San Jose Mercury News

Posted on Monday, Apr 5, 2005

House of Duchovny


By Mike Antonucci
Mercury News

It's OK to ask David Duchovny about "The X-Files."

All the red-flag issues -- including being eternally viewed by some fans as his Fox Mulder character and nobody else -- do not seem to drive him crazy.

"I'm proud of that show," says Duchovny, who played Mulder from 1993 to 2002.

"I couldn't be more proud of the quality of more than 200 hours of entertainment -- the storytelling, the writing, the directing, the production values, the acting. I don't think there's ever been a show that had so much on television."

There's more. He's looking forward to the possibility of getting a script that would make it possible to start shooting a new "X-Files" movie next year, and he says it's hard to conceive of doing another TV show because of the unmatchable standard set by "The X-Files."

It's not what many people would expect to hear from Duchovny, 44, while he's busy promoting his debut as a movie writer and director. His somewhat personal, deeply felt film, "House of D," opens Friday throughout the Bay Area, and Duchovny has crusaded to get it attention, including keeping up a blog on the Lions Gate Films Web site (

Along the way, though, he's talking about all the elements of his career, including "The X-Files" as an ongoing franchise, how he's hardening himself to critical reactions, the importance of having Robin Williams in "House of D" and what it's like working with his wife, Tea Leoni, who's also in the film.

Duchovny is clear about his main motivation: work that grips him and moves him, regardless of whether he's in front of the camera or behind it.

"I'm just pursuing all aspects of the business at this point and trying to find things that are meaningful to me," he says.

"House of D" takes its name from the Women's House of Detention that existed in New York's Greenwich Village when Duchovny was growing up in the area. He heard stories about prisoners talking through window bars to passersby, and one of the film's key subplots is the relationship that develops between an inmate, played by vocalist Erykah Badu, and the central character, an adolescent named Tommy, portrayed by Anton Yelchin.

The movie is most conveniently described as a coming-of-age tale that follows Tommy, living with his widowed mother (Leoni's character), through some classic teen struggles until horrific misfortune overwhelms his life. Tommy's closest companion is a mentally disabled adult played by Williams.

Little in that, Duchovny says, provides the kind of juicy or pithy "hook" that makes it easy to publicize the film. Williams' performance is meant to be the biggest lure.

"It's a movie that has a great depth of feeling, yet is also funny," says Duchovny. ``So how do you describe it? Is it a comedy? Is it a tragedy? It's hard to do, so the hook is Robin Williams."

Duchovny plays the adult Tommy at the beginning and end of the movie, when he's most intent on setting the mood of ``an urban fairy tale." Despite the pain that's so formative in Tommy's life, the film is permeated with a sense of gentleness and reconciliation that makes Duchovny say, "It's a kind of 'It's a Wonderful Life' movie in a way."

Moviegoers may read too much into medical scenes that evoke the recent Terri Schiavo brain-death case. Duchovny had no news event in mind when the script led to a key character being in a persistent vegetative state.

"It's something that happens -- it's an event" says Duchovny. "I'm not advocating any stance on this. . . . Movies aren't position points. They're events and they are drama."

Duchovny says he's trying to ready himself for the new kind of criticism he'll get as a writer-director, but that "my nature is to only remember the bad stuff and not to be buoyed at all by the good stuff" that also comes along.

"When I put so much of myself into a work like this, and then when you walk into a critical situation, you're always walking into a potentially dangerous one. I wish that I was less sensitive to it."

Duchovny says that having his wife in the cast was comfortable, partly because of having her close to him and partly because he could rely on her talent.

But he says she was extremely nervous.

"She didn't want to screw it up for me. And she was really scared: 'Oh, I'm going to screw it up for you!' "

Duchovny says Leoni never has found a role that fully capitalizes on her range of skills. He wishes somebody could write the perfect script for her.

"Sometimes," he muses, "I think I've got to do that. But ideas come as they come."

'House of D'

Rated: PG-13 (sex and drug references, thematic elements and language)

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Robin Williams, Tea Leoni, Erykah Badu, Frank Langella, David Duchovny

Writer-director: Duchovny

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes