Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Duchovny moving in many directions

Friday, April 29, 2005

By John Hayes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

David Duchovny is in a good place. Film and TV roles got his foot in the door; "The X-Files" got him rich and made him a star.

He now has time to hang with his wife Tea Leoni, the opportunity to work when he wants, and the resources and contacts necessary to pursue artistic and professional interests.

"House of D" is a big step for Duchovny. As the screenwriter, he has an excuse to re-explore aspects of his childhood. As director, he gets a chance to till a field that he's dabbled in before and, if it sells, to expand his Hollywood power base. As the film's co-star, he gains a little screen time to set up the release of three of his starring roles for other directors in the next couple of years. ("Trust the Man" comes out this year; "The Secret" and "Parallel" are scheduled for release next year.)

Duchovny doesn't call "House of D" a "labor of love," or even a "new direction" for his career.

"I'm moving in every direction at once," he says over the phone, laughing from a car seat as he cruises through Philadelphia on a busy press day. He's loose, accommodating, curious, even funny. He's eager to talk about a project that he's clearly proud of.

"House of D" isn't autobiographical, but he co-opted memories from his early teen years to fill the film with realistic images of being a kid in the '70s.

"I had all this stuff in my head from growing up," he says. "The way people talked, just being kids. I just found a story to wrap it all around. The writing process went fairly quickly, and it took six months to secure the financing, which isn't a long time. A year from the first draft, we started filming."

With a small budget by Hollywood standards, Duchovny relied on atmosphere to set the year at 1973.

"For example, being unable to afford a bunch of cars, we just had to find streets that still look the same," he says. "And the music is important in framing a period. I used songs that meant something to me as a kid."

At the crux of "House of D" are several important changes that alter the life of a 13-year-old boy, played by Anton Yelchin. Everyone at that age experiences changes -- some that will impact the rest of their lives and others that at the time seem insurmountable but are soon forgotten.

"Always, my aim as an actor or filmmaker is to tell universal stories," says Duchovny. "To tell them in a way that involves everybody. The best way to tell universal stories is to tell your own stories honestly. Now, some parts of the story, some major things, are completely made up. But I've always believed that the littlest events can have the hugest consequences. I wanted to make this boy's life radically changed by a pretty meaningless event."

Robin Williams was brought into the project to play the boy's mentally retarded adult friend. From the start, says Duchovny, both men understood that the character could easily spiral out of control, easily cross the line to distasteful.

"It was never an issue," he says. "The character was written to have some funny scenes, but Robin never let it get away from him."

Casting the boy, he says, was "the pivotal part of doing this movie." Duchovny knew he had to have "a really special kid."

"I'd heard about Anton, but I didn't want to work with a kid that young," he says. "I was hoping at first for a young adult who could play younger. Not that I didn't think a kid could act, but I didn't want to have to work with shorter hours. You know, the law says kids can't work more than six hours at a time. We looked at several other actors and finally I said, 'OK, bring me that kid you found.' "

Yelchin radiates personality and bonded well with Williams and Leoni, who plays his depressed, widowed mom. While he struggles a bit during climactic dramatic moments, he's a face to watch for in the future.

"When I set out to make a movie, I knew it'd be a small movie with a lower budget," says Duchovny. "But I didn't know it'd be something that could make you laugh, make you cry, make you think about your own life.

"Emotionally, I think it really puts you through the ringer."

(John Hayes can be reached at jhayes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1991.)