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Houston Chronicle: X-Files producers bring actor back for a killer role

Houston Chronicle
X-Files producers bring actor back for a killer role
Ian Spelling

Jeffrey Dahmer was in the air.

It was five years ago, on the set of the second-season X-Files episode “Irresistible,” as Chris Carter and Nick Chinlund conferred. Series creator Carter had written the episode, and Chinlund was there to play Donnie Pfaster, a death fetishist moving on to living victims.

“Chris talked to me a little bit about Dahmer and people like him just before we started,” Chinlund says. “I didn’t know what Dahmer looked like, but when I saw a picture of him later on I thought, `Wow, Pfaster looks a bit like him.’

“Right before the very first take on the episode, I was sitting in a van, getting ready for a drive-up shot,” he recalls. “It took a long time to get the shot ready, so I turned on the radio in the van, and on the news they reported that Dahmer got killed in prison.

“And that’s when I heard them say, `Roll camera,’ ” he says. “I had to turn off the radio and go right into the episode. It was pretty weird.”

Pfaster ultimately went down in X-Files history as one of the show’s most memorable — and most sinister — characters. And now, on Dec. 12, Chinlund returns to action as Pfaster in the episode “Orison,” written by Chip Johannessen and directed by Rob Bowman.

“Donnie has been in prison,” Chinlund says by telephone from his Los Angeles home. “He’s been incubating all of his disease.

“It’s a heightened five-years-in-wait version of him that you’ll see,” the actor promises. “He’s stepped up a notch. Orison is a prison preacher who tries to save Donnie, and so you have a battle there.

“Basically, Donnie and the devil are released from prison and havoc ensues,” he says. “There’s more religious significance to `Orison’ than `Irresistible,’ and more of the devilish aspect is explored.”

Chinlund, a 37-year-old actor whose credits include such films as 1997’s A Brother’s Kiss and 1996’s Eraser, as well as a recurring role on the television drama Third Watch, reports that he found it relatively easy to slip back into character as Pfaster.

“You take a blank canvas, just put one dot on it and let people think what they want,” he says. “You don’t have to do much with this character. They can do so much with the writing, the lighting and the camera work — it’s almost a role where I step out of my own way and allow everything to happen.

“I did watch `Irresistible’ again to reacquaint myself with his tone and his behavior,” he adds. “There was one very powerful graveyard scene we did for `Orison’ — which I can’t tell you about — that was very difficult for me. Other than that, it was very familiar.”

Reuniting with Carter, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson was great, Chinlund says. But the real surprise for him involved director Bowman, who he says not only helped shape the performances, but also oversaw the intricate special effects required to pull off several scenes in which Pfaster maneuvers in real time as everyone around him carries on in super-slow motion.

“Bowman is the most technically adept director I’ve ever worked with,” the actor says. “He really knows what the camera and lighting can do, and he knows his options and what he wants. He got very excited about this episode.

“It’s going to look incredible, especially for a television show,” Chinlund says. “He might be the star of this one.”

After completing “Orison,” the actor shot Something Sweet, his eighth independent feature in two years. He hopes one of them will “strike a nerve” in Hollywood, prompting the producers and directors of studio projects to hire him for the kind of leading-man roles he so far has enjoyed only in indie films and television guest spots.

Oh, and for the record, Nick Chinlund is nothing like Donnie Pfaster.

“I’m the farthest thing from this creepy guy,” Chinlund says. “Donnie Pfaster is really night and day from me.”

Nick Chinlund, Pfaster pussycat.

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