I recently discovered several interviews I did a number of years ago that, for one reason or another, were never published. Rather than have them continue to gather "dust" in my computer, I thought I would share them with you. In this interview - Tom Braidwood talks about his work behind-the-camera on The X-Files as well as his recurring role of Melvin Frohike, one of the three Lone Gunmen.
When actor/director/producer Tom Braidwood was hired as the first assistant director for The X-Files he had no idea that one day he would be working in front of the camera as well as behind it. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time when it came to casting the character of Melvin Frohike, the brainy, balding and bawdy third of the paranoid but resourceful trio The Lone Gunmen.
“I was working as the first assistant director on an X-Files episode [E.B.E.] being directed by an old acquaintance of mine, William Graham. It’s the one in which The Lone Gunmen first appear. He had already cast Byers and Langly but couldn’t find anybody to play the part of Frohike. Apparently, he made a joke to the producers during the casting session about needing someone slimy ‘like Braidwood.’ So they came out of casting and asked me to do it. I thought, ‘Why not?’ and agreed, never thinking that anything would ever come of it.”
Back in 1993 Braidwood’s friend, X-Files production manager, now producer, J. P. Finn, contacted him and asked if he would be interested in the job as first assistant director on the show. He asked Finn for a copy of The X-Files pilot and, after watching it, immediately took the job.
“Right from the start the work was fascinating but very demanding,” says Braidwood. “The scripts are always filled with special effects and every one of them is a challenge. During its second season The X-Files really became popular as a cult show. In the third year, though, we started to go a lot more mainstream and from there the programme just continued to go from strength to strength.”
Braidwood makes his debut as Frohike in the first-season episode E.B.E.written by Glen Morgan and James Wong. Hoping to expose a government coverup involving an extraterrestrial biological entity (E.B.E.) FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) turns to a threesome of conspiracy theorists, The Lone Gunmen, for help. These eclectic and eccentric individuals, John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), Ringo Langly (Dean Haglund) and Frohike, pride themselves on being able to obtain the unobtainable when it comes to classified information. It was a short but memorable job for the actor.
“It was fun meeting Bruce and Dean,” he recalls. “We seemed to hit it off immediately. The three of us just kind of jumped right into it and I think the scene really speaks for itself. We did it, had a lot of laughs and then moved on to the next thing.”
Originally, this scene was to be the first and last contribution The Lone Gunmen would ever make to X-Files history. Morgan and Wong had written the characters into the story primarily for comic relief and Morgan was not very pleased with the end result. The viewers, however, felt quite the opposite. They loved these paranoid protagonists and wanted to see more of them, so Braidwood and his two colleagues were invited back to reprise their roles.
“We were all surprised that our three characters received such a positive response from the fans,” says the actor. “I think part of the reason behind The Lone Gunmen’s popularity is simply because we area bit weird and out on the fringe. Here are three odd fellows who have found common ground with each other. Also, the fact that Bruce, Dean and I get on so well helps. I know, for example, that there’s this sense of bickering that’s been built into the characters, particularly between Langly and Frohike, but that’s just something we have fun doing as actors. Certainly, on a personal level, we’re close friends and the fact that we’re so in sync with our characters makes the job that much easier.”
Melvin Frohike has definitely come a long way since he uttered the immortal line, “She’s hot,” when first setting eyes on Mulder’s partner Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). Thankfully, he has learned over the past five seasons how to express his fondness for the agent much more eloquently. During this time he has also proven himself a trusted and valuable ally in helping the agents in their search for the truth.
“I think he started off as being a little shy and somewhat of a loner as well as a bit lecherous,” laughs Braidwood. “As the show has grown so has the character, along with everyone else’s, of course, in becoming more a part of the fabric of the program. There’s a much stronger professional relationship between The Lone Gunmen and Scully and Mulder and also a friendship and respect that wasn’t as obvious early on in the show.”
Although The Lone Gunmen have so far turned up in fifteen episodes of The X-Files it is not until the fifth-season story Unusual Suspects that viewers finally learn how they met. “I thought it was so much fun to have a show actually written for our characters. It gave us the chance to really get into our roles much more seriously than we usually do. Normally, we just drop in for a scene or two and that’s that, but in this episode we are the featured players.
“One of the biggest inside jokes with this episode has to do with the actual filming,” he says. “They always design these shots where the three of us are in the frame. Because we are in so many scenes in this episode they had to figure out all these different ways of cramming us into the shot that worked technically and that also looked interesting.”
This story also marks the first time The Lone Gunmen come face-to-face with Mulder and Scully’s enigmatic benefactor, X (Steven Williams). “I had worked with Steven before on the series 21 Jump Street. I was as an assistant director on that program for three-and-a-half years and Steven was one of its regulars. He and I were old friends and it was terrific to finally work with him on The X-Files.”
When his alter ego is not admiring Scully from afar or working with Byers and Langly to expose various government conspiracies, Braidwood has his responsibilities as the show’s first assistant director to keep him occupied. “Essentially, my job is to take the script and break down all its elements in terms of the actors, sets, props, etc.,” he explains. “You then sit down with the director and the heads of the various departments and discuss all the problems inherent to the particular story. From this you gather all your information and put it together into a schedule that will outline how to shoot the episode in eight days.
“You then take the schedule and do your best to organize it for the cast and crew in order for them to get the job done,” continues Braidwood. “So you’re really paid to be responsible for making sure that everyone’s time is being well spent, especially when it comes to David and Gillian. You have to try to keep their daily hours to a minimum when possible just because of the sheer amount of work they have to do.
“One of the toughest episodes we did was a second-season one, Dod Kalm, in which Mulder and Scully are suffering from dehydration and look as if they’re getting older and older. The problem with that show was that it called for David and Gillian to undergo a major makeup process. In some cases they ended up having to sit in the makeup chair for three to three-and-a-half hours and then they had to go to work on the set. So that one, along with the fourth-season episodes Tempus Fugit and Max, just because of the scenes aboard the airplane, were pretty challenging.
“It’s a difficult show for David and Gillian to do because it’s not really an ensemble piece,” he adds. “The show depends on the two of them so, again, they get the brunt of the work. To watch them carry it all through and support the series and keep on going is really something to their credit. They’re both really good to work with in different ways.”
Braidwood graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts in theatre and four years later with a Master of Arts in film studies. In 1972 he joined the Tamahnous Theatre Workshop Group where he remained until 1978 working as a resident actor, writer, musician, director and technician. “Everyone eventually moved on to other things, so I decided to do the same and give film a try,” he says. “I had always been interested in that side of the profession, so I took the plunge and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”
Although he spends most of his time working behind the scenes, Braidwood is happy to take on the occasional acting job. He has appeared in the feature films My American Dream, The Portrait and Harry Tracy, Desperado as well as the made-for-television movie The Only Way Out. He has also guest-starred on such television series as Beachcombers, Mom P.I. and Grounds for Murder. The actor further enjoys having the opportunity to return to his theatre roots and counts a part he did back in the seventies as one of his most challenging roles to date.
“The play is called Liquid Gold. It’s set in a small coastal town in British Columbia [Canada] and is the story of a megalomaniac who has all the locals in the palm of his hand because his is the only place in town to shop. I played the shopkeeper,” he laughs. “It was a tough show to do - probably the biggest role I’ve ever had - but great fun as well as very rewarding.”
In 1984 the actor served as producer with writer Patricia Gruben to work on her independent Canadian feature film Low Visibility. The project cost 166,000 Canadian dollars to complete and is a proud achievement for Braidwood. “We had to count on a lot of people to donate things,” he recalls. “Basically, we had the money to buy the film, process it and edit the thing - that was it. I enjoy working on independent projects such as these, though, because they’re always different and not commercially oriented. They’re usually personal films with personal visions so, in that regard, they give all those involved a wonderful sense of fulfillment.
“I think the challenge of getting something like this done is probably what I enjoy most about this business,” says Braidwood. “My roots are in the theatre, especially community theatre which is very people-driven. That same sense of teamwork is why I enjoy working on a television series so much. When you’re involved in a show for a long time, like The X-Files, for example, you get to know who wants to be there. Those are the people you want to have around you because otherwise the job isn’t going to get done.”
When it comes to his career as a first assistant director Braidwood prefers to concentrate on television rather than film. Danger Bay, Mom P.I., 21 Jump Street and Wes Craven’s Nightmare Cafe are just a few of the shows on which he has worked. “I tend to like television series because you’re always doing something,” says Braidwood. “You just can’t afford to waste time; you’re on a tight schedule.”
Braidwood and X-Files costars Harwood and Haglund spent some time together in Los Angeles filming their scenes for the show’s big-screen feature which had its American release this past June. Unfortunately, now that production for The X-Files is based in Los Angeles, The Lone Gunmen will have to travel a bit further afield if they want to continue helping Mulder and Scully. How does Braidwood think the move will affect the show?
“One of the toughest things is going to be locations, so it’ll probably become more of an interior show,” he says. “Vancouver [British Columbia] has such a variety of locations. You can get so many different looks within a half-hour or hour’s drive out of the city and I don’t think that’s the case in Los Angeles. [Series creator] Chris Carter has always said that Vancouver was one of the stars of The X-Files and I agree with him, it was. I mean, the lighting for the program and setting its mood can be done pretty much anywhere, but I think the whole location thing is going to drive them crazy. So we’ll just have to wait and see,” he muses.
As most fans of The X-Files know, Braidwood went on to co-star alongside Bruce Harwood and Dean Haglund for one season in their own spin-off series, The Lone Guman. Most recently, Braidwood appeared in the feature film Amazon Falls and served as associate producer on the 2009 short film Serum 1831.
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