Thursday, April 28, 2005
Duchovny builds a new career with 'House of D'
By PAULA NECHAK
He may forever be Mulder from "The X-Files" for some, but David Duchovny has moved on. After starring in such movies as "Connie and Carla" and "Full Frontal," the 45-year-old Duchovny took some time to write a screenplay and direct -- as well as taking a small but pivotal role in "House of D," his feature directorial debut.
Though not strictly autobiographical, "House of D" is set in Duchovny's hometown, New York City, and touches upon elements of his youth. The film also stars Robin Williams, Duchovny's wife, Tea Leoni, and Erykah Badu and is, in the words of co-star Williams, an "urban fairy tale." Duchovny visited Seattle last month to talk about the film, which opens locally tomorrow, and his potential new career path.
P-I: In a decade you've made small and big films, become a TV icon, married, had kids, did a couple of video-game voices, posed nearly naked in a Steven Soderbergh film and had a song written about you. Now you've written a screenplay and directed it. What possibly can this film do for your career?
If I wanted to be utilitarian about it I'd say I hope it would let me continue to write and direct and make the movies I want to make. But having made the film, I want this movie to do for others. I'm excited for it to fly on its own.
Was it tough to be objective as a director when you'd written the script, acted in the film and cast an actor who just happened to be your wife?
Now that you mention it (laughs). I don't think so. My producers might say yes, we had some battles over the film and the depth of some of the relationships -- the mother and child -- and how much the film could sustain that weight. I wanted it to be dangerous and scary and real, but certain people wanted it to be light and let a lot of people come see it without bringing them down. If I lost my objectivity, it would be that I thought a movie did not have to be light from start to finish. But because I wrote it and knew the story so well, I'd think, does the scene feel real? Is it funny? -- I always try to make things funny, to my detriment sometimes -- Is it sad? Did I shoot it in a way that audiences would cry or laugh? I don't care if the actors are having a good time, I want the audience to have a good time.
You should ask the people who challenge the mother-son relationship if they have kids.
I know. It's a natural thing to navigate and it's a natural thing to make mistakes and be in pain. I didn't want the mom to be a villain and that's one of the reasons I wanted my wife to play her because she has an innate goodness and decency that shines through in all her performances -- even "Spanglish," where she played a difficult person. My movie is about people doing the wrong things out of love. That's fascinating, real, beautiful and heartbreaking.
TV fame can ravage an actor's career because the world can't see beyond that TV character. Was this one reason you wanted to get behind the camera?
No. I always had stories to tell. It's how I got into acting. I wanted to write, so I thought I should learn about acting before I wrote. That became my career. I directed and wrote some "X-Files" and I always wanted to get back to it in the decade "The X-Files" took up of my life. I'm compelled to do it, it's not really a choice. I'm not good at making choices, I'm better at being compulsive.
The film is a memory piece and requires reflection. Did you worry that the larger-than-life persona of Robin Williams would upset the balance?
I knew Robin was a really good actor so I thought we'd figure it out. Early on Robin was instrumental in getting financing by signing on. We'd met, we weren't friends and he said, "This is an urban fairy tale." I knew what he meant and figured if he got that he'll get this.
The film isn't strictly autobiographical outside of the fact that you grew up in New York. But was it psychologically satisfying to reinvent your memories of that time and place?
That's what a storyteller does. I've been given the gift of the memories and the hard work comes in making them mean something. This was my first movie, I knew what it was supposed to feel like and I knew if it didn't look right. I was a delivery boy, I delivered meat in the Village and had a scholarship to private school. I knew a guy like Pappass in the neighborhood, though he wasn't my friend. When I look at the movie now I wish there was more litter on the streets, it's too clean. But when you do a movie on a budget, you just forget sometimes.
You're back to acting in Bart Freundlich's next film. Will you continue to act and direct in the future?
Yeah, if they'll have me doing both. It's a popularity game and I love doing both. I wouldn't want to choose or cut one out, but since I'm new at writing and directing, I'm just more necessarily excited to do another film before I forget all the mistakes I made and have to make them again.
Paula Nechak is a Seattle freelance movie writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org