Chicago Tribune

Published April 29, 2005
Terry Armour

In 'D,' Duchovny plumbs his past

David Duchovny isn't exactly running from what he used to be; he's just branching out.

While waiting to reprise his role as Fox Mulder in a second "X-Files" film based on the popular show, Duchovny has assumed a new identity as a first-time director with "House of D," which opens Friday in theaters.

Through flashbacks, the film tells of a troubled artist (Duchovny) and his past relationships with his depressed mother (played by real-life wife Tea Leoni) and a mentally challenged janitor (Robin Williams) in the shadows of a women's detention center in the middle of New York.

Are moviegoers ready to separate Duchovny's directing career from his former life as a TV star? "What goes against somebody like myself is that my show was huge," Duchovny told the Tribune during a recent stop in Chicago. "But it is what it is and I am what I am. I know what I can do."

Q. You wrote and directed episodes of "The X-Files." Is that where you first got the behind-the-camera bug?

A. I wanted to (direct) for a long time, and being on the show was a real opportunity for me to do it. I said to ("X-Files" creator) Chris (Carter), "If I can write one and come up with a decent story, would I be able to direct it?" He said, "Sure." I enjoyed the process.

Q. While "House of D" isn't totally autobiographical, there is an obvious reference point of your personal life growing up in New York City.

A. When you write a movie, the best you can do is to research it. With this movie, having lived at that time and grown up in that neighborhood, that was my research. It was all a part of me, so in a way I have been researching this for 20 years. Back then, you still had a prison that was in the middle of a city where you could have a random meeting with a prisoner. That was the genesis of the whole idea for this script. That was always odd to me.

Q. Describe working with Robin Williams.

A. He's a great actor, and great actors will always do things that are unexpected with the character. That's why casting is so important--I'd say casting is 90 percent. Robin is playing a mentally challenged guy, so the kind of roles that he normally goes off on, he couldn't really do that here. He was kind of cut off from that, which is good because he had to focus on the physical part and other things about the role I thought were even more interesting.

Q. How was it working with your wife?

A. (Laughs) She was nervous because she didn't want to screw it up. I never thought she was going to screw it up. I wasn't thinking, "Oh, my God--I hope Tea is good." I know she's good, I just wanted to make sure that she was comfortable enough to be good.

Q. Was it difficult leaving what was happening at the office, so to speak, when you went home at the end of the day?

A. We only worked together for six days--but Tea took it home. She was worried but I was fine with what had happened. I got what I wanted. She didn't know that I got what I wanted. I told her I did. (Laughs) She didn't believe me, of course.

Q. You have been married for almost eight years now. That's an eternity in Hollywood. Is there some secret you'd like to share?

A. I'm never going to put myself forward as an expert on marriage. I don't know anything about keeping a marriage together except for what I learn day to day. We don't have any kind of working secret except we like to talk to one another. I think we made a good choice. I think that's probably the secret to staying together is whether or not you made a decent choice when you first got together. Tea and I, we continue to like each other. That's it. I don't know how else to work it. (Laughs) If I didn't like her, I'd probably get a divorce.