As in our previous features, in this list, we’re celebrating ten of the most effective guest performances in The X-Files over the course of its run – and yes, that includes the 2016 revival series. By ‘guest appearance’ we mean an actor who appeared as a particular character no more than twice over the course of the series (more appearances and it becomes a recurring role). As a result, this list naturally tends towards a celebration of performances during Monster of the Week episodes, since characters taking part in arc plots tend to appear more often. The show has, of course, featured impressive performances from actors in recurring roles as well – but that’s another list for another day!
10. Rhys Darby as Guy Mann in Mulder And Scully Meet The Were-Monster
The 2016 revival of The X-Files did not exactly meet with universal approval, but one episode did prove popular, with most viewers enjoying it on some level and many praising it as the only real return to form for the series. Darin Morgan’s first script for the show since 1996’s Jose Chung’s From Outer Space is a silly, satirical delight, carried by solid comic performances from Duchovny, Anderson and Flight Of The Conchords’ Rhys Darby as the titular were-monster. Darby has the ability to be utterly silly while still remaining poignant and relatable, and that’s what makes him the perfect were-monster.
9. Joe Morton as Martin Wells in Redrum
Redrum is The X-Files’ backwards episode. Like Monday below, it takes a concept usually attached to a series regular and rests it on the shoulders of a guest star, in this case Joe Morton’s Martin Wells. As we follow the reverse-structured plot, it’s essential that we both empathise with and care about Morton’s never-before-seen character and follow his journey with our brains in gear. Added to that, unlike Monday, this story places only the guest character in peril, relying on a connection with a character only introduced a few episodes earlier (Robert Patrick’s Agent Doggett) to engage our attention. It’s a tribute to Morton that this episode is one of the most effective late-era Monster of the Week stories.
8. Justine Miceli as Ariel Luria in Kaddish
Kaddish is a bitter, melancholic tragedy centred around the vicious murder of Justine Miceli’s Ariel’s fiancee just before their wedding. Miceli must make Ariel likeable and relatable while going through soul-crushing grief, a character who appears to be coping but underneath is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to recover what she has lost. It’s a touching, very human performance that emphasises the personal drama at the heart of the story.
7. Giovanni Ribisi as Darren Peter Oswald and Jack Black as Bart ‘Zero’ Liquori in D.P.O.
D.P.O. is, in some ways, a fairly standard Monster of the Week episode of The X-Files, featuring a teenager with strange powers and a murderous inclination. But what really sets it apart are the actors playing the titular teen and his best friend – Jack Black as the friend, and Giovanni Ribisi as D.P.O. himself. The two play fairly typical teenage slackers, just hanging out, playing arcade games and striking people down with lightening bolts, but they both do so in such an endearing and watchable way that, in two inseparable performances, they really elevate the episode as a whole.
6. Steve Railsback as Duane Barry in Duane Barry and Ascension
Duane Barry is a classic example of a character requiring a carefully modulated performance that encourages the audience constantly to question his true motives. Playing a hostage-taker always requires a certain nervous energy from the actor, but Railsback as Duane Barry also has to make it seem equally likely that he is either an alien abductee or simply a troubled man. It’s in the first, tense episode of this two-parter that he really shines, as the character becomes a more straightforward antagonist in a second part, rather overshadowed by Mulder’s acrobatics on a cable car. However, throughout this cornerstone story, Railsback puts in a suitably intense and memorable performance as a character whose actions will determine the course of Mulder and Scully’s lives for most of the rest of the show.
5. Robert Wisden as Robert Patrick Modell in Pusher and Kitsunegari
Robert Patrick Modell, the ‘Pusher’, is one of the series’ creepiest villains. His particular power is all in his voice, so hypnotically smooth that he is able to convince a man he’s having a fatal heart attack over the phone. It’s essential, therefore, that the actor playing the part is able to deliver a captivating, sinister and powerful rendition of his lines. Robert Wisden’s silky smooth performance ensures that you can never hear the phrase ‘cerulean blue’ in the same way again.
4. Luke Wilson as Sheriff Hartwell in Bad Blood
Sheriff Hartwell is an unusual guest role, because for quite some time we don’t get to meet the character himself – for most of the episode, we see two very different versions of him, as described by first Scully, then Mulder. Scully’s version is handsome and charming, and thoroughly competent; Mulder’s has comically huge teeth and is awkward, gangly and unattractive. We finally get a glimpse of the real him at the end, during which he has to pull off glowing vampire eyes while maintaining aspects of both versions of the character. All in all, it could have gone horribly wrong, but Wilson is perfectly cast – charming or goofy as required, and a truly down to earth local vampire.
3. Doug Hutchinson as Eugene Victor Tooms in Squeeze and Tooms
The first in a long tradition of X-Files villains with Lee Harvey Oswald-style triple names and one of the show’s most unsettling and memorable villains, Eugene Victor Tooms is the reason the third ever episode of the show is one of its best. Hutchinson is totally inhuman, not just when crawling through ventilation shafts, but in every scene, in every word, in every movement. It’s no wonder he was not only the first one-shot villain to be brought back for a sequel, but the only one to be brought back in a really successful sequel.
2. Carrie Hamilton as Pam in Monday
Time loop episodes in which only one character realises what’s happening are relatively common, but usually that character is one of the series regulars, someone we already care about and can follow easily. Monday takes the brave step of featuring a guest character as the trapped looper, someone we have never seen before and never will again. Pam’s story is a tragedy from beginning to end, a woman who is obviously living a difficult life in the first place, who is trapped for who knows how long in a violent time loop, and who eventually pays the ultimate price to break it. Carrie Hamilton looks both absolutely broken and yet inwardly strong from the start, and carries the episode expertly.
1. Peter Boyle as Clyde Bruckman in Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose
Another chronically sad, tragic and doomed guest character, Peter Boyle elevates an already great episode (another Darin Morgan script) to new heights through his sensitive performance. Even when Bruckman is being crude, or discussing the manner of someone’s death in graphic detail, there is a haunting poetry to it that makes him completely sympathetic no matter how much he leers at Scully – indeed, his interest in her comes across more as a lonely man’s last chance to make a connection and her sadness at his death is genuine. An expertly honed performance in an expertly written and produced episode.