With the raucous cheers of fans still ringing in their ears, David Duchovny, Chris Carter, Mitch Pileggi and Kumail Nanjiani made their way from New York Comic Con's packed "X-Files" panel to meet with journalists about the upcoming Fox miniseries.
SPINOFF was part of a roundtable in which "X-Files" super-fan turned guest star Nanjiani sat down first. At the panel he'd just hosted, Nanjiani displayed a more comprehensive knowledge of the cult series than even its stars possess. Yet when he sat down, the comedian proclaimed, "You guys are disappointed because someone from ‘X-Files’ is supposed to be here."
This is rad! I didn't know we were going to get to talk to you.
Kumail Nanjiani: Yeah! I don't know why, because you guys want to talk to those guys [referring to Duchovny, Carter and Pileggi]. But they'll be here. You'll get your chance with them.
So how did you come to host the panel?
I did an episode of the show this season, so I knew the people involved. Fox just called me and was like, “Hey would you want to host a panel?” And I waited the amount of time I thought would be cool and not desperate [before responding].
So, five, six seconds?
I think I got to 30! And I said sure. I moved everything around. I'm missing a friend's wedding. I'm joking. I'm going to the wedding. But yeah, it was awesome.
What surprised you most about watching the first episode?
I was surprised by how good it was at balancing stuff for both newbies and people who are existing fans of the show. There's so much work to do, because they have to set the table again, but also move it forward. I was surprised in 42 minutes they were able to do all that. And also how big and epic it was. It was, like, the spaceship crashes and stuff is awesome.
So you're in this season. Did you audition? Yeah, I'm in an episode. No, I didn't audition. They wrote it for me because they knew I was a big fan of the show. So I got to do a part. It's a Pakistani guy. They sent it to me and were like, "Guess which part we want you for!" And I said, "the Pakistani guy?" For three months I knew I was going to be on it, but I couldn't tell anyone. 'Cause you know sometimes you tell someone something like, "I'm going to be on ‘The X-Files’!" And then it doesn't happen. So I wanted to have it done. I finished shooting at 4 a.m. And then I tweeted to everyone in the world.
The lighting is weird because there is a UFO right above our heads. pic.twitter.com/uCW9kTyCJL
— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) July 18, 2015
How was it there on the set?
I was there for three days. It was so wonderful. David knew -- David! -- of the podcast ["The X-Files Files"], and he watches "Silicon Valley," so he was aware [of who I am], and he was very kind and welcoming. And seeing him and Gillian together was fantastic. They have such a great rapport and relationship. And it's cool. I didn't just talk to David and Gillian, I talked to Mulder and Scully. I had this moment where I was like, “Oh, my God! I'm talking to Mulder and Scully right now!” There's a scene where she's like holding a flashlight and I called my wife [producer/writer/licensed therapist Emily V. Gordon] and was like, "I'm freaking out! Please talk me down. I can't get my lines out!"
Did Emily give you any good advice?
She said, just pretend it's another normal show. And I'm like, "I can't! They look like Mulder and Scully!" Then I actually recorded a small interview with them, but they wanted me to wait until January to release it. It was honestly David and Gillian talking about their least favorite episodes. It was four in the morning, and we were shooting. I was like, “No, talk about the good ones.” And they were like, “No! We want to talk about the ones we don't like.” And they were like “Remember that one?” “Oh, yeah, that one.” So I had a 20-minute conversation with them that will come out next year.
So are you, like, a new-level Lone Gunman?
No. I'm in one episode. The Lone Gunmen are coming back. They just confirmed that at the panel. But I'm a different type of character.
Are you in one of the four one-off episodes?
Yeah, 'cause the first and the last one are mythology, the middle four are one-offs. I'm in one of the one-offs written by Darin Morgan, who wrote my favorite episode, "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose." He wrote and directed it, so dream come true.
What do you think are the biggest changes between the original series and this miniseries?
In this one, I'm in it. In the last one, I'm never in it. It's interesting because when the show started, you had these teases: Are there aliens? Are there not aliens? And now the show was on nine years and a couple of movies, so we know in the mythology there are aliens. So I thought it was interesting that they just right off the bat with [the new season] … just right off the bat: “Yes, there are aliens. This is what they look like. Here's a big spaceship craft.” I thought it was interesting to be like, “This is the truth. This is what's happening. This is piece is missing.” I also think it's interesting how they use the Internet and how they use cell phones and stuff. The episode I'm in the Internet and cell phones play a major part in it. So I always thought, how do you do horror and sci-fi in the age of cell phones and Google? And they really tackle that head on. I thought that marrying technology with "The X-Files" is really interesting.
What do you love about the show?
I love horror/sci-fi and I love how grounded it is. And I like that it's about Mulder and Scully, really. It's about Mulder's quest, this thirst he has for the truth. And he's this underdog character, this one guy going up against a vast conspiracy. And I think that's the most relatable story in the world: someone facing insurmountable odds. Because we all feel that in our life … Scully is an amazing character because she's this very scientific person who now has to struggle with what she believes because of evidence that she's collected. So I think they're relationship is very compelling.
What filled "The X-Files" void for you between when it wrapped and now?
"X-Files!" I was just rewatching "X-Files." Old episodes.
Do you think the old show would have survived in the overly critical landscape of social media?
I think it's interesting, because "X-Files" was one of the first shows to have an Internet fandom. It started in '93, that's when the Internet was sort of starting to come to universities. So I actually have gone back and looked up old Internet conversations about "X-Files" from like '93, '94, '95. It's really interesting because it starts off just professors have it, so the level of discourse is very high. Everyone is very smart. All their signatures are there. It's all Professor Whatever! And then by like '95, I saw my first "lol" show up. And you see the Internet becoming a child. It's like Benjamin Button: It starts off smart and wise and is slowly turning into a child.
And now it's "all the feels" and GIFs.
Yes, all the feels. We're not at GIFs then because we don't have the bandwidth in '95 and '96. But people are shipping Mulder and Scully and Photoshopping Gillian's face on naked pictures. Like, that's all starting. I do a podcast called "The X-Files Files," where I talk about every episode. So part of the research for that, I look up old message boards.
Hosting the panel, appearing in the new season, is that all an ad for podcasting?
Oh, yeah. Totally. My next podcast is called "Marrying Jennifer Lawrence Files." Please don't put that anywhere. I'm married and I love my wife very much!
Off the record.
Oh! Off the record! That's the trick. That's right, you guys have a code.
Does this miniseries fulfill your desire for new "X-Files," or do you want Chris to keep it going?
I think for this moment it's just perfect. You do six episodes. You do it on TV so it doesn't have the expectation of the movie, doesn't need to make $100 million. It's on TV, so you can tell different kind of stories. If it was one movie, there'd be so much pressure. What story are we going to tell? Here it's six so you can tell different stories. I think it's perfect. And I think Chris has said he would love to do more of these sort of short runs, like a miniseries every few years or so. And I think that’s perfect. I'm excited to see these six. I had this amazing moment watching it. Behind me -- I was sitting in front of David Duchovny and Mitch Pelleggi -- and I looked at Emily, my wife, and I was like, "We're watching ‘X-Files’ in front of Skinner and Mulder!" It was so overwhelming.
Was Emily a big "X-Files" fan?
I've made her one. I've forced her. It was one of our vows of matrimony was "in sickness and in health, we're going to watch all ‘The X-Files.’"
After Nanjiani said goodbye, Duchovny sidled into his empty seat.
It sounded like you drove this project, like you called Chris [Carter] and said, “I want to do this.” Tell us about this.
David Duchovny: That's not true, though. He's joking. He's very deadpan. How did it happen? We've always talked about it. The three of us [himself, Carter and Anderson] talked occasionally about doing more. We did the movie in 2008, I think it was. And then there didn't seem to be any appetite from Fox for another movie. I assumed it was dead. People talked about doing more on television, and I'd say of course not, because I thought of television as 22 episodes, 25 episodes. I'll never do that again. I'll never do that again. So, I assumed it was dead. And then with the ascendance of cable and the new model of the cable season and the limited season run, and networks catching on to that idea…it became obvious to Chris and I that maybe we can do it on television. Maybe this is actually a really good format for telling a 10-hour story, an eight-hour story, a six-hour story.
Do you think having a more limited amount of time makes for a more impactful story?
Who knows what the right about of time is. I just know that I see the kind of storytelling that you can do over multiple hours. … There's a happy medium, where 25 is too many for a human being to create high-quality drama entertainment in a year. Maybe Aaron Sorkin can do it, I don't know. But if we can do six, if we can do eight, if we can do 13 -- even 13 seems to me like a lot.
How is doing "The X-Files" different in 2015 with conspiracy theories having new life in the wake of Edward Snowden? How does that inform the show?
I don't think about any of that kind of stuff when I'm working. I just kind of have to be in a cone of silence. I don't listen to what the fans want, and I don't say that because I don't appreciate the fans. I do. I just say it because I think our job is to make the show. The best show that we make is when we focus on making our show, and doing our jobs the best that we can, and not paying attention to if people want to see Mulder and Scully kiss and stuff like that. So in terms of the conspiracy stuff, I think that's more a question for Chris because he wrote the show. I didn't write any of this so I didn't put my head into that kind of thought process.
Have you thought about where Mulder's been between where the series left off and where the miniseries picks up?
No. I do my work, which is private and secretive. It's my prerogative to keep it private and secretive. I haven't come up with any story of what [he's been up to]. I mean, the broad strokes is what you know. You see that his marriage has not worked out. You see that he's living alone in some house in the middle of nowhere. You see he's not shaving. You see he's not going to work. You can fill in the blanks what's been going on.
You, Mitch and Gillian have worked together for so many years. What did you miss most about working together?
I think the amount of time that Gillian and I put in together allowed us to create the kind of working relationship that was very intuitive and instinctive. We kind of intuitively knew how to make scenes that were dry or about exposition also relationship scenes between a man and a woman or two people or whatever. I think that's one of the great things about the show is that we were able to spend that much time together and figure out how to do that…I think the great thing about the shows is that … it's not "Grey's Anatomy." I don't want to see Mulder and Scully on the couch at the therapist's office. But if we do our jobs well, there's going to be an aura of a relationship working or not working, even when we talk about aliens and the crap we talk about. So I feel like that’s magical, and that's a function of doing it for so long.
In the panel, Chris mentioned how you wanted to "punch (fans) in the face" with the first episode.
I don't remember saying that either.
That's a good line.
That one I'll take. The first one I was like, “What the fuck are you talking about?”
But talk about that, because the first episode makes it seem like a bigger show, really impactful and very of the moment.
I think there's two different answers, because one is as an actor playing that character the danger for me would be to run out and want to punch you in the mouth with difference. Like, “We're doing it different. This is a whole new thing.” In fact, the stronger move is to be the same guy. It has to be the same guy. It's the same character. Maybe he's got a little stubble, maybe he's fallen on hard times, but it's still the same guy. The other stuff -- the punching in the mouth stuff -- is really the money on the screen. What I thought Chris did really well in tweaking the mythology was to put everything that "X-Files" fans believe and turning it slightly. I think that's very smart. I think the show looks great. I wasn't even present for most of the spaceship stuff [for the first episode]. So, I thought it looked great.
Joel McHale's role is so big that it rivals those of you and Gillian in the first episode. Where you at all involved in the casting of that part? And can you talk about what Joel brought to the series?
I was slightly involved in the casting of that, but peripherally. I enjoyed working with Joel. I thought he brought a really good new kind of energy to that kind of Glenn Beck-ish character. It's a tough character to play, and I like what he did. I thought he did a great job.
Was part of your desire to come back to "The X-Files" a desire for resolution?
No, that wouldn't be my desire. I'm fine with things being unresolved. Resolution is an illusion anyway, isn't it? Closure? No, it doesn't exist.
Did it feel good to hear all those cheers [as the episode screened]?
It feels like the pencils [in Mulder's old office] got the biggest cheer of the night. That made me feel a little weird. It is. It's gratifying that people like the show so much. I just don't want to trade just on that. We didn't come back to just throw six in-joke episodes winking at your faves. I didn't want that. Chris didn't want that. Gillian didn't want that. So as much as we love the fact that people respond to what they know, we're also very interested in making it new. Otherwise, why bother?
"The X-Files" returns Jan. 24 on Fox.