The X-Files: Kumail Nanjiani shares his on-set experience
'There's no point in my life when that would not have been a thrill,' the actor-comedian tells EW
For Silicon Valley actor Kumail Nanjiani, the reality of his guest appearance on The X-Files took a while to sink in — though writer-director Darin Morgan gave him a push in the right direction.
“I remember the first night I got to the set in Vancouver,” Nanjiani tells EW, “and I saw those trees: the Vancouver forest lit exactly like The X-Files with the white lights in the back. It’s just this very specific lighting. And I was like, ‘Oh my god. It looks like The X-Files.’ And Darin was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what we’re making.’ And then he just walked away to do something.”
It was Nanjiani’s connection to Morgan that led to his guest-starring role in “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” the third episode of The X-Files’ event series. The two had kept in touch ever since the writer — whose credits include Nanjiani’s favorite episode, the Emmy-winning “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” — stopped by Nanjiani’s podcast, The X-Files Files.
“Pretty soon after it was announced that the show was coming back,” Nanjiani recalls, “[Morgan] emailed me and was like, ‘Hey, if I write something for you, would you want to be in it?’ And I think I somehow responded before he hit ‘Send.’ Like, I was not cool. I just responded right away and said, ‘Yes, of course. What are you talking about?’ He knew that’s what I was going to say. He was playing it cool.”
Morgan wrote the actor and comedian into his episode as an animal control officer who (SPOILERS FROM HERE) turned out to be the killer — a twist Nanjiani loved. “I tried to play it very innocent and scared, so that when the reveal happens at the end, it’s exciting,” he says. “To play the bad guy in an X-Files episode and to get arrested by Scully — I mean, there’s no point in my life when that would not have been a thrill.”
Working with Morgan added to the excitement. “If you look at his episodes,” says Nanjiani, “they are all different tones. They’re all funny, but ‘Clyde Bruckman’ is a very grounded episode, and then you have ‘Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,’ which is a little wackier. There’s a continuum between grounded and wacky, and I wasn’t quite sure where this episode would land. [Morgan], in his head, has a very specific tone that he wants to hit, so he likes to get some variations to make sure that he can hit that tone. A lot of directors would be like, ‘All right, do this. That was good. Now do that again.’ He was like, ‘Okay, now do it like this. Now do it like this.’ Which I think is a cool way of doing things.”
So where did the episode fall in the end? “The way the monster was running away, and the way that I run away,” Nanjiani says, “it’s sort of wacky. It’s not what you would immediately think would be The X-Files. In a way, I think this might be his wackiest episode yet.”
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While on set, Nanjiani recorded an episode of The X-Files Files with series stars David Duchovny (Fox Mulder) and Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully). “It’s all so crazy,” he says of the filming experience. “I remember Polaroid snapshots of it. They were both so nice and so kind. David is really funny, and I think he really loves comedy, so he was just doing jokes the whole time. In the podcast, I don’t know if the context was there or not, but he hates being called Duchovny. He wants to be called David. So I kind of called him Duchovny for the rest of the night.”
But despite his time on the set, Nanjiani says that he still watches the series as a fan first: “I was in The X-Files for like four days. I’ve been a fan of it for over 20 years.”
And, as a fan, Nanjiani has thoughts on one theory that made it into “Were-Monster”: the idea that Scully might be immortal. “I never thought of it as her being actually immortal,” he says. “I know the show’s referenced it a few times. I just thought it was such a sweet line [in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”] where she says, ‘How do I die?’ And he goes, ‘You don’t.’ There’s a bunch of different ways to interpret it, but I never thought Scully being literally, scientifically immortal was what that character meant. … I think it robs a little bit of the beauty of that moment. To me, that moment is so beautiful because it’s just a guy who really likes Scully and is being sweet to her. He’s this really curmudgeonly, negative guy, and that’s one of the only times he’s actually sweet.”
But while Nanjiani doesn’t want Scully to live forever, he’d be happy if the show does — especially now that his episode is out there. In the months leading up to its debut, Nanjiani says, “I was just really nervous, like, ‘Don’t f— this up.’ I don’t want to be the bad part of the reboot. And now that it’s done, I can just watch it completely, fully as a fan. So I’m just excited to see more of it, and I really, really hope they do more. I think the six-episode run is a great idea. Maybe every year or every other year, they do a little miniseries: some mythology, some one-offs, some funny, some serious.
“It’s so great! There’s new X-Files! There are three episodes of The X-Files that are out in the world that I haven’t seen, and that has not been true in my life for many years.”
The X-Files airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.