SPOILER WARNING! This week's episode of The X-Files, "Plus One," discussed at length below.
Wait?! Did MSR (Mulder/Scully Romance) fans just see in "Plus One" what they've been hoping to see since the FBI agents lip-locked at the end of Season 8? Damn right they did, and all of that relationship goodness was mashed inside a classic-style X-File involving super creepy, Hangman-playing twins, Judy and Chuck.
In case you didn't catch it, the tour de force performances of both "Little Judy" and cranky Chuck were both played by actress Karin Konoval. And surprise, this dual role is actually Konoval's third separate appearance on The X-Files. In 1995, she played Madame Zelma in "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," and returned a year later to play the twisted matriarch, Mrs. Peacock, in the uber-dark episode "Home."
"Plus One" represents not only Konoval's triumphant return to the series, but it also marks veteran director Kevin Hooks' first time directing for The X-Files. He's directed over 50 seminal TV series, from 24 to Lost, but The X-Files always eluded him until now.
To get the dish on everything going on in this episode, we talked to Konoval and Hooks about bringing creator Chris Carter's story to the screen.
Let's step into the wayback machine first off, and let me ask you how it was you came to guest-star in two classic episodes of The X-Files more than 20 years ago?
Karin Konoval: I think it was a single audition for the fortune teller on "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," but with Mrs. Peacock, there was an audition and then there was three callbacks after that before it finally happened.
"Home" still gives people nightmares. How did it impact you?
KK: What an amazing role, Mrs. Peacock. I know it was a very frightening episode for many people. It was also very frightening for me to shoot, because I'm very claustrophobic and, of course, they had to build a coffin box that exactly fit my body. I had to be under the actual bed there. Phave said, "What do you think it is that scared people so much?" I've always said, you'd have to ask people individually what scared them, but for myself, I know that I was so scared under that bed that when they pull Mrs. Peacock out and I'm hollering, that was actually Karin just hollering and expressing all the fear and panic I felt under the bed. (Laughs)
In the years between, you have been a very busy character actress, including stunning work as Maurice the orangutan in the new Planet of the Apes movies. But when you hear that The X-Files is coming back, did you have any idea you might be asked to come back and play again?
KK: After "Home," Glen Morgan, who wrote that episode, cast me in a feature film, and I worked with him for the first time. He's just one of the finest gentlemen you could hope to meet, as is Chris Carter. I did a feature with Glenn, and then he cast me in two of his TV series, Tower Prep and Intruders. I so enjoyed being with him and the crews who work with him, and the team he surrounds himself with is just such joy. It was when we were in the middle of Intruders he said, "What else would you like to play?" I half jokingly said, 'I've always wanted to play a man on screen.' I think he stuck that in the back pocket of his brain somewhere, and we left it at that. I'm not someone who goes chasing jobs down. As the interesting work shows up, I do it. I heard The X-Files was back and all of a sudden, this past summer, it came up that there was a role that they really were interested in me for. I was sent eight pages of sides from the script with a scene for each [character]: Nice Judy, Nasty Judy, Nice Chucky, and Nasty Chucky. It wasn't like an audition, per se, but Chris wanted to know that I could convincingly transition from a female to a male.
What a great challenge!
KK: It was a wonderful gift to me as an actress. I spent a couple of days working by myself at home with these eight pages of script and the four characters, and I found each of them and dressed them and figured out how to do fast, quick makeup changes, and then did this test tape audition with my agent. We sent that in. I had such fun doing that. Really, by the time we sent that tape off, I knew I'd landed each of the characters in my gut, and then Chris was in agreement with that, I guess.
How much of the twins changed from that audition to the episode?
KK: What was so wonderful is that Chris and his whole team, is that it all originated from what I did in my test tape for them. Actually, even the wonderful SFX artist, Bill Terezakis, went one step further for my test tape; I had pulled my hair back, and tried to disappear it. Bill decided to just let my hair be. I was like, "Not even a wig?" And he was like, "You don't need a wig." The makeup is actually very minimal and allows me, the actor, to do my full thing. The hair job to glue my big hair back was considerable, and then there's the mustache, the sideburns, and a little dusting of five o'clock shadow. Bill crafted these more masculine earlobes for me, because my earlobes are very delicate and feminine. It's literally the smallest bit of prosthetic, and then the eyebrows are just drawn on; otherwise, I'm not wearing makeup as Chucky. That's just me.
Was there any backstory that Chris provided you, or did you create one, because I could have watched a whole episode about how those two came to be.
KK: No, actually. I start with the script. I learn the script cold, word for word. Chris' scripts are so beautiful, and there's no gratuitous words. Everything you need to know is in there. As I learned for the test tape, the four scenes, for Judy-Judy and Chucky-Chucky, those began to give me something. I went looking for where do each of the leads come from physically? I had to find their physicality, just like I had to find Mrs. Peacock's physicality, or Maurice's, as the more extreme character. I actually determined for myself that it felt to me like, nice Judy led from her left shoulder, sort of sideways into the world, and all just very scared of everything, especially the other side of herself. Then Nasty Judy, like, she just leads from the chest, like, "You want me, you know you want me," and this changed the physicality that way. Then nice Chucky's just like, "Everything's fine by me, whatever," so it felt like a stomach lead. Nice Chucky's just sort of relaxed in his body. Then Nasty Chucky felt like taking Nice Chucky, but shooting with a knife or a laser from the left side of my forehead, so Nasty Chucky's just in your face, like, "This is what you want? What do you want?" And each of those physicalities created a voice.
Did any other layers form in the shooting of it?
KK: As we were filming, I decided to make one of them right-handed and one of them left-handed. With Chucky, you saw the disaster at his house, so I thought I'm going to make him right-handed, because I'm left-handed. If I write right-handed, it's a bit more of a scrawl. So then I made Judy left-handed because it would be a cleaner script.
How was it working against GIllian and David?
KK: We just had a great time. I can say that doing the scenes between Chucky and Mulder, David Duchovny is an extremely funny man. He's got a twinkle deep in his eye. So much was shot in very tight close-up, so I could see that twinkle in his eye coming many a time, and I thought, "I'm not going to crack up. I am not going to crack up!" The rhythm of those Chucky-Mulder scenes was just a delight to play.
And now you can say you have three classic X-Files episodes on your resume!
KK: What a beautiful gift, hey? It's a gift for Chris to write this and let me do this. Kevin (Hooks) was just so tremendous throughout and so appreciative. These are wonderful, wonderful people, and Glen carried this in his mind and passed this on to Chris. This is really beautiful stuff.
Kevin, you've directed just about every modern classic TV series of the last three decades except The X-Files. When you heard it was coming back, did you make it a priority to direct one?
Kevin Hooks: Yes, I was probably one of the few handful of directors in Hollywood who had not directed an episode of The X-Files, so there was a yearning on my part. I feel like I had missed something very significant, and when it came back, I was really excited about that. I didn't know that I would get a chance to do it, but I was excited that it was back. And then Chris reached out to me and asked if I'd be interested in doing the show. I thought it's not every day that you get the creator of the show to call you on the phone and ask you to be a part of it. So I said, "Absolutely!" and we went up to Vancouver.
As is often the case with The X-Files scripts, they move around in the production order or they change a lot. Was "Plus One" always the episode you were assigned to direct?
KH: Actually, the episode that Chris and I talked about was slightly different. I think originally, there was a racial component in the script that he wanted to tell, and I guess during the course of development of this season, that idea went by the wayside. So, honestly, when I got to Vancouver and got the "Plus One" script, that was the first time that I realized that the idea that he and I had discussed earlier in the summer had been scrapped or delayed, or what have you.
Surprise! So what about "Plus One" grabbed you creatively?
KH: Yes, they caught me by surprise, but what I immediately responded to with "Plus One" was that it felt like classic The X-Files. Everybody who read it in preproduction, and in all the meetings, that's what people were saying about the script. I was really excited about that. Then, in terms of the things that really got me excited, I was hot to address the doppelganger of it all, from a technical and emotional standpoint. That was something that was going to be a unique challenge and one I hadn't faced before.
Then, secondarily, when I met Karin Konoval, I was absolutely thrilled. Her performance is just nothing short of amazing in this episode. I was really excited to work with her. When she told me her experience on the Planet of the Apes movies, and she started to discuss the physicality of these different characters, I really got excited because I realized that she was going to bring even more to these roles than I could ever have anticipated. I thought the first time we met with her, "Oh this is going to be a lot of fun."
Doppelganger stories have been around a long time, but we're in a post-Orphan Black world now, which really raised the bar in terms of multiple performances and blocking those portrayals in a kinetic way. What was your goal in using that trope in this episode?
KH: I did a lot of research, and our visual effects supervisor was really instrumental in helping us understand the technicalities of it, because it's something that I hadn't done before. I think the key to it was that we wanted to make sure that we could move the camera. We really tried to create and design shots that had both characters, or the same actor in the same shot ,and also be able to move the camera. Traditionally, you see split screens and the audience is way out in front of that. Over the shoulders, across doubles to the actor and then back. We've seen that before. I did look at a lot of Orphan Black sequences to just see how they handled it. I thought they did such a magnificent job, and it really was very helpful in terms of how I wanted to approach these sequences.
David mentioned how much he enjoyed this episode. How did you work with him in terms of making it fun for him. He certainly fights himself, which is very cool and something that he hadn't done before.
KH: Like any show that you go to where you have not worked, in this case David and Gillian, you want to create a sense of trust that is going to give them a comfort level and an ability to accept the input that you're giving them. So, over all, that was my goal. Fortunately, a lot of the doppelganger stuff, particularly David's fight, was later in the shooting schedule. He really had some time to get to know me a little bit and understand what my thoughts were and what I was trying to do. He really was enthusiastic about trying to get what we wanted to do and to really make it fun for the audience.
That really was trust, not only of the doppelganger sequences with him, but also as it related to the intimacy of the story between he and Gillian. It was paramount that trust be established and that, at the same time, they understood that I did not want to get in the way. I wanted to have them feel free to offer their experience of the last 10 years, because that's really what the show is all about. They know a lot more about it than I do. It was really about trust and establishing that.
So let's talk about the Mulder and Scully of it all, as the episode gives us these wonderful intimate sequences that this fandom has literally been waiting to even partially see for the entirety of this series. They are together, for real, in a bed with what Mulder calls "afterglow"! How did you approach how much to show?
KH: It's interesting because sometimes the most intimate of scenes turn out to be the most mechanical and technical scenes that you can do. We had the doppelganger scenes, which I think everybody can see how technical that is. But the irony of it is that the scene in the bed with them was about as technical as it could be. It was all about what you could see, or couldn't see, and the body language was extremely important in terms of how they responded to each other, and how they touched each other, and where Mulder's hand was when he touched Scully. What we wanted to do, obviously, was preserve the surprise and the reveal for the next scene which is a very quick cut of Mulder waking up and getting out of bed to go to the bathroom and that's the scene you realize "Aha! I see what's happened here." It turned out to be quite a technical scene. It's funny how that worked out.
I'm sure that David and Gillian had their own thoughts about their characters, so did they have a lot of say about what felt comfortable and what was the best way to express that?
KH: Right. That's the interesting thing about coming into a long-running show like The X-Files, which is that everyone involved in it has so much to offer. I wanted to make sure that I exhausted as much of that as I possibly could and really give myself every opportunity to be successful in these relationships. Even though the reality is, yeah, there was a lot of dialogue about that, there was even more dialogue about how to deal with the fact that these characters were 20-some-odd years older than when we left them. They are older people and we have some very delicate dialogue about children and the desire to have more children in that scene, so there was a lot of input from David and Gillian in terms of what both of them, particularly Scully, would be feeling in that moment. It was really a revelation, for me, to watch them work with Chris from a script standpoint in that scene, and to find a happy medium in terms of what that scene was going to be and how it turned out.
Do you have a favorite scene from the episode?
KH: Ultimately, I probably would have to say that it was the scene in the bedroom with the two of them because that was the scene that was really grounded in the mythology of the series. Those scenes are the most fun to do because they're the most challenging. As I said, there's so much subtext and so much information that is stored up to prepare for a scene like that that it's always a real pleasure to have those kinds of moments in the episode.
The X-Files Season 11 airs on Fox, Wednesday nights.