The X-Files: Mitch Pileggi on “Kitten” and Skinner’s Past

We chat with Mitch Pileggi about Skinner’s big X-Files episode this season and his thoughts on his character’s journey.

To many people, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are The X-Files (although there are surely some fans out there who have on a “What Would Doggett Do?” t-shirt). Even though Mulder and Scully are the ones in the fray with the supernatural week in and week out, there’s another member of the team that has been there for just as long as they have—in fact, he’s even been there longer. Assistant Director Walter Skinner is a crucial component of The X-Files, but for whatever reason he’s largely remained a cipher throughout the series. Over the course of 200-plus episodes, there have been a total of three Skinner-centric installments, which is absolutely bonkers. 

The current season of The X-Files decides to right this wrong in a big way with an episode that digs deep into the past of Walter Skinner. “Kitten” still has plenty for Mulder and Scully to do, but it centers its mystery around Skinner’s time in Vietnam and the first time he loses faith in the government. “Kitten” fills in a lot of blanks for Skinner, but we got the opportunity to talk with Mitch Pileggi and learn even more about his character and what he goes through this season.

DEN OF GEEK: Skinner has been a part of The X-Files since its beginning, but he’s typically in the background of the action. There have been episodes like “Avatar” that have shined a little light on him, but he’s still largely a mystery.  Was it satisfying to finally get an episode like this that really digs into Skinner’s past?

MITCH PILEGGI: Oh absolutely. I was very gratified that they gave me this episode. Also, that they gave it to Gabe Rotter, who did a terrific job writing it. Carol Banker, too, who directed it. She was our script supervisor for the last four seasons of The X-Files when it was in LA. Those two both know Skinner as well as I do, so to have them involved was very cool. It’s so great that the show finally gets around to telling this story. It’s been touched on in past episodes, but now people can actually see it play out.

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Throughout the years did you ever try and create your own history and backstory for Skinner to help get in his head? Did you picture him in the army?

I knew enough about him and they actually gave me a lot of information on his background a long time ago. So that was always there and something that I could touch on and play around with if I wanted to. As time went on, in my own mind I expanded upon what they had given me, but just simple character stuff.

Would you be interested in doing episodes that highlight more of Skinner’s past, but that are still set during his tenure with the FBI? Like looking at Skinner’s time at the Bureau before Mulder and Scully enter the picture?

That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? I don’t know what the storyline would be though. When they spun off The Lone Gunmen into their own series I went up to Chris [Carter] and said, “Hey, what about Skinner!” And he came back with, “Well what would a Skinner spin-off be about?” and I really didn’t know. What would it be about, you know? This episode gives a little look into where he lives. It’s very sparse and he’s got Metamucil lying around. I thought that was hilarious because I always figured that Skinner was constipated.

This episode explores in a really poignant way the first time that Skinner becomes disillusioned with the government and learns that they can do wrong. Talk a little on what this means for him and the decisions that he has to make in the past regarding Davey’s father.

I think our situation in the world right now really lends itself to what Skinner goes through here. When he learns that these things happened to one of his buddies from Vietnam it just really sets him off. He doesn’t care what he needs to do, he just sets out to find who’s responsible here. I love that. Where he goes forward from that point then becomes very interesting. That gives him a storyline. There’s your spin-off.

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How do you feel about Skinner’s role in this season? He’s positioned against Mulder and Scully and stuck in an alliance with the Cigarette Smoking Man. Is this a nice change of pace, or do you prefer that Skinner function as more of a good guy?

He’s always going to be Mulder and Scully’s champion, but historically in the show he finds himself in predicaments where he has to go outside the lines of how he likes to operate and what he’s comfortable with. Skinner has this line in one episode—Mulder says to him, “Where do you stand?” And he replies, “I’m standing on the line that you’re crossing.” 

So in the past he has to maintain that bureaucratic position within the FBI so he’s able to continue to accommodate Mulder and Scully. He can’t screw up his potential to get them aid in the future, but he still needs to do his job. That’s why it’s so interesting to have him in this predicament this season with the Cigarette Smoking Man where he needs to figure out the right way to operate. Skinner is up and down with Mulder and Scully for the rest of the season because of this.

On that note, in this episode there’s a rather telling statement from Kersh about how Mulder and Scully are to blame for Skinner’s stagnant career with the Bureau. What’s your take on that and their complicated relationship?

I think it’s great that that line is there and the show touches on that aspect on the story. So often people have said to me, “Why is Skinner still the Assistant Director at the FBI?” I always thought it was because of his association with Mulder and Scully; that that’s ultimately held him back. So it’s great to find out that that’s actually the case here.

Do you have a favorite episode from the entirety of The X-Files, or one that really sticks out to you?

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I’ve got a couple of them. I’m a huge fan of Darin Morgan’s episodes, so I was so happy that he gave me one line in his episode from this season. I’ve been hammering him forever for him to put me in his episodes. Finally he does and it’s only one line, but it’s a hell of a line. “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “Home,” and “Humbug” are all favorites of mine. I prefer the quirky, weird episodes and Darin does that so well.

Darin Morgan doing an all-out Skinner episode would actually be really interesting! One of my favorite Skinner moments is still that bit in “Hollywood, A.D.” where Skinner, Mulder, and Scully are all in the hot tub.

I love that. A lot of people really like that scene.

What’s your most memorable moment from filming this new season?

I think that Skinner’s speech to Mulder and Scully in the trailer in “Kitten” is really incredible. When I first got that speech I wanted to have it completely committed to my brain so I didn’t even need to worry about it when doing the scene. I haven’t seen the episode, but it was so great to shoot. 

It’s also amazing that my nephew, Cory Rempel, gets to play the young version of Skinner! He’s a local actor from Vancouver and he actually auditioned twice for the show before getting this role, which I think is interesting because I also auditioned for two roles before I got Skinner. It’s a funny parallel.

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