Who's the daddy? Who's the new guy? And where in the universe is Mulder? Season 8 of The X-Files is shaping up to be the strangest and scariest yet, but fans might be nervous for another reason altogether: The fade-out of star David Duchovny. Here, the actors and the creator reveal the truth.

Strolling through the Fox lot in Los Angeles one recent afternoon, David Duchovny is all smiles. He hasn't been around the set much lately, and he's delighted by his surprise encounters with several crew members of The X-Files (Fox, Sundays, 9P.M./ET). "I can't stay away," quips the star, who popped in today for a photo shoot. "Its like I've graduated from college and have come back to see everybody."

Actually, it's more like he's been on suver vacation, which is exactly what Duchovny ahd in mind back in May when he agreed at the last minute to return to his role as Fox Mulder for an eight season of the show in a part0time capacity. "I've been home at six o'clock the last four months in a row," ways the actor, who lives in Malibu with his wife, actress Tea Leoni, and their 1-year-old daughter, Madelaine West Duchovny. "I was never home at dinnertime before." Of course, he can certainly afford to take the family out the finest restaurants. Between his salary this season and the settlement of his acrimonious lawsuit, (Note from Rachael: we all know about this already, but I'll still include it...) in which he accused Fox of selling X-Files reruns at a low cost to its FX cable channel, Duchovny will reportedly earn almost $30 million.

While admitting he feels "a little nostalgic, a little sad" about detaching from the show that made him famous, Duchovny says the time has simply come to make a break. He contrasts his attitude with that of X-Files new comer Robert Patrick. "He's really excited to be here, and I think it's good to have someone come in and smack everybody and say, 'Wake up! This is a great job!' I wasn't gonna be that guy."

Turning 40 in August also helped put things in perspective. "I thought, 'I've got 15 years of viable working time, no matter how much yoga I do,'" Duchovny explains.

"'What do I want to do with the rest of my working life?'" And what did he come up with? "I haven't figured it out yet," he confesses, laughing " just know what I don't want to do."

Duchovny's currently filming director Ivan Reitman's "Evolution," a comedy in which he plays a college professor who has to save the world from - yes - an alien organism. "It's a really funny script," Ducovny says, comparing the movie more to "Men in Black" thatn The X-Files. After "Evolution," he'll put on his Mulder suit and pick up his flashlight for the last six episoes of the season.

And after that, who knows? He's up for doing another X-Files movie. And believe it or not, the actor, though somewhat doubtful, doesn't entirely close the door on a ninth season of the series. The current arangement, he says, "is working exactly the way I wanted it to. I get to do a movie while I'm doing the show." He pauses. "If I could work out somethinglike that, I wouldn't rule it out."

Cue the creepy music.

Confused by Scully's mysterious pregnancy? You're not the only one. Excutive producer Chris Carter (god) hasn't exactly exactly discouraged speculation that the proud papa-to-be is none other than Mulder, but the truth will almost certainly be more complicated. Even Gillian Anderson is somewhat baffled by the latest X-Files plot mutation and ready to be shocked. "I assumed I knew what put her in this predicament," Anderson says, "but lately I've been proved wrong. I don't know what is going on. Which is nothing new."

What is new - or, perhaps, renewed - is Anderson's enthusiasm for The X-Files. Last year, burned-out and bored, she pubicly rooted for the show to end. But the series's new dynamic, with Mulder vanished and G-man John Doggett (Robert patrick) at Scully's side, has "reinvigorated the work," she says over coffee at a Santa Monica restaurant. "We're all having a good time."

She ahs even agreed, albeit reluctantly, to a ninth season. Fox wouldn't give her the substantial raise she wanted for season 8 unless she agreed to No. 9. She now makes between $200,000 and $300,000 per episode. And she negotiated time off to spend with her 6-year-old daughter, Piper.

"She's always come first," Anderson says, "but how can I prove that when I'm working 16 to 18 hour days?" Divorced from former X-Files art director Clyde Klotz, Anderson lives in Malibu and declines to discuss her current romantic life.

Her new working arrangement does allow more time to be a mom. "I pick Piper up from school," she says. "We play, I make dinner and sit there with her. I haven't had alot of experience with that, and feel we've both lost out."

Life could get more complicated, in a good way, this December, when "House of Mirth" arrives in theaters. Based on the Edith Wharton novel, the film stars Anderson as a turn-of-the-century society woman who defies convention and pays a terrible price. The Los Angeles Times reports buzz that Anderson is a "revelation."

"All I know is I did the best I could," she says, smiling and embarrassed. "I love the novel. I love the character. We'll see."

Meanwhile, life on The X-FIles is just fine. I'm havin fun, and I'm getting to be a good mother," Anderson says. "I'm feeling satisfied."

Waiting to shoot a scene one recent morning on Fox's Stage 5, Robert Patrick is idly flipping through a manila folder when he suddenly starts singing. "I've got an X-File in my hands," he croons as crew members laugh.

Some might say the new X-Files costar has the whole series in his hands. While the truth isn't quite that extreme, the extent to which fans warm to his portrayal of John Doggett, the nononsense FBI agent who steps into Scully's life after Duchovny's Mulder goes AWOL, nevertheless will have a serious impact on the show's future. "I can't be responsible for that," says the lanky Georgia native, rejecting any such pressure. "The only commitment I have to X-Files fans is to work as hard as I can."

A veteran of 55 films (he also played the degenerate gambler in several episodes of HBO's The Sopranos last season) Patrick remains best known as the villainous, shape-shifting cyborg from the 1991 Arnold Schwarzenegger hit "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." The fole turned out to be something of a mixed blessing. I'm very grateful, because it's part of the reason I'm where I am now," explains Patrick, 41, who lives in LA with his actress wife, Barbara, their 3 year old daughter, Austin, and their infant son, Samuel. "But it was also something I had to shake." Not that his new pals let him. "My nick name around here is LMG," the actor says. "Liquid Metal Guy."

Patrick, who describes the skeptical, blue-collar Doggett as "a street smart guy" who thinks all that stuff about aliens is a load of hogwash (not the word Patrick uses, by the way), beat out several higher profile actors for the role. "He was miles ahead in the qualities we decided were best for the show," says X-Files creator Chirs Carter (god). Gillian Anderson agrees. "he fits the character even better than they imagined."

For his part, Patrick is thrilled by the opportunity to play a good guy. "I asked for a 70 year contract," the actor jokes. "Now I've just got todoa good job."

"I want to believe." That simple catchphrase has long illustrated FBI agent Fox Mulder's (David Duchovny) willingness to embrace the unknown. As the series kickeds off its eight season, creator and excutive producer Chris Carter hopes fans feel the same way.

The Emmy-winning drama is morphing into an unfamiliar entity: Mulder, who seemed to have been abducted by aliens, or was he? in last season's finale, will appear in only 11 of the season's 22 episodes (and five of the 11 will be brief appearances). FBI agent John Dogbreath (Robert Patrick) will be teamed with Scully (Gillian Anderson) to hunt for the missing Mulder."

Also picing up where last season's cliff-hanger left off, the mystery of Suclly's pregnancy will continue, leading up to a Duchovny appearance (in episode 7, titled "Redrum<" with an intriguing tip of the hat to "The Shining). Both the search and the pregnancy will play out over the entire season, Carter says, with Mulder returning from wherever for the final sex episodes as Scully's due date fast approaches. Meanwhile, assistant director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) gets a beefed up fole, and villains Covarrubias (Laurie Holden) and Krycek (Note From Rachael: Yea! More Krycek!)(Nicholas Lea) will figure more prominently, having snuffed out, apparently, Cigarette Smoking Man (Note From Rachael: I refuse to believe that CSM is dead) (William B. Davis) last season. And expect the return of Season 5's odd little Gibson Praise (Jeff Gulka).

Carter pledges that the series will avoid the comic touches of recent seasons (such as las year's Cops parody): "We've got a new dynamic here, and it forces us to think about the show in new ways. That's always a good thing."

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