Ahead of The X-Files season 11’s DVD release on July 23rd, we spoke to the show’s creator, Chris Carter, about sci-fi influences, real-life UFOs, and the real reason the cult classic still draws us in after 25 years…
How are you doing, Chris?
I’m doing great, thanks. I’m actually in Vancouver – kind of on a working vacation, but I’m not in production.
Oh, of course – there’s an X-Files exhibition on there right now, isn’t there? (It ran until June 30th at Back Gallery Project, which is run by Carter’s friend, Monica Reyes – and no, it’s not a coincidence that she shares a name with Annabeth Gish’s FBI Agent!)
Yes, they’ve got Mulder’s whole office there.
Wrong side of the ocean for us, sadly! We’re in an interesting position at the moment with The X-Files, aren’t we? Where do matters stand right now with a possible twelfth season?
That is a really good question. Right now, of course, it’s up in the air, in terms of Gillian (Anderson)’s interest in doing the show. I think she’s stated that she’s finished her run. That certainly changes things, and also the sale of Fox to either Disney or Comcast – it looks like Disney now – I think that will change things, and certainly they’ll be looking at the show and wondering what its future would be. So right now we’re playing a wait-and-see with all those variables.
You’ve said in the past that there are still stories to tell in The X-Files, and you have a third film script written…
You know, once again, it’s about Gillian’s involvement. For me, The X-Files is Mulder and Scully, so even though we did the show without David (Duchovny), without Mulder, for a time, I always felt like her science was the centre of the show. In the end, it is a science show, and it makes it all-important.
In my mind, that’s what differentiates The X-Files from other, similar shows: instead of the lone, man-on-a-mission character, you’ve also got this more sceptical voice.
We’ve seen some really interesting developments in the relationship between Mulder and Scully in season 11. Now that Scully’s pregnant again, how do you see that relationship developing in a hypothetical future season/film?
We always have the show in real time, so I would imagine that if we come back, there would be a passage of time, and Scully would have had that baby – or not. We might find out things about that child that are unexpected as well, so there are lots of unanswered questions and interesting things there.
The X-Files has always focused on the perils of technology and the perils of modern society, but current concerns have mutated from those of the ‘90s and early ‘00s. How have you retooled the show’s major themes to fit those of the era in which we’re living?
We’ve moved into strange new ground in which the FBI is under attack. It is one of the enemies of the state, if you’re to believe the Commander in Chief right now. It’s interesting – The X-Files, in its 25 years, has been through four different administrations, and that we would come to a point where conspiracies are the norm and the truth is under assault is a complete reversal of where we came from, so those were interesting things to play with, and I do think we played with them in season 11 and did good work with that. I think we would continue to play with them in terms of social media, robotics, AI, all of these things, as part of our storytelling hit.
In December 2017, the New York Times published a story about a secret Pentagon programme to investigate UFOs. You’ve said in the past that you suspected such a project existed. It must have been quite satisfying to be vindicated after all these years…
(laughs) It was! I mean, it was their own X-Files, they spent $20 million on investigating UFOs. I thought that was fascinating. One of the most fascinating parts of it was that it’s been done secretively. It certainly accentuates what we’ve been saying all along, which is that the government has secret programmes. We now have a new wing of the military which is called the Space Force, and last season we talked about secret space programmes, so that’s also redounding to us.
You’ve previously mentioned that The X-Files avoids didactic, moralising storytelling in favour of subtler strategies, like great mid-20th-century shows such as The Twilight Zone. Is that still your preferred approach?
Yes, I think so. The show’s very different from The Twilight Zone, even though that was an inspiration to me. This is a more serialised show, and it’s investigative, whereas The Twilight Zone was allegorical, and standalone episodes, and illogical. So I think while there are similarities – we’re dealing with the unknown – the differences are more pronounced than the similarities.
I’ve got to ask you about this piece of intriguing trivia that popped up on a Reddit AMA you did a while back. Is it true that Mark Snow’s legendary theme for The X-Files took inspiration from The Smiths?
Yeah! He went to the drawing board, he came up with things, he sent them to me, and I’d say “Not quite, not quite, not quite…” Finally, trying to give him some direction, I sent him the Smiths song How Soon Is Now?, and I said, “I love the guitar in this song”. What did he take from it? He didn’t take the guitar, he took that whistling sound at the end. (laughs) It was kind of instructive. This is the way collaboration should work. You hear one thing, one person hears another, and that’s just the nature of collaborative art.
What’s it been like returning to film the show in Vancouver?
Well, you know, Vancouver is home to The X-Files. Even though we went to LA for four years, we were here for two movies, we were here for the first five seasons of the show. It always feels so good to be home. I love the place. I love the free atmosphere it gives you, I love the moodiness that Vancouver can give you so much of the year, but I particularly love working with the crews up here. I now have friends and people like Mark Freeborn, the production designer. He worked on three years of Millennium here for us, and then did the second movie of The X-Files, and now has done the last two X-Files series. So he’s a really important part of the team and a good friend, and I wouldn’t want to do it without him. I also have to sing the praises of a person who made it all happen these last two seasons, and that’s a woman named Grace Gilroy, our producer.
It’s been really interesting to see how dynamics have shifted this past season. We’ve had cause to question Skinner’s trustworthiness, Cigarette Smoking Man’s been back on the scene, and we had this new character of Erika Price, played by Barbara Hershey. What did she bring to the show this season?
You know, Glen Morgan and I sort of sat down and put our heads together about that. He had ideas, and I had ideas, and we tried to make them work together, and the idea was to introduce Erika Price in the first episode but then to really show what she was up to in the second episode, and then to keep you wondering what she might be up to. Then of course we see what happens to her for all her trouble in the last episode. Skinner had always been a loyal, dutiful, and suffering friend to Mulder and Scully and the X-Files. I thought it would be interesting to put him in a position to choose selfishly, or selflessly, between two things, and to see how that played out, and especially if he was suspected by Mulder and Scully of not having their back.
Speaking of old friends, it was great to see Lone Gunman Langley back for one episode (This), albeit under rather unusual circumstances! How did it feel to bring that character back after he and his two colleagues met their grim, Star Trek-referencing end some years ago?
We were able to sneak them in in season ten for a brief period in a hallucinatory sequence, but to bring him back – he’s such an iconic character for the show. They even had their own show, and I think he’s a beloved character. Glen (Morgan) brought him back in a very interesting way.
Dean Haglund (Langley) was quite hard to track down, wasn’t he?
Yeah, he moved to Australia. We were able to actually do his work remotely, so he did not actually have to be with us physically in Vancouver.
Well, technology does have some benefits…
Do you have any particular favourite episodes from these last two short seasons?
I have to say there are four, and they’re kind of all equal. I loved the AI episode this season that begins with Mulder and Scully in the sushi bar (Rm9sbG9eZX.Jz). I loved Darin Morgan’s episodes from last season and this season (Mulder And Scully Meet The Were-Monster and The Lost Art Of Forehead Sweat), and I really liked the season finale (My Struggle IV) this season. It struck several chords perfectly.
It’s been 25 years since The X-Files began. How would you explain the show’s enduring cultural presence?
I’d like to think it’s the storytelling, I’d like to think it’s the production values, and I’d like to think that it’s the stories in real time about real science, but I really think it all boils down ultimately to Mulder and Scully. Those characters and their relationship are what people have identified with and connected with and keep coming back to.
Any new projects for you on the horizon?
No, nothing right now. I’ve got my thinking cap on, but no. Of course being up here in Vancouver, it always gets me thinking.
Chris Carter, thank you very much!