The quirky spinoff aims to capture ''X-Files''' finicky fans

By Mike Flaherty
Updated March 02, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
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Dean Haglund, Bruce Harwood, ...
Credit: The Lone Gunmen: Andrew Brusso
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The Lone Gunmen — Messrs. Langly, Frohike, and Byers — debuted in a 1994 ”X-Files” episode called ”E.B.E.” (which found agents Mulder and Scully on a cross country chase after a downed alien — make that ”Extraterrestrial Biological Entity”). It was meant to be a one off appearance for the characters created by ex ”X” producers Glen Morgan and James Wong, but the Gunmen proved so popular that by the following year they’d become recurring comic relief, usually in ”X”’s heady ”mythology” episodes. ”They were inspired by the kind of guys you’d meet at UFO conventions,” says creator Chris Carter. ”They became a good way to get information [to Mulder and Scully] without having to go to X or Deep Throat [the agents’ usual informants], and everybody liked them. We thought they were funny, wonderful geeks.”

In 1997, they starred in ”Unusual Suspects,” a flashback episode documenting the formation of the group and the conspiracy busting newsletter they publish in their warehouse lair. But it was their starring performance in the action packed 1999 ep ”Three of a Kind” (wherein the Gunmen try to infiltrate a confab of defense contractors in Las Vegas) that proved the bumbling crusaders ready for prime time.

”We’d heard for years from fans that we should do a Lone Gunmen spin off, but we couldn’t figure out how,” recalls creator and executive producer Frank Spotnitz. ”Then we saw this episode and it was so successful and so much fun, we [realized] these guys don’t just have to work behind their computers; they know all kinds of high tech gizmos and gadgets.” At the time, Carter’s Ten Thirteen Productions was preoccupied with ”X” and the ill fated 1999 series ”Harsh Realm,” but when the latter met ”an untimely and unfortunate death,” says Spotnitz, ”Lone Gunmen” was a go.

”I think that we were there to show that there are people more paranoid than Mulder,” says Bruce Harwood, who plays dapper Gunman John Fitzgerald Byers, a disenchanted former FCC suit who left that gig to embark on a Superman like quest for ”truth, justice, and the American way.” He’s joined by Dean Haglund’s loose cannon computer hacker, Richard ”Ringo” Langly, who claims to be forsaking a dotcom fortune to take up the cause; and Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood), a grizzled crank who boasts a wealth of tactical experience (and attitude) honed from his ”fight the power” struggles of the 1960s. Braidwood, who came over to the other side of the camera after a stint as an assistant director on ”X,” says of his alter ego, ”He lived through that whole period, [so] he serves as a kind of grouchy guide.” He adds, rolling his eyes, ”Not that they listen?”

Although the Gunmen are a kookier, more alienated variation on Mulder and Scully, their targets are considerably more earthbound. ”I think of our series as being in a parallel universe to the ‘X-Files,”’ says Harwood. To that end, ”Gunmen” will eschew aliens and the paranormal to pursue other kinds of monsters — covert government operatives, Nazi war criminals, corporate tycoons, and diabolical scientists, to name a few. For his part, Haglund’s happy that the trio will avoid some of ”X”’s icky excesses. ”We won’t see anything coming out of anybody’s neck or stomach,” he says. ”Everything’s been fairly dry. I’m thankful for that.”

Given the boys’ scant experience at carrying an hour of television, Carter felt the ensemble of ”Gunmen” needed to be expanded — not to mention sexed up a tad. (Notes Harwood, ”Three guys hiding in a [warehouse] — you could see a potential thinness there.”) Enter pretty woman Zuleikha Robinson and even prettier man Stephen Snedden. Robinson plays mercenary spy Yves Adele Harlow (whose name is an anagrammatic tribute to Lee Harvey Oswald, whom some might view as the show’s namesake), a lithe, mysterious stunner designed to contribute a bit of femininity and danger. ”Yves is the serious undercurrent of the show, the mystery,” says Robinson. ”She kind of hops in and hops out, delivers them their information, gives them their stories.”

If Yves is like a cross between Dark Angel and Emma Peel, Snedden’s character, the effusive Jimmy Bond, is equal parts Jay Gatsby and Jim J. Bullock. A dim, patriotic stud with a heart of gold and a head full of hay, Bond uses his life savings to bankroll the Gunmen’s newspaper and tags along with them on their escapades. Cognizant of ”X”’s highly skeptical fan base, Snedden hopes that portraying a himbo will smooth his way into their hearts: ”I think ‘X-Files’ fans would hate me if I were this cool, suave guy who just walks onto their turf, but I think the fact that I’m not will make everyone more accepting.” That said, he adds, ”[Because] Jimmy’s really easy to look at, you might say, ‘Oh, he’s just a meathead,’ but that’s selling him way short — sometimes by seeing the simple things he sees clearer than everybody else.”

With femme fatale and puppy dog acolyte in tow, the Gunmen will find themselves tangling with superintelligent government engineered chimpanzees, searching for a car that runs on water (”Like Water for Octane”), divining a connection between the tango and arms smuggling, and, says Spotnitz, investigating a ”pretty extreme” tale of a man who loses his identity with a little help from some midget wrestlers and a ”crazy” electronics chain pitchman. ”I think that one will be a lot of people’s favorite.”

And although crossover guest spots from ”X-Files” regulars would seem a no brainer, thus far only Mitch Pileggi (Assistant Director Skinner) has contracted to appear on ”Gunmen.” As for David Duchovny (with whom the Gunmen have shared most of their ”X” screen time) and Gillian Anderson, Harwood says, ”At this point, I don’t know if we’d be able to afford them.” And what about the prospect of ”Gunmen” outliving ”X” (if, say, Anderson decided to pack it in after next season, the series’ ninth) and usurping its stellar supporting cast of conspirators and villains? That, says Carter, is an unlikely scenario. ”I would imagine that characters could pop up, but I’d hope that we could lead [‘The X-Files’] to a series of movies, so I think we would save that fuel for that venture.”

For all their perils and paranoia, ”The Lone Gunmen” have already had one amazing real life bit of luck: By holding the series’ debut until March, Fox departed from its original plan to give them the Thursday at 8 p.m. slot, pitting them against the mighty ”Friends” and ”Survivor.” ”That would not have been a good thing,” Spotnitz deadpans. Talk about dodging a bullet.

The Lone Gunmen

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