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Dreamwatch: Riding the Wave – Jenny Cooney Carillo catches up on a hectic year in the life of Chris Carter

Riding the Wave – Jenny Cooney Carillo catches up on a hectic year in the life of Chris Carter
Jenny Cooney Carillo

Like the avid surfer he is in real life, it seems appropriate The X Files creator/producer Chris Carter rides the ups and downs of his career so smoothly. After the series became an international phenomenon he launched another drama, Millennium, which was met with mixed reviews, but survived three years, and then got the go-ahead for Harsh Realm. But harsh reality hit when his new series was cancelled only weeks after it first aired, and then both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson announced that they thought it unlikely they would be back for another season. And if all that wasn’t enough, Duchovny filed a lawsuit against Fox for bilking him out of millions of dollars of profits through the practice of vertical integration – selling syndication rights to the show to another arm of the same company for less than market value – and he named Carter as a co-conspirator.

But now the waters seemed to have calmed and Carter finds himself coasting along again as The X Files returns for an eighth season; one which some insiders are already proclaiming to be the best yet….

Q: How many actors did you see before you cast Robert Patrick, and why did you choose him?

We probably saw about 50 to 75 actors. We had heard that Robert was unavailable because we asked about him right away before we saw anyone else. He was attached to another project but I have a hard time taking no for an answer and I knew I wanted to work with him, so I was determined to make it work and eventually I did. He was perfect for the character we wrote.

Q: So tell us about the character if FBI Agent John Doggett…

For seven years it has really been Mulder as the believer and Scully as the skeptic, so with Mulder’s abduction, Scully now has to really accept certain things. Mulder was taken away and to pursue him she has to pursue the paranormal and she has to become something of a believer in it. Enter this new character, John Doggett, who is assigned to help her, or I should say is assigned to do this and she’s actually taken off the case. He is a former New York cop and, unlike Mulder, is very much liked and respected at the FBI and is actually a more hard-core disbeliever than Scully. So now we’ve got a new dynamic: Scully as the reluctant believer and a new guy who I would describe as a knee-jerk skeptic.

Q: During all the negotiations and problems last year, did you ever reach a point where you thought, forget it – I’m going surfing!

Yeah, honestly, there were many times last year when I didn’t think year eight would happen and we would go on and make movies instead. But there were good reasons for it to happen so I’m happy about it and I’m really looking forward to getting on with a more human existence and pace in my life. When a show has been so good to you and still has life in it… I decided to go ahead and sign up for one more year, and that doesn’t preclude me or rule out the fact that I would still do other years as well.

Q: You said there are many reasons why the show should go on. Can you elaborate?

When there was talk last year about possibly doing the show without David, I thought that was a bad idea because I thought the show should include David in some small way and it should be about what it’s always been about. We shouldn’t just be doing it because it’s a hit show and it makes a lot of money for everybody. We should find reasons to tell stories, and so I deliberated and considered all these things before I started out and I realized there were good stories to tell by adding a character like Doggett, making Scully’s character a little bit different and making Mulder a kind of absent center. He is till very, very much a part of the show even when he’s not there because his absence is what fuels Scully’s search.

Q: How does Gillian Anderson feel about returning after being so reluctant to do so last year?

Gillian has been a dream to work with. I just finished directing an episode and she called me up at the end and thanked me for the work and said it was a joy. She’s a happy person and she’s getting to spend time with her daughter who last year spent a lot of time between here and Canada. It was exhausting for Gillian.

Q: So how did you actually get Gillian to return and be committed to the show after the way she felt last year?

I wasn’t involved at all, actually. Everybody goes through cycles in their life and periods where you’re tired or something went wrong or your relationships are stressful, and I think that was what you were hearing from her last year – the venting of that particular time in her life. I have to say, through the rest something changed and it had nothing to do with anything that I said to her. I think that she saw she had an eighth year in her contract, that Fox was looking to bring the show back for an eighth year, and I think wisely she figured out that it would be better to do it in a constructive way rather than a destructive way.

Q: Does she get a break in her schedule?

She gets some breaks. Her daughter is now going to school in Vancouver so it was important to her to spend more time there. We’re actually making allowances for her to be with her daughter for periods of time, and I understand it and support that decision.

Q: How tough was the lawsuit on your friendship with David Duchovny?

We’ve had several meals at several different times since the settlement of the suit, and since we’ve gone back to work I think we’ve buried the hatchet. I still blame vertical integration as the big problem, and this is the beginning of something you’re going to start seeing a lot more of because what happens is that when the buyer and seller are the same person, it pits everybody against everyone else and it’s not good for working relationships.

Q: So you don’t deny there was a hatchet?

I was just using a figure of speech! But I can’t say it wasn’t without its tension. I’m still unclear what I was accused of doing. Even though I was not being sued, there was an accusation that I was somehow part of the problem, and that was just not the case.

Q: So could David’s decision to cut down his time on the show be a blessing in disguise?

I kept trying to see it as creating a solution for a problem that was interesting to solve. The solutions sometimes make for very interesting storytelling. Now we have Robert aboard, I can tell you that it’s working and it’s working well, and the storytelling is as good as its ever been. The stories are scary. We’ve got a new life in the show and so I have to say the search for Mulder – which is what season eight is about – makes for a new, interesting X Files season.

Q: Will it be scarier?

I think the show will go back to its scarier roots. I don’t think there will be as many comedy episodes this year, although we never actually started comedy episodes on The X Files until episode 48. You have to earn a little bit of trust before you can start messing with the formula.

Q: It felt like you got no support for Harsh Realm from the network. Was that a painful experience for you?

I’m still a little bitter about it but it’s water under the bridge now. The truth is that the guy who I hold responsible for the quick demise of that show has been cancelled himself so that relieves some of the feeling. But every time I see a billboard for Dark Angel, I think ‘That’s one more billboard than Harsh Realm had.’ No one knew about the show so it was no surprise that it didn’t get the ratings that they had hoped for.

Q: What about the Lone Gunmen pilot. How is that shaping up?

Lone Gunmen will air five episodes in the spring during the X Files hiatus, and the pilot is terrific.

Q: How do you divide your time?

Since the third season of The X Files I really have been working on two things at once, so I have learned to divide my time well. A guy like David Kelley… I hope people appreciate what he does because he writes everything and he’s got three show’s this year. That is superhuman and my hat is off to him. Our shows are different shows, but I think it’s insanity to do it all yourself.

Q: So what kind of relationship will Scully and Doggett have? Romantic or strictly platonic?

Well, at the end of last season Scully announced she was pregnant and we still don’t know who the father is, but she is pregnant. So a romantic relationship right now seems a bit awkward but I think that, like Mulder and Scully, their relationship is very much about protectiveness, about respect, and shared passions, and the things that the best relationships are built on. I think you’re going to see some of that here too because Robert’s character is a very protective character and he’s watching Scully sort of stumble forward trying to deal with what’s happened to Mulder. He deals with her belief in the paranormal, but he lets her go and watches her stumble and then picks her up because while he doesn’t believe in it, he respects her struggle.

Q: So no love scenes?

I think what you’re going to find this year is we’re going to deal with all that in a delicate and provocative way. We deal with how Scully got pregnant – we’ve not done anything like that on the show before.

Q: Is it true that you may resurrect Harsh Realm?

I have this idea that I think Harsh Realm was under-appreciated and mistreated, so there is a way I may be able to resurrect it. I actually have an idea how to do that but I have to be secretive about it, so I’m not going to tell you more just yet.

Q: You are shooting Lone Gunmen in Vancouver and you own a house there. Do you prefer working in Canada?

I bought a loft there because I was just paying rent for five years, so it was an opportunity to put a root down in Vancouver. I love my crew in Los Angeles and we do great work, but I was in Vancouver before because they had terrific locations and it was the perfect place to do a show like The X Files. The only reasons I’ve gone back now is I have friends up there. I have a crew up there. I have developed a working relationship with the city and the community and its a nice place for me because I’m familiar with it.

Q: You’ve answered some of the big conspiracy questions on the show. Was that because you thought it was over?

Those characters had for us reached a point where we felt that they needed to be given some kind of resolution. Not a total or absolute resolution but a resolution of some of those storylines. So we just thought it was the time to do it, whether the show was going to end or not.

Q: Didn’t William B. Davis [Cigarette Smoking Man] move down to Los Angeles and then you killed him off?

No he didn’t. He still lived in Vancouver and we still don’t know whether he’s dead or not! We left him lying at the bottom of a flight of stairs and he was looking in pretty bad shape, but this is The X Files…

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