22 Truths About The X-Files
Is the truth really out there? The X-Files began its original nine-season run on September 10, 1993. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson returned to our televisions in 2016 to reprise their roles as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully for two new seasons, but both the network and the series' stars have said that there won't be another season. While we sit here and hold out hope that they might change their mind, here are 22 facts about the iconic series on its 25th anniversary.
1. THE IDEA FOR THE SHOW ORIGINATED WITH A PUBLIC OPINION SURVEY.
Chris Carter’s interest in the paranormal was piqued when he read Pulitzer Prize-winning writer/psychiatrist/Harvard Medical School professor John E. Mack’s analysis of a 1991 Roper Poll survey, which stated that at least 3.7 million Americans may have been abducted by aliens. “Everybody wants to hear that story,” Carter told Entertainment Weekly. “[Abduction] is tantamount to a religious experience.”
2. CHRIS CARTER WAS INSPIRED BY ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.
When asked about his intentions in creating The X-Files, Chris Carter told Twitch that, “I'm a child of the Watergate era, so I question authority and mistrust it, that was in my blood. One of my favorite movies is All the President's Men; the most amazing thing about it, and it's watchable time and again, is that we know the outcome. Watching it, is where the entertainment value lies. So I knew I would be exploring these things, though I didn't know I would be doing it for nine years.”
In the more than 20 years since The X-Files made its premiere, Carter has cited a number of movies and television shows as helping to inspire its style and tone. Among them: Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Twin Peaks, The Thin Blue Line, Prime Suspect, Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, and The Silence of the Lambs.
3. DANA SCULLY WAS PARTLY MODELED ON CLARICE STARLING.
Carter has been vocal about his admiration for Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning film The Silence of the Lambs and the influence it had on The X-Files. “It's not a mistake that Dana Scully has red hair like Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs,” Carter told Smithsonian magazine.
4. JODIE FOSTER MADE A CAMEO.
In the fourth season episode “Never Again,” Jodie Foster (who won an Oscar in 1992 for her role as Clarice Starling) provided the voice of Betty, a homicidal tattoo (yes, a homicidal tattoo).
5. DAVID DUCHOVNY PUSHED FOR JENNIFER BEALS TO PLAY SCULLY.
David Duchovny and the Flashdance star became acquainted when the two attended Yale. “I used to see David on the street—he tried to pick me up on several occasions,” Beals recalled. “And I said, ‘Um, I’m living with somebody.' And then I ended up taking this acting class in New York and who walks in the door but David Duchovny. And he’s like, ‘I swear I am not stalking you!’ And we became really good friends. He’s a real sweetheart … When he was doing The X-Files he had talked to me about doing that, but I think Gillian was much better suited for that part than me.”
6. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY PRONOUNCED THE SERIES D.O.A.
In a preview of the 1993 fall television lineup, Entertainment Weekly declared that “This show is a goner,” citing its genre and Friday night time slot as two indicators that the series wouldn’t last. Today, it’s one of the longest-running sci-fi series in television history.
7. IN REAL LIFE, SCULLY IS THE BELIEVER.
In a 1994 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gillian Anderson admitted that Duchovny was a skeptic and she was the believer. “Psychokinesis appeals to me,” she said. “ESP, telling the future, I love that stuff.”
8. ANDERSON AND DUCHOVNY DID NOT GET ALONG.
Though Anderson and Duchovny are tight nowadays, that friendship—while based on the work they did together—didn’t really come about until after The X-Files ended. “The crucible of doing that show made monsters out of both of us,” Duchovny told Variety, saying that it wasn’t until filming the 2008 movie The X-Files: I Want to Believe that the two really clicked. “Once we got to step back, it was like, ‘Oh, wow, we really like each other. I didn’t know that was going to happen.’ The way we work together has changed. Whatever rapport we have as actors, we earned. It’s nice to be able to play that without ever even feeling like you’re playing it.”
“Our relationship has definitely become a proper friendship over the last few years,” Anderson added. “I think we’re more on each other’s side. We’re more aware of the other’s needs, wants, concerns, and mindful to take those into consideration—and just sharing more about our experiences in the moment, under the sudden realization that we’re both in this together, and wouldn’t it be nice if it were a collaboration?”
9. SCULLY WAS WRITTEN AS THE CENTER OF THE SHOW.
While it’s often stated that Carter’s goal in creating Mulder and Scully was to subvert gender stereotypes, he says that wasn’t a conscious part of the plan. “It just made sense to me in an instinctive way, that she would be the scientist,” he said. “I don't know what that says about me, but I always saw it that way.”
“It was always a man and a woman,” Carter added. “I'm interested in strong women characters. For me, Scully is the center of our show, she is the skeptic in all of us. Science is at the root of science fiction, so Mulder, while he seems to be often right and it might seem to be his show, I always think of Scully as the grounding influence and the thing that keeps the solar system of the show in place.”
10. SCULLY’S CHARACTER HAS HAD A BIG INFLUENCE ON THE TELEVISION LANDSCAPE.
Anderson told the Chicago Tribune that Carter “fought tooth and nail to get me rather than what used to be the version of women [on] television back then, which was very different. And ironically it had an international effect on women and on television and how women were not just perceived but how they behaved … This funny old series we were doing had a huge influence on the history of television in many ways, from the lighting on television to the kinds of stories that were being told to the characters. The amount of things you see right now where they even just have a male and female as investigators. It’s almost a joke. It’s like, somebody should come with something different now!”
11. SCULLY MAY HAVE ALSO INSPIRED A NUMBER OF YOUNG WOMEN TO PURSUE STEM CAREERS.
In April 2018, a report [PDF] from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media claimed that Dana Scully served as a powerful role model for women who watched the show. The skeptical doctor helped inspire women to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers.
“In the world of entertainment media, where scientists are often portrayed as white men wearing white coats and working alone in labs, Scully stood out in the 1990s as the only female STEM character in a prominent, prime-time television role,” the report explained. Previously, anecdotal evidence has pointed to the existence of a “Scully effect,” in which the measured TV scientist—with her detailed note-taking, evidence-based approach, and desire to autopsy everything—inspired women to seek out their own science careers. This report provides the hard data.
12. THE CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN WAS ORIGINALLY CAST AS AN EXTRA.
When actor William B. Davis first appeared on The X-Files, it was as a background actor with no dialogue. At that time neither Davis nor the producers knew that he would end up becoming the show’s main antagonist. “There was a time when I wasn’t in any episodes, then all of a sudden I had a line or two and I thought, 'That was interesting,’” Davis told the Palm Beach Post in 1996. “And that just gradually increased. Then, finally I had a big scene where Mulder comes after me with a gun. That was the turning point where the producers decided this character is really interesting and I guess they felt I was OK to handle it.”
“The character is very simply written and William is called upon to carry a lot of the weight of the character,” added writer/executive producer Frank Spotnitz. “He is utterly convincing. Even before he had words, he had looks where you could see his mind processing what he was watching and you could see there was intelligence behind his eyes.”
13. THE CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN WASN’T A SMOKER.
At least he wasn’t when he was cast in the role. But he had been. He had kicked the habit nearly 20 years before taking on the role, after smoking for 25 years. Though he eventually was given herbal cigarettes to play the part, the cigarettes were real for his first few appearances, and the job required him to inhale. “That was beginning to wake up some long buried desires,” Davis said.
14. THE SHOW EMPLOYED A NUMBER OF SCIENTISTS.
In an effort to make sure the series got its science right, the producers hired a number of scientists as consultants, including University of Maryland microbiologist Anne Simon, who was hired at the end of the first season, and came back aboard for the tenth season reboot.
“You’re not there to tell the writer, ‘Chris, you can’t have a Flukeman that’s half-man, half-worm,’” she explained of her role in the production. “But you want to come up with something reasonable.” (Simon is also the author of The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites, and Mutants.)
In addition, Carter has looked to his brother for help. “He’s a professor at MIT, and so I went to him for a lot of technical stuff,” he told WIRED. “A lot of the things that are in the pilot came directly from him. I had written something about time and space, and he corrected me on my terminology.”
15. IT LED TO A SHORT-LIVED SPINOFF.
The Lone Gunmen, a trio of conspiracy theorists who ran their own magazine, proved popular enough with audiences that they were given their own series in 2001. Just 13 episodes aired before the show was cancelled, though they were given the unusual opportunity to address the series finale’s cliffhanger in the ninth season of The X-Files.
16. MITCH PILEGGI’S SHAVED HEAD ALMOST COST HIM THE ROLE OF WALTER SKINNER.
Pileggi auditioned three times to land the role of FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner. "I thought, this guy [Chris Carter] either hates me or I must be a totally bad actor,” Pileggi recalled. “But he told me later it was because my shaved head was too extreme for an FBI agent.”
17. SKINNER MARRIED SCULLY’S STAND-IN.
Pileggi met his wife, Arlene Warren, at work; she was Scully’s stand-in. The couple married in 1997. From 1998 to 2002, Warren made a number of appearances on the show, playing Skinner’s assistant.
18. LUCY LAWLESS WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE A RECURRING ROLE.
In 2001, shortly after Xena: Warrior Princess came to an end, news broke that Lucy Lawless had signed on for The X-Files. Though the plan was that her character, Super Soldier Shannon McMahon, would be a recurring one, a high-risk pregnancy forced her to bow out after appearing in just two episodes. On May 7, 2002, Lawless gave birth to a healthy baby boy (but did not return to the series).
19. THE X-FILES GAVE BIRTH TO BREAKING BAD AS WE KNOW IT.
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan (who also helped to create The Lone Gunmen) logged several years as a writer on The X-Files. Among his many credits on the show is the season six episode “Drive,” which stars Bryan Cranston as Patrick Crump, a “Monster-of-the-Week” who kidnaps Mulder. Cranston’s performance stayed with Gilligan over the years, and is what led to his being cast as Walter White on Breaking Bad. "You don't have to like him,” Gilligan said of the character. “But you need to sympathize and feel empathy and sorrow for him at the end of the hour.”
Other future Breaking Bad stars Aaron Paul (Jesse), Dean Norris (Hank), Raymond Cruz (Tuco), Danny Trejo (Tortuga), and Michael Bowen (Uncle Jack) also appeared on The X-Files.
20. THERE WAS A PAY GAP ISSUE.
Earlier this year, Gillian Anderson revealed that she had to fight to be paid the same amount as Duchovny twice—first when the show originally aired, then again when it came back for two new seasons. According to The Daily Beast, "Anderson found herself fighting just to stand on (literal) equal ground with her male co-star. The studio initially required Anderson to stand a few feet behind her male partner on camera, careful never to step side-by-side with him. And it took three years before Anderson finally closed the wage gap between her pay and Duchovny’s."
When the series was set to be revived in 2016, Anderson was shocked that she was offered just half of what Duchovny was paid to come back. “Even in interviews in the last few years, people have said to me, ‘I can’t believe that happened, how did you feel about it, that is insane,’" she told The Daily Beast. "And my response always was, ‘That was then, this is now.’ And then it happened again! I don’t even know what to say about it.”
21. CARTER DIDN’T THINK OF THE SHOW AS SCIENCE FICTION.
“I actually resisted the ‘science fiction’ label in the beginning, because the show is actually based in science,” Carter told WIRED. “If it weren’t for Scully, I think the show could be just kind of loopy. So the science and the accuracy of the science is all-important to the success of the storytelling. I think Steven Spielberg called Close Encounters of the Third Kind ‘speculative science’ and I would say The X-Files, for me, has always fit more into that category.”
22 CARTER WANTS TO BELIEVE.
“I'm definitely a skeptic,” Carter told Twitch of his belief in extraterrestrials, “but like Mulder, I want to believe.”