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Three Men and a conspiracy seek the truth solo in The Lone Gunmen

By Melissa J. Perenson

W hen we first met the Lone Gunmen, it was the first season of The X-Files, and they were introduced as the mismatched trio of computer whizzes and conspiracy-theorist friends of Agent Mulder. It was initially a one-shot stint, but the quirky characters proved so popular that they quickly became a staple of X-Files' stable of recurring characters. But it wasn't until season five that the Gunmen carried a show without the assistance of X-Files stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. And it took the season-six episode "Three of a Kind" to convince the writers of X-Files of the trio's potential to strike out on their own.

That was two years ago. Now, the Gunmen's series is a reality--and it's nothing like The X-Files. Part comedy and part drama, the show at its best moments can be likened to the humorous X-Files episodes of yore. Despite a respectable debut in the timeslot of its predecessor, Gunmen is having a harder time in the ratings on its usual night. Still, 13 episodes have been filmed--and though the future of the series may be uncertain, one thing does seem certain: The Gunmen will prevail. During the last week of shooting, we talked with the Gunmen--Langly (Dean Haglund), Byers (Bruce Harwood) and Frohike (Tom Braidwood)--to get their unique perspective on the series.

Every series evolves from its pilot. Have you seen that progression reflected in the scripts for Gunmen's later episodes?

Dean Haglund: You can see a real progression from the pilot through the series. They're making it funnier, and are logically thinking about what the show needs for each successive episode.

The subsequent episodes are stronger than the pilot.

DH: That's to be expected; the pilot's never as good [as the series itself]. What will happen is those people who saw the first one still have a lot of friends, and so I think word of mouth will start bringing them back.

Why do you think The Lone Gunmen struck a chord with fans when they appeared in The X-Files?

Tom Braidwood: I don't know. I think it's always been the aspect that we live on the fringe, yet we're pretty smart when it comes to new technology. Even though our characters are together, we're loners in an odd way, individually. But together, I think there's a certain group of people that likes that aspect of us.

Bruce Harwood: I really don't know why. I've puzzled over it.

DH: I have a thousand theories, none of them right. I, personally, am sick and tired of seeing gorgeous people on television day in and day out. That's not my reality. I see people of all sorts of walks of height and diversity. The show is diverse, and we represent all of those other people who never make it to television.

How has the balance of the characters been shaping out?

DH: Well, it seems that we're defining their roles more, because it used to be that we were all great computer hackers and men of action and all that sort of thing. But now it seems that I'm the computer hacker, or Langly is, Byers has become the floral center, and Frohike has taken over the role of babe magnet. The writers knew they needed a nemesis, so they brought in Yves Adele Harlow [Zuleikha Robinson]. And then they realized that we needed to explain all the stuff to. By bringing in Jimmy Bond [Stephen Snedden], we had somebody to slow it down, as it were. So we had to go back and explain things.

Dean, as a comedian by trade, do you find that you have to rein yourself in?

DH: I like to think of my show as a theatrical performance, rather than stand-up per se. I don't just stand in front of a microphone and talk about the difference between men and women and cats and dogs. I do more improv. So I don't find myself having to rein in anything, to tell you the truth, because like all comedies, it's about craft. I guess I am doing physical comedy, although Frohike gets to do pratfalls and things like that. I'd like to think it's balanced all out. Everybody's sharing the abuse. Once you see Byers in a Texas prison, there you'll see comedy coming from Byers [laughs].

TB: Sometimes we underplay the comedy, sometimes we feel that the writing might be forced, and we'll discuss it [with the director or the writers] and come to an agreement on how best to play it. They're very good at writing for our characters, but occasionally they'll write something that you just sort of have a gut feeling doesn't work for your character.

BH: Most of the early episodes, we were defining each of the early episodes by the large gag--whether it was Langly putting his arm up a cow's butt, or throwing up into a golf bag or something like that. I think one of the nice things is that's kind of smoothed away. Now, they're not trying to write big gags or anything like that, they're trying to write things that are funny through and through.

What would each of you like to see for your characters?

BH: For years, when I was playing Byers, I wore my wedding ring. Then they wrote scripts where I had romantic entanglements, and I realized that means that the character can't be married. Just to satisfy myself, because few people ever noticed I wore a wedding ring, I made this little fantasy up that my character had been married and then his wife left him, because he's been hanging out with these two losers. So I'd like to see my ex-wife show up in a future script.

TB: I'd like to see us get a new office, above ground, with windows. We have quite the cave we live in.

BH: That's not going to happen.

TB: I like the conspiracy aspect of the show, and it would be really fun to get a complex conspiracy. We haven't had a really complex conspiracy yet, so that would be interesting to do, something that's a little more serious. It's not that we don't like the comedy aspect of it, but I think it could be kind of fun, if it were really clever.

DH: It would be arrogant of me to say, since the writers have already done things for my character that I would have never dreamed of. But, just coming from a day of shooting inside our Volkswagen van, I'd like to see a bigger van, to tell the truth. That thing starts to get on your spine after a while.

What is it like working on your own show, as opposed to doing the occasional drop-in scenes on The X-Files?

TB: It gets tiring, no question about it. Usually we're there from the first [setup] of the day to the end of the day, and it's definitely tiring. [But] they're tending to keep our days pretty reasonable, to 12 or 13 hours. It really comes down to pacing. You're on day eight, in the thick of it on one show, and the next day--bang--you'll be in thick of something entirely new. One day you're shooting one script, and the next day, you're on to an entirely new script, with a whole new set of concepts and ideas, and you've got to get your head wrapped around that.

Do the three of you feed off of one another?

DH: There's a lot of fun on set. Each of us are bouncing ideas off of [the others]. It's cool, because it doesn't seem like the first season of a show at all; it seems almost like it's our own season nine, because we've been playing these characters for eight years now.

TB: A lot of it is the fact that we've worked together so long. We pretty much treat each other as equals. There's a lot of give and take, and a lot of help, not just acting lines, but technically to help the camera and help each other, so everybody is in the frame.

The Lone Gunmen used to have the reputation of being the most paranoid guys in town--rivaling even Agent Mulder. What happened to the Gunmen's paranoia?

BH: We're not that paranoid anymore. Nor do we have locks--anybody can walk in. There's a very nice paranoid moment, though, in the "Water for Octane" script, the episode where we're looking for the water-powered car, when Frohike's standing at the door and thinks the mailman is going to try and shoot them. I think we get flashes of [their paranoia]. When we were originally conceived, we were hiding in the basement and hence paranoid; we didn't go outside, we just gathered information and came up with all of these wild theories. Now, we're really active, and you can't be paranoid and active, or that active, at the same time.

Before Gunmen, what were you guys up to between X-Files episodes?

TB: After X-Files left, I started getting into directing, because I couldn't take any long-term series [due to X-Files]. I did some second-unit [work], and that led into some directing. And then last year, I produced an hour-long series in Canada, Da Vinci's Inquest.

DH: I've been doing standup. And all sorts of crazy things, like working with Drew Carey at the Improv in L.A.

BH: I'm not as multitalented as these guys; I've been doing the usual rounds of auditioning up here [in Vancouver].

Can you give us a sneak peek at some of the stories still to come on The Lone Gunmen?

DH: There's the superintelligent military chimp one. And the tango episode will be a good one; it deals with drug smuggling and tango dancing in Miami. And Skinner [Mitch Pileggi of The X-Files] shows up, and this time we think he's on the wrong side of the law, and we're shocked.

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