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Exposé: Middle Man

September 1996
Exposé #2
Middle Man

Nicholas Lea, alias Mulder’s one-time partner Alex Krycek in THE X-FILES, talks to EXPOSE. By Jane Killick.

The last time viewers saw Agent Krycek, played by Nicholas Lea, he was locked in an
underground vault, apparently left to die. But as we know, appearances can be deceptive in THE X-FILES.

“I’ll definitely be coming back,” says Lea. “They’ve assured me that I’m over the death hump. They haven’t really given me an idea of how or when or how many, but I know that I’m coming back.”

Nic Lea became a semi-regular on THE X-FILES at the beginning of the second season when Scully was abducted. As Alex Krycek, he was the fresh face straight out of the academy who wormed his way into Mulder’s confidence to become his partner, but who was secretly working for Mulder’s adversary, the Cigarette Smoking Man. Nic spent a long time speaking to the show’s writers and producers to hone down his character, as well as doing some research of his own.

“Any kind of research that you can do, for me, usually helps,” says the actor. “It helps to ground you in the character and helps you feel more prepared to take on the role. So when you walk in front of the camera, hopefully there’s something interesting there. I read a lot about the FBI and the training and double agents. I looked at people who’d worked undercover in certain circumstances and what lengths they’d gone to change their identity or their personalities in order to be more successful in their undercover job.”

One side of Krycek was eager and exuberant, but the other was less sure of himself. He was a man in over his head, nervous about his double life, trying to maintain his cool with Mulder, while consciously working for the other side.

“I was trying to bring a certain tension to it or an intensity to it. He’s not nervous, but when he’s not that fresh-faced, straight-out-of-the-academy young agent, there’s some tension.”

Nic is a native of Canada where THE X-FILES is filmed, and made his first appearance in the show as Michel, a nightclubber attacked by a sex-changing alien killer in the episode “Genderbender.”

“A few of the crew members had already worked on a show I had previously been in called THE COMMISH, so I already knew a lot of them on a friendship level. I never felt uncomfortable or like an outsider on that show. They’ve always treated me with respect and been really warm and supportive.”

When he was re-cast the following year as Krycek, it was originally only for three episodes. But once the character had been established, the option to bring him back and do more interesting things with him was taken up. That was great for Nic, not only because it meant more work, but also because he feels there is something special about working on THE X-FILES.

“I love being on the show so much, so I get energized by it and my creative thoughts start to flow. I mean, I’ve worked on other shows and I always try to put in as much input as I can, but sometimes…” he hesitates before admitting, “…sometimes I can’t be bothered. But on this show, specifically when I work with Rob Bowman, who’s directed quite a few of the episodes that I’ve been in, he’s really great as far as listening to actors is concerned. Right from the first time that we met, working on “Genderbender,” I had a lot of ideas about what I could do here and there. Ideas with make-up and ideas about what I was doing physically in the scene, and he always listened to them and quite often took the suggestions. It’s great to be able to do that on shows. Often you get, ‘No, you do this and you do that’ and it tends to confine you creatively.”

Krycek was brought in partly to be more of a physical threat to Mulder. Although a brooding undercurrent of danger has always existed with characters like the Cigarette Smoking Man, Mulder rarely got a chance to confront his foes face-to-face until Krycek came along.

“It seems that most of the time he and I are physically at odds now,” says Nic. “If [Krycek wasn’t] an intellectual threat, he certainly posed a physical threat which nobody else on the show does. It’s been described to me that I’m sort of the dark counterpart to Mulder, which is kind of interesting. I never really thought of it that way before, but I’m the Yin to his Yang.”

The physical aspects of playing Krycek are obviously appealing: “I love it,” he says. They range from the fist fight he had with Mulder at the end of the second season to his dramatic escape from a car primed to explode at the beginning of the third.

“There was a great deal of preparation,” he says. “What they had was a car filled with gasoline — huge containers of gasoline — and they said ‘You can stand beside the car and then you start running.’ But I said “Wouldn’t it be more interesting if I was actually sitting in the car when the shot starts because then there’s a little more energy and excitement behind it?’ And they thought about that and they talked about it with the demolitions expert and he thought it was okay, so we went ahead and did that.”

“It was pretty scary because all that’s separating me and death is a guy with his finger on a button. I would run from the car and a certain point I would hit a mark and he would press the button and ‘boom!’, it would explode behind me. We went over it many times, we had about five cameras going on it and we had a huge crowd gathered to watch it. It was pretty much a one-take deal, it really had to go right the first time. It was scary. We had a little prayer before we did it and then we did it. I could feel the literal push from behind and I could feel the heat on the back of my head and the back of my jacket. That kind of stuff, I love. You’re taking a few chances — you are and you aren’t — but it’s definitely exciting.”

The finished effect looked fantastic as the car burst into flames behind Krycek and the force of the blast sent him flying to the ground. But it didn’t quite turn out as Lea had hoped.

“Do you remember PATRIOT GAMES?” Nic asks. “There that scene in the alley when they get attacked by rocket launchers and there’s a great scene where the thing explodes behind him and he dives towards camera and you see the camera looking up at him. That’s what I wanted to get. But what happened was I hit my mark and got a few feet past it and then they exploded it, so when I got blown out of the frame I was almost standing. I was all padded up on my arms and my knees so I could dive onto the cement, but I dove out of camera, so you didn’t get to see that.”

For the two episodes in which Lea appeared at the beginning of the third season, “The Blessing Way” and “Paper Clip,” ‘the look’ of the character was very much his idea. The actor grew his hair longer and swapped his suit for a leather jacket. He’s also been able to change a few lines which is very unusual for a guest actor.

“One that stands out in my mind is after the Cigarette-Smoking Man tried to blow me up in the car. There’s a telephone conversation I have with him. The line was something like ‘If I ever hear or see form you again you better start thinking about who’s going to play you in the movie,’ or something like that, a really enigmatic line. I called [Executive Producer] Chris Carter and we um’ed and ah’ed over it for a day and we couldn’t decide what line would go well there. So I thought that if he ever became famous, it would be the worst possible thing you could do. So that was the idea I had about saying ‘I would make him a very famous man.’ They liked that, so they kept it.”

From that moment, Krycek is out on his own, trying to stay alive and to keep away from the Cigarette Smoking Man’s cronies. Later on in the third season, Mulder catches up with him in Hong Kong. They have several violent encounters, with Mulder still angry at Krycek for killing his father. One of those encounters happened by a phone booth at the airport.

“He cracked me over the head with the phone during one take and knocked me off my feet and I had this big welt over my forehead,” laughs Nic. “As I come around he hits me over the head with the phone and one time I walked too close or he went too far with the phone and actually cracked me across the bean with it. It was pretty funny.”

In this two-parter, “Piper Maru” and “Apocrypha,” about an alien entity that has been trapped under the ocean since the Second World War, Krycek becomes possessed.

“It was difficult to prepare for because they wanted Krycek to be emotionless and that’s hard to do. So I watched TERMINATOR 2 and what Robert Patrick [the T-1000 Terminator] had done. They said they were really happy with it, so I was glad to hear that.”

One of the most memorable sequences is when the alien entity oozes out of Krycek, painfully squeezing its black substance out of his eyes.

“It was good,” acknowledges the actor. “It was a pain in the rear to do, but it was fun.”

The black stuff came from a pump which forced it down tubes that went through his hair and came out near his eyes.

“It was a prosthetic mask that I had to wear. Putting it on and taking it off a couple of times — horrible! At first I was excited about it and then after an hour it became really tedious because I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breath properly, tubes all running through my hair and everything.”

THE X-FILES has been good for Nicholas Lea in many respects. It’s certainly raised his profile and he now gets offered jobs in Canada without having to audition. He’s also just finished a pilot show called ONCE A THIEF for Fox, the same network that makes THE X-FILES.

“When I went into the audition and I met the head of Fox television — The Head! — I walked into the room and he knew who I was, and you can’t really buy that. It’s priceless.”

But that doesn’t mean Nicholas Lea will be turning his back on THE X-FILES. His enthusiasm for the show comes across as genuine, as that’s hardly surprising considering its popularity and the chance it gives him to play a character that continues to develop.

“That’s one of the things that is fascinating for me. Every time I get the scripts, there’s always something quite different from what I have done the previous time. It keeps on evolving and changing and that’s a treat as an actor because you never have to do the same thing twice.

“I like the idea that I’m the guy in the middle. There’s characters like Skinner, Mulder and Scully, and on the other side there’s the Cigarette Smoking Man and X and the evil ones, and I’m somewhere in the middle. He’s neither here nor there, he’s neither good nor evil, he’s neither in the light nor in the dark. He’s in that grey area in between which I think is a very important part of the show. Nobody’s really good and nobody’s really bad and I think that’s what’s really interesting.”

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