The X-Files entered our world for its original nine-season run on September 10, 1993. Much later, in 2016, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reprised their roles as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, but it only lasted two new seasons (giving the show a total of 11 seasons). What can we say? There’s just something about ‘90s TV shows that can’t be beaten. The X-Files is by no means an exception, at least in that regard. But the show did prove exceptional in other ways.
The X-Files became one of the biggest cult shows ever made. The series peaked with 27.34 million viewers in 1997. As remarkable as the numbers were, the goings-on behind the scenes weren’t as smooth. The premise for the show, for one, was a notoriously difficult idea to sell. It had to be pitched to multiple networks (multiple times) before it was finally picked up. And once it was, the drama onscreen bled into the lives of those off-screen.
In line with the dark plotlines, let’s look at some of the stranger facts of The X-Files…
Look, the show isn’t for everybody, but it made a much bigger dent than anyone could have predicted. In EW’s 1993 fall preview, the magazine wrote, “This show is a goner.” The show’s niche appeal and its Friday night timeslot was cited as one of the reasons why it wouldn’t make it through its first season. David Duchovny himself even expressed doubts about the show, telling the magazine, “I’m not home on Friday to watch TV myself usually.”
But, as we know, The X-Files became a cult success and sent its two lead actors into stardom. And it managed to change the future of TV forever in the process. Today, it’s proven to be one of the longest-running sci-fi series in the history of television. So, EW, take that.
When casting began for the series, network executives weren’t sure what exactly would make the show a success. But one thing most executives could agree on is: Sex sells. And who was the sex icon of the ‘90s? Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson, of course. So, in an effort to draw in viewers, Anderson was proposed for the role of Scully.
“They were looking for someone, bustier, taller, leggier than me,” Gillian Anderson said in 2008. Pamela was “more familiar to them in terms of what was on TV at the time.” The showrunner, Chris Carter, ultimately went with Gillian. She was one lucky lady because at first, as Gillian explained, “nobody trusted that I could do anything. I had nobody of work behind me at all.”
After the show’s success, Fox and Chris Carter were set to make a heck of a lot of money. Before the seventh season, Duchovny filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox, claiming that Fox had cheated him out of more than $25 million. The lawsuit declared that Fox sold the rights of the series to its own affiliated companies at lower prices than it should have.
Also, the lawsuit alleged that Carter conspired with Fox to cheat Duchovny out of money he rightly deserved. The case was eventually settled out of court, and Duchovny was paid $20 million. And this was just one of the financial issues that plagued the series…
Gillian Anderson revealed that she had to fight in order to get paid the same amount as Duchovny, not once but twice. The first time was when the show originally aired, and the second time was when it came back for the reboot. According to The Daily Beast, Anderson was fighting just to stand on equal ground with her co-star.
It ended up taking three years before Anderson finally closed the wage gap. Then, when the series was about to be revived in 2016, Anderson was shocked to learn that she was being offered half of what Duchovny was. In interviews, people said to her, “I can’t believe that happened… that is insane,” to which her response was, “That was then, this is now.” But, “then it happened again! I don’t even know what to say about it,” Anderson stated.
Anderson and Duchovny may be close these days, but while they were working together in the ‘90s, they didn’t get along well. “The crucible of doing that show made monsters out of both of us,” Duchovny admitted, revealing that only when they filmed the 2008 movie, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, did they really click. “We were never close,” Anderson claimed, despite having “spent more time together than we have in any other relationship.”
When asked if she ever hated Duchovny, Anderson said that at times, yes she did, just like “any brother and sister, husband and wife, co-worker and co-worker forced to spend that much time together under such strenuous circumstances.” Duchovny said he felt the same way. For a while, rumors swirled that the two were actually dating. Anderson, however, denied that she was ever romantically involved with Duchovny.
We didn’t notice it on-screen, but there’s actually a huge difference in height between Anderson and Duchovny. Duchovny is 6 feet tall, while Anderson is just under 5’3”. This height gap created multiple filming complications. In order to get both actors’ heads in the frame, crew members would use a prop that they dubbed “The Scully Box.”
Once on the Scully Box, Mulder could have a normal on-screen conversation with Scully. It got to the point where Anderson was so comfortable on the box that she even forgot about it. She told US Magazine in 1997: “It’s funny, sometimes I forget I’m on the box. Like, I’ll have this very serious moment in a very serious scene, and I’ll turn to the camera and fall right off the box.”
Ah, when life imitates art… or, rather, art imitates life. There were a bunch of government documents containing details of more than 12,000 UFO sightings from the 1940s and 1950s, which were declassified in 1978. Recently, these documents were released to the public and put online, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request.
The collection, known as Project Bluebook, lasted from 1952-1969. The project did not make any connection between the reported UFO sightings and extraterrestrial life. Then, when the 11th season of The X-Files was set to begin, the CIA provided the producers with 10 UFO sightings – five cases for Mulder and five for Scully. On Scully’s list were titles like “Scientific Advisory Panel on Unidentified Flying Objects,” and Mulder’s list included “Flying Saucers Reported Over East Germany.”
One of the appeals of The X-Files is its ability to make viewers feel uneasy. Each episode has a certain sinister undertone, but one stood out from the rest. “Home,” the second episode of Season Four, was the only episode in the whole series that featured a warning of “viewer discretion advised.”
That episode was the first on broadcast television to receive the TV-MA rating. It was even banned from network television for three years and aired only one other time since. One producer reportedly said that it was “awful, even for us.” So, what’s the deal? Well, let’s just say that the episode starts with a deformed baby being buried alive in a field. Yeah…
Remember him? William B. Davis was cast as Cigarette Smoking Man in the pilot episode, but he was never supposed to be a recurring character. “You had one job” was something that could be said to Davis, who was solely hired to smoke a cigarette and look threatening. Well, he was apparently so good at it that he was placed in an additional 48 episodes.
Neither Davis nor the producers could have seen it coming – that he would become the show’s main antagonist. When he had a big scene with Mulder, who comes after him with a gun, it was a turning point where the producers decided his character is actually really interesting.
Fun fact: Davis quit smoking 20 years before taking on the role, after smoking for 25 years. He was eventually given herbal cigarettes for the role, but for his first few appearances, the cigarettes were real.
One thing fans of The X-Files loved was the whole “will-they won’t-they” between Mulder and Scully. It added a touch of drama to the sci-fi show. But what many fans don’t know is that Fox executives originally wanted to create a love triangle, which involved Scully’s boyfriend. It was the writers’ attempt to create the love interest that they felt was missing between Mulder and Scully.
“I was adamant from the beginning that Mulder and Scully should not be romantically involved,” Chris Carter said. Scully’s boyfriend was to be named Ethan in the pilot. In fact, the scenes with Ethan were even shot, but, of course, were eventually cut out. Carter explained that they were cut because the scenes with Ethan would just slow down the scenes with Mulder and Scully together.
You know who Clarice Starling is – the character from The Silence of the Lambs. Carter had a lot of inspiration for the premise of the show. He told Smithsonian Magazine in 2008 that all the shows from his childhood, “All the scary shows,” like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Night Gallery, and Outer Limits, served as inspiration.
For Scully, Carter was inspired by Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning film: “It’s not a mistake that Dana Scully has red hair like Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs,” he said.
Fun fact: In a fourth season episode, “Never Again,” Jodie Foster (who won the Oscar in 1992 for her role as Clarice) provided the voice of Betty, who was a homicidal tattoo. Yup.
Chris Carter was also inspired by a public survey of all things. He knew he wanted to make something scary and unsettling, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He didn’t land upon a specific idea until he was shown the results of a public survey.
In 1991, John E. Mack, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, and psychiatrist, published an analysis of a 1991 Roper Poll survey. The piece stated that at least 3.7 million Americans might have been abducted by aliens. This survey intrigued Carter and inspired the concept of the show. “Everybody wants to hear that story,” Carter told Entertainment Weekly in 1994. The way he put it was: “Abduction is tantamount to a religious experience.”
Did you know that Duchovny graduated from Princeton University in 1982 and earned a Master of Arts in English Literature from Yale? Well, it might be why he wanted his fellow Yale graduate, Jennifer Beals, to play the role of Scully. According to the Flashdance star, Duchovny tried to pick her up on several occasions. She took an acting class once when none other than David Duchovny walked in the door.
He said to Beals, “I swear I am not stalking you!” Ultimately, they became good friends. When he was doing The X-Files, Duchovny spoke to Beals about taking on the role of Scully, but she thought Anderson was much better suited for the part than her.
During Season Two’s episode “Humbug,” there was a scene where Scully is supposed to act like she’s eating a cricket. The plan was for her to put a fake cricket in her mouth, but Anderson insisted on using the real thing. According to Anderson, the crew “spent thousands of dollars making a fake one.”
But she also said she saw a guy named Enigma (who was in the show) eat 200 crickets right in front of them, so it seemed silly for her not to try one. But all the vegetarians and vegans alike can relax, because Anderson revealed that she didn’t eat it – she spit it out when she heard “Cut!”
Today, it’s fairly common for TV shows to hire scientific consultants, but back when The X-Files first premiered in the early ‘90s, it was pretty much unheard of. Anne Simon, a microbiologist at the University of Maryland, was a science advisor for the show. In 2001, she published a book called The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites and Mutants.
Simon said that it’s important to get accurate science in these kinds of shows because “people don’t know the difference between good science and inaccurate science.” For example, cryogenically preserved heads talking to each other is absurd, but what she would have a problem with is if the show depicted GMO food making people sick.
Chris Carter told Twitch that he was “a child of the Watergate era,” so he questions authority and mistrusts it; “that was in my blood.” One of his favorite movies is All the President’s Men, and, to him, the most amazing thing about it is that we know the outcome. So, watching the film is where the entertainment value lies.
Carter cited a number of films and TV shows that helped inspire The X-Files’ style and tone. Among them were Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Parallax View, Prime Suspect, Twin Peaks, The Thin Blue Line, Three Days of the Condor, and of course The Silence of the Lambs.
Fun fact: In real life, Duchovny is a skeptic, but Gillian Anderson is a “believer.” She admitted to being intrigued by Psychokinesis, ESP, and telling the future: “I love that stuff.”
People have speculated that Carter’s goal in creating Mulder and Scully was to overthrow gender stereotypes, but he says that wasn’t a conscious plan. To Carter, making her the scientist was something that “just made sense” to him, in “an instinctive way.” He also said that he always envisioned a man and a woman. He explained that he is always interested in strong female characters.
For him, Scully is at the center of the show: “She is the skeptic in all of us.” It turns out that Scully had a big influence on TV. According to Anderson, Carter really fought to have her on the show. It was different at that time in TV. And it happened to have an international effect on women.
In April 2018, a report from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media stated that the character of Dana Scully served as a powerful role model for girls and women who watched The X-Files. The skeptical doctor was someone who inspired women to enter STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers.
In the world of entertainment, scientists are often portrayed as white men in white coats, working alone in labs. But Scully stood out in the ‘90s. Before this report, there was merely anecdotal evidence which pointed to the “Scully Effect,” of inspiring women to seek careers in science. Now, thanks to this report, there’s some hard data to prove it!
Before Vince Gilligan brought us Breaking Bad, he helped create The Lone Gunmen (the X-Files spinoff) and even logged several years as a writer on The X-Files. One of his many credits on the show was the Season Six episode called “Drive,” which stars our dear friend Bryan Cranston as Patrick Crump, the “Monster of the Week” who kidnaps Mulder.
It was Cranston’s performance that lingered in Gilligan’s mind over the years, and eventually led to him being cast as Walter White. “You don’t have to like him,” Gilligan said of White’s character. “But you need to sympathize and feel empathy and sorrow for him at the end of the hour.”
Other future Breaking Bad stars who also appeared on The X-Files are Aaron Paul (Jesse), Dean Norris (Hank), Raymond Cruz (Tuco), Danny Trejo (Tortuga), and Michael Bowen (Uncle Jack).
The Lone Gunmen was the conspiracy-focused spinoff series of The X-Files, but it isn’t remembered by many people. That might be because it only ran for a single 13-episode season back in 2001 before it was canceled. The trio of conspiracy theorists who ran their own magazine became a “thing,” which led to a whole new series.
One of the more interesting aspects about the spinoff is that the pilot episode had some striking resemblances to real-life events. In the episode, the government conspires to hijack an airliner and almost hit the World Trade Center. When 9/11 happened, Executive Producer Frank Spotnitz admitted that the first thing he thought of was The Lone Gunmen. However, nobody else noticed the connection.
In Season Two, Scully spent a few episodes on an alien ship after being abducted. The story was only cooked up because Anderson became pregnant during the first season. Fox wanted to replace her with another actress, but Carter was adamant on keeping Anderson. He also had no intention of writing a pregnancy storyline for Scully.
So, they hid her growing baby bump by shooting her from the waist up only or using props to block her belly. But, by the end of Season One, her pregnancy was becoming too obvious. Carter decided to change the narrative, which resulted in fewer scenes with Scully. She was abducted for three episodes so she could go on maternity leave.
The famous whistling effect in the series’ theme tune was inspired by the Smiths’ song How Soon is Now, a track from their 1985 album Meat Is Murder. The track was also used in the intro of another popular supernatural-themed show: Charmed and the 1996 paranormal thriller The Craft.
After creating the iconic whistle, composer Mark Snow found himself struggling with a melody for the theme song of The X-Files. It was his first attempt at a tune for a sci-fi show. Fortunately for Snow, a happy accident occurred. In frustration, he put his forearm down on the keyboard, unintentionally turning on the delay effect, resulting in an unnerving echo. Combined with the whistling noise, the opening music began to take form.
For the fans, it’s pretty hard to imagine anyone other than Steve Williams in the role of Mulder’s secret contact X, but the truth is that the part was originally offered to another sci-fi star: Natalija Nogulich. She was in Star Trek: The Next Generation and even filmed one scene before being replaced. Carter explained the switch: The chemistry just wasn’t there with her co-stars.
The character of X was designed to replace Mulder’s previous F.B.I informant who went by the name of Deep Throat. Williams portrayal of X was positively received by both critics and fans alike. He even made it into Entertainment Weekly’s top 20 Black Sci-Fi Icons back in in 2009, sitting at number 17.
Manners was best known for his directorial work on The X-Files (between 1995 and 2002) and Supernatural. He also wrote and produced episodes, and was nominated for four Emmy Awards in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998 (along with other crew members). He passed away from lung cancer in 2009, a year following the second X-Files movie.
In honor of Manners, the X-Files staff added an Easter egg tribute in an episode from the 2016 revival series. In the episode “Mulder and Scully meet the Were-Monster,” Mulder sits against Manners’ real-life gravestone, which has the phrase “Let’s Kick It in the Ass” engraved on it.
Remember the episode with the red Speedo? It was actually Duchovny’s idea. In the Season Two episode titled “Duane Barry,” Mulder gets out of a pool in a skimpy red Speedo (you know, European style). It’s not really surprising that shots from that episode have since made their way around the internet and even served as a computer background for some Duchovny/Speedo fans.
Duchovny explained that not only was it his own personal swimsuit, but sporting it was also his suggestion. “Chris Carter wanted me to wear board shorts ’cause he’s a California guy. I said, nobody swims laps in board shorts,” Duchovny stated. And so, he told Carter, “let me wear my own suit. And I have regretted it ever since!”
Anderson and Duchovny were never that into the mythology of the show. Both actors admitted that it was hard for them to fully understand what was going on during the show’s run. “The mythology stuff I never followed,” Anderson said. Duchovny added, “Well, they were making it up as they went along,” which led to gasps as well as applause from the audience they were speaking to in a Q and A.
Duchovny explained that when Anderson got pregnant and had to go away for a few episodes, it was the motivator of “the whole mythology thing.” He said Carter never had the intention for it to be part of the show, “let alone the part of the show that people liked the most.”
Before his breakthrough as Mulder, Duchovny worked as the narrator and host of the long-running Showtime soft-core TV show Red Shoe Diaries. He also played a transvestite DEA agent on Twin Peaks. Then, after landing a supporting role in the Charlie Chaplin biopic (directed by Richard Attenborough), he got the lead role on The X-Files.
Duchovny stayed with the series until 2001, when he appeared in Season Eight’s first half but didn’t show up again until the series’ finale in 2002. His role as Mulder earned him four Emmy nominations. After The X-Files, he appeared in Return to Me, Zoolander, and Evolution. But most people know him from his starring role as Hank Moody in Californication, which earned him four Golden Globe nominations and one win.
Anderson was originally interested in marine biology, but started acting in her freshman year of high school and later joined Community Theater. A year before The X-Files debuted, Anderson moved to Los Angeles to audition. After a guest role on the Fox series Class of ’96, she was sent a script for The X-Files.
Anderson won an Emmy, a Golden Globe and two Screen Actors Guild awards for her role as Scully. The show’s assistant art director Clyde Klotz became her husband (although they later divorced). Anderson went on to appear in feature films like The Mighty, Playing by Heart, and The House of Mirth. She also co-starred in The Last King of Scotland and played the main character on the NBC series Hannibal.
It’s no question that Patrick is best known for his iconic role as the villain T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Once Duchovny started distancing himself from the show in Season Seven, Carter immediately contacted Patrick to audition for the role of John Doggett. He went on to play Ray Cash in the Oscar-winning film Walk the Line and Vernon Presley in the mini-series Elvis.
Patrick has been in films such as We Are Marshall, Identity Thief, Gangster Squad, Safe House, and Trouble with the Curve. As for the TV world, he’s been in Last Resort, The Unit, Burn Notice, From Dusk ‘til Dawn, Sons of Anarchy, True Blood, and Scorpion.
Pileggi started acting when he was a high school student in Turkey. Then, in Texas, he performed in local theaters and continued acting in small roles in B-Movies. He also had guest roles on Dallas and Walker, Texas Ranger. He landed the role of FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner on The X-Files – a role he had to audition for three times.
It was originally meant to be a recurring role, but he eventually became a regular cast member. Pileggi also met his spouse onset. His wife, Arlene Warren, was Scully’s stand-in. The couple married in 1997, and between 1998 and 2002, Warren appeared on the show as Skinner’s assistant a number of times. Later on, Pileggi played Colonel Steven Caldwell on Stargate Atlantis as well as Law & Order: SVU, Criminal Minds, and Supernatural.
Gish portrayed the paranormal believer on the show. She started her acting career in the late ‘80s, and played Julia Roberts’s sister in Mystic Pizza. She also had a major role in the 1989 comedy Shag. She then portrayed Urilla Sutherland in Wyatt Earp. After The X-Files, Gish guest starred on The West Wing as Martin Sheen’s eldest daughter.
In 2006, she got a major role on Brotherhood, which lasted three seasons, after which she co-starred in the TV miniseries Bag of Bones in 2011. In 2013, she joined The Bridge and guest starred on Sons of Anarchy. She, too, is married to a former X-Files crew member, stunt man Wade Allen.
Despite his breakthrough role as FBI agent Alex Krycek on The X-Files, Lea’s first big role was on the TV series The Commish. It was on that show that he landed his first and minor guest appearance on The X-Files as Michel. The producers were so impressed with his performance, that once he auditioned for the role of Alex, he landed the role.
He appeared in 11 episodes between 1994 and 1996 and became popular with fans. In 2006, he starred on the series Kyle XY and was a lead actor on the Canadian TV series Whistler. Lea also guest starred on NYPD Blue, Burn Notice, Sliders, Highlander: The Series, Judging Amy, Supernatural, Arrow, and CSI.
Long before he became the Cigarette Smoking Man, William B. Davis was a well-respected actor in Canada. During the ‘60s, he trained in England and directed theaters for five years. He then became assistant director at The National Theatre of Great Britain. In the ‘80s, he founded his own acting school, The William Davis Centre for Actors Study.
Since The X-Files, Davis has appeared on Stargate SG-1, Smallville, Supernatural and Continuum. It was in the ‘70s that he quit smoking, never anticipating that he would be become the smoker on a popular ‘90s TV series. Davis actually used his famous character to assist the Canadian Cancer Society in its campaign to combat smoking.