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When the latest X-FILES two-parter, "Patient X" and "The Red and the Black"- packaged for video as "File 11: Patient X" - hits the stores and Sky One screens simultaneously this month, fans of double-dealing former FBI agent Alex Krycek will get to see three new sides to their favourite character.
Firstly, television's latest One-Armed Man gets to pay Mulder back for a series of beatings Krycek has suffered since gunning down Mulder's father in his bathroom. "You finally get to see Krycek physically take advantage of Mulder, instead of always getting beat up," comments Lea, relaxing in the backstage 'green room' at the very first X-FILES Expo event in San Francisco. "He gets to give him a little bit back - and with one hand, that's quite a feat!"
Secondly, Krycek gets a different kind of action with Marita Covarrubias (Laurie Holden), Special Representative to the UN Secretary General. "When I picked up the script, I was like 'What? Who am I kissing?' he laughs. "I was excited about it because you'd never seen that side of the character before - he was almost asexual in those terms. Usually, you see Krycek show up and hurt somebody, or someone's trying to hurt him." As for the stormy, steamy kissing scene itself, Lea adds, "The night before, [Laurie and I] were saying, 'Should we kiss now and get it over with, to break the ice?'"
Finally, and perhaps even more surprisingly, Krycek displays what Lea refers to as his "sympathetic side" in a scene with a Russian teenager - even though he has had the boy's eyes, ears, nose, and mouth sewn shut.
"I was trying to bring some sympathy to the thing, because on paper it wasn't there," he explains. "I just sort of dispatched this kid, and it was just very cold, so I called the producers and said, 'Look, I think it's very important that you see that there is some sympathy or regret on Krycek's part.'"
Not only for himself, he adds, but for the audience as well. "It's certainly more interesting for me as an actor, but I think it's also more interesting for the audience to see three dimensional characters, rather than just a bad guy or a good guy."
Luckily, he says , Chris Carter, who directed "The Red and the Black," was willing to accommodate his ideas. "Chris is really accessible," he says. "If you have questions, he's always there to answer them, and he also took my notes to heart and used them."
The character of Alex Krycek has certainly evolved dramatically since his first appearance as Mulder's new partner in the second season's "Sleepless." Back then, he was a fresh-faced FBI agent who turned out to be Cigarette Smoking Man's hired gun - albeit one with a conscience, as seen in the subsequent story, "Ascension."
"It was originally supposed to be three episodes," Lea recalls. "And it was scripted that there would be a big blow-out fight between myself and Mulder, and then my character would evaporate. But they rewrote it, and I just ended up disappearing, and I was really disappointed because I thought, 'That's it? That's how they're going to end my character?' And then a short time later I was back on the show, and back on again, and back on again..."
By now christened 'Ratboy' by internet-based X-philes - "Do I like it? I live with it. No, I'm just kidding - I get a kick out of it." - Krycek made one of his patented comebacks on the cusp of the 1995/96 season, gunning down Bill Mulder, but botching an attempted assassination of Scully by killing her sister instead - a particularly cruel error of judgement, since the popular character of Melissa Scully was played by Lea's then-girlfriend, Melinda McGraw.
After being betrayed by Smoking Man at the climax of this story, Krycek went into hiding, re-emerging during the third season as a powerful and knowledgeable free agent, ready to sell his secrets to the highest bidder. Having deserted the sunken ship, Piper Maru, Ratboy returned in the fourth season's "Tunguska"/"Terma" two-parter, offering an understandably distrustful Mulder information about the mysterious 'black oil' which had been smuggled into the country by a Russian diplomat.
By the end of this continent-spanning story, during which he revealed that he was a fluent (or perhaps native?) Russian speaker, Alex - or should that be Alexei? - Krycek had given a new meaning to the term 'Soviet disarmament', having his left arm cut off at the shoulder by a fellow 'comrade'.
"So many bad things have happened to him now, I don't think he trusts anybody at all," Lea says. "I think the' character's not just trying to stay above water - he's trying who wronged him in the past. so there's a lot about revenge..."
Trust Ratboy to choose revenge rather than redemption. "Well, you'll see in ["The Red and the Black"] that Krycek actually does some good," he allows. "He comes to Mulder and he says, 'I'm not here to kill you - I'm here to help you!' Okay, he says it at gunpoint," he adds, laughing, "But he still says it!"
For Lea, another high point "The Red and the Black" was getting to play a scene with Well-Manicured Man, played by veteran British actor John Neville (THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN). "'John is an absolute gentleman, and a very funny guy, too," he says. "It was nice, because we sat down in the bar one night, and then in my trailer on the day of shooting, and we talked for a couple of hours about what it was we were doing. It was nice to sit down and just talk about acting, especially with someone with his experience. That's really nice, when there's no barrier of age. It was a real treat. He loves acting and he loves actors, so he's just great to be around."
"Patient X" and "The Red and the Black" also gave Lea another opportunity to practice his Russian. "This is really the second time that I had to speak it," he says. "if it continues, I'm probably going to have to take some lessons, and try to learn at least some of the language. I don't speak it at all right now, so what I have to do is learn it phonetically, which is a real exercise in 'left brain' and 'right brain'- one side is the logical, 'remembering- how-to-speak-it properly' side, and [the other] is the creative side, which is where acting comes from. So you're, trying to balance the two in the same moment, and it's a real challenge.
"I think somebody who speaks the language is going to notice immediately that I'm not Russian," he adds. "But my hope is that the majority of the people who watch the show will feel that it's authentic."
Krycek's absence from THE X-FILES might have been an unusually long one, but Lea, who turns 36 on June 22, points out that if the opportunity had arisen before "Patient X," he would probably have been too busy in his native Toronto, shooting ONCE A THIEF, the syndicated series in which he co-stars with Sandrine Holt (RAPA NUI) and newcomer Ivan Sergei. "I was dying to get back on THE X- FILES," he admits, "But I was working [solidly] for the last eight months, with just a couple of breaks. ["Patient X"] really happened as soon as I left the other show, so I'm glad that it's all worked out."
Produced by Hong Kong auteur-turned-Hollywood action director John Woo (FACE/OFF), ONCE A THIEF began with a feature-length pilot, directed by Woo and loosely based on his own 1991 action/comedy starring Chow Yun Fat and Leslie Cheung, itself an homage to Alfred Hitchcock's TO CATCH A THIEF. But although the series, which Lea believes will debut the US on the Showtime network or HBO cable channel, will be Lea's first leading role, he admits to being disappointed with the results. "It changed; it became a different show - much more of a comedy," he says disconsolately, helping himself to another of the cigarettes he has been poaching since the interview began. "There are a few dramatic episodes, but mostly it's meant to be funny."
"Comedy and drama are both challenging to me," he adds. "But...I think the show could have been better than it was."
On the plus side, Lea says he was thrilled at having the chance to collaborate with Woo on the pilot show, released in Britain on video as JOHN WOO'S VIOLENT TRADITION. "I really had a wonderful time working with John," he enthuses. "He's a real gentleman and a talented man, and very much a contradiction in terms, because he's quiet and reserved, warm, kind and thoughtful, and yet his movies are, like, 'blow-'em-ups' for the most part."
Unfortunately, he reiterates, "he hasn't been able to do exactly what he wanted to do. He had a lot of control over what his films were like in Hong Kong, and I think it was a bit of a rude awakening for him to find out that there were other people who were going to make those decisions for him."
Indeed, Lea admits that Woo's input on the show was "minimal" once a full series had been ordered, despite the fact that the show will be broadcast as JOHN WOO'S ONCE A THIEF. 'I know he watched the show, and made notes, but for the most part it because somebody else's show."
Lea admits that his profile on THE X-FILES has been a boon in winning roles such as his ONCE A THIEF character. "Totally," he agrees. "Certainly, when I walk into an audition, a lot of people already know who I am. It's helped me immeasurably in my career, because quite often ratings come into play, and I'll get offered stuff because they want to exploit an actor from television who the audience will recognise, you know?"
Does Lea worry that this visibility/recognition factor be something of a double-edged sword, and that he could wind up being typecast as double-crossing triple agents, assassins or even one-armed bandits? "Yeah, but that hasn't been an issue at this point. I think that one of benefits of being on a critically acclaimed show is that people have an understanding that maybe you can act. You're not just there because you're on a popular show like BAYWATCH - you're on a show that's good, so hopefully you have some ability."
Of course, with the higher profile comes celebrity, and its inherent loss of anonymity and privacy. Lea, however, doesn't mind being recognised on the street - "People usually just want to tell me that they enjoy my role on the show, and that's totally cool," he says - but believes that X-FILES fandom is only healthy in moderation.
"I didn't get into this business because I thought I'd be adored by thousands of fans, but because I love doing it. So when you're approached by people who are this crazy about the show, people who go overboard with it..." he trails off, evidently searching for a way to describe his feelings without offending the show's loyal fans. "I just think sometimes that the focus is a little misplaced," he offers. "I would love to see everybody here take a third of that energy and put it into their family or their community, or the people on the street who need our help."
True to form, Lea is equally candid on the subject of THE X-FILES' imminent move to Los Angeles. "I think the show will lose something," he says frankly. "They've worked for five years to accumulate the crew they've got now, and it's like a well-oiled machine. People have fun but the job gets done. Plus Vancouver, as Chris has said in the past, is the perfect location for the show because of the rain, the way the sun has angled at particular times of the year, there's forest, there's a Chinatown, there are mountains, and prairie - it can really double as almost anyplace. So, I completely and utterly support David and Gillian's decision to go to Los Angeles, but I think that Vancouver is the perfect location for the show."
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