Mitch Pileggi & Nicholas Lea

In conversation with Skinner and Krycek from The X-Files ...

 

Mitch Pileggi plays Assistant Director Skinner, Nicholas Lea is Agent Alex Krycek in the mysterious world of THE X-FILES. Fans have a very specific idea of what Skinner, the long-term boss of FBI Agents Scully and Mulder, is like. Round-rimmed glasses, over-starched shirts, and a cold demeanour, and Nicholas Lea is the man they all love to hate -- the weasel-like, shadowy character whose motives are almost always unclear. The transformation from well-to-do new partner for Mulder to a force for pure evil is gradual, and his is certainly one of the most well-drawn characters in the entire series. With these visions of the pair of them in your head, it's difficult to come to terms with them in real life. Both are easy going, dressed in jeans and causal shirts. If it wasn't for their striking features, you'd probably pass them by on the street.

Landing the role of Skinner was a case of third time lucky for Mitch Pileggi. On two previous occasions, he had auditioned to play FBI agents on the series, but when the original Section Chief, Blevins (Charles Cioffi) was unavailable for the episode "Tooms," Skinner was created. Skinner's been helping keep The X Files active, despite many attempts to shut them down. Mitch came to fame in the Wes Craven movie SHOCKER, playing the murderous Horace Pinker. TV work has included roles in KNIGHT RIDER 2000, DALLAS, and CHINA BEACH.

As for Nick Lea, he's appeared in such series as HIGHLANDER and THE COMMISH in guest roles. He made his first appearance in THE X-FILES as a survivor of a nightclub attack by a sex-swapping entity in the episode "Gender Bender."

 

That was enough to get him noticed, and director Rob Bowman immediately thought of Nick to play the part of Agent Alex Krycek in the episode "Sleepless." Since then, Krycek has turned from Goody Two Shoes into a double-crossing double agent. It's now 1996, and since I last caught up with the guys in October 1995, when the Cult TV Production Crew flew the pair of them over for CULT TV 1995, Nick Lea has been working on other projects, as well as making a couple of appearances in THE X-FILES.

"I filmed a new pilot, which is going to be picked up in the Fall (Autumn)," announces Nick. "It's called ONCE A THIEF, and it's Executive Produced and directed by John Woo. It's basically the story of three people who come from different backgrounds, my character being an ex-cop, the two others being ex-thieves, and w form an international crime-fighting group. It's sort of THE MOD SQUAD for the 1990s!"

And Mitch? Has he had time for anything else other than playing Skinner? "I have to keep myself available for the possibilities of Skinner being written into an upcoming show, and they've got me under contract now, so it's hard for me to really go out and book something else. If they need me, they need me, and I've got to be there." This being their second appearance in the UK, they seem to have acquired the roles of Ambassadors for THE X-FILES. I wonder if it ever gets boring answering the same questions over and over, having to deal with the media's obsession in asking what David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are really like?

"At times you're just tired of it," comments Nick, "but when we're not, you realise that different groups of people are going to be reading it, or seeing it, listening, viewing or whatever, and you want to make it interesting for them, too -- there's responsibility there to represent the show in a positive light. We both have a great loyalty to it, and I think that it's important to give it our best shot."

"Occasionally, when I get real tired, I just want to start making stuff up", jokes Mitch. So what's the best gag they've come up with? "That David's having a testicle reduction", Nick announces, straight-faced, and the pair of them then crack up with laughter.

We've seen Skinner get shot in an episode. Did Mitch think his number was up when he saw the "Piper Maru" script, where this takes place? "No, not at all. Chris likes the character and he's not going to kill him off...yet. I know that he realises the popularity of the role, and the writers like writing for Skinner, so I don't think that they would even consider it."

Krycek was once imprisoned in a UFO silo, seemingly with no chance of escape. But Nick does make a comeback from that. "Yes, and you can be sure I will keep doing so! I've been told I'm now over the death hump, because they were originally going to kill me - Chris Carter saw no other way that my character could go other than being erased, after having done so many awful things. I called Chris on the phone, a little irregular, I know, and pleaded for him not to kill Krycek, as I enjoy being on the show too much. Lo and behold he didn't. He said that I brought too much to the show to kill me off, which is something of a compliment. I didn't cry, though, to influence him - I didn't stoop quite that low."

But what about the silo he was in? It's a little bit difficult to get out of. "How Krycek gets out of that predicament happens in the following season, very early on". Some jolly japes had surmised Krycek had a key in the heel of his shoe. "I heard a better one", Nick remarks, "somebody suggested at one of the conventions we were at that there was a back door to the silo!"

The final episode of that third season was again a cliff-hanger. Were there any major revelations that Mitch could tell us about at that time? "Skinner pops up briefly in the last couple of episodes, and isn't an integral part to what is happening. What it's going to translate into for the beginning of Season Four, even we don't know".

What do they enjoy most about the UK, now that they've become regular visitors? Nick is gushing in his praise. "I really enjoy the people. I find them to be better educated and wittier."

"It's really vibrant here," notes Mitch. "We went to the theatre last night, and afterwards walked down the streets, and they were packed, the pubs full of people enjoying life."

Nick has family connections which add another dimension to his trips. "My heritage is English, so I'm proud to be back here. We went to the British Museum, and I was looking up my family in the books - pages and pages on it. I really enjoy it here -- at one point I was going to come over to live, maybe even try and get in at RADA - it's probably a little too late for that now. Life seems less complicated here. Another thing I didn't realise, when I went out for a run in Hyde Park, we come over to England thinking we're so different, that life is different, as we live on the other side of the world, but you watch people doing exactly the same things you're doing - Hyde Park looks so much like my home town. It makes you realise that people are the same wherever you go".

Both of them have come to terms with being recognised out on the streets. Mitch certainly has the presence not to be missed. Storyline wise, I note that some people reckon the series should stick to developing the conspiracy theory story, and not be distracted by other plotlines. Mitch ponders for a moment. "I think it's smart for them to continue having all these different avenues to take. You get the monster shows, you get the paranormal stuff, you've got the X-FILES mythology that revolves around the conspiracy. I think it's refreshing to not stay on one track too long, as the audience might get bored of that quickly. Every once in a while, throw in something different - it's very wise and astute to do so".

Nick knows what he would like to see. "A few more mythology episodes would help, because that would mean I could be in it a little more! The mythology shows are the backbone of the series. In STAR TREK, they're normally revolving around the same theme, finding a new life form or intelligence, but in THE X-FILES we go all over the map, both in terms of people and format."

A lot of people discovered THE COMMISH, when it was on Sky One, in which Nick was a recurring character, the easy going cop Ricky Caruso. "I did about two and a half years on that show. It was a great experience in terms of being in front of the camera and learning technique. It changed my life in a lot of ways - before I got that role I was just going from job to job, not really having enough money to be able to do what I wanted to do. You can be in an acting class all you want, but you don't fully learn until you get off that stage and in front of a camera".

I knew that guest stars in the early X-FILES had always been unknowns, at least that had been the rule up until this point. The reasoning had been that such a celebrity appearance would detract too much from the storyline (not to mention the possible ramifications to the budget!).

However, in the final episode of the third season, Roy Thinnes (who played architect David Vincent in the long-running 1960s series THE INVADERS is a guest star. Was this a conscious decision by series creator Chris Carter to pay homage to one of the inspirations of THE X-FILES? Mitch hadn't considered this before. "I honestly don't know, but you have to admit, it was a piece of very smart casting". Nick adds, "I know they were trying to get Darrin McGavin, who played KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, to have played Mulder's father. That would have been a real homage to the show's influences, but unfortunately he wasn't able to do it. I think Chris knows the legacy that THE X-FILES is going to leave behind, the excitement that it produces, and wanted to acknowledge the shows that motivate him from what he's watched in the past". Mitch liked sharing screen time with the one-time star of THE INVADERS.

"Roy Thinnes is brilliant, just wonderful. It was so neat working with him". Some people have suggested that psychological horror that was more evident in the earlier episodes of the show has been replaced with more horror of a graphic nature. How does Nick see it? "I think the show has become more violent. Why this is happening, I couldn't even begin to tell you. I've noticed it, but I also think the quality of the show has stepped up at the same time. When you're doing a series like this, you're constantly looking for new ways to excite your audience. The programme's evolving constantly, and it may well go back into more psychological horror - these things tend to go in cycles in long-running shows. They're still keeping up the wonderfully inventive storylines, but for instance that movie, SEVEN, it's fairly graphic, but still very good".

Speaking of clever shows, we move on to SLIDERS. Did Nick feel any remorse in passing up the chance to become a regular in the series? "There was certainly talk at one point about me joining the cast. Tracy Torme, the show's creator, called me up a while ago and told me he was under pressure from the network to do particular things in the series, which unfortunately didn't involve me. But he did want to have me back as a guest star."

And what next for Walter S Skinner? Where did Mitch see the role going? "They're opening up the character. He has an ex-wife who's a succubus, had a relationship with a hooker, and will continue to evolve. It opens up a whole bunch of possibilities. The episode where they spotlighted Skinner ('Avatar') was a real treat to do, and my favourite of last season".

And what was Nick's favourite from last season? "It's the one called 'Wet-wired', all about manipulation by the media. It was written by our special effects supervisor Mat Beck. My other favourite is 'D.P.O.' the one about a kid who attracts lightning. I mean, that's a story that doesn't work on paper, but when you see it, the performance by the kid makes it. I'm much like everyone else now - I sit home and watch the show."

Does Mitch ever put forward script ideas to the writers and producers? "No, I'm just too lazy. I come up with typical X-FILES character names sometimes - SAM CLUTCH, for instance. That's a character from my childhood - he was the bogey man who would feature in scary stories my mother would tell me. Stuff that had been passed on down my mom's family - maybe that might be the basis of a good episode..."

Indeed in the world of THE X-FILES, the unexpected is never too far away.


Interview conducted in 1996 by Alex J Geairns.

 

 

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