Another <i>X-Files</i>? Why Some Roles Sink Hooks Into Actors (and Fans)

Last week, David Duchovny told Jay Leno that he, co-star Gillian Anderson and creator Chris Carter are "always on board" to make a third X-Files movie. In fact, he said, "You could wheel me out. I’ll play Fox Mulder forever.” Something about that exchange left me scratching my head. Was this the same David Duchovny who abandoned the show before its penultimate season?

Way back in 1999, Duchovny mused the cult-hit series could go on without him, telling a newspaper, "I'm sure they'd hire a good actor," while admitting he’d miss playing Mulder. The actor has had a mixed relationship with the character, and with The X-Files franchise. It's strange to see him so unabashedly eager for a return to chasing aliens through cornfields after so many years of equivocation.

Or is it? Plenty of stars have trashed their biggest career triumphs in genre films and television shows, only to circle back around and return to the same well later in their careers. In 1986, William Shatner delivered his famous "Get a Life" monologue on Saturday Night Live, telling an audience of fake devotees that Star Trek was "just a TV show," and that fandom was a "colossal waste of time." Only last year, Shatner made a documentary about Trek fan culture. Of course, the Trek films netted a good deal more money for their stars than the original TV show, and Shatner has never really left Captain Kirk behind.

The last X-Files installment, 2008’s I Want to Believe, grossed an anemic $68 million, opening in the shadow of The Dark Knight (still, that’s more than twice its estimated budget). But considering the reception Duchovny’s subsequent films have received -- The Joneses brought in just $7 million, and Goats has a rating of 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes – a new X-Files film must be looking pretty good about now. And Duchovny might be thinking about his long-term career: When he's in his 80s, I'm sure he'd like Oscar host Quvenzhané Wallis to do a bit about Fox Mulder in her opening number.

Speaking of long-term, Carrie Fisher has said yes to reprising her role as Princess Leia, despite writing in her memoir Wishful Drinking about her discomfort with that whole metal bikini incident, and the intense fan response that followed the release of the three iconic Star Wars films. When Fisher writes "George Lucas ruined my life … and I mean that in the best way possible," I could imagine Shatner or Duchovny saying the same thing.

It's impossible to know what these actors are thinking. Are they looking for money? For the attention of fans who have dwindled over the years? Immortality? When David Duchovny is gone from this world, his obituary will have one paragraph about Hank Moody, and three about Fox Mulder. There are characters that are great to play, thought-provoking and insightful -- and then there are those that hook into people and create fans for life. I would imagine that kind of power is addicting and repulsive at the same time.

Of course, there are some genre actors who never, ever come back to the roles that made them famous. Amy Jo Johnson is primarily known for playing the Pink Power Ranger, but she was uncomfortable with the intensity of the show’s fans, and went on to dramatic television series (like Felicity and Flashpoint). Alec Guinness, had he lived to see this latest batch of Star Wars films, would have been unlikely to join the cast. He has been quoted as saying the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi was "not an acting job" – he received an Academy Award nomination for his performance -- and that the dialogue was beneath him. (Yet he recognized a hit when he saw one, and shrewdly negotiated a royalties deal that made him a wealthy man in his later years.)

It will be a long time until a third X-Files film sees the light of day. It's nice to know that Duchovny is willing and able to come back to the character that made him famous, whatever his reasons for doing so. It's possible that with the success of Californication, which scored record ratings last month, it's not such a scary thought to be stuck playing the same alien-chasing, brow-furrowing, Scully-rescuing FBI agent for one more film.

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