The Miami Herald

Posted on Fri, Apr. 29, 2005

Mulder's latest monster: the cynical film critic


As FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files, David Duchovny battled government conspiracies, colonizing aliens, toxic flukemen, inbred Pennsylvania mutants, a vampire sheriff who may or may not have had big buck teeth, killer trees, deadly cockroaches, a decapitated guy who regenerated his head, even the chupacabra. But as director and screenwriter of the indie film House of D, he has to stare down even more intractable foes: cynics.

Duchovny's nostalgic movie about the friendship between a boy and a mentally handicapped janitor refuses to shy away from sentiment, even in our skeptical times.

"I didn't worry about that," the man who will always be Mulder says from his Los Angeles house. Funny, he's using the character's famously deadpan voice. "The tale was just demanding to be written as it was. It's bittersweet, not sweet. It's not quite as innocent as it appears. There's tough stuff in there."

Duchovny's attitude toward critics is of the whatcha-gonna-do? variety. While discussing the expanding X-Files budget over the years, he cracks that most of it went to co-star Gillian Anderson's salary. "That's a joke!" he says quickly, and you realize humor-impaired writers have crucified him unfairly. But how can he be a jerk if he laughs at being reminded of the super-mullet he sported in The Rapture? 'I didn't know any better! They put extensions in. I thought it looked cool. Somewhere Billy Ray Cyrus was watching me and saying, 'Hmmm.' "

House of D, set in Greenwich Village where the 43-year-old Duchovny grew up, is not autobiographical, but the idea for the script came from events he witnessed as a kid. Women locked up in the house of detention would hang out the windows, shouting down to the street. "People would visit them, lovers, children, parents, lawyers. . . . I talked to people on the street when we were filming, and everyone 55 and older remembers the racket. I liked the idea of having a conversation with an inmate you didn't know. But I didn't want to make a documentary. I wanted it to be a fairy tale."

The film is authentically grounded in 1973, from its soundtrack (Doobie Brothers, Stevie Wonder, Allman Brothers) to its tiniest touches. In one scene a girl plays with clackers -- "click clacks," Duchovny calls them -- a quickly-discontinued toy with two glass balls that bang together. "We had to get 'em off eBay, and they set us back a lot on our budget. I thought the more detail that could be used, the more people would not notice there wasn't a huge budget."

Screenwriting didn't flummox Duchovny, but postproduction was tough. He had directed X-Files episodes -- notably The Unnatural, a bittersweet story about a baseball-playing alien -- but had never edited a feature-length movie. "It was hard for me to start to put it together. Writing just depends on luck; you have an idea or you don't. You wake up one morning and see how the light hits your coffee cup, and you have an idea."

Directing can be nerve-racking -- "You're always chasing the clock, always looking at your watch" -- but working with spouse Téa Leoni, who plays the boy's mother, was no problem. 'I know that when you're on set you have to hand it over to the actor. You've said, 'The role is yours.' What else are you gonna do?"

What he didn't fret about enough, he says, was casting the role of the boy. 'I was so eager to make my film, I just wanted to shoot. I was ready to hire kids who wouldn't have been able to do it. An acting coach out here named Larry Moss said 'You have to make sure the kid can do it.' So I opened up auditions again and kept looking. Fairly late, Anton [Yelchin] walked in, and he was just it from the minute he walked in the door."

Duchovny, who recently told an Inside the Actor's Studio audience that God would probably meet him at the pearly gates crying "Mulder!", says he's sure there will be another X-Files movie. "I'd be amazed if we didn't do it. Why wouldn't Fox want to do that? All these studios excavate comic books we've never heard of. Fox has its own homegrown story."

As for life after Mulder, well, it is out there. Just like the truth. And the fact is that Duchovny has nothing but compliments for the defining TV series of the 1990s.

"It's a fantastic show. Whenever it plays, people will get into it. The Twilight Zone is a great show, and it gets rediscovered all the time. I can see The X-Files getting rediscovered. I would hope so.

'We were so culturally pervasive at one point that it's hard for me to escape that but not impossible. You just have to keep doing your work. You can't bemoan that 'Oh, I was too successful.' I just gotta keep on keeping on, really."