Duchovny plays it cool. ''Sometimes I have to fight, because [directors] say, 'Here's this dead body, how come Mulder's not more emotionally involved?' Everybody's aghast, and I'm detached, like, 'Look at those beautiful maggots.''' He's more scientist than G-man: ''Like in the episode with the liver-eating squeeze guy who could elongate himself through chimneys, the director wanted me to be mad about this horrible serial killer. I was like, 'No, this is an amazing discovery! He's not morally culpable, because he's genetically driven.' I judge no one.''

He doesn't have time for much deliberation. The X-Files must pack about 70 scenes into an hour show that's shot in about eight days. The two stars shoulder most of the scenes, with special effects often added later, and their performances are necessarily spare. Given a roomier rehearsal schedule and fewer lines to learn, such guest stars as Carrie Snodgress and Brad Dourif have contributed attention-grabbing one-shot characters (Snodgress as the mother of an abducted child, Dourif as a convict-mystic). ''My character comes across better in reaction to them,'' says Duchovny. ''Thank God for the guest stars.''

Ratings permitting, The X-Files could surpass the L.A. eatery Babylon as the spot for actors to be seen; and it's just as attractive to directors, who change from episode to episode. ''They encourage cinematic stuff,'' says Michael Lange (Northern Exposure, Sisters), director of the Salamander Man episode. ''Instead of shooting at a normal eye level as the Salamander Man takes the gun, I tilt up, and now I'm shooting up his nose almost, and it was kind of like very disorienting. The show's got a certain ennui that appeals to me, the film noir-y movies of the '40s look, an undercurrent of tension and anxiety 'cause of all the weird things going on. ''

The odd mix of subjects, however, makes it hard for viewers to grasp X-Files' gist quickly, which could be fatal. Even Fox didn't get it at first: The network spurned the series after Carter's first pitch — which led him to flesh out his concept and return a few weeks later. Then Fox bit, first ordering a pilot, then 13 shows, and eventually 22 — a whole season's worth. In January, the show got the nod for a second season. Even though The X-Files makes most shows that traffic in the uncanny look like boring slop for dumb suckers, Carter admits, ''I wish all the people who watch Unsolved Mysteries would watch us.''

But The X-Files just might be closely watched in high places. Soon after makeup artist Fern Levin had finished her lurid simulations of roasted flesh for an episode about arson, she got a real-life scare. ''I phoned home, and my apartment house was up in flames,'' she recalls. The blaze stopped just short of her own apartment. ''The script was leaking into my life!'' says Levin, smiling. ''I question everything now.''

Originally posted Mar 18, 1994 Published in issue #214 Mar 18, 1994 Order article reprints

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