'The X-Files': Chris Carter Talks Premiere, Criticism and Franchise Future

"Our mission statement is always, 'It's only as scary as it is believable.'"
Courtesy of FOX

The X-Files officially reopened Sunday night with a mythology-heavy episode that drove the familiar duo of Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) back into that FBI basement they last occupied back in 2002.

Some mild spoilers ahead for anyone who's yet to see the Jan. 24 episode, "My Struggle."

Though it's likely that most of the audience who tuned into the premiere of Fox's six-episode event revival did so with some familiarity for the franchise  — it has nine seasons and two movies under its belt — the hour expended little energy on catch-up. The alien-obsessed pair uncovered a new twist in their decades-long investigation into a global conspiracy, partnering with a Glenn Beck-esque conspiracy pundit (Joel McHale) and ultimately resumed their old gig that will take them through five more episodes. (The show hits its official time slot, Mondays at 8 p.m., ET/PT on Jan. 25.)

Creator Chris Carter, who wrote and directed the episode, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about how he wants the hour to fit into the bigger picture, his take on some of the critical flak the show has gotten and where he'd like to take the franchise next.

The premiere looks more expensive than the original series. Is that because it was — or because there's just more you can do with technology?

It's funny because it's not the most expensive episode. The second episode is. It doesn't seem like it, but the next one is very location-heavy and we used a lot of tools — cranes and camera equipment.

So no one flinches when you write multiple UFO sequences?

We built two out there. The one that disappears is a 9,000-pound object. It's incredible in person. But two days before shooting, it fell to the ground from the cables suspending it. There was a question of whether we'd even be able to shoot it on the day they were supposed to. And it was a miracle no one was hurt. We're so lucky because the actors were shooting very close to it. Somebody could have died.

What doubles for Roswell, N.M., in British Columbia?

We were about four hours outside of Vancouver. And, as I've come to expect in Vancouver, no one flinched. It's just "how do we get this done?" I actually didn't know the [Roswell] location existed. I wrote it, as I've done before, thinking we'd have to go to a rock quarry and paint it all red. The landscape is something I'd never experienced there, and it was absolute perfect.

Select fans have been seeing this episode since October. What's the gradual roll-in of reactions been like?

I could feel the love from Cannes to Comic-Con and the months that followed. It was very nice. Now, we've taken a couple critical hits, but I knew not everyone was going to like it. It was always going to land with some people and not with others. I'm very proud of the episode. I think it's got huge scope, huge paranoia and drives the mythology in a whole other direction.

Was it an easy choice to settle on the pacing of these six episodes?

I always wanted to bookend it with mythology and do the four stand-alones in between. I have some of the best stand-alone writers who've come to work on this show, so you really want to play to their strengths. It's also not dissimilar to the ratio between stand-alone, mythology and comedy that we had in the show during its heyday. We're not doing anything different. We're giving people what they've come to expect.

How did you land on Joel McHale as the paranoid conservative?

Joel came to my attention when someone showed me a video of him hosting the White House Correspondents dinner. He roasted everyone, including the President. He was so funny and had such great timing. I thought he would be perfect to play an Alex Jones or Glenn Beck character. They're funny themselves — and outrageous. I thought he could play the part — and, come to find out, he's an X-Files fan.

You've worked with Gillian and David a lot over the years, but the writers who came back have been away from The X-Files for 20 years. How easily did you get back into the groove?

They were largely responsible for what The X-Files became, so they had a natural take on the show. We had to update ourselves on where we were and how we wanted to begin — but beyond that, they just understand. They have the voices in their heads. They know how an X-File works. When we sat down, that shorthand was still there.

Was there ever a chance of any other past writers coming back?

I did meet with Vince Gilligan, but he was busy on Better Call Saul. Howard Gordon has multiple shows. Alex Gansa is busy with Homeland. Frank Spotnitz has two series. Those are my go-to guys. I'm happy for them all. I don't take pride in it, because their work is their work. And their success says more about them. They helped make The X-Files a success.

You've mentioned that you have a script for a third movie and a desire to do more episodes. Ideally, what's next for The X-Files?

I don't even know. Right now I just want to get great ratings and consider all of our options.

So what do you hope these six will accomplish?

I wanted to put the show in a present-day context, technologically, geopolitically and scientifically. I think you're really going to see how one and six work together. Six is cutting-edge. No one has ever done this on television. I just wanted to bring the show into what I would call a brave new world. I would call that our mission statement, but our mission statement is always, "It's only as scary as it is believable." It has to take place within the realm of extreme possibility.

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