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tv-now.com: The "X-Files" (Chris Owens)

The “X-Files” (Chris Owens)
Maelee McBee

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.

Vancouver Sun: X-Files producer can't let go of Vancouver

Vancouver Sun
X-Files producer can’t let go of Vancouver
Alex Strachan

Director Chris Carter may be busy giving a new look to his famous TV series in L.A., but he hasn’t forgotten his roots in Vancouver.

The X-Files may have fled the rain but Chris Carter, the southern California-raised surfer dude turned pop-culture savant, has quietly donned his hipwaders for more wet nights in the city that gave The X-Files its dark, brooding look for five years.

On Sunday, Carter’s most ambitious X-Files yet — an episode called Triangle, a loose amalgam of The Wizard of Oz, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and Casablanca revisited on acid — will mystify viewers as few X-Files segments have.

Those who have seen the episode — filmed in real time aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif. — are describing it as everything from an incoherent, self-indulgent mess to a tour de force that will guarantee writing and directing Emmy nominations for its creator.

The X-Files’ new California look has grabbed the U.S. media spotlight in a way few off-camera TV stories do.

The larger picture — where Carter goes from here — has eluded attention, but all indications point to a wet and promising future for Vancouver crews and the city’s profile as a production centre.

Carter’s recent contract with 20th Century Fox Television — a deal some industry analysts have said could net him $100 million US over its five-year term — puts him in a very select group of TV producers that includes Steven Bochco, David E. Kelley and John Wells.

While Carter has been preoccupied with The X-Files in Los Angeles, he has quietly bought a home in Vancouver and has made regular visits to the city — at least one a week — for the past several months, sitting in on story meetings for Millennium, in its third year at Lions Gate Studios, and laying the groundwork for his new series, Harsh Realm, based on the darkly foreboding series of underground comics. Harsh Realm is being considered for the Fox network schedule next fall.

Those who have worked with Carter in Vancouver say it is not surprising he has chosen to reaffirm his ties to the city.

They describe a producer who has never forgotten his blue-collar roots — Carter, 42, grew up in the working-class neighbourhood of Bellflower, Calif. — and who is soft-spoken and gentle as well as single-minded and uncompromising in his vision.

Carter has a reputation as a demanding boss who will not hesitate to remove people he believes are not up to the task (an Internet chat group called “the ex-Files” includes several disgruntled former writers for the show).

But many who have worked with Carter in Vancouver paint a very different portrait from the popular conception of the foreign producer as Ugly American.

Set decorator Shirley Inget, a five-year X-Files veteran who won back-to-back Emmy Awards for her work on the show and who is now working on the feature film Dudley Do- Right, recalls an incident from The X-Files’ first year which, she says, offers great insight into who Carter is as a person.

Carter drove up to the main gate of North Shore Studios, as it was then called, on a Sunday, when nobody was supposed to be working, Inget recalls. The security guard did not believe Carter was who he said he was and refused to let him in.

Instead of digging in and throwing a tantrum, as most producers would have done, Inget says Carter parked his car at a nearby mall, hid in the bushes behind the studio and crawled in under the fence when the guard wasn’t looking, sparing the guard the embarrassment of a confrontation.

When word of what Carter had done spread through the crew, morale skyrocketed, Inget recalls.

Vancouver actor Chris Owens, who has landed an 11-episode gig in Los Angeles as a recurring character in The X-Files, recalls that Carter went out of his way at last September’s Emmy Awards to pick him out of a crowd of celebrants and thank him for his work, even though Owens had only done some bit parts at the time.

One former X-Files technician recalls that when Carter had to announce to the crew that the show was leaving, on a rain-soaked night earlier this year at a Kingsway Street motel, he deliberately waited until David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were off the set before breaking the news. Carter wanted to spare his actors the embarrassment of seeing him break down and cry in front of the crew, the technician recalled.

After a late-night shoot on the Burrard Street bridge for the Millennium pilot two years ago, Carter felt he needed an extra night’s filming to get the scene to look the way he wanted.

Fox refused to authorize the additional cost; Carter paid $65,000 out of his own pocket to complete the scene. (Shamed, Fox later reimbursed him.) Millennium crew members say it is those kinds of gestures that endear a producer to his crew.

For his part, Carter has never withheld praise for his Vancouver workers, who he often refers to as “my Canadian colleagues.”

Carter’s hand was forced on The X-Files’ move to Los Angeles, but he now says the new look will breathe new life into a show that, while it benefitted from five strong years in Vancouver, needed a fresh outlook.

At the time of the move, Carter reaffirmed Millennium’s place in Vancouver and said he had ideas for several new series, all of which he will consider doing here.

Despite the success of last summer’s X-Files feature film — it grossed $85 million US in Canada and the U.S. alone – Carter feels a passion for dramatic series and will divide his time in the foreseeable future between TV and writing novels.

Another X-Files film is in the works, probably to coincide with the show’s end — which looks increasingly like the end of next season.

For now, though, Carter has no plans to forsake either the medium that made him famous or the city that made it possible.

The X-Files Magazine: L.A. Story

The X-Files Magazine [US, #7, Fall 1998]: L.A. Story
The X-Files embraces its new home–sunny California
Gina McIntyre

While driving down busy Southern California Streets, you might notice brightly colored sings sporting random nonsensical words affixed to the odd telephone poll. The markers are written in a secret code that only those well-versed in Industry Rhetoric can decipher-weird alien sounding abbreviations for film or television location shoots that transform neighborhood streets and store fronts into something more or less glamorous, depending on the day. Occasionally, between curses and head-shaking, grid locked drivers will glance across the street at the cardboard herald. But more often, the signs, gateways to what some media buffs would consider nirvana, or else a really great story to post on the internet, remain on the periphery. They’re only another part of the West Coast landscape.

So it happens that these irritated motorists, trapped in their sport utility vehicles, pass right by any number of the sites The X-Files is employing for its sixth season episodes. Little do they know that the new production team assembled to take the weighty reins , once handled so competently by the Vancouver crew, labors nearby to craft their own take on the moody, compelling series. Or that two of televisions brightest stars, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson , are only minutes away, preparing to bust conspiracies and capture monsters. Then again, it might not matter. After living in a town where camera crews are a regular feature of the landscape, long-time Angelinos might not even bat an eyelash if they encountered a UFO.

Those willing to follow the paper trail, however, would find so such apathy awaiting them on the set of the show. An energy rises through the air, a culmination of the frenzied buzz of technical personnel shuttling back and forth, determining how to capture just the right lighting effect or the proper sound quality. Watching the members of the dedicated (and terribly friendly) crew give their all scene after scene, you might not realize that anything has changed since filming of Season Five wrapped in British Colombia last May.

Until you walk outside. Just down the street from The X-Files’ new production facilities, nestled deep inside the winding labyrinth of identical white trailers that comprise the 20th Century Fox lot, are luxury hotels, posh restaurants and even Rodeo Drive itself, quite a departure from the suburban strip mall that abutted that series’ studio home in Vancouver. As far as the eye can see, warm unfiltered rays of sunlight bathe the mid-August landscape. A gentle breeze blows in from the Pacific Ocean; it is a comfortable 80 degrees. And of course, there’s a lot of traffic.

Yes, things are different in the world of The X-Files, but series creator Chris Carter isn’t one to let things like relocating the show to another country, hiring an almost entirely new staff and encountering a little sunshine stand in the way of his vision. In fact, the sweeping changes only served to stimulate Carter’s imagination, judging from the first few episodes of the highly anticipated Season Six

So far, he has crafted a season premiere, aptly titled “The Beginning,” that picks up where both last season and the film left off, promising a host of professional and personal changes for Mulder and Scully and introducing at least one new recurring character, Assistant Director, Alvin Kersh, played by James Pickens Jr., to the show’s roster. Cater also handily managed to transport all the series’ key players back in time 60 years for an epic, “alternative reality” episode, which he wrote and directed.

Filmed aboard the historic ocean liner Queen Mary, anchored outside of Long Beach, Calif., the show features hundreds of extras, dozens of Nazis and is staged so that events seem to take place in real time, similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Rope.

Such a full plate might make the new crew wonder what they had gotten themselves in for. Obviously, The X-Files expects-and receives-miracles from its production team, by the beginning of Season Six is formidable even by the show’s own high standards. When asked about the workload, though, none of the behind-the-scenes players seem surprised. Those kind of never ending challenges, they say, attracted them to the series.

“The X-Files gives you the opportunity to try different things. Every show’s different. Every show’s different looking,” says director of photography Bill Roe. “Chris Carter loves to take it to the limit.”

That’s what we know how to do,” offers construction coordinator Duke Tomasick, whose team had only five weeks to reconstruct the standing sets for the show (including Skinner’s office and Mulder and Scully’s apartments) and build at least one elaborate set-the interior of a power plant-for the season premiere. “We’re used to doing that kind of stuff. Hopefully, we get a lot more time to do it in. You know, the more time you have, the better the quality, and you don’t wear the guys out as much. These guys are working seven days a week, Saturday, Sunday, just to get everything done in time. It’s a little exhausting, but everything’s coming together.”

Things have been just as hectic for set decorator Tim Stepeck, who says The X-Files is just about the only show he watched faithfully before landing his new job. So far, working on the series has been just as rewarding as tuning in every Sunday. “You never really know where it’s going to go,” Stepeck says, “It’s not like you’re going back to standing sets of anything like that. We’re always on the road. [Every episode is set] in a new state, so we’re constantly researching out each place we’re going to be in. This show, the pace never slows down. It’s like shooting a movie in a week. The pace doesn’t bother him; in fact, he says it’s rewarding to accomplish so much in such a short time frame. “It’s nice to work on [a series] you really enjoy watching,” he says. “That’s kind of hot.”

Prop master Tom Day echoes Stepeck’s sentiments. “What I was looking forward to the most was the difference in the shows,” he explains. “It can go from anything with period stuff to way-out there futuristic. The storylines always change. They aren’t always difficult. Even the continuing ones, they go somewhere. Then there’s the stand alone ones. They can really take you in a different direction.”

It didn’t take long for an item to surface that made Day scratch his head. Even before he finished the first script he was almost stumped. “One of the very first props in the very first episode this season was something that I read on the page and said to myself, ‘Oh my goodness, where am I going to come up with that?’ It was a special piece of forensic equipment that is only in forensic labs,” he says. “I thought, ‘I’m going to have to go home and take those little sugar cubes that kids make their little projects out of and build one of these things.”

Never losing his cool, Day demonstrated the resourcefulness necessary to survive the world of The X-Files. “I was able to contact the company that manufactures this thing in England. We wound up having a representative fly into Los Angeles with this machine and set it up for us.”

The business as usual attitude isn’t confined to the crew, either. Chris Owens, whose Agent Jeffrey Spender is treated to a big promotion in the season premiere, admits e is surprised every time he reads a new script: By now, he has learned to be ready for anything. I never know where it’s going to go,” Owens says. “It’s almost like watching the show from week to week. You really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Case in point: Owens never thought he’d be traveling to historic locations, such as the Queen Mary, to film an episode, the third of Season Six. “It’s great shooting on the Queen Mary and being able to walk around the boat,” Owens says. “I’ve never been on anything like it. Walking around the state rooms you get the complete feel of the era. Then you get into the costume and before you know it, it’s all working.”

Which is exactly how things are supposed to happen, according to co-executive producer Michael Watkins. Another recent addition to The X-Files team, Watkins, in a matter of weeks, has managed to attain the quiet dedication the rest of his production team possesses. Like his co-workers, he signed up for duty well aware of what was required. If that means making sure cast and crew are shuttled from the Fox lot to location shoots–which can sometimes be two hours outside of Los Angeles–or that equipment crises are averted, or that the series continues to accomplish what no other television show has yet done, all the better. The challenges just make braving the traffic of his daily commute to the office (or to some secretive location) worthwhile.

“My goal is not to give up, to maintain the good fight, “Watkins explains. “It’s a huge show and you expect nothing less. We have to be clever and very finessed and efficient in how we do everything. [My job] is to make sure we get on the air for the fans, and that’s by God, what we’re going to do.”