The Record (North Jersey Media Group)

'Mulder' debuts as a film director

Sunday, April 17, 2005


As the UFO-obsessed FBI agent on "The X-Files," David Duchovny perfected the art of brooding. Every line of dialogue was filtered through his deadpan sensibility, making him sound like a cross between Sgt. Joe Friday and Bill Murray.

Today, when Duchovny phones from Philadelphia, where his directorial debut, "House of D," is unreeling at the city's film festival, he just sounds tired. It's been a long day, and the actor-turned-director is missing wife Tea Leoni and their two children, Madelaine West, 6, and Kyd Miller, 2.

"Tea is on a cruise with my kids," he says. "I've been alone all week. And they haven't been able to call me, because they're out in the middle of nowhere and can't use the cell."

Duchovny laughs. "I'd rather relax by promoting my movies," he says.

He's only half-kidding. "House of D" isn't just another entry on Duchovny's filmography.

About three years ago, when "The X-Files" went off the air, Duchovny began writing a project he imagined would be his feature film directorial debut. But midway through the process, the characters from "House of D" began invading his consciousness. Quickly, he put aside the first script and concentrated on a coming-of-age tale informed by his memories of growing up in Manhattan in the '70s.

In six days, "House of D" came together. Nearly as quickly, Duchovny found financing for the film, which was shot in the autumn of 2003. Now, the movie is arriving in theaters and the actor-turned-filmmaker feels like a proud father.

"I've been showing the movie around the country, and it's satisfying hearing audiences respond so loudly to what they're seeing," he says. "There's been loud laughter and loud sniffling at the end. They've been responding to the emotionality of the film, and that makes me feel good."

Duchovny stars in "House of D" as an artist living in Paris who begins the painful process of reflecting on his eccentric youth. Raised by a single mom (Leoni), the young Tommy (Anton Yelchin) is a private school misfit with two unlikely friends. One is a mentally disabled janitor (played by Robin Williams) and the other is a woman (singer Erykah Badu) incarcerated in the Women's House of Detention.

Like his onscreen alter ego, Duchovny was raised by a single mother after his father left the family, which also included an older brother, Danny, and younger sister, Laurie. He attended private school on a scholarship and rode his bike around lower Manhattan, but he never solicited the friendship of women at the House of D.

"My own personal story is not really the stuff of this movie," he points out. "I wanted to make a universal film about growing up, but in order for me to do that, I needed to use keenly specific incidents and images from my own childhood.

"I knew the city. I knew the time. I knew that the House of D was there. And I thought that talking to women on the second and third floors of the prison was an interesting, dramatic situation that I'd never seen before in a movie. It seemed wonderful and magical."

Duchovny, 44, might be a neophyte filmmaker, but Williams immediately trusted his abilities to shape scenes and direct actors. All it took for Williams to be convinced was a quick look at a number of "X-Files" episodes that Duchovny directed.

"David is a smart guy," says Williams. "I knew he would do a great job. And he knows the material. One of the locations we used in the East Village was right down the street from where he went to school."

At Princeton University, Duchovny earned a B.A. in literature and received a graduate fellowship at Yale. He was one thesis shy of a Ph.D. in literary criticism when he decided to pursue acting full time.

For the early part of his career, Duchovny worked steadily in films of all genres. He was a swinger turned born-again Christian in "The Rapture" (1991), a yuppie in "Beethoven" (1992) and one of Brad Pitt's hostages in "Kalifornia" (1993). He donned drag on TV's "Twin Peaks" and narrated Showtime's sex-drenched "Red Shoe Diaries."

Duchovny's life changed dramatically in 1993 when he signed on to play Fox Mulder on "The X-Files." By the end of its first season, the series was regularly drawing 17 million viewers a week. "We became rock stars," he says. "I remember I couldn't believe I was on the cover of Rolling Stone. It was so hip. I'd never been that hip before in my life."

The success of "The X-Files" came with a price. Fourteen-hour days on the Vancouver set left Duchovny and co-star Gillian Anderson feeling perpetually burned out. Almost immediately, rumors began flying that the duo hated each other. "That was all overplayed," he says. "We had our differences but that happens with any two people who are thrown together for 14-hour days to work on a cultural phenomenon. We've spoken recently, and we're in touch by e-mail, because Gillian spends a lot of time in London these days."

Lately, Duchovny, who left the series before it went off the air in 2002, finds himself enjoying old episodes of "The X-Files" on late-night TV. "If I'm flipping channels and it comes on, I'll sit through it. The first time I did that, I remember thinking, 'God, these are really well-made and interesting and dramatic and funny.'

"One night, I actually called [series creator] Chris Carter late at night and said, 'Man, that show was really great! Did you know how good the show was?' And Chris said, 'Yeah.' Right then, I apologized for ever saying anything negative about the show."

Duchovny believes another "X-Files" movie might be ready to go as early as next year. "The willingness is there, on my part and Gillian's," he says of the follow-up to 1998's "The X-Files" movie. "Chris would direct it, probably."

Duchovny sounds excited about stepping back into Mulder's moody mind-set. "I'm looking forward to it," he says. "Doing the first movie nearly killed us because we were trying to keep up the quality of the TV show at the same time.

"After the show went off the air, it just made sense to wait to do another movie until people actually missed it. Now, I think that we all miss it."