Interview: 'X-Files' Creator Chris Carter On Revisiting Mulder & Scully And The Evolution Of The Conspiracy Theorist

Once recent shows like Arrested Development and 24 returned for limited series, networks started looking at older hit shows that could be revived for a few more episodes. Fox had a golden goose in their vaults with The X-Files, which last spawned the 2008 movie I Want To Believe. Now it's back as a six-episode limited series crafted by Chris Carter with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson returning.

The series picks up with Dana Scully (Anderson) and Fox Mulder (Duchovny) separated again, but reconnecting over the conspiracy theory of internet talk show host Tad O'Malley (Joel McHale). We also see flashbacks to an alien crash landing that hints at the answers for which Mulder has been searching all along. We spoke with Carter about the new X-Files, which premieres Sunday, January 24 on Fox after football, at the Fox party for the Television Critics Association. Here's what he had to say.

I love movie sequels because each one can build on the history of the franchise. Did you find that with this new X-Files series, that it was a different sort of thing than just doing standalone movies or continuing seasons?

Yeah, this is six hours of storytelling so it builds on everything that came before it in a way that a movie might, but movies are rarely two hours now. This is a chance to really advance the saga.

What was some heavy lifting you no longer had to do because you've already done it before?

We spend a few minutes catching you up in that first episode. I think that appeals to hardcore fans, which is why we made the series anyway. The reason we're back is because there's a hardcore fan base out there and this is for them. But at the same time, we appreciate that there is a casual viewing audience out there and also a brand new audience. When some kid comes up to me and he's 16 years old and he says, "You did The X-Files? I watch The X-Files," I look at that kid and I think, "You were either a toddler or not even born yet when the show first aired." So there's a new audience out there that we think might appreciate the show.

Were you just as excited as all of us to figure out where Scully and Mulder are all these years later?

Yeah, you know, I wanted to be honest to the passage of time. So in the second movie they were together, but then I thought given what they do and what they're interested in, I thought it would make for a tough relationship. I imagined they separated for good reasons.

Was that bittersweet for you to decide that?

Yeah, of course.

Does it allow you to start over with them in a way?

No, you can't because they've been together for 24 years now. You can't fudge that. You can't pretend that they're younger than they are, that nothing has gone on in those ensuing years. I had to imagine what happened.

That chemistry is still there, isn't it?

For sure. It's been there since the day that they stepped foot in Mulder's office together.

When you write these new scripts, do you just know they're going to make it crackle?

You know, I've been doing this for so long now, I've been doing so many hours of this that it's in my DNA.

x-files postersWere you excited by the evolution of the conspiracy theorist since The X-Files?

Yes. There's so much you can now weed through on the internet. There's over 500 conspiracy sites so there's just plenty of material out there to cherry pick.

Has it surprised you that the conspiracy theorist is not underground anymore?

No, it's internet driven now so it's not necessarily mainstream media but it's risen to the surface as you say.

In contrast, is someone like Mulder on the normal side of things?

Well, I don't know about that. He still believes in some pretty, I would call them fringe things.

As you've watched the real world and things like the 9/11 truthers come up, have you taken mental notes of, "Man, if I ever do another X-Files, that would be something to address?"


Was it fun to make Mulder the skeptic a little?

Always. It's always fun to put a twist on the concept, especially when we do the Mulder and Scully turnaround, where Mulder became the skeptic and Scully the believer, but this time Mulder has reason to be skeptical of Tad O'Malley.

Do you have any new writers for this X-Files?

I don't. These are all some of the originals.

Were there any original writers you couldn't find room for?

Yes, I had reached out to Frank Spotnitz who's busy with his own two series [The Man in the High Castle and Crossing Lines], and Vince Gilligan who's busy with Better Call Saul. Once they turned me down, I had three people. I decided to do three myself.

When there is a monster, was it important to you that it still be a guy in a suit?

[Laughs.] Well, there are different kinds of monsters on The X-Files but in this case, it was Darin [Morgan]'s choice to do kind of an old-fashioned monster. Even the transformation effects are kind of old style.

Did you explore any newer visual effects techniques?

Yes, all the way through there are tiny little things and then big things too. In the first episode, there's lots of CG but we built two enormous spaceships and actually shot those. They were real but had CG elements. Throughout there are CG elements. The really good thing about this time around, this series, is we had an extended post so we could really perfect those effects. When you're doing a 22- or 25-episode season, you never have the time or the money to do it.

Did you blow up the practical model?

No. We didn't blow it up. It appears to crash and the same with the one that appears to disappear. Those are all tricks.

What was your decision to actually visit Roswell?

I actually never imagined that as Roswell. I imagined it as there were a series of crashes. So I imagined it as something other than Roswell but it ended up becoming kind of synonymous with Roswell. It was something we'd never done before so I wanted to do it.

Do you have more resources now to do something big like that?

Yes, but you know what, my budget was kind of equal to what we finished with in 2002.

Have you shifted your thinking from an alien conspiracy to a human conspiracy?

Well, we mention that when Mulder says, "A conspiracy of men." It has expanded on the conspiracy.

Is the business of show running a six-episode series different than doing the 22 a year?

In the obvious way that there are fewer episodes, but at the same time, the demands on your focus and instincts are the same because once the clock is running, it never stops. You shoot an episode in eight days. On the ninth day, you start the next episode and the ninth day, you start the next episode. It is a running process with never a break.

Now that you've gotten The X-Files back up and running, are there any new shows you want to do?

Well, my wife [Dori Carter] has a six-part miniseries that I'm aching to bring to TV. It's based on her second book called We Are Rich.


The X-Files returns January 24 on Fox.