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'The X-Files': Fighting the Future

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They appear like sentries every hundred yards or so on the dusty, winding back roads of Southern California’s Ventura Farms. Pink Day-Glo signs, stapled to telephone poles and trees, bearing one word: ”Patience.” A five-minute drive to the end of the line reveals this to be the title of an upcoming X-Files episode, the placards showing the way to a suitably eerie wooded lakeside, where a crew is lensing a few location scenes. But they might as well be advisory signposts, their message a watchword for X‘s upcoming season, which holds an uncertain future for the Emmy-winning drama, its reeling network, and, most of all, a legion of leery fans.

Much like some of the less fortunate creatures who have populated its paranormal tales, The X-Files enters the 2000-01 campaign a mutant, largely due to the phasing out of beloved costar David Duchovny and the attempt to fill his sizable gumshoes with journeyman character actor Robert Patrick. Patrick will star as FBI agent John Doggett, a hard-nosed career climber charged with leading the search for Duchovny’s Agent Fox Mulder (abducted by aliens in last season’s finale), but who could very well come to — gasp! — replace him as the gun-toting, flashlight-waving partner to Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully.

”I hope you write some nice things about me that will help win over the fans,” says Patrick, ”’cause I’d kind of like to help keep the show going, you know?” That’s not just Southern-fried humility coming from the Georgia native; it’s an acknowledgment of the extreme skepticism the actor faces from the show’s more, um, custodial supporters. ”I don’t expect the fans will like him right off the bat, because Scully certainly doesn’t,” says executive producer Frank Spotnitz. ”David is a terrific actor with a huge amount of charisma, so no matter who you put in there, some segment of the audience is going to be hostile.”

Mulder and Scully, Scully and Mulder — they go together like plausible and deniability. And certainly with the show’s more passionate followers, Patrick runs the risk of joining Bewitched replacement Dick Sargent in the annals of TV infamy. On the other hand, it might just help make a name for him other than ”that Terminator 2 guy.” Despite a tragicomic arc last season as a sicko gambler on The Sopranos and a résumé boasting 55 feature films, the 41-year-old actor has yet to escape his most infamous role as a cyborgian assassin in the 1991 Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster. ”A character like that is great because it gives you a career,” says Patrick, who lives in L.A. with his wife, Barbara, their daughter, Austin, and newborn son, Samuel. ”But it’s also like this thing.”

Ironically, Patrick’s emergence on The X-Files is largely due to Duchovny feeling that very same way — about Mulder. So Patrick could be trading one straitjacket for another — not that he or his new colleagues are complaining. ”There were a lot of actors who were suggested to us, but not a lot who fit the character we were writing,” says X creator Chris Carter, ”which was this hard-boiled cop, salt-of-the-earth Everyman, who was going to be a nonbeliever to the core.”

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