TV Article

X Appeal

The spooky show starring David Duchovny builds a cult following by following the occult

''I had a dream about a week ago,'' Gillian Anderson reveals in hushed tones, during a break on the Vancouver set of Fox's drama The X-Files, ''a nightmare where I was shot at point-blank range, and it was really weird 'cause I couldn't say anything.'' Her eyes widening, Anderson continues, ''When we were doing the scene just now where I get shot, I remembered (the weapon in my dream) was a very similar gun. It was really scary. Often when I read the scripts I get freaked out, creeped out.''

As FBI agent Dana Scully, Anderson plays a rationalist who party-poops the paranormal theories of her partner, agent Fox ''Spooky'' Mulder, played by David Duchovny. In real life, it's the other way around: Duchovny is skeptical and & Anderson enthusiastically open-minded. ''Psychokinesis appeals to me,'' she confesses. ''ESP, telling the future, I love that stuff.''

She's on the right show. The X-Files — which follows Scully and Mulder as they hunt for answers, however strange and implausible, to the FBI's unsolved cases — has plenty of standard shoot-'em-up action, but it's also the eeriest show on network television. A very loosely reality-based flight of fancy, it's the series with the best chance of skyrocketing from nowhere to the Twin Peaks cult-hit empyrean. Though The X-Files dwells in a chilly ratings-cellar time slot, Friday nights at nine, it has the potential to get as hot as The Twilight Zone once was, by blending science and the supernatural to scare the pants off smart people.

Many of the scripts are inspired by actual events: For example, a report by a London researcher who grew an extra limb on a salamander's back helped inspire X-Files creator Chris Carter's episode about a man with a salamander-like hand. ''I'm trying to play with real scientific ideas,'' Carter explains, ''like Crichton cloning dinosaurs.'' A former Surfing Magazine scribe who has written and produced four previous shows — none of which made TV history — Carter, 37, burns to chill the spines of people who aren't true believers in space invaders and spoon bending; he wants to shake their faith that such things just don't exist.

Yet there are viewers who will insist the tales are firmly rooted in truth, even when agents Scully and Mulder exhume a teenager's grave to see if he had been the victim of experiments by aliens. The show originated when Carter read Harvard professor John E. Mack's commentary on the 1991 Roper Survey on UFO abduction, which suggested that at least 3.7 million Americans may have been shanghaied by extraterrestrials. ''Everybody wants to hear that story,'' says Carter, who pitched the series to Fox shortly thereafter. ''[Abduction] is tantamount to a religious experience.''

Divine guidance couldn't have nabbed Carter a more ambitious cast. Anderson, 25, an award-winning Off-Broadway actress, hopes to make the most of her break. ''It's a complete learning experience for me — the pilot was only the second time I'd been in front of a camera,'' she says. Since agent Scully, like Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs, is desperate to impress her chauvinist-pig FBI superiors, Anderson's gritty determination fits the part.

As for Spooky Mulder, Duchovny says, ''An obvious choice would be to make him an oddball, a mad professor.'' (Actually, Duchovny, 33, was an English literature teaching assistant who was sane enough to quit Yale grad school and go to Hollywood in 1989.) But what makes Mulder work so splendidly is Duchovny's ironic, abstracted, soft-spoken demeanor: He resembles a deadpan Richard Gere who's made a pact with the devil to trade 10 percent of his good looks for an extra 40 points of IQ. Notes Carter, ''It was David who pointed out correctly that if he were a nerd with pocket mechanical-pencil protectors, you wouldn't be interested. But a smart, educated, perfectly sane guy can get you to believe outrageous things.''

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