The “X-Files” (Chris Owens)
I categorically deny my client was anywhere near the bullet when it left the barrel of the gun. – Chris Owens’ publicist on whether or not his character, Agent Spender, was dead following the two part episode, “Two Fathers, One Son”.
Actor Chris Owens has the rare distinction of being the only actor to portray three different major characters on The X-Files. Well, four if you count Agent Spender as before being infected with the alien virus and then what’s left of him after being injected with the virus.
His list of characters on the show include, young CSM (Cigarette Smoking Man), The Great Mutato, a deformed man with a heart of gold in the fifth season episode Post Modern Prometheus written and directed by Chris Carter and shot in black and white, and Special Agent Jeffrey Spender, the smarmy, goody-two-shoes agent fans nicknamed “Weasel Boy,” and “Ferret.”
Owens, whose return to The X-Files was prompted by a story idea by David Duchovny who always thought Spender was a misused character, was happy to be back for the episode William, even if it did mean being in make-up for seventeen hours a day and even twenty hours the day he was in full body make-up. “Being asked back came out of the blue and was a complete surprise. A year and half or two years ago I sort of expected it, but then the series went on and was ending and I thought, ‘That’s it.’ When I got the call I was really excited first of all because I just assumed Spender really was dead and buried. And second because David was directing and that strongly appealed to me.”
The fate of Owens character, Agent Spender, was always left in doubt following an ambiguous meeting with the Cigarette Smoking Man (Agent Spender’s father, played by William B. Davis), in which we hear a gunshot but no other reference is ever made to the fate of Agent Spender. For his part, William B. Davis says, “I always loved working with Chris. I was sorry to be told I had to shoot him.” Fans were left to wonder and speculate as to what actually happened to Spender. William answers some of those questions.
Owens recounts that he, David Duchovny, and Gillian Anderson weren’t always sure about what was going on in William. “In that particular episode, with David directing, there were a couple of scenes where Gillian says, ‘What does this mean? What am I doing?’ and David would scratch his head and we were all sitting around and David would make a suggestion ,’I think maybe this.’ His usual answer was ‘She’s confused and she’s going back and forth.’ Well Gillian herself was confused, going back and forth which was perfect for Scully. Then when I see the episode it makes perfect sense. She plays confused and confused works. It’s a good choice.”
Owens has high praise for Duchovny as a director saying, “He’s an actor’s director. The line about needing braces was David’s idea and it was something Mulder would have said. And David being David, there had to be some reference to basketball. That’s why I was in those bright red tennis shoes. The guy was directing. He had to make his statement.”
While the episode dealt primarily with baby William, we are given enough background on where Spender has been and what he’s been through that it necessitates his return for the first part of the finale, titled Truth. “I found out I was returning for the finale from the make-up department. They knew before I did!”
“I testify as a character witness for Mulder. Mulder is in big trouble and he needs some assistance now. When I walk into the courtroom people are like ‘what happened to this guy?’ which leads to a really long scene I have in the courtroom where we go over what happened to me. I have a long explanation inter cut with flashbacks. We talk about being burned, they show being infected with the black oil, all that stuff. A lot of information is given. My father is also brought up a lot. I thought I had a lot of pages but Gillian has even more, something like ten or eleven pages of dialogue where she takes us from the beginning of time right up to the present day. Oh, and I’m wearing my Spender suit in this episode. My Spender suit and that face. And I’m alive at the end.”
As for his time in The X-Files universe, he says that the most physically challenging part he played was that of the Great Mutato in Post Modern Prometheus. “The make-up for that took longer than the make-up for deformed Spender. Gillian said that out of all the characters her daughter had seen, that one was a little too realistic for her. It kind of freaked her out, but I ended up playing blocks with her in fully Mutato make-up. That was a little surreal.” For the episode Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, Owens says he studied tape of actor William B. Davis smoking, until he got “the finger role down just right.” As for Spender, he is philosophical when he says, “I thought the two parter and his demise was really good, though it would have been nice to hang around a while longer.”
A favorite memory he has of his time on The X-Files occurred while filming William. “I was sitting across from Gillian waiting to do a scene, and someone slipped her something. Her entire being lit up. I asked her what it was and she answered ‘A brownie.’ Watching her face as she chewed I thought ‘My God I want whatever she’s having.’ It was almost orgasmic.”
Since returning to his native Toronto, Owens has appeared in the ShowTime film My Louisiana Sky with Juliette Lewis, the Genie-nominated (Canadian equivalent of the Oscar) The Uncles, landed a small role in an Al Pacino movie, and is doing voice work. He is also tentatively slated to appear at the Toronto Sci-Fi convention, Toronto Trek, July 5-7th.