Coming & Going
Typed by Shelia
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With his final season on “The X-Files” beginning to wane, David Duchovny’s mind is not really on playing Fox Mulder. But it is on the script he just wrote and will direct for the show this spring. He performed writer/director duties for “The X-Files” once before — last year’s episode “The Unnatural,” which was about an alien who left his people to become a baseball player in the Negro Leagues — and he’s anxious to get some feedback about this script. Between takes on the set, “X-Files” creator Chris Carter mentions to Duchovny that he’s read his script. “Oh yeah?” Duchovny responds, as casually as if Carter had told him he liked the color of his socks. “What’d you think?” “I really like it,” Carter says. The Two don’t discuss it much further, but Duchovny is satisfied, and considering that his relationship with Carter has gone down the tubes since he filed suits against 20th Century Fox last year, claiming they undersold the show in syndication to keep him from getting the profits he felt he contractually deserved, a pleasant exchange like this is indeed probably encouraging. When Duchovny’s finished with “The X-Files,” he hopes to turn full-time to the big screen, and he hopes his new movie, Return to Me, a romantic comedy costarring Minnie Driver will aid that transition. While the high stakes play out in his career, Duchovny’s personal life offers him the most stable environment he’s known. His wife, Tea Leoni, gave birth to their daughter, Madelaine West, last April. In his trailer he shows me the Kermit the Frog puppet he got for her. “This is the first toy I fell in love with,” he says. Then, as he shows me how it sings and hums, he laughs a lighthearted laugh that one guesses could never come out of Fox Mulder.
LAWRENCE GROBEL: All the new parents I know stay home and end up watching television. Are you a fan of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?”
DD: I watch it. I always get it wrong at the $250,000 question. Sometimes earlier.
Q: Who would you call as your lifeline?
A: I’d have Tea sit in front of the Encyclopedia Britannica and I’d call her. I don’t know why these people don’t do that.
Q: How has being a father altered your relationship with your wife?
A: You look at a call sheet for “The X-Files” and I’m number one on it. I used to be number one on the call sheet at home and now I’m like number three or four. It’s OK. Even though you spend less time together, there’s a bond. You’re in something huge together.
Q: Tim All has said he thinks a father can never get as close to his kids as a mother does.
A: It seems to me a biological fact that the baby is suckling at my wife’s breast all the time, getting full sustenance — nutritional and emotional — from that. But my daughter loves to see me and I love to see her. I put her on my chest naked, I let her smell me, we do all the things that people tell you to do. I’m really looking forward to meeting the person as she evolves. It’s fascinating to see something come in so unformed and yet with such a strong identity. Already at nine months I can get a feeling of who she is. I know she’s got a sense of humor.
Q: Now that you’re married and a father, your conversations with your shrink must be different.
A: I talk about different things, but the issues are always the same. You are who you are. At some point you’re formed, unless you’re taking excessive quantities of mind-altering drugs.
Q: Has your relationship with money changed?
A: N o, that’s the same. My wife, fortunately, loves to play with money, I wouldn’t say she loves money, but she sees the game aspect of it, and she likes that. I don’t.
Q: What’s the status of your lawsuit with Fox?
A: I can’t talk about it, except to say that I’m not suing for anything other than what I feel is owed me. I’m not suing for damages. I’m not suing Chris Carter. I’m suing Fox over what I feel is my contract.
Q: Do you believe, as was reported, that Chris Carter conspired with Fox to cover up the self-dealing, and was paid hush money as well?
A: Chris was named in the lawsuit, but he’s not a defendant. He’s involved inevitably — he’s part owner of the show, as am I.
Q: How long do you think it will take and what will happen?
A: Probably a couple of years, and then it will either be settled or go to trial. I’m perfectly willing to take it all the way if I have to, because I really feel this is something I’m owed and that they fucked me over. That’s not a legal term.
Q: Has it created tension on the set?
A: Not on the set, but obviously there are tensions between Chris and me. It’s completely ruined whatever personal relationship we had.
Q: Does it put a bad taste in your mouth about the show, ending this way?
A: No. It’s all business and that’s all it ever was. It’s not like I thought they were going to say, “Hey, we’re really proud of the artistic merit of your show, here’s the money.” The catch-22 of television is like, OK, you don’t get any money until you’re on a hit show. OK, now you’re on a hit show, now on your next show you’ll make a lot. But how many hits shows can you be in? It’s a lottery. Your hit show is your winning ticket and you should just get all your money. Because who knows? “The X-Files” is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
Q: Has Fox ever given you anything, like a car, to show their appreciation?
A: No. See, I hate the aspect of show business where actors are like kept concubines — they get a car or an all-expenses trip to Hawaii. It’s ridiculous. Just pay me the money that is in my contract and don’t treat me like a prostitute. Don’t give me a car and a necklace and then fuck me, which is what they’re doing.
Q: Any chance you might reconsider leaving at the end of this season?
A: No. It may continue on without me. Gillian is contracted to do another year.
Q: Think they might want to kill you or Scully?
A: (Laughs) No, because they have the movie franchise to think about.
Q: Are there more The X-Files in the works?
A: I think so. I wouldn’t mind doing another X-File movie.
Q: What kind of business did the first one do in the end?
A: $83 million here, almost $200 million worldwide. Only cost around $60 million to make.
Q: It seems Gillian is doing more physical stuff than you are on the show. And she wins more fights than you do.
A: Yeah. In the one we’re doing right now she saves the day. I get my ass kicked and she kicks the ass of the person who gets me. I think it’s silly. People are so deathly afraid of putting women in jeopardy or showing violence towards women that they go away from realism. Once you do that you’re pandering. But people are so afraid of being un-PC that female characters become unreal and invulnerable. It’s not just physical, they can’t show any frailty. So there is no drama anymore, because you’re bullshitting. It’s like Soviet art. But this show is not my vision so I would never go and rail to the writers, “You’re creating Soviet art now for the PC crowd.” It’s just something I think about.
Q: What’s the dynamic between you and Gillian when you’re not working? Do you have any relationship at all?
A: Not really. We’re friendly.
Q: Has she come over to see the baby?
A: No. It’s always been that we’ve spent so much time together we don’t want to see each other when we’re not working. Not that we don’t like each other, it’s just she has a life and so do I.
Q: Are you tired of doing the show?
A: Yeah, sure. It’s the seventh year. I’ve come to terms with the fact that there’s really not going to be anything for me to play. It’s a little distressing, but I do have the writing and directing, which is an amazing opportunity I thank Chris and Fox for.
Q: How many episodes have you written or had a hand in?
A: Five or six. I have more influence in the back story and the leitmotifs that we hit on now and then. For example, it was my idea that is was Mulder rather than his sister who was supposed to be taken by the aliens.
Q: Do you think audiences will ever let you put Fox Mulder behind you?
A: The more powerful “The X-Files” has become the harder it is for me to be seen in another role. But you look at “The X-Files” and the acting is similar in quality and reality to the acting you have in movies. It’s not like a piece of television. I don’t feel like I’m making a transition. All I need is a good script, and that’s up to the gods.
Q: Entertainment Weekly suggested you become a director. They also thought you should go after CBS’s updating of The Fugitive.
A: A compliment and an insult. They can never just compliment.
Q: You were in negotiations to be in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday. he wanted you for the assistant doctor’s role, which Matthew Modine eventually played, and you wanted the Dennis Quaid part. But Stone said you didn’t have a thick enough neck to play a quarterback.
A: (Laughs) He said that, it’s true.
Q: What do you think of the film?
A: Oliver Stone is always two steps ahead as a filmmaker. This was football as war, it was like watching Platoon with a ball. Very visceral. Playing a song like DMX’s “My Niggas” over black guys getting ready to play football was a very courageous shot.
Q: You aren’t finished with Oliver Stone, though, are you?
A: I wrote an episode for the show called “Hollywood A.D.” and I made an offer to him to be in it, so that I can hire him as an actor before he gets a chance to hire me. He’d be perfect for this role. It’s a disaffected Yippie from the ’60s who’s taken to forging religious documents and extorting money from the church. The guy thinks that in order to become an expert in forging he’s got to immerse himself in the life and culture of Jesus Christ, and he somehow transforms himself into Jesus. Being an explosives expert, he then bombs the church where his forgeries are being kept, because now that he’s become Jesus he realizes that his forgeries are wrong. There’s a scene where Scully hallucinates him on a crucifix. The cross is only three feet high, so you’d see a little three-foot Oliver. I thought Oliver had the right neck size to play that. Although Oliver’s neck might be a little thick to play Jesus. The Jesus we know is always kind of a pencil-neck.
Q: Has he read the script yet?
A: I just sent it to him. I don’t know if he wants to act.
Q: Why didn’t you call him as well?
A: I want to give him the chance to say no gracefully.
Q: Harold Bloom noted in The Western Canon that Kafka shared his unbelief in God with Freud, Woolf, Joyce, Beckett, Proust, Borges and Neruda. Do you believe in God?
A: I like that company. Who’s on the pro-God side? (Laughs) I’m not sure that those people didn’t believe in God. God as the white-haired man with the long beard who doesn’t believe in birth control and wants to send you to hell because you curse, I’m not sure I believe in that anal-compulsive God. But Beckett tells a joke in one of his novels that sums up his idea of God, which is good for me: this guy goes to a tailor for a suit and the tailor measures him and says to come back in a week. The guy returns and the tailor says he needs more time. The guy comes back in another week, it’s still not ready, and the tailor tells him to come back in three days. Guy comes back in three days. “Can you come back on Monday?” He comes back and the tailor says again it’s not ready. The guy finally explodes and says, “What the hell are you doing? It took God only six days to create the world.” And the tailor says, “And look what a job he did.” I like to think of it that way.
Q: What interested you in doing your new movie, Return to Me, a romantic comedy without much action?
A: Most of the romantic comedies I see are condescending, but this one had a chance to be entertaining and heartfelt, so I thought I’d give it a shot. And I knew Bonnie Hunt, who wrote and directed it, from doing a bit part on that dog movie, Beethoven about nine years ago. The movie’s kind of a fairy tale, and I knew Bonnie’s sensibility was not edgy in a hip sense, but edgy funny, and I thought if you combine the schmaltziest fairy tale with an edgy, funny sensibility it might be an interesting movie.
Q: Interview magazine said Minnie Driver is fearless. How did you enjoy working with her?
A: She is fearless, kind of. She’s got a big mouth in a good way. She doesn’t hold her tongue. She just forges ahead, which is great to see. Minnie is great to work with because she’s game. However you want to work, she’ll work that way. She shows up prepared. In a good mood. She’s real strong. It wasn’t always the easiest shoot. What I said to her before we started was: this is a fairy tale kind of story and we have to believe; our characters cannot wink at the audience. That gave us a good bond to check into each other with.
Q: Mulder has a lot of sexual tension around him, but this character is just so nice, there’s no tension. Is that going to be disappointing to your core audience?
A: I don’t think so. It’s about soul love. People want to believe in that just as much as they want to believe in sex.
Q: Would you call the film a chick flick?
A: People just say that because it’s about love and not about fucking. The director is a chick, obviously, but she doesn’t have that chick-flick sensibility. I see no reason for a guy not to enjoy the film.
Q: Quiet, romantic pictures don’t have an easy time in today’s market. What are your expectations?
A: There’s always space for a good romantic movie. I’ve seen the film and the experience was very much like when I saw Moonstruck. I wasn’t an actor then, but I remember thinking, this is fun, I don’t want it to end, I like this world. When I knew Return to Me was about to end I felt, Oh, too bad, I enjoyed being diverted into this world for two hours. Tea felt the same way.
Q: Nicolas Cage says he thinks of characters first in terms of how they sound. What do you first think of?
A: I always try to figure out, Where in his body does he live? In his head? His heart? His cock? His stomach? His feet? I try to play the bodily ego of the person and then bring it from there. That helps me get started. You’ve got to get started. Otherwise you go crazy.
Q: You’ve said that the best actors convey disappointment. What did you mean?
A: I’ve always liked Bando’s disdain for acting. I always felt it in his performance, and it was very interesting, noble in a way. It wasn’t childish. I also got the feeling with Brando that he had a moral difficulty with the emotional exposure that acting trade on. When he spoke about it, it was like, What are we doing for a living? We are selling our emotions. How far do you go? Do you give people what they want or what you want to give them? I always felt like he gave what he wanted to give.
Q: You almost ended up an academic instead of an actor. Is it more prestigious to be a tenured professor or a famous actor?
A: It depends on who you ask. Actors tell stories that serve a function, we go through things for people. Historically that’s what plays do. You go to the theater and you have that catharsis because there’s a heroic or non-heroic figure going through these things that speak to you in some way, and you are involved and feel vital, and maybe you learn, but at least you have an experience because we all can’t go through these heroic things. Even I can’t, though I portray them. That’s a great service. In that way I’m proud of what I do. All the other stuff — the business side, the overpayment, the concentration on insignificant details like salary, like who’s fucking who, like clothes, all those things that are attendant to celebrity — those are much more difficult. But then again, a tenured professor is also serving. If I were a teacher at Yale, I’d be teaching people who are already really well educated. You’re not really saving anybody. The kind of teaching my mother and sister do, second and eighth grades, that’s different. Those are the true educational heroes, not so much the college professors.
Q: Let’s talk about your childhood. Did you have any pets as a kid?
A: Three dogs and four cats.
Q: And how often did you experience the death of a pet?
A: Just once per pet. (Laughs) We had a dog named Jester who I always thought we gave away, but I’ll tell you the dirty secret of my family: Jester was put down. He was a wild dog, hard to control, so my dad put him down. That was horrible. Our mythical family dog, the best dog, Jason, was a girl. She dies when I was 11 and that was the heartbreak of dog death. She’d had a very dramatic path. She was found wandering in Egypt by a family we knew that was vacationing there. They found this starving dog wandering in the desert — sounds biblical — and brought it back, though they didn’t really want it. We spent summers on Fire Island near them, and this dog started coming by our house one summer, especially to my mother. At the end of the summer they asked us if we wanted to keep her, so we did. She was a wonderful dog: smart, wise, loving, worried, very protective. Whenever my brother and I fought she would try to pull us apart. While we still had Jason we got Sal, a cat from the greengrocer on 11th and 1st Avenue, and then we got Sal’s sister by another marriage, Miss Emily. Then Jason died. She was my mother’s beloved soul mate and it happened around my parents’ divorce, so it was a very confusing time. Then we got a Scottie named Daphne, plus a gray cat named Shanghai, then a black cat named The Alien, who my best friend’s girlfriend thought we called Ableman, so we liked that name better and changed it. All but Ableman are dead now.
Q: When did Daphne die?
A: Daphne died when I was 25. It was really Daphne’s death that was the hardest. She wasn’t a great friend dog — terriers don’t like humans that much. But she wasn’t really like a dog. She never gave you that fun that dogs give. She was always very worried, rarely wagged her tail, never got excited. She’d sit in a chair like a person, with her back against the cushion and her front paws on the arm. My mother has said that she got Daphne when my father left and she poured all her sadness into the dog, and that she thought she squashed the dog’s personality, but that without Daphne she wouldn’t have survived. The dog was a receptacle for all of her pain. I believe there’s some truth to that. The dog was definitely carrying a burden she didn’t understand. When my mother called and said she was going to have to put Daphne down, I went over to say goodbye. Daphne could hardly walk. I picked her up and took her into every room in the house and talked to her about memories I had of stuff that we’d done in that room. That was really hard.
Q: What was the most terrifying moment of your life?
A: A couple of years after I’d been a lifeguard in a place called Ocean Beach on Fire Island, I went back out there with a friend who wasn’t a good swimmer. It was rough water and he couldn’t get back in. I tried to get him in and I couldn’t. We were both getting pretty tired, and we made the decision that I should leave him and get in myself and get help. So we went further out, past the breakers, where it wasn’t rough, and I said, “Hang on for 15 minutes.” That was scary, leaving him there.
Q: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever personally seen?
A: A woman writing her name with a pen stuck in her vagina in Thailand.
Q: What greater performance than that could you have seen?
A: When I was 17 I saw Springsteen in Jersey. That meant a lot to me.
Q: You’ve compared yourself to Holden Caulfield: hating hypocrisy and pretension. Where do you most see that?
A: There’s a lot of it everywhere. I see it in people who all of a sudden start having English accents after they get an award. It’s a young feeling to think that the world should be without pretension. It’s like a 14-year-old saying, “Why can’t you just tell the truth?” Mulder is like that — a guy who wants everybody to tell the truth, which as you get older you see is not the way the world works.
Q: What’s with you and Howard Stern? Initially he dismissed you as a fake Richard Gere, then you appeared on his show.
A: He says things that are controversial or hurtful or mean because they’re funny. Calling me a fake Richard Gere is somewhat funny, I guess. He reminds me of a kid, that’s the persona. Once you get on there and show you’re capable of sparring with him and you make good radio, that’s all he cares about. You do a good show, then he likes you.
Q: Has he ever made you uncomfortable?
A: Not when I was there. It’s more uncomfortable when he talks about me when I’m listening in the car because I can’t be there to defend myself. Not just him, but anybody. I was in Vancouver once watching Letterman. Mike Myers was on and said that when some people see him they think he’s David Duchovny. It was a surreal moment where I was just trying to go to sleep, and I hear my name and think, “Oh my God, they’re gonna say something terrible.” Then he did an imitation of me and it was a nightmare. When you hear your name, it’s just a cold sweat immediately, like the principal calling you.
Q: So do you do an Austin Powers imitation?
A: No, I don’t, but I’ll get him. (Laughs)
Q: What’s the most outrageous thing Howard Stern asked you?
A: He had a list of women I’d supposedly had sex with and he was way off. When he said he was going to ask me about these women I thought this was going to be hard, because if I had had sex with them, was I going to lie? But I hadn’t even heard of these women! It was great — I got to say, “No, no, no, no, no.”
Q: What about Alicia Rio, the porn star you once mentioned wanting to have lunch with? Ever hear from her?
A: Yes, she read what I’d said and called. I didn’t go to lunch though, being married and everything. No disrespect to Alicia Rio, and Tea wouldn’t care, but I didn’t know how she would use it. For all I know she just wanted to have lunch, but you can’t take the chance that somebody is going to have a photographer there and then all of a sudden I’m dating a porn star. The bad thing about celebrity is that you can’t do the innocent things that don’t look innocent.
Q: What did you think of GQ’s describing you as being as murky as swamp water, the anti-Carrey?
A: Murky as swamp water is fine. I try not to be that clear. I’ll take that one. The anti-Carrey thing I didn’t quite buy. I don’t think Jim Carrey is clear. I would think Tom Cruise is clear. Even Brad Pitt is more clear than Carrey. Carrey seems to me a very difficult guy to read. I wouldn’t set him up as the paradigm of simplicity or clarity.
Q: Do you feel, as the writer did, that you radiate an aura of superiority?
A: That writer felt the same thing about my dog — she felt my dog didn’t want her butt smelled by other dogs, and that’s patently untrue. My dog loves to have her ass smelled by any kind of animal.
Q: You got into some trouble with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) when you used the words “fag” and “sissy.” Did you have to apologize for being insensitive?
A: (Laughs) Nah, they called and said, “Oh David, you’re smarter than that.” I said, “Look, I used faggot not as a homosexual term but as feeling emasculated. I understand what you guys are doing and it’s great. People should be tolerant. Gay bashing is abhorrent. But I feel good about the English language and I like having the word faggot as my disposal, because it’s a powerful word with a lot of associations. I won’t have anybody take my words away from me.”
Q: Does it bother you having to be politically correct with language?
A: Obviously people’s feelings are going to get hurt when you use certain words, but you can’t outlaw words. They’re really the history of our culture. They tell you what’s going on. When you make words politically incorrect you’re taking all the poetry out of the language. I’m pro anybody living their lives the way they want to live it, sexually and otherwise; and I’m anti any kind of language repression.
Q: Saul Bellow said: “love has become a consumerist phenomenon because we judge people as we judge commodities — we can do better, we can get another one, we can always replace what’s lost.”
A: We live in a world where in the 10 hours that I’ve been up today I’ve probably had access to more information than John Milton had in his entire life. I don’t think that’s a good thing. You see so much. Nothing is local, everything is global. I have access to all these lifestyles, all these people’s experiences, all these cars, all these women, all these grass-is-greeners. And it fucks with the human mind.
Q: Since you knew John Kennedy Jr., how did you react to his death?
A: I didn’t know him well. I knew him when I was 14, and I ran into him maybe five times in the last 20 years. As far as the public reaction is concerned, I didn’t feel it was overblown. There was something lost, some kind of connection to a past that was gone. Personally, his being exactly my age, it was odd to think of him being dead and then consider, what if I died at this age? Am I living life the way I should be? It just made me reflect back selfishly on myself as well.
Q: When was the last time you saw or spoke with him?
A: At a Knicks play-off game a year and a half ago. He came over to say hi. He had a big piece of bubblegum on his butt.
Q: Do you agree with Michael Jordan being ESPN’s athlete of the century?
A: No, I would have picked Ali because of his impact and courage. I don’t think Michael Jordan had to perform in the same kind of spiritual arena that Ali did. It didn’t mean as much, ultimately. Personally, I think Bo Jackson was the best athlete, but his career was cut short. Then again, the best athlete was probably someone we’ve never heard of. That’s my fantasy.
Q: What about Time choosing Einstein as Person of the Century?
A: That seems like such an odd idea, the best or most influential person. Einstein may have found out more truths, but Freud’s probably the most influential in how we think now.
Q: Is there any painting you’d like to live in?
A: That’s actually an acting exercise — it’s called the Painting. You choose a painting and you work yourself into it. I chose this van Gogh painting, The Night Café in Arles, a scene in a bar with a pool table and a nutty looking guy staring straight out. I loved being that guy; it was like he wanted to leave the painting.
Q: How about enacting a Jackson Pollock?
A: That’s more advanced work. (Laughs) That’s like graduate work in the Method. Or if you tried to be a broken dish in a Schnabel painting.
Q: What works of literature would you save?
A: American: The Great Gatsby, Leaves of Grass and Emerson’s essays. World: Ulysses, because through that you get a sense of other books, and The Faerie Queene.
Q: Presidential politics: anybody you like?
A: I like Bradley and Gore, given the choices. I’d like to know who does Donald Trump’s hair.
Q: Gore or Bradley?
A: Gore will get it. I hope he gets it over Bush, because Bush will be a disaster. I prefer McCain over Bush.
Q: Hillary vs. Giuliani for the Senate?
A: I like people who live in the state. I’ve got to go for Giuliani.
Q: What do you think Clinton will do when he leaves?
A: Take a deep breath. He’s a relatively young guy, he’s got another career ahead of him. I don’t know what it is.
Q: What do you think of Jesse Ventura?
A: His show’s only gonna last for four years.