Sci-Fi Blast From The Past – Brian Markinson (The X-Files)
[Original article here]
In today’s Sci-Fi Blast From The Past, veteran actor Brian Markinson talks about his guest-starring work in The X-Files.
“I’ve been very fortunate with my career in that I’ve played everything from attorneys, doctors and cops to serial killers and psychopaths,” says actor Brian Markinson. “I haven’t been pigeonholed and that’s been great.” In The X-Files episode Born Again, the actor had the opportunity to play both good cop and bad cop in a story linking a series of bizarre murders to a little girl.
“My audition for The X-Files was pretty much like all the auditions actors go on,” recalls Markinson. “I had a meeting with one of the show’s executive producers, Howard Gordon, who also co-wrote Born Again with his then partner Alex Gansa. I read the first scene in which my character Tony Fiore meets Special Agents Fox Mulder [David Duchovny] and Dana Scully [Gillian Anderson] for the first time. They taped it and that was that. The meeting lasted all of ten minutes. At that time I didn’t even have the opportunity of really reading the whole script. They were only releasing sections of it because it had not yet been completed.
“The ironic thing about getting the role is that Tony Fiore, at least on paper, seemed like this Italian guy. When I went in for the audition it was me, a good Jewish boy, and a bunch of, ‘Hey, how ya doin’?’ Italian guys. I thought, ‘There’s not a chance in hell that I’m going to land this thing.’ My audition tape was sent to [X-Files creator] Chris Carter and Jerrold Freedman, who directed the episode, and I got a phone call shortly thereafter booking me on the series.”
As one of three men responsible for the murder of a fellow police officer, Tony Fiore is targeted for death by an eight-year-old girl named Michelle. The girl, whose body has been taken over by the spirit of the murdered officer Charlie Morris, manages to eliminate two of his killers and then goes after Fiore. The dead officer is particularly interested in seeking revenge on the detective who not only was his partner but who also married Morris’ wife after his death
“I guess the best way to describe Tony is that he’s a bad guy with a conscience,” explains the actor. “Without going into too much exposition, he’s a man who made an epically tragic mistake in his past and compounded it. The story is really a morality piece and years later Tony is forced to confront that particular demon from his past.
“We really don’t get a chance to see the kind of guy he was back then,” continues Markinson. “We just see him when things start crumbling, but, yeah, he’s a bad man,” the actor laughs, “and not a very bright guy, either. He’s a follower. I don’t necessarily think he’s the guy who was the ringleader. I just think that he got caught up in the whole thing and it came back to nip him in the ass.”
Although he was not previously an avid viewer of the series Markinson had watched a handful of X–Files episodes and was familiar with the show prior to being cast in the program. “What I love about it is that it’s unlike so many other shows. The writing is phenomenal and, again, it has the whole morality play aspect, which sort of reminds me of Star Trek,” he notes. The actor enjoyed working with the Canadian production crew and found series’ stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson extremely friendly and generous. This sort of rapport gave Markinson the chance to really sink his teeth into what he feels is a very character-driven piece.
“Working with the crew up in Vancouver [British Columbia, Canada] was such a positive experience. You really got the sense that everyone there was so excited to be working on this together. There was no dissension and no one throwing fits on the set. All of this made it a really easy place to work.
“As for David Duchovny, he is just terrific. Fox Mulder is such an understated kind of character and Duchovny is just the antithesis of that. He’s got a very good sense of humour. David made the whole experience a lot of fun and I loved working with him. Gillian is a very warm individual and a wonderfully talented actress. Not only did I enjoy working with her but I also enjoyed watching her work. Her eyes are incredible and she’s just so amazing. Sometimes it can be kind of a boys’ club up there on the set because most of the crew are men, but she does her own thing and fits in very well. My wife is from Vancouver and she went to school with Gillian’s husband, so, we have this sort of weird connection.”
Markinson also had the opportunity to work with director-turned-award-winning author Jerrold Freedman on the episode. The actor recalls Freedman as being a take-charge sort of person on the set. “Jerry was extremely helpful and spent a lot of time talking to me about performance. He was very encouraging all the way through the shoot and it was great to have him as an ally.
“When you’re guesting on a show you walk on the set knowing absolutely no one. It’s much easier if you’re David Duchovny because you’re there every week. You know everybody and you feel like this is your home but coming in as a guest you really have to rely on the good faith of the group and they were all great.”
Did the actor have much contact with creator Chris Carter while he was working on the series? “Chris really was sort of hands-off with Jerry. There was a lot of trust and friendship there. Chris was around but it was like he wasn’t there, if you know what I mean. We had lunch together but he pretty much left the episode in Jerry’s hands.”
The climax of Born Againbrings Michelle and Tony Fiore face-to-face for a showdown in the detective’s own home. After Fiore’s legs are snared by an electrical cord the little girl begins to turn every object around the house against her captive. As Fiore struggles frantically to free himself a fire poker flies up into the air and hurls itself directly towards him.
“The way they did that trick was not terribly scientific,” recalls Markinson. “The poker itself was hard rubber, not steel. The prop guy squatted down out of frame six feet or so from me. He was supposed to throw this poker and have it sort of glance off the back of my head. We did it and did it and we got it down pretty well. When we rolled the cameras he wound up and threw this thing. To everyone’s surprise, especially mine, the poker hit me straight on the temple. I saw stars. I have a feeling that’s the take that they used, too,” he chuckles. “It hit me full on and I just went down and kind of crashed. It took me a little while to get my wits about me.
“It was also very cool having a fish tank explode on you,” he adds. “The production team took a long time to rig that thing up and they also had one other dummy tank standing by, but they ended up not having to use it because we did it all in one take. I really had a good time shooting the episode.”
The son of a chemical engineer, Markinson thought about pursuing the same line of work when he got into high school. He started doing plays in his junior year and continued in college. “I studied acting in England, actually London, for a year. I saw a lot of theatre there and then came back to the United States and went right to school at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. I think my year in London was really the catalyst for making that decision.”
Markinson did some professional theatre work before going to California to make his television debut playing a doctor testifying about crack babies in the American drama series Equal Justice. He found the process of acting on television quite a bit different from appearing on the stage. “When I worked onstage I was used to rehearsing a show for four weeks. In television all that time is condensed from the time you get the job to the time you show up on the set. That could be a day, two days, it might be a week, but you’ve got to do all that work and show up on that set ready to work. So, it was kind of daunting.
“When you’re working in television, rehearsal means blocking it with the camera and maybe running through it once. You really have to rely on yourself and your wits much more. There’s less of an opportunity to break down the material and hash it out. [Spencer Tracy] once said, ‘Just know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.’ That’s particularly true when it comes to working in front of a television camera.”
Since his arrival on the West Coast in 1991, the actor has appeared in such motion pictures as Apollo 13, The Birdcage and Wolf with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer. His television credits include the made-for-TV films The Betty Broderick Story, Shame II, Web of Deception and White Mile for HBO as well as guest-starring roles in such series as L.A. Law, China Beach, Sisters and Love and War. His appearance in The X-Files was not his first foray into the world of beyond, having worked on an episode of Star Trek:The Next Generation and two episodes of Star Trek:Voyager.
“I appeared with Paul Sorvino in The Next Generation episode Homeward. I play the guy who stumbles onto the Enterprise from the holodeck and ends up killing himself. When I worked on the programme they were on their last season. The cast was all old pros and knew each other incredibly well. These people were family and felt very comfortable with each other. I got to play a scene with Patrick Stewart [Captain Jean-Luc Picard] and I really enjoyed having the chance to talk to him afterwards because I’m a great fan of his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
When casting began for Star Trek: Voyager, Markinson auditioned for the role of The Holographic Doctor, which ultimately went to Robert Picardo. Although the actor was not signed up for a regular of tour duty aboard Voyager he was eventually cast as Mr. Durst in the first-season episode Cathexis. He went on to appear briefly as the crewman in the following episode Facesuntil a Vidian scientist grafted Durst’s face over his own disfigured features in an attempt to woo B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson).
“When I auditioned they had me read for the part of the Vidian scientist and not Durst. I think they set Durst up in Cathexis to end up having him sacrifice his face for the lust of a Vidian,” he laughs. “Durst was always meant to bite the dust.
“Voyager was so much fun because I got to appear as Durst in both episodes and then play that alien doctor under all that makeup in Faces. In playing the Vidian I found that I had to rely on the sort of work I learned in England in terms of the theatre. I was wearing these prosthetics all over my body, had false teeth in my mouth and was pretty much blind because I was wearing an opaque contact lens. I not only had to overexaggerate everything and try to blow through all of that rubber but I also had to play a pathetic sort of being and do a love scene. That role is certainly one of the most challenging things I’ve every had to do and I really worked hard to make it all work and play those scenes opposite Roxann-Biggs Dawson.”
The actor recently worked with Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer in the feature film Up Close and Personal. Along with a guest-starring part in an episode of the UPN series The Sentinel the actor appeared as Jason Webster in the television film Alien Nation: Millennium.
“Ken Johnson who created the Alien Nation series is an amazing guy. He’s a real hands-on type of person who has crafted this entire world, much like [Star Trek‘s] Gene Roddenberry, with a jargon all its own. I remember in one scene I was up on this balcony holding a woman hostage. I was wielding a gun and screaming about a giant scorpion that was after me – you get to say some really incredible things on these types of shows – and when I looked down there was Kenny with a broom in his hands sweeping up the street. He does everything. It’s his baby and he makes it fun for everyone on the set. When you’re working on The X-Files or Star Trek you can see the amount of money they put into these shows. I’ve got to give Kenny a lot of credit because he gets the job done on a much more limited budget.”
Markinson’s upcoming role is one he will be sharing with his wife, that of parent to a newborn baby. He’s very much looking forward to playing this particular part and feels his job as an actor will allow him to be an even better parent. “I’m very lucky because I can pick and choose when to work and went not to work. I can stay at home and be a father,” he says happily. “Acting’s a nice way to make a living.”