The X-Files Lexicon's exclusive interview with James
Wong on 'Founder's Mutation'
Conducted by Matt Allair in 02/05/2016
Page Editor: A.M.D.
When word came down a year ago, last February, that FOX
television was going to produce six new X-Files
episodes, one of the more pleasant surprises wasn’t that a new
roster of writers would helm each episode, but that most of the
“original band was being brought back,” and that included James
Wong, one of the figures who helped establish the tone of the
original series, and a writer who other writers did emulate in
the later years. Recently, I have seen an argument, that is
valid, that the absence of Frank Spotnitz on the new episodes was
notable, and that Mr. Spotnitz acted as the soul of The
X-Files. But some fans seem to have forgotten that The
X-Files faired quite well in the first two seasons,
before Mr. Spotnitz came on board toward the end of season two,
and largely due to the great work of James Wong and Glen
Morgan, as well as Howard Gordon. The above point isn’t to
diminish Mr. Spotnitz’s role, but to contextualize why the
announcement of James Wong’s appearance in the new six-episode
series was so important. This decision resulted in one of the
finest episodes to appear in the new series arc.
With “Founder’s Mutation,” James did seem
to find a way to honor the unfinished story arc for the William
adoption, while moving forward at the same time. What is ironic,
and something few people know, is that when James’s episode aired,
he was overseas and missed the episode premiere, and missed the
high ratings the episode enjoyed. Most of the details of James
Wong’s iconic career go without saying. He established a writing
partnership with Glen Morgan, and worked on 21 Jump Street.
But James had branched out into other areas, writing for The
Commish and Booker; co-creating Space: Above
and Beyond and The Notorious 7; writing,
producing and directing for Chris Carter’s other iconic series, Millennium;
creating features such as Final Destination and The
One; remaking Willard and Black Christmas;
and doing a T.V. miniseries remake of Rosemary’s Baby.
This doesn’t even factor in his on-going success with American
Horror Story and Scream Queens. All of which
managed to retain some of the creative stamps that were seen with
his initial run with The X-Files back during
seasons one, two, and four.
But this particular interview was a long time in the making. At
least three years prior to knowing he would be involved with the
revival, we approached him for an interview, and it’s been a
challenge to find an ideal window to speak with him. But James has
shown himself to be gracious and patient, as well as unassuming,
when I personally met with him during the Jan 12th premiere. The
interview proceeded as follows…
Matt: Thank for taking the time, and I really do appreciate
No problem at all.
Matt: How long did it take to write “Founder’s Mutation”?
Was there a long, or short, gestation process with developing the
ideas for the episode?
It really didn’t take that long. I guess it was three
or four weeks. You know, coming up with what to do with The
, I had a couple of meetings with Chris [Carter]
and a couple of meetings with the other writers. I think I started
with a monster idea, and then Glen had a monster idea he wanted to
introduce. I gave up the one monster idea I had. I talked with Chris
about the regular run of The X-Files
, and they had never
done anything that had to do with sound. So, I started to think
about how sound could play into the episode. Have you seen All
, the Bob Fosse movie?
Matt: I have, yes.
There’s a sequence in there I like where Roy
Scheider’s character, there’s a read through, then all of the sound
comes out, so people are talking, reading the script, you can’t hear
them anymore, and all you hear is this objective sound. He hears his
own pencil breaking; he hears his own breath. And I always admired
that sequence. I thought about using that in the episode, using that
technique. There’s a couple of things I always wanted to do, that I
had been thinking about in terms of ideas and images. I had these
ideas about a mom in a group, and she finds her baby in the pool.
What would you think about? At first there would be terror as it’s
your baby and it’s drowning, and she dives in and the baby is
breathing underwater. I know, it’s random (laughs), but I had that
idea about starting a movie for awhile. I also had this idea of
about cutting open a pregnant woman’s belly. I had some weird,
disjointed ideas about that. So, the gestation period is very long
if you think about some of the ideas I wanted to put into an
episode, that weren’t necessarily X-Files
at first. But I
started to think about putting those ideas in, and then I wrapped
the story around it.
Matt: The episode is a stand-alone
with mythology elements. There’s also a lot of past references,
and Easter eggs, as well as the William fantasy sequences. Did
Chris Carter offer a lot of notes? Did you watch a lot of past
episodes again prior to writing the script?
No, he didn’t offer a lot of notes. I had only worked
on, in the past, that first, second, and fourth season, and I really
didn’t follow it, at least the mythology that much, but
surprisingly, or not surprisingly, there’s a whole website devoted
to the mythology of The X-Files
. So, knowing that I wanted
to deal with William, the baby, for me that was a very emotional ,
interesting connection that they have that hasn’t been dealt with.
So, knowing that, I went onto a website where a lot of fans have
written about things that have happened, about the mythology, which
episode that occurred, and all of that. So, I went through that and
had a basic understanding of what’s happening. That’s how I
approached it. And of course Chris read the script after I finished
it, but I think I was pretty thorough in understanding that. There
weren’t any outstanding notes. I don’t think I missed anything.
Matt: During the scripting was there a conscious decision
about drawing a parallel between Kyle and Molly and Fox and
Yes, it was. In that, particularly in the fantasy
scenes – Kyle is always looking for his sister, once he found out he
had one, which is sort of Mulder
’s quest, and then, in the sense,
that’s the obvious connection right there.
Matt: Do you feel like changing the airing order of this
episode from fifth to second made a difference in how it will be
understood in the arc of the six episodes?
I do in that I felt the fifth episode melded in with
the first episode more than the second episode originally, because
there’s a connection between the alien DNA thing, and what Sveta was
talking about being abducted and being experimented on. And in that
way I guess the network felt that it made it easier to kind of
think, “Oh, this is sort of the same, even though it’s a stand
alone, they are sort of talking about ideas or themes.” They were
trying to eliminate the questions that the viewers would have, which
were, “Hey, what happened? Do they work on the X-Files
anymore?” That was the reason for doing that, but in doing that, for
instance, there’s an original episode [Home Again] that was shot
where it’s mentioned about Scully’s mom dying, and the emotional
context of Scully start thinking about William. So, there are things
like that changed about each episode, and probably it was a slower
build to get to the place where they start thinking about William.
Scully’s mom dies and this other thing happens, and by the next
episode has an interesting experience [Babylon]. I think it’s a
slower build to them thinking about their son.
Matt: There’s some strong performances and interesting
choices with the casting: Jonathan Whitesell, Doug Savant, Rebecca
Wisocky, and Vik Sahay. Could you discuss the casting process for
There’s two casting directors, one in L.A. named Rick
Milligan, and he basically cast Doug Savant, Rebecca Wisocky, Vik
Sahay, and then up in Canada we have Heike Brandstatter, who helped
us cast all of the other roles, including the kid who played Kyle.
Casting is pretty straightforward. We saw people who were right for
the part, and we were lucky to get Doug, who is an old friend of
mine. I’ve known him forever. He’s actually been in The One, which
is a movie I directed a long time ago. It’s funny because everything
that he’s done with me, he dies a horrible death. (Laughs) So, we’ll
kid around, and he’ll say, “How will I die the next time?” (Laughs)
That was easier to cast, and Rebecca has this really great
off-kilter thing that we really loved in her audition. She was
The X-Files and
a history of casting young actors who go on to be very important
actors. Is there a particular actor in the episode that fans
should be really paying attention to in the future?
The girl who played Agnes, Kacey Rohl — the pregnant
girl that was in the hospital and she gets killed? She’s going to be
great. She’s done a lot of stuff already, and I think she’s in
. I just saw her in that show where she played
this [cross] between Harry Potter
and Pretty Little
. I think she’s great, and I also think the kid who
plays Kyle was great. Those two young kids, you are going to see a
lot from them.
Matt: Thus far, production designer Mark Freeborn has
done an incredible job with the episodes. Was there a particular
set piece on your episode he was most helpful with?
Well, the thing about my episode [that] is not known
is that apparently mine was the most expensive one, which I was
shocked by that too. (Laughs) Because there was so many sets, in my
episode we tried to go scale. I had this feeling that I wanted to
make it go quickly, that Mulder and Scully are investigating and
going everywhere, to a lot of places, a lot of short scenes. What
that created for Mark was that there was a lot of sets, a lot of
different sets. They went to a lot of different places. What he did
that was so amazing was that [he] basically made what would be a
feature schedule, which is all these sets, and in T.V. you try to
cram as many shots on the same set as possible that you already had.
So, we created a big problem for him, as he had to create these big
sets, and he did a great job, of course. The Goldman Eugenics set
was a location, but we had to create the server room, I think at a
hospital space, so it was pretty amazing that he could make
everything, kind of, consistent, while we’re all over the place. I
don’t think there’s one particular set where it was like, ”Wow, that
the most expensive [set].” But it allowed a scope on the episode
that was spectacular.
Matt: Has the process of working with editor Heather
MacDougall, or composer Mark Snow, changed at all from your past
work with them in the 90s?
No, it hasn’t changed a bit, really. We’ve all gotten
older. (Laughs) We sort of have that shorthand that we had when we
were working together. It was really easy. Mark has always been the
kind of guy that when we would start a conversation, before we
start, we would listen to the stuff he had, and after listening to
it, we would compare notes. It wasn’t at all different than what we
had done before. The whole process was really like coming home
Matt: Technically, if I recall, you hadn’t worked with
director of photography Joel Ransom before on
How was the experience of working with him?
It was good. I think the director and the DP have to
work really close together because you are creating the visual
elements that go into the show. I think as much as I hadn’t really
worked with him before, when I was prepping, I went out there a few
times, and carried on a vibe with how he worked with Chris, because
Chris was shooting. I got a really good vibe from him, and when we
started talking, we quickly started talking about how I’d like to
[work]. There was some special lenses that I wanted, and Joel had
some ideas of his own that we tried. It was a really collaborative
effort. I felt really good about it, and I think it turned out
nicely. The show was really well shot.
Matt: Some fans have noted
that with a few sequences, some of the camera set ups and camera
moves reminded them of Kim Manners’ work. Was there a conscious
nod to Kim while filming the episode?
No, there wasn’t a conscious nod, but I guess
unconsciously I learned so much from Kim. I had worked with Kim
forever, from the beginning when we were on
21 Jump Street
. I wasn’t on the show when the pilot was
shot, but I think Kim was the pilot director. I was on the show with
Glen on season three. I’m not sure if Kim did one of ours. I know he
came back and did the show when we were there, and that’s how we
came to really admire him, and worked with him throughout our
television career. So, in a way he influenced my directing style —
in that way it’s a nod to Kim. He rubbed off on me.
Matt: I’ve heard that crew
members commented that Vancouver was a lot warmer than they
remember it from the past. How was your experience shooting in
Vancouver after a long spell?
(Laughs) Well, I shot a lot in Vancouver, including
the two Final Destination
movies that I did, and other
shows. I’ve lived there a lot. This is the first time I remember,
the first summer, that it didn’t rain when I was up there. Usually
it rains even in summer, and they were in a drought situation where
they couldn’t water their lawns, their residence once a week. The
lawns were brown, which is the first time I’ve ever seen that. I
guess with the weather patterns for this year, or maybe it’s the
global warming thing, I don’t know, [it] has really changed. It was
crazy. It was great for me in that it didn’t rain. Any time you
shoot exterior you have to wet down the street because you never
know when it’s going to rain, so to make everything consistent, you
automatically wet down the street, just in case it rained. In this
situation, I think they frowned upon us wetting down the street
anyway because there’s a water shortage. (Laughs). It was really
weird. It’s the first time ever I worked there that we weren’t
automatically wetting down every location.
Matt: Glen Morgan is the executive producer on the new
series. Was it easy to fall back into a working relationship with
Glen after a spell of the both of you working separately?
Oh, yeah, very easy. I guess we split up about nine
years ago, maybe. But we’ve kept in touch, and we’ve talk to each
other on and off, so it wasn’t like a [situation] of ”who’s this
guy?” (Laughs) We’ve always had a really easy relationship in terms
of communication, and we certainly know each other well. There was
no problems. In fact, it was a pleasure. To have somebody you can
talk to that you trust, and who you understand, and understands you.
It was great.
Matt: What projects are you working on next? Will there
be anything you will be taking away from the experience working on
the new episode while moving forward?
I’m going to be going back on American Horror
. We start Monday [the 8th]. That’s where I am going to
be. I’m trying to develop some other projects, some other T.V.
shows. I don’t have anything specific yet in mind. What I take away
from this episode, not anything specifically except that I really
enjoyed the experience quite a lot. I really like the process that
we went through. Today’s television series, the process is very
different than how we did it when we started The X-Files
in the 90s. Today’s shows, there’s a writers room, you really break
down the story and work it with a very close manner with your fellow
writers on the show. For this episode on The X-Files
really went back to how we used to do it, which is talk about [the
story] in general, what your ideas would be, so that it doesn’t
clash with other people’s ideas about their episode. But we worked
on them ourselves, and we directed the episodes, so it really felt
like a little movie, instead of the T.V. process, which is so
different now. It’s so collaborative now. It takes more of a group
effort, you know, in today’s world than it used to. Often the way we
did The X-Files
it felt like a little movie. I appreciated
that, and I think I would like to continue to do that if I could on
a different show. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to do that.
Matt: Thank you again for taking so much time to speak
No problem, Matt, take care.
At the time of this writing,
ratings for the second episode were phenomenal, bringing in 9.7
Million viewers, and the decision that some fans had expressed
consternation over, when news of the schedule changes had been
first announced, may have been a good move. Such news must have
been gratifying for James. Let’s hope that such developments open
up doors for James to develop some new original projects in the
near future. Now, things have gone full circle, with James coming
back to the series that opened up possibilities. We wish him the
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