David Duchovny: An Actor and a Poet
David Duchovny touts the creatures of The X-Files movie as "A-list aliens," discusses the dynamic bonds of marriage, explains why Princess Di's death was not a tragedy and shares one of his poems.
David Duchovny is sitting in his trailer on the 20th Century Fox lot wondering how much longer he's going to have to wait to do another pickup shot for The X-Files movie. Although the highly educated (Princeton, Yale) Duchovny once wrote a thesis about Samuel Beckett, the master of waiting, he still hasn't got the hang of hanging out. But The X-Files movie is high stakes for him, and he'll do what's necessary. The anticipation of this film is huge. The TV show, which has run now for five years and may go another two in its new Los Angeles setting, has made Duchovny a major international star, but becoming a genuine movie star would be a whole other game. "You struggle against people making you smaller than you are," he tells me of the fanatic attention he's drawn as FBI man Fox Mulder. "Sometimes I have an infantile reaction to people calling me Mulder--but it's my problem." He knows that playing Mulder on the big screen could make him bigger than he's ever been. And give him the freedom to be something different.
LAWRENCE GROBEL: Since The X-Files movie is coming out, let's talk about your last movie a minute. Playing God disappeared quickly. Do you think the problem with that one was the director?
DAVID DUCHOVNY: I think there was a problem with the direction of the film, but it wasn't the fault of the director. We never really had a script. We had a great idea that I thought would be done by the time we started shooting. If I were a movie actor, at this point I'd have said, "Hey, script's not ready, let's wait three months, send it off to Robert Towne to let him rewrite it." But I only had six weeks. I was itching to do a movie, and I said, "Let's plow ahead." So I'm as much to blame as anybody else. I wanted it to be a drama; the director wanted it to be more of a wacky Elmore Leonard-type caper. So it's mixed up. But I don't feel embarrassed or sad that I did it. I had a great time and I learned a lot.
Q: Is The X-Files movie better than any of the individual episodes?
A: It's better in the sense that we made sure every moment was right before we moved on, which we don't have the luxury of doing on the show. But the movie's not about the acting. A lot of what makes the show work has to do with the realistic and interesting portrayal of human beings. What makes a movie work is different. It's spectacle.
Q: Mulder and Scully have been dancing around the sexual question for five years now. In the movie do you finally do it?
A: It goes further in the movie than it ever did in the show.
Q: Are we going to see cool-looking aliens or will they be like the ones we've seen on the show?
A: [Laughs] Much cooler. We had more money to spend. These are A-list aliens.
Q: What alien movies have you enjoyed?
A: I liked Alien and Aliens. I loved E.T.
Q: Did you like Independence Day?
A: No, it was just toys. I'm not that interested in the genre really.
Q: Entertainment Weekly asked an appropriate question: what happens when a series based on unexplained phenomena starts explaining itself?
A: We'll see. We don't have a precedent for that, do we? But it's not like we're saying, "OK, here are all the answers that you've been wanting for five years." In true X-Files form, for every question answered, five more are raised.
Q: Your career has been so identified with this one character, what's your strategy for not becoming William Shatner?
A: I don't have one. I just have an abiding belief that talent will out. If I make it, then I have it; if I don't, then I didn't.
Q: With the freedom and opportunity to do a film unrelated to The X-Files, what director would you like to work with?
A: I love Coppola. In the documentary Hearts of Darkness, there's a bit where Martin Sheen's having a tough time doing the scene where he's going crazy in a hotel room in Saigon, and he tells Coppola he doesn't feel it's right. Coppola tells him, basically, "You are that guy. Whatever you do, that's right." And that's what you want from a director.
Q: What did you learn from Zalman King about acting when you were making Red Shoe Diaries?
A Zalman gave me a lot of confidence. He Eked me. He'd tell me I was great. You need that at some point in your life. Because it's so easy to lose that in this markety, gossipy Top 10 world. He told me to be still and trust that even in stillness something is going on. If the story is told well enough and I'm doing my work well enough, even doing nothing is going to work. Because doing nothing is actually something. I also let my dog teach me about acting.
Q: And what lessons has your dog taught you?
A: Just total focus. Total concentration. Maybe one ear goes back to figure something out.
Q: Before The X-Files you were in the film Kalifornia with Brad Pitt. Could you have foreseen that the two of you would become heartthrobs?
A: No, but Thelma & Louise had come out, so people were already saying he was going to be the next Brad Pitt. [Laughs] When I was auditioning for that movie it was set with Brad and Juliette Lewis. Michelle Forbes, who's on Homicide now, and I got cast opposite them. We were excited because we knew that people would see this movie because of Juliette and Brad. Juliette was really the hot one--she was shockingly good in Cape Fear. Brad and Michelle and I, we're good actors, but Juliette was like a savant. She was, like, channeling. It was weird to watch.
Q: Before you married, you were reportedly seeing Winona Ryder. What's your opinion of her as an actress?
A: She's a natural actor. I look around and see a lot of actors who are really good, but there are only some who were born to do it. I don't know what she'd do if she couldn't act. That's her calling.
Q: You also appeared with Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin--did you get to know him?
A A little bit. He's another born actor, awesomely talented.
Q: What did you think of his going to jail?
A Sad. You break the law, doesn't matter who you are, you've got to serve. I hope he can recover.
Q: You've said fame is like perfume. Why?
A: It doesn't make your insides smell any better. And it's superficial--it covers a bad smell that you might want to take care of in a serious way.
Q: Why is fame, as you've said, like being Catholic?
A: Because you can't do anything without getting caught.
Q: Who are the celebrities who have been wise about how they've dealt with fame?
A: I'm beginning to think Warren Beatty is. I used to resent his taciturn facade, but now I think he's smart about editing the story as he's giving it. I don't think I could ever be that way, but I respect it. My first response to attention coming my way is that I've got to give back or else they're going to go away. I've got to tell them a new story or say something controversial or be funny. You can end up feeling drained that way. If you can somehow address the things that are important to you without boring yourself or hurting your family, then you're doing a good job. But it isn't easy. I have this fear deep inside which is, "If I was a better actor, I wouldn't have to sell myself like this. People would just come. Why am I doing this song and dance to get people to come see something that I think stands on its own?" When you start talking about your wife or childhood, it's like, "Oh my God, now what am I doing? I'm trotting out the family history to get people to go see my movie?!"