Interview: David Duchovny

I interviewed David Duchovny for Impact today. Despite being extremely ill, he was really friendly and really funny. And brilliant. Here’s how it went:

JB: Hi, David. How are you today?

DD: I’m sick!

JB: You sound it.

DD: Yeah.

JB: Where are you now? New York, or L.A.?

DD: New York. I just wrapped a movie yesterday, so I’m collapsing in a heap. You get to enjoy that.

JB: That’s fine. I’m in southern Indiana, right across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky. We’re very snowed in at the moment.

DD: Oh, beautiful.

JB: I’ll probably have pneumonia myself tomorrow. What’s the movie you just wrapped?

DD: It’s called Trust the Man, with Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup and Maggie Gyllenhaal. It’s very funny, I think.

JB: That’s a big cast. It is an ensemble piece?

DD: It’s us four. We’re equal leads; I don’t know if that really makes it an ensemble. We’re like four equal leads.

JB: The interview is supposed to be about the X-Files DVD release; I’d like to start with some X-Files questions and move into some of the other things you’re doing.

DD: Sure.

JB: Does it feel strange to be promoting The X-Files again after it’s been off the air for so many years?

DD: It hasn’t really been off that long, so, no. It feels like it’s still with us.

JB: When you look at the television landscape today, with so many reality shows, do you think it would be difficult for a show like The X-Files to succeed right now?

DD: Yes and no. I think it would be impossible to ever get a network to write the kind of checks to make the show, because reality shows are so much cheaper to produce. I don’t think it would ever get made in the first place, but if it did, I think it would do well because that was always the key to the success of the show. It was good. It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that it was about aliens or this or that. It was just a really good show.

JB: My favorite episode of all time is the genie episode.

DD: Oh, yeah? [laughs]

JB: The comedies were always so good. Did you find it was sometimes more difficult to make the comedic episodes work, as opposed to the conspiracy episodes or the monster episodes?

DD: Well, comedy traditionally is always going to be harder than the other stuff because a comedy either works or it doesn’t. If people laugh, it works. If they don’t, you can’t say, “It kind of worked.” It just failed. Also, you don’t want to be caught consciously trying to be so funny. You just want it to grow out of the character and take the kind of severe landscape we would have created with the show and stretch it to accommodate a comedy without breaking the character or making him a different guy.

JB: As driven as Mulder often was, did you find it difficult to reach inside him and find those lighter places?

DD: No, because I always thought Mulder was a funny guy. Even from the beginning, the quippy stuff was coming from Mulder. I always thought sense of humor was a sign of intelligence, and I thought Mulder was intelligent, and I thought one of his driving characteristics was actually his sense of humor. What you have to remember is that Mulder is a loser. Even though we all know that he was right in all the episodes, publicly, he was always wrong. He never solved the case. He was a joke within the FBI. Losers are funny. They’ve got to be. There’s no other way to make the world square.

JB: At what point in the process of making the show did you get the bug to start directing episodes yourself?

DD: I guess it might have always been in the back of my mind, but the workload just to be the actor in that show was so intense and such a learning experience for me, because I had never had any kind of acting job with that kind responsibility before, that it probably took me until the end of the third year to even think that I could even have a cup of coffee on a Sunday afternoon and do the show at the same time. So probably around the fourth year, as I started to think about writing for the show, I started thinking about directing it, as well. The sixth year is when I finally did.

JB: There’s something I always wanted to ask you about the episode “William,” which you directed in the ninth season. Did the fact that you were a father yourself at that point make it easier or more difficult to direct a story about a child in peril?

DD: I think it made it easier, because you understand the emotions of it. You’re not just faking it. I think any kind of life experience makes you a better director, whether it’s having a baby or flying a plane or whatever. It makes you a better artist, because you have more to draw on.

JB: There were some good episodes toward the end of the eighth season, when Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish were on the show. It became a bit more of an ensemble at that point. Did you enjoy working with Robert and Annabeth as much as you did with Gillian Anderson?

DD: It was very different, because Gillian and I were like a mom-and-pop store. We made the business, you know? And at that point we were trying to hand it over to the kids while still being part of it. It’s kind of a difficult thing for the writers to do, to make Mulder and Scully part of an ensemble. If you have too many characters in a show like that that’s so plot-driven, there’s too much personal agenda that you have to service, and you’ve really got to service the story. I think Robert and Annabeth did a great job. I think it’s just hard to have that many characters in a show like that that needed to tell a scary story every week.

JB: There were a lot of unresolved threads hanging around at the end of the final episode. Are there any plans to address any of those issues in another feature film?

DD: Yes. I think next winter we’re going to try to make another movie, but I don’t know if it’s going to address the unresolved threads. It’s going to continue the frame of the show, and the characters, and the interest of the show being the paranormal and the unexplained, into a movie serial as opposed to a television serial.

JB: Would you like to do more than one film? Is Mulder somebody you’d like to get in touch with every couple of years?

DD: Yeah, every three or four years, I think it would be a wonderful opportunity. I love the show. I love the character, and I honestly think it’s a good franchise to cultivate because the shows were smart and funny and thrilling. That’s what people go to the movies for. If we can all do that again, and if people want to line up and see it, that would be fantastic.

JB: I’d like to talk about The House of D, which is a film you wrote, directed, and starred in last year. What aspects of working on The X-Files prepared you for writing and directing your first feature film?

DD: I think that all my experience as a writer, actor, and director came out of The X-Files. I’d done a lot of movies before that, but to be thrown into a crucible where you’re doing that much work every day, and to watch big-time filmmaking, that is what The X-Files was. The X-Files is much more like, from a technical and production standpoint, a movie, and it cost that much. When I was directing an episode of The X-Files, I got to make a small “big movie” for eight days or a month or whatever. That kind of experience is invaluable. How else could I ever have gotten that? I owe it all to that.

JB: How long had the idea for that film been percolating in your mind before you actually got the chance to make it?

DD: There were certain threads of what became the story that were percolating, but they didn’t all coalesce until I actually sat down to write it. I didn’t know what the story was, and as I was writing it, it became clear to me. It all kind of just came together so quickly, but since a lot of what is dealt with in the movie has to do with, geographically, places I grew up in and certain kinds of experiences I had, I guess it had been sitting there for a long time.

JB: I also wanted to ask you about My Dark Places, the film where you’re going to play James Ellroy. What’s the status of that?

DD: I don’t know. It’s a great script, it’s a great story. It’s a dark and difficult movie to finance in this climate. Small movies in the independent world, in some ways, are driven more by the dollar than in the big-budget world because people have less money. They’ve got to recoup their money. In a story like My Dark Places, where a man is investigating the 36-year-old, unsolved murder of his mother, it’s a beautiful story but it’s hard to throw it out there and say, “Hey, kids, do you want to go see that one?” I know that if and when we make it, and I’m sure we will at some point, it will be a great movie. We’re just trying to get the money together.

JB: Since you have a strong literary background yourself, has researching a film about an author inspired you to think about cranking out books of your own?

DD: I’d love to, but I’m in show business, so if I’m going to write, I’m going to write a script at this point. I’ve written another script that I want to shoot in about four or five months, and if I can crank out a script a year, and shoot and direct a movie every two years, and act in other people’s projects in between, I’ll be quite satisfied creatively. So I probably wouldn’t think about writing in any other form. But you never know. I think ideas come to you like people. They are what they are. An idea for a poem is not going to be a movie. An idea for a novel is not going to be a movie. An idea for a movie is not going to be a poem. So you can’t choose the ideas you have. They just come to you, and you figure out what the best form for that feeling or idea is.

JB: Throw me the David Duchovny philosophy of life.

DD: Go down swinging. [laughs]

JB: David, thanks so much for your time today.

DD: Sure.

JB: And as a fan of your work, thank you for that, as well.

DD: Thank you.

And that was that. One of the best 10-minute chunks of my life.