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Chris Carter taught us to trust no one, but wants us to trust The Lone Gunmen

By Melissa J. Perenson

I f there's a conspiracy afoot, chances are that Chris Carter is in the thick of it. From the producer's flagship series, The X-Files, to the darker depths of Millennium and the virtual reality of Harsh Realm, conspiracies and Carter go hand in hand. Even X-Files spinoff The Lone Gunmen--the latest series from Carter and his 1013 Productions--alludes to a government conspiracy. But unlike his other series, Gunmen is chock full of humor.

Humor fits the mismatched trio of The Lone Gunmen well, since theirs is a Mission Impossible-styled series of adventures and misadventures. Byers (Bruce Harwood), Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Langly (Dean Haglund) were introduced in the first season of The X-Files by writers Glen Morgan and James Wong. Over the years, their alternative sources and hacking talents have proven a valuable asset to agents Mulder and Scully. Now they get to strike out on their own as we follow the escapades of these three geeky crusaders for the people.

Carter, who serves as one of the series' executive producers, took a few moments out from his schedule to talk about the genesis of Gunmen--and the future of The X-Files.

At what point, creatively, did you realize that these characters had the potential to stand on their own?

Carter: They started out as very peripheral characters in the X-Files universe, and yet they've also built up a cult following. They weren't really fully developed characters for the first four years of the show, though. They were used as sort of explaining geeks. In season five, when we were making the X-Files movie, we didn't have David and Gillian's time or services at the beginning of the shooting schedule--so there was an opportunity to do [an episode with] these three guys. I think it really was the idea at that point of Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotnitz and John Shiban to do that. They had so much fun fleshing out the characters, and creating a world where they had come from, because we had to tell some backstory that fleshed out the characters. They liked it so much that we did a second one, and I think it was after that second one that everybody realized there was storytelling potential with these three guys.

What made the timing right to do a Gunmen series now?

Carter: It was after the unfortunate fate of Harsh Realm. We were talking about what we might do next, and there had been talk about The Lone Gunmen as a possible pilot for a series, and I think that's really when it started to gather momentum--when we had some time on our hands.

Byers, Frohike and Langly are unlike one another in many ways, and their differences underscore their respective functions. What are their roles?

Carter: We see Frohike as the kind of pugnacious sort of muscle of the group, if you will. We see Langly as the techno-geek, and we see Byers as the heart and conscience of the Lone Gunmen.

The pilot's conspiracy elements seemed reminiscent of the early years of The X-Files. Will we see more about an overarching government conspiracy in Gunmen?

Carter: They're different, though. X-Files is really about a government conspiracy to keep the truth about the existence of extraterrestrials from the American public. This is really dealing with more corporate conspiracies, and more about power in America, and the abuse of it.

What is your goal with the series?

Carter: We're trying to entertain people and make them laugh. It's a comedy. It's supposed to be fun and lighthearted. But also, inside, there is a lot of heart, too. And it really comes through from the Gunmen; they care about these people, and they care about the issues they're trying to protect.

As much as this is a comedy, it also straddles a fine line between comedy and drama. What's your approach to coming up with the stories?

Carter: Every story should start with what is a kind of comedic premise. The log line should make you laugh. Then, inside that, you have your obvious, comedic situation. And inside that, that's where the drama goes in. So, it begins with a comedic premise, and then finds its dramatic elements.

How are you working to ensure that the actors don't take things too far over the top, comedywise?

Carter: It's the tone. It's really in everybody understanding the director, all of the producers to the actors to everyone working on the show--everyone has to understand what the tone of the show is. Luckily, with the casting of Stephen Snedden, we have somebody who can play an outrageous lunk without taking it past the point of believability.

Tell us about the casting of Zuleikha Robinson as Yves Adele Harlow, the Gunmen's mysterious rival, whose name is an anagram for Lee Harvey Oswald.

Carter: We got to see hundreds of beautiful women [laughs]. And she was so amazingly beautiful as she walked in. Plus, she blew us away in terms of her performance. She'd come in and read originally with an American accent, and we talked to her a little bit about where she was from. She said she was raised partly in England, and I said, "can you do this with a British accent?" She did, and we knew that was exactly what we wanted to do.

When will we learn more about Yves?

Carter: We're keeping that a mystery, which will be somewhat unveiled or revealed in the season finale, which is episode 12 past the pilot. So the mythology of the Lone Gunmen really comes through Yves Del Harlow, because we get to learn about her background and what she's up to. Because right now, through the first many episodes, her motives and her alliance with them, or with whom, remains a mystery.

You've done 12 episodes of Gunmen's first season. What about the future?

Carter: It's as simple as the Nielsen ratings coming in. But it's also a matter of, if the Fox television network stands behind it, and because a new show is a little like a colt--it's got to stand on its own two feet. Everybody needs to watch out for it.

Will there be any crossover between X-Files characters and Gunmen?

Carter: We're going to have some [of that] this year. At least two.

What can you say about Mitch Pileggi's crossover role as Skinner?

Carter: I can't give it away, it's too funny [laughs]. Let's just say that he and Jimmy Bond will become very close.

Who else is going to cross over?

Carter: Stay tuned.

How hands-on involved are you with the production?

Carter: Actually, my level of involvement has been less than it has been on any other series. What's happened is that, it's really the four of us--myself, Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban--doing these two series. And I've really focused on X-Files and this new character, John Doggett, and the absence of Mulder and the return of Mulder; those are things I've been very involved in. And I've been doing the lion's share of the writing for The X-Files. So The Lone Gunmen has fallen largely to the efforts of Frank, Vince and John.

Speaking of The X-Files, what can you say about what lies ahead for the series?

Carter: As of last Sunday night's episode, Mulder returns. But to the shock and horror of agent Scully, he is not doing too well. In fact, the title of the episode is "This is Not Happening." That takes us to a cliffhanger, which brings Mulder back for the rest of the episodes for the season. I'll tell you that all of the remaining episodes, which begin in April, take place in present time, so people should not be too overly concerned, or should not expect the worst, when they see Sunday night's episode.

How hard has it been this year to maintain a balance between the characters?

Carter: It's always difficult--even when you've got all of the elements, and you've got them all the time. This season, it was a different show in many ways with Mulder missing. We've sort of corrupted the dynamic. But bringing in someone like Robert Patrick actually created a new dynamic, which I think is great. Now, we're creating an even different dynamic for the show, with Mulder's return and the addition of Annabeth Gish as Agent Monica Reyes. So far our experiments have worked wonderfully. We continue to pay very careful attention to how these things are working, so that X-Files may go on to season nine, and we still maintain our ability to do what we have always hoped to do, which is feature films.

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