FAST CHAT David Duchovny

Steve Dollar

April 17, 2005

A coming-of-age story that's also a valentine to Greenwich Village in the early 1970s, "House of D" - which opened Friday - is the directorial debut of actor David Duchovny. And, no, the former "X-Files" star is not the "D" of the title: That refers to the (long-since demolished) Greenwich Village Women's House of Detention, where prostitutes were frequently held, and also held court from behind barred windows that faced the street.

The site plays a pivotal role in the film, which follows its 13-year-old hero (newcomer Anton Yelchin) through a difficult passage to manhood. Now settled in Malibu with his wife (and "House of D" co-star) Téa Leoni and their two children, Duchovny, 44, was back in his old hometown recently. He met with freelance writer Steve Dollar to do a little reflecting on Manhattan then and now - and life after Fox Mulder.

Gee, it must be nice for you to do something that has nothing to do with alien abductions or seeping black pools of mysterious goo.

Sure. Yeah. Always a pleasure to branch out.

Had you been thinking about "House of D" for a long time?

Because of the place and time that the movie takes place, I certainly have been thinking about those images - that time frame - for a long time. But I hadn't thought of that story. That came upon me quickly, but I had always filed away the idea of the House of D as being an interesting dramatic situation. Because you had a prison where women could actually interact with strangers, which I don't think you get anymore - in the middle of New York City.

That was your high-school hangout, right?

I wish I would have known! But, no. If I ever heard anything like that I don't remember. I just remember thinking that's a Fellini-esque kind of thing, where you've got this prison and people can almost touch you.

You grew up in that neighborhood?

I grew up east of there, on 11th Street and Second Avenue. We called it "Not quite the Bowery." The Bowery used to be a neighborhood, remember? And it wasn't a good neighborhood. We were right above it.

The movie creates a really strong sense of the classic New York neighborhood.

What I feel, unfortunately, is that New York is more franchise-y now. When I was growing up, it was all privately owned coffee shops. You didn't have Starbucks. I thought New York would always remain that way. So now New York is less New York and more like everywhere else.

Your setting is very nostalgic.

Nostalgic for a time and a place, but I was trying to deal in ideas that would be relevant: to growing up, and what you have to leave behind, and what you have to come back to if you really want to be a man later on.

Were there parallels between the kid in the film and your own life?

I had a delivery-boy job. I went to private school and had a scholarship. I urinated on my mother's cigarette butts. But my dad wasn't dead. My mother wasn't a nurse and didn't have a pill problem. I didn't run away to Paris when I was 13. I ran away to Vancouver when I was 32.

Who did you deliver for?

A woman named Simone, funny enough, like in the movie. I never got to the bottom of it. It was a place called Walter's Meat Market, and Victor was the butcher and Simone was the owner, but I didn't know who Walter was. It must be a Mexican restaurant now.

Those jobs you have when you're 13 or 14 are always eye-openers.

The best ones. You get to keep your money. And if you're delivering, you're going into people's homes. I guess it's safe. It seemed safe then, but now we're hyper-aware of the evil people do. I don't think we were at that point. It wasn't in our faces every day. I don't know if I would let my kid at 13 deliver meat in the city. Would you?

It doesn't sound like a great idea. But it would be great to be that kid, with such a terrific sense of freedom.

I had that. I could leave my house and have two bucks in my sock, because I had shorts on - athletic shorts, which didn't have pockets - and go all day. And didn't have to call in. The world may not have been that safe, but it appeared that way. And the freedom was the bicycle.

I was surprised to learn that you once were up for a doctorate.

I was at Yale. I was writing on contemporary stuff. Mailer, Ishmael Reed, Pynchon. I never got into my thesis. It was called "Magic and Technology in Contemporary American Fiction and Poetry." Heh. Bestseller! I love Pynchon, and Mailer can be wonderful. He writes a lot, so it can't be all great. And Pynchon doesn't write a lot. I loved "The Crying of Lot 49." "Gravity's Rainbow" was certainly interesting.

I've got to sit down and read that all the way through sometime.

No you don't.