Interview by David Eimer
'I could easily fall in love with Scully'
For a man who has made millions out of exploiting his paranoia, Chris Carter is surprisingly calm and reasonable in person. The creator of The X-Files, which is now shown in more than 90 countries, Carter has the deep tan and shoulder-length hair of the dedicated surfer and in his white T-shirt and jeans he looks out of place in the smart Beverly Hills hotel in which I meet him.
Appearances can be deceptive, however, and in the five years since The X-Files made its debut he has acquired a reputation in Hollywood as a Svengali who presides over every aspect of his show with the dedication of the true control freak.
"I'm pretty driven, but I hate the word ambitious," responds Carter. "I'm not a megalomaniac. I'm interested in doing what I've done, which is to create something that is successful and keeps a standard of quality through its run."
In between working seven days a week on the series - he has written almost a third of all X-Files episodes so far - he has found the time to set up and co-write the movie spin-off The X-Files - Fight The Future. For Carter, it was a logical step up from the TV show. "I don't think it's that audacious to be making a movie; it lends itself to a movie format. It was just coming up with a big enough story, something that was also a part of the TV series and not separate from it and didn't take the energy away from the show."
Few figures behind a TV show have been so closely identified with their creation as Carter. This is perhaps just as well, since the show's two stars, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, who play Mulder and Scully, two FBI agents who spend their days trying to expose a government conspiracy to hide the truth about the presence of aliens on Earth, have made it clear that they want to leave the series when their contracts run out. That will leave Carter alone to cope with the fans and their incessant questions and bizarre websites. (LOL! Like this one? ;)
Carter is a convincing and fluent salesman for The X-Files, but even he has difficulty explaining why its updating of the conventions of horror and sci-fi has been so phenomenally successful. He is inclined to give a lot of the credit to the characters. "I think Scully is a person that I, as a man, would be very attracted to. You could fall in love with this person very easily. Mulder is a person who I'd be very admiring of because of his monastic life, his discipline, his single-mindedness, his refusal to give up, his pursuit of his goal, his passion. To my mind, those are all very noble qualities."
In truth, though, the fans seem to respond more to Carter's shadowy picture of modern America than to the characters alone. Mulder and Scully move through a world where government is a dirty word and mysterious bureaucrats are forever seeking to obscure the truth from ordinary citizens. This world of conspiracy reflects the effect that the fall of President Nixon had on Carter. "I was mesmerised by that event and then by the movie All The President's Men, which I think is one of the best movies ever made."
At the time of Watergate, Carter was a teenager in Bellflower, a blue-collar suburb of Long Beach, in Southern California. While his contemporaries indulged in normal teenage pursuits ("they were mostly thinking about getting laid") he had other things on his mind. "Watergate rocked my world. It shook me just at the time I was starting to develop opinions about politics . . . All of a sudden everything changed, the country was shaken and so was its faith in its highest authority. I think that really shaped my opinions about leadership, government institutions and capitalism."
The example of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All The President's Men inspired Carter to study journalism at university. After graduating in 1979, he spent five years editing Surfing magazine. "I was a surfer and I was looking for a way not to join the responsible, adult world," he says with a smile. "I got to travel the world, I got to learn something about running a business, something of working to deadlines and, because I had to write incessantly, I got a lot of experience and discipline at doing the hardest part of writing, which is putting your butt in the chair and keeping your fingers on the keyboard. When I left there I made the rather improbable leap to Hollywood. But for me and the people who knew me, it wasn't so improbable. I was always a fan of movies and I wanted to write fiction."
He landed a job at Disney developing sitcoms and spent the next eight years learning the skills of writing for television. "They take a long time to learn," he says. "There are really two different kinds of energies at work in a television series. There's the original creative burst, the inspiration, and then there's this thing which I think Robert Graves in Goodbye To All That called maintenance energy, which is really figuring out how to take something that is ongoing and keep it tuned and humming. In some ways that's much more difficult than the original thing."
The inspiration for The X-Files was a survey in 1991 that revealed that 3.7 million Americans believed they had been kidnapped by aliens. Against such a background, it is hardly surprising that the series attracts so many viewers.
For an alarming amount of people The X-Files is more like reality than sci-fi.
Carter himself is ambivalent about whether there is anything out there, although Gillian Anderson's opinion is that the Universe is just too vast for there not to be. Carter's interest lies more in paranoia and his masterstroke is his insistence that his plots be presented in a low-key, deliberately muted style. Nothing is ever really determined. The result is that the audience is essentially teased into watching every week in the hope of finally getting some answers.
He is the first to admit that The X-Files is not quite as fresh a concept as many believe.
"You take what works and you patch it together and I think some of the best episodes of The X-Files have been very liberal in their borrowing from some of the classics," Carter says. "If you look at an episode such as Ice from the first season, It is basically a lift from The Thing.
"With the episode Little Green Men, you can look at the Carl Sagan book Contact and see the similarities. I think there have been lifts from different elements."
As well as writing, Carter also directed four episodes of The X-Files and, ultimately, he sees his future as a mainstream movie director. First, though, he has to cope with a sexual harassment suit that has been grinding its way through the courts in Los Angeles since 1996.
Carter, who is married to a fellow writer, Dori Pierson, is named, along with Twentieth Century Fox, which produces The X-Files, in a complaint filed by Judith Fairly, a former script co-ordinator on the show. She alleges that he offered to make her pregnant, that he held meetings in strip clubs and was known around the production office as "the walking orgasm". He denies her accusations.
"People tell me that it is the price of success," he says. "This is an area where people aren't appreciating what is going on and what is driving it.
"I'm talking about this in a very general way; I'm not talking about my lawsuit but a suit where you have to prove or disprove that someone was offended. It's very difficult to prove a negative. It's a very new area of law and as it's being applied, it's also being created."
Perhaps that is why Carter insists that he is definitely more insecure now than ever before. The insecurity seems only to help his writing, though, and he insists that even after five years he still finds Mulder and Scully fascinating.
"I'm still interested in their lives and how they have progressed and what they know. It's how you continue to find facets and avenues of discovery and how you play with their belief systems.
"It's how you torture them a little bit and how you reward them and how you really take them through what the audience goes through, which is the ebb and flow of disbelief."
Stars on aliens
Professor Richard Dawkins, Oxford University biologist and author of Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder: "I don't watch The X-Files. Each week it poses a mystery and offers two rival explanations, the rational theory and the paranormal theory. And the rational theory loses.Let's not go back to a dark age of superstition and unreason, where every time you lose your keys you suspect poltergeists, demons or alien abduction. There is certainly nothing impossible about alien abduction in UFOs. One day it may happen. But it should be kept as an explanation of last resort."
Professor Paul Davies, physicist. His new book, The Fifth Miracle, deals with whether life can exist elsewhere in the Universe. "I do watch it and, yes, I think there is life elsewhere - though I don't think we are being visited by ET. I strongly support the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. We may well share this wonderful Universe with a myriad of extraterrestrial life forms but while we are patiently looking for them, let's keep our feet planted firmly on the ground."
Trevor Bayliss, OBE, inventor of the clockwork radio: "I occasionally watch. I like an amusing gag, like anyone else. But I don't make a point of catching it every week. I don't think you can dismiss talk of aliens or extraterrestrial life. In fact, I am sure there is intelligent life elsewhere. But I think lots of spooky incidents will eventually be explained by science, because there are new discoveries being made all the time."
John Humphrys, presenter of the Today programme: "I've seen it once and I thought it was really daft. I don't think there are any aliens out there. That is like asking whether God exists _- it seems silly to address that question because on the one hand we look breathtakingly arrogant if we dismiss the possibility, but on the other hand how do we reach conclusions?quot;
Philippa Forrester, presenter of the BBC technology programme Tomorrow's World: "I have never seen it. I do believe in paranormal phenomena and extraterrestrial life, because I have heard too many stories and not enough explanations."
Kriss Akabusi, Olympic sprinter turned television presenter and committed
Christian. "I don't watch it. I'm not interested in speculative sci-fi.
I don't believe in extraterrestrials of the two-headed, funny -eyed variety,
but I think that people of any faith or creed believe that there's more
going on than meets the eye."