David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson
Now that The X-Files has become a full-fledged hit, can co-stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson survive a salary dispute, tabloid headlines and each other?
It's a golden globe, not a weighty one, like the statues for best drama, best actress and best actor hauled in during this year's X-Files takeover, but a gold-plated key-chain reproduction that comes gift-wrapped in a Tiffany's box and is purchased by idly rich knickknack buffs or Fox executives flush with the show's success and hellbent on sustaining a little momentum.
The trinket rests in its container, which sits in David Duchovny's tidy Airstream trailer on the X-Files set. Duchovny surveys the tchotchke for a moment and then reads the accompanying card. " 'Dear David,' " he says. "'We're proud to have you on the network.'"
Duchovny picks up the key chain, twirls it in the light and leans forward as if he's revealing a secret. "At the moment," he says, "we are the network."
A thin, almost imperceptible grin cracks Duchovny's usual stony expression and then disappears as he stands to exit the trailer. He's right, of course, and he knows it. Fox might have lured Aaron Spelling from a life of The Love Boat reruns; it might even have snatched football from CBS; but at the moment, in the midst of the show's fourth season, The X-Files is to Fox what Elvis Presley was to sun Records. Sure, there were Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis; of course, there are Party of Five and The Simpsons. But 15 million conspiracy theorists can't be wrong.
What they can be, however, is omnipresent. There is a joke on the X-Files set that crew members don't have lives, they have The X-Files. Dark humor abounds when you work 16-hour days, 10 months a year in Vancouver, British Columbia. It's tough to tell, however, whether Duchovny and co-star Gillian Anderson find such things funny. Life is different when you're the poster children for the most scrutinized television series in recent memory. "The fans read into the show a whole lot more than we ever intend," says X-Files director and producer Kim Manners. "They take it apart like a coronet."
So, if The X-Files is a program about obsession that has bred an obsessive subculture, it is also a program about paranoia that has rendered its stars a little wary. "The success of a one-hour series is different from any other success in film or television," says Anderson, who plays Dana Scully to Duchovny's Fox Mulder. "It is all-consuming. It's not this way on half-hour television; it's not this way when you do features. When you're in the midst of it, you can think oh, my God, I can't do this anymore."
Mostly it's the hours another crew truism holds that if an episode doesn't hurt, then things just aren't working but there's more. With fame has come not only tabloid scrutiny, which has plagued Anderson in particular this season, but a developing apprehension for both stars that while The X-Files is the acting break of a lifetime, its phenomenon threatens to obscure them as individuals for the rest of their careers. Chris Carter, the show's creator, has battled the same fear by developing a new series, Millennium, which demands much of his time; and both Anderson and Duchovny can alleviate some of the pressure by practicing their new hobby of fielding film offers. Nevertheless, both are extremely conscious of wanting to distinguish themselves from the show, which in turn means from each other.
So, when a request is made to interview the two stars together, the prospects initially do not look good. "I'm my own person," says Duchovny. "Why should we do interviews together? There's enough anxiety about the fact that Mulder and Scully seem to be on entity anyway." But, to spoil this X-Files cliffhanger, Duchovny and Anderson finally do agree to sit down for their first dual print interrogation since the show's inaugural season. Before that, though, they'll be portrayed the way they're most comfortable: separate but equal.
David Duchovny, product of a prestigious New York private high school, Princeton grad and former Yale Ph.D. student, explains his craft. "I had a teacher that gave me a really good lesson once," he says between takes of an ever-stoic Mulder imploring investigators to grasp the simple fact that it was aliens, not mechanical failure, that brought down a 747 somewhere over Pennsylvania. "He had a piece of paper, and he said, 'I like dogs.' And then he wrote down cocker spaniel, saint Bernard, beagle, German shepherd. He circled beagle, and he said, 'I love beagles.' And that was my lesson."
"It took me a while to figure it out, too," says Duchovny. "What he was saying was that if I like dogs and I love beagles, if we're having a conversation and you mention beagle, I will perk up and pay attention. It's a way of creating a full human being with weird interests. That's the challenge of creating a subtle character that doesn't have to scream out, 'This is who I am!' "
The director signals that he is ready for another take. Duchovny smiles and walks toward the set. "Come check out the scene," he says. "You can watch for my beagle."
In person, Duchovny's This is who I am is as much a whisper as it is onscreen, and therefore much of your time with him is spent searching for clues. He is into basketball and yoga, and he reads voraciously. He has had parts in many movies, including Kalifornia and Beethoven, as well as a break-through role as a cross-dressing detective on Twin Peaks. He will play a drug-addicted doctor in the upcoming film Playing God and has kept his ongoing role as the narrator of Showtime's steamy Red Shoe Diaries (I'm the only one with my clothes on," he says. "I'm like the loser at the hot-tub party who brings a bathing suit"). And not least, he has been linked to more than a few actresses, including Winona Ryder and Naked Truth star Téa Leoni. But despite these tangible guides, it is clear that the 36-year-old Duchovny lives less in Vancouver than he does inside his head a more private location, without the horrendous weather; and it is his quiet confidence and thoughtfulness that both attract others and keep him at a safe distance. On the set, he is friendly, accessible and funny, while always maintaining a separateness born more from internal detachment than from the external barrier of his being one of the show's stars.
"He's really sensitive in terms of knowing what's going on around him," says Jason Beghe, Duchovny's best friend since ninth grade and co-star of the upcoming G.I. Jane with Demi Moore. "That's what makes him smart, not that he can tell you about Jude the Obscure. He's a beautiful man, and what makes him extra-beautiful is that he doesn't have to walk in and show you that."
It's now late afternoon, and Duchovny, having just finished his onscreen duties, has retreated to his trailer to trade Mulder's designer suit for his own jeans and a sweater. He pulls the sweater over his head, then sits down for a one-on-one interview. It is midway through the fourth season, and he understands that the challenge he faces is less how to maintain the show's cult fervor than how to sustain his own intensity. It is not easy to unleash the beagle continually, and no matter how many casual references he has made to Freudian theory over the course of the day (three, for those counting at home), even Duchovny knows that there are only so many ways to hold a flashlight.
You created this character early on. Now, since each show is driven by strange, outside story lines and you don't delve very personally into your character, has it gotten boring?
Does the idea of taking a break and making a movie out of your full-time job seem appealing?
What makes you feel trapped?
You contributed ideas for an episode...
Is writing something you'd be doing anyway?
Isn't it often the death of a show when the stars start saying, "Wait, I have an idea"?
As obsessive as your fan base is, that obsession seems like the kind of thing that would annoy you. Does it?
You recently filmed 'Playing God.' Was it a business decision to show you can do other things?
How much of a personal life are you allowed?
What have you learned?
The way your life is now sounds lonely.
Are you able to trust in friendships and romantic relationships, now that you're well-known?
Did living in New York give you a tough shell?
Does your focus come out of that?
It all sounds very controlled.
You talk like someone who has been in therapy.
Is it hard now that people can't relate to your reality anymore?
Is there a responsibility that comes with celebrity?
Doesn't that make you incredibly self-conscious?
What's been printed about you that's been hurtful?
What are some of the stranger requests that have been sent to you?
Gillian Anderson's trailer is much larger than David Duchovny's, but then, she comes with more baggage. There is the type that makes her happy they type that comes with sharing a space with her daughter, Piper, and the 2-year-old's nanny. And then there is the variety that makes her want to bolt the door and never emerge like the tabloid stories of her marital separation from freelance art director Clyde Klotz and the sexual-assault charges (made by other women) facing a man she had supposedly been dating. So, if Anderson's on-set accommodations are more plush than her co-star's, she certainly deserves the cocoon in which to escape.
It's 4 o'clock, and we've just now reached the midday break. In a short while, Anderson, 28, will be lying prone on a makeshift operating table; but at the moment, she is warming lunch in the microwave and popping a cassette into the VCR while Piper naps in the trailer's second room. The video is for a one-off dance single she has cut with an ambient-music group called Hal, and the video, well..."It's all me," says Anderson. "All me in every respect, and it's a bit too erotic for what I need to be doing right now." She laughs. "It's going to change."
The single (a spoken-word, not singing, debut) came about as a lark after Anderson narrated a nine-part BBC series called Future Fantastic and loved the show's background music. During this X-Files season, Anderson, who is simultaneously cleaning up her daughter's mess in the kitchen and writhing on the television screen, also has plans to film two small movie parts, as an alcoholic in The Mighty, with Sharon Stone, and as a Southside Chicago woman in Hellcab, with John Cusack. Clearly there are enough sides to Gillian Anderson to ensure she will never be called a square.
"She has a deep intensity about her; it's a real dramatic focus," says Shawna Franks, a close friend of Anderson's since the two were drawn to each other as punk rockers at DePaul University's Goodman Theater School. "But that's just one side to her. She's funny and spontaneous and warm, and there's a spiritual side to her. She can be incredibly goofy."
Anderson's shaping bean in Chicago before her family moved to London and then to Grand Rapids, Mich. "I think it all made me stronger" says Anderson of the relocating. "I never really had close friends. It forced me to rely on myself and become a stronger person." Along the way, she discovered the pains of adolescence and plenty of bad habits, before eventually turning the emotion outward by working in theater in both Chicago and New York. Then cam a few minor parts (in the TV series Class of '96 and the film The Turning) before she got her break with The X-Files.
On the set, Anderson bides her time by mothering her daughter and the rest of the crew. At one point, when director Rob Bowman is unhappy with a take and throws down his headphones, Anderson walks behind the lens and says, "Rob? Sweetie? Are you OK?" It is as if Anderson's own fragility disappears when she takes on the responsibility of others. Where Duchovny exudes a detached confidence, Anderson is all warmth and uncertainty. When there is no one in front of her, her gaze can suddenly drift away as if she is hypnotized; yet when others are near, she is extremely attentive. She smiles and laughs easily; and when you talk to her, she speaks slowly, as if she wants to make absolutely certain you understand.
Do you feel like you're the same person you were when the show started?
Is that a good thing?
You seem more melancholy than I would have guessed. Is that accurate, or is that just a mood?
Do you know where that comes from?
How much have the marriage troubles and tabloid stories forced you to change the way you deal with things in your life?
Are you more guarded in friendships now?
You were a rebel. Did you really go to depths, or was it pretty standard rebellion?
At the beginning of 'The X-Files,' how competitive were you in terms of wanting attention equal to the amount David was getting?
The obvious example is the salary discrepancy.
Initially, was 'The X-Files' to your taste?
Were you a sci-fi fan?
Because if this show wasn't done so well, it would be the dumbest show on television.
You play Scully, but do you like her? Yesterday you said she doesn't have a personality.
Does she still have a brain tumor?
Does this bode well for her survival?
Aren't you afraid that the contract stuff will not get resolved and suddenly they'll say, "Oh, by the way, Scully's dead"?
Of course there's something for you to worry about. You might be off a show that is extremely popular.
People might know they'll fly when they leave the nest, but that doesn't mean they want to be pushed.
When David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson finally sit down together for an interview, it is politely, like family members who come together a few times a year purely out of obligation but who nonetheless recognize each other's importance in their lives.
It is midafternoon the following day, and the show is on location at a drive-up-style motor lodge that will play home to some suitably strange X-Files behavior, stranger even than Duchovny and Anderson's being queried together. We duck into a rented room and, because the only furniture in sight is something that will later double as an operating table, slide onto the worn shag carpeting in the room's corner.
Duchovny has talked Anderson into the two-for-one interrogation, but now that the time has come, he is slightly more impatient, answering tersely and waiting for the next scene to be completed, because then he will be done for the day. "I'm sorry," he says before we start, "but the second we finish filming, I'm not staying a minute longer." For her part, Anderson seems content to speak at length, if only to ensure that the story is told correctly.
They are not similar people, Anderson and Duchovny, but they are forced together in a coupling that the public views as idyllic, and because of this there is an oddly conspiratorial feel to their interaction. "It's a difficult relationship because it's like an arranged marriage," Duchovny says. "We didn't choose to be together." When the first question is asked "How has your personal dynamic changed over the course fo four seasons?" they look at each other as if to make sure they're on the same page, and Duchovny begins speaking.
"It changes all the time, right?" [Anderson nods in agreement.]
Duchovny: It's not that it used to be one thing and it's another thing now. It's cyclic.
Are you in an up cycle at the moment?
Is it really that day-to-day?
There's a feeling that fans want you to be great friends off the set.
What's the reality?
Why is that?
Do you every communicate with each other through the press?
Why don't each of you say what strengths the other brings to the show.
What about David?
Do you turn to each other for career advice?
Examples? We love examples.
So, who will make the final decision about the movie?
Duchovny stands. There has been a call from the director, and the two stars glance at each other as if they are pleased to have survived something together They walk out, one after the other; and a few minutes later, as the scene starts and the camera rolls, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny immediately morph into Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, the partners considered to be one of television's most romantic duos. It is a feat of incredible closeness, considering the two characters have never even kissed and, stranger still, considering how naturally it happens once the camera rolls.
As Kim Manners explains it: "They're totally different human beings, but they can just look at each other and know exactly where they're going in a scene." He stops for a moment before continuing: "It's weird. David and Gillian are best of acquaintances; Scully and Mulder are best friends."