The X-Files: Interview: Vince Gilligan

GilliganWithout The X-Files there’d be no Breaking Bad, says Vince Gilligan!

“Working on The X-Files was the second best job I ever had, after Breaking Bad,” said writer-producer Vince Gilligan at the Edinburgh International Television Festival recently. “It was like a film school that I got paid to attend. It was a marvellous job and everything I learnt about TV production and writing for TV, I learnt from that.”

“I was very much a fan and watched the show from the very first episode. I told my feature [film] agent, around 1994, ‘You’ve got to watch this new show, it’s fantastic’. She said, ‘As luck would have it, I’m related by marriage to the man who created it. Would you like to meet him?’ And I said, ‘Yes!’ That’s the infamous Hollywood nepotism at work…”

XFiles“I was living in Virginia at the time in the East coast, and I went out to the West coast on movie business sometime around the middle of 1994. The movie stuff came to nothing, but I did get a meeting with Chris Carter, the man who created The X-Files. I told him what a great job he was doing, and he asked if I had any ideas for an episode. Honestly, I was just there as a fan, I was not looking for a job or to be hired. In fact, I wasn’t interested in television. Also, I had a house, a girlfriend and family 3,000 miles away. I wasn’t in the market to move to Los Angeles, which I knew I needed to do if I was going to be working on a TV show. You can write a movie from anywhere, but to be on a TV staff you have to be present. Anyway, I would have been too nervous to pitch something properly to Chris, if I had gone in thinking I was pitching. I spun something from nowhere.”

“As a result, I wrote an episode, a freelance episode, they produced it, it was a great experience, and when Chris Carter asked ‘Would you like to join the staff full time?’, I realised my movie career at the time was going no where, and I figured ‘What the heck…’, so I moved to Los Angeles.”

“I was very fortunate to get that opportunity and it changed my life. I didn’t realise how important it would be. Prior to that I was a very lazy writer, and I found out from that job that I needed the imposed deadlines and terror, the gun to the head figuratively speaking, of television. I needed some outside force to make me write, as apparently I just couldn’t do it on my own. My output as a movie writer was very poor indeed, I got very little written in the years leading up to my work in television. In television, you have to deliver or you get fired, so it was a great experience.”

BreakingBadApart from The X-Files spin-off The Lone Gunmen, there was very little on Gilligan’s CV until Breaking Bad came along. Without his work on The X-Files, where he learnt his crafted and without his “wilderness” period, Vince Gilligan reckons there’d be no Breaking Bad. “You don’t know what your show’s about until critics or reviewers point it out. In hindsight, I realise Breaking Bad is about a couple of things: it’s about failure, the fear of failure, one man’s reaction to a lifetime of failure and it’s also about a man having the world’s worst mid-life crisis. In hindsight, I realised that. I was about to turn 40 years old when I came up with Breaking Bad, and I had been out of work for a few years, in the wilderness. I had a couple of ill-fated re-write jobs, I got fired off of a re-write job, I got fired for being too slow. Breaking Bad came out of some issues I was probably having at the time.”

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