‘The X-Files’ is returning once again to television in January. In addition to the expected (and much anticipated) returns of iconic agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, the new season will also offer a chance to catch up with fan favorite supporting character Walter Skinner. Skinner, who began life as a relatively minor recurring character, would over time become a beloved fixture of the show, at times effectively acting as a third series lead. At New York Comic Con, we had the chance to speak with the man who brought Skinner to life, actor Mitch Pileggi. With Pileggi, we discussed social media, Skinner’s backstory, and more.
Are we going to see more of Skinner this season?
Can you tease a little about that?
We’re actually getting ready to shoot a Skinner-centric episode, in which you find out a lot about who he is and why he is the way he is. So I’m very excited about it. Gabe Rotter wrote it. He’s a long time associate of Chris [Carter]’s and now he’s one of our producers, and I’m very happy for him. It’s so cool in this business to see guys start out as like an assistant and make to an executive producer who’s writing shows for ‘The X-Files’, you know? I mean that’s pretty awesome and it really makes me happy to see that kind of success for these guys, who work really really hard at what they’re doing.
Did you develop a bit of a backstory for Skinner on your own before the writers codified it?
You know, because of what I had been given from Chris in those earlier episodes about his Vietnam background and his experiences, it kind of stews in my head and eventually… I don’t sit down and write stuff, you know? I just kind of let it just sink in. And when I go into work I just kind of immerse myself into the reality of what’s going on in the scene and what is, where he’s coming from. And like I say, we find out a lot more about where he’s coming from this season. And I think a lot of it lines up with where I’ve taken it. So I’m excited about that.
That must be gratifying.
It’s pretty cool, yeah.
How do you think Skinner’s evolved as a character and grown over the years?
Well, initially he was brought in as a roadblock, in cahoots with the Cigarette Smoking Man until he found out exactly what was transpiring. And because Skinner is a man with, like I say, such a strong moral compass. That’s Chris’s word and I’m stealing it from him! Because I keep going “Well he’s very moral and very ethical and…” and then I heard him say “moral compass” and I was like “Alright, I’m using that!” And as time went on, there was a scene in an episode where it really started. It was with Cigarette Smoking Man and Mulder, and Skinner realizes that he’s being worked, being used by Cigarette Smoking Man and he’s lying, Mulder’s telling the truth. And at that point he says “Get the hell out of my office,” and Cigarette Smoking Man thinks he’s talking to Mulder, and I’m telling Cigarette Smoking Man “Get the hell out of my office.” And that’s where the two of them start butting heads, and to this day they’re still butting heads. I had a scene with Bill Davis in the first episode that was just – with Annabeth Gish – and it was… He was wonderful. He makes the dialogue that he’s given so rich. And I can’t tell you exactly what transpires, but he comes into the scene and there’s just this moment that… I was sitting there watching him as Skinner and I was going “Holy shit! That was so cool what you just did and it was so simple!”
How has social media changed how you talk about the show, how you view the show, and how you get feedback?
I’m pretty active on social media and I’ve got a lot of people that I talk to on a regular basis, so… You know, it’s weird, sometimes I get nervous about social media, about letting people know too much about me because it might affect how they see the characters I play. Does that make sense? So I actually quit social media for a while because of that, and I was talked back into it by the publicity department of a show that I was doing. So I’m back! But I worry about that a lot. As far as what they have to say, how that affects what I do with the characters? I don’t let it affect me at all. I enjoy talking to fans and hearing what they have to say about what we’re doing and about the show, but I don’t take that in and let it affect what I do with the character. Especially with Skinner, because I’ve played him for so long and he’s just a part of me. So when I go back and we start working on the show again, we all – David and Gillian too – just fall back into it. It’s just a real natural thing for us, I think.
Can you talk about the secrecy of the show? Like are the scripts color coded?
They’re not red scripts like they used to be, which… I guess you couldn’t copy red paper, I don’t know. They do have our names on them, though. There are names just plastered across every page so if something gets out there, then they know where it came from. But it’s hard. I was just talking to Chris about this. We’re in hotels. Our scripts are in our hotel rooms, you know? Like I’ve got scripts strewn all over my hotel room. And anybody can come in and look at them. And as a matter of fact, something happened on social media and I was going “Where did they get that?” Because they shouldn’t have had it. And they came up with this theory about an episode that was pretty on point. And that’s just a bit too random to be a coincidence. Even on the old chat rooms when we were originally doing the show, I would go on them and people would be talking about what was transpiring in the script before I even got it. So I don’t know if we had people going into the offices, looking at storyboards at night… But people knew way too much about the show. It’s hard.
What went through your mind when you read the script of the season premiere?
I thought “Yeah, this is right!” It just felt right. I think. And I think the fans are going to go “Whoa!” because it’s a head-spinner.
What do you think keeps Skinner as grounded as he is? What keeps him from going off the deep end the way Mulder tends to?
His past, which you find out about. Yeah. I wish I could say more, but you really do find out a lot about Skinner and it’s pretty cool. He’s got a strong moral compass. [laughs]
Looking back at the breadth of the series, what single scene or storyline surprised you the most?
Man, that’s a lot of episodes! ‘Home’ was definitely one that blew my mind. And the lady that played the mother under the bed, she just did an episode. She plays multiple characters and I understand it’s just a tour de force. You know, I think a lot of the humor that’s brought to the show is always kind of like “Whoa!” And they’re so good at it together. And with Darin Morgan writing episodes, it’s so crazy some of the stuff that he comes up with.
‘The X-Files’ will return for its ten-episode eleventh season in January 2018. The upcoming season will see the established cast of David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and Mitch Pileggi joined by a slated of guest stars that includes Annabeth Gish, William B. Davis, Robbie Amell, Chris Owens, Karin Konoval, and Barbara Hershey. Until then, be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on ‘The X-Files’ as it becomes available!