represents that. I think Chris Carter was saying that there is mystery out there. There are choices, choices we can’t or don’t make or even will make that all affect our lives. It’s up to each one of us to have the strength and courage to respect that (which David and Gillian’s characters have). That Clyde lives in fear of the unknown (after all the series was about fear of the unknown) and sometimes your mind can make these things happen. Maybe? Clyde sees his own death and it comes to pass! Why? We don’t know. We can only be human and want to know the great mystery that is this world or dimension. If fate ran our lives and we knew how it was going to work out, then the life changing experiences like LOVE and discovery and enlightenment and eureka would not be what they are. Life changing. Fate is a rationalizationfor fear. Fear of the other. Fear of change. Fear of love. Fear of what’s OUT THERE.
ANDERSON: Now, that is a hard one to answer. I remember reading the script and thinking this is cool. The fact that Clyde saw the murders, and then his own, and then to accept it. That ultimately is it, isn’t it? To accept what you think you cannot change and then by accepting it, making it unchangeable?
CASSINI: I do agree with fate and that certain events cannot be pre-determined. Destiny has it’s own course. In the case of Clyde, he had a gift to pre-pre-determine, which shows us it’s better to not know, because in Clyde, we saw the effort and pain it cost him. The responsibility is too much to endure. He would mix things up which added to the humor, but when he did get it, it was very powerful. Great writing!
CHARNO: Fate — or the assumption that things that happen, had to happen, I see as both true and false. We’re all, both, out of our control, and completely in our control. I call this simuntaneous truth of opposites, “wiggle room.” It’s the amount of variation from one’s natural, built-in habits, that’s also, built in. “Wiggle room” is why some people can stop smoking, or lose weight, or change any behavior, and also explains why it’s SO difficult to change. The way a human is built, certain behaviors are automatic, or controllable. Breathing , blinking or swallowing, are examples, as is thinking. These things will go on naturally, or they can be controlled a little bit. Wiggle room. So fate will determine your life, AND you’re in complete control, at the same time.
Below are screen captures of Anderson, Cassini, and Charno: