Written by Juan Morales
"We're just plain crazy and plain lucky"
Like Tracy and Hepburn, Sam and Diane and Harry and Sally before them, David Duchovny and Tea Leoni express their affection through good-natured teasing. Over lunch at a popular restaurant near their Malibu home, David, 44, and Tea, 38, playfully finish each other's sentences and poke fun at each other: He teases her about being high-strung, she ribs him for being a lousy diaper-changer.
In the eight years they've been married, the couple has managed to keep a pretty low profile. When they met, the name David Duchovny was synonymous with Fox Mulder - his The X-Files character, and Tea Leoni was earning raves for her sitcom, The Naked Truth. Although both have continued to work - David in films such as Evolution and Return to Me, and Tea, most recently, in Spanglish - they've focused on raising their children, 6-year-old daughter Madelaine West and 2-year-old son Kyd Miller.
"Tea laid it down when we started dating: 'This isn't going anywhere unless at some point you want to have a family,'" recalls David.
"Later he said, 'I didn't like it when you said that,'" Tea shoots back. "But I wasn't saying that YOU had to want kids."
"Yeah, you did - " her husband protests.
"I just said if you wanted to be with ME, you had to want them."
"I don't know. It wasn't your strongest move," he says. "But in retrospect, it was okay."
As they talk, they absentmindedly intertwine their fingers and brush shoulders. Sure, they're both gorgeous, but what makes them such a sexy couple is the intellectual spark between them -not to mention an easy intimacy they don't hide. In House of D, their first collaborative film project, written and directed by David, they don't share screen time, but watching them interact in real life makes you hope they will one day.
David and Tea attribute their closeness to the three-week phone romance they had before they even met. "On the phone, you can't do anything but talk," David says. "You aren't watching a movie, you aren't making out. All you have is conversation." As you see here, it's an art they've apparently perfected.
getting to know you
How did you two meet?
DD: We were set up by our agent.
TL: Which is not romantic at all.
DD: It's so Hollywood, which is kind of embarrassing.
TL: Our courtship was mostly on the phone for hours a day for about three weeks, becase David was in Canada shooting The X-Files, and I was in L.A. At one point my accountant said, "I don't know what's going on in Vancouver, but if it's going to continue, I want to get you a different phone plan."
DD: I progressed through her Chinese wall of different numbers, and eventually I got to the phone by the bed. The first number I got was just the answering machine, and then the car, then the cell phone, and then I actually got the one that she answers. So I knew that I was getting close.
With so much buildup, you can set yourself up for disappointment when you finally meet.
TL: That's what I was really afraid of. I picked David up at his hotel, and I remember kind of panicking that he would get in the car and not smell right or something, that there would just be no connection. But I felt at ease the moment he got in the car.
DD: She had on ripped jeans, and I could see her leg, and thought, 'Hmm, I didn't get to see THAT on the phone.'
When you finally got together, was it sweet and romantic? Hot and sexy?
DD: It was both. It was very romantic -
TL: But it was hot and torrid, too. [Laughs]
How did you know you had found the right person?
DD: It was fast. We decided to get married six weeks in.
TL: I remember telling my parents that David and I were going to be married, and they were not very happy. My father said, "If it's meant to be, then why can't you wait?"
DD: It WAS impulsive. But it worked out for us.
How soon did you have kids after getting married?
DD: It was pretty quick. About a year and a half.
What was the biggest difference between having two kids and having one?
TL: When the second one comes, you immediately start thinking, What was so bad about just one? Because you experience those catastrophic, exhaused moments. With one, you can do the pass-off thing. But with two, that's it. You're just trading: you always have one of them. There's no time off.
What's it like having a little boy after having a little girl?
TL: It's stunning. My daughter was this angel, and then along comes this guy - and he's SUCH a guy. You hear parents say, "We aren't going to go with masculine or feminine colors. We offer our boys pink and our girls blue." And I think, The color of the rooms is the least of your problems. You watch, he's going to make Uzis out of teacups inexplicably - having never seen one. We've never let the kids watch Spider-Man, and yet Miller has wanted to be Spider-Man since he was about 9 months old. Of course, it's on the racks at stores, but how could he know that guy? Since West is older, there's more Cinderella around our house. So why didn't he want to be the Fairy Godmother, or even Prince Charming? But he doesn't - he wants to be Spider-Man, and wants to kick some ass. He came out that way.
Do you want to have more kids?
TL: I'd love to. If I had my druthers, I think I'd have 18. Not really, though, because I can't imagine how I would defer any more time away from these two gems that I have. Believe it or not, the one thing I'll miss is labor. I loved labor. I was so impressed with myself because I knew that I was about to do something incredible. I thought, I'm going to have a baby. I took that little Dixie cup from you, basically, and turned it into this great thing.
David, we hear you don't change diapers. Are you handy around the house?
TL: David is not handy.
DD: No, but my son might be. He helped a guy fix the oven today. He brought his little plastic toolbox and made himself available. I was nowhere to be found.
Who's the disciplinarian here?
DD: I guess I am. There was a time when I imagined myself as the cool, permissive parent, but not anymore. I think kids want rules. There's something reassuring about knowing your boundaries.
Your kids are still young. Do you think you'll stay here in California?
TL: I don't want my kids to grow up out here. I like the East Coast better, maybe only because it's what I know. David and I were both raised in New York. The seasons were such a great part of my growing up. There were so many fall and winter activities, like sledding or skating. And that feeling when spring would break, and hot summers, and beautiful storms.
the balancing act
Now that you have a family, does it take something really special to persuade either of you to work?
TL: If it's going to take me away from David and the kids, it has to scratch whatever artistic itch I have. Spanglish was a very emotional, intense film, and afterward I really wanted to do a balls-out comedy where I would laugh all day long, like Fun with Dick and Jane [out later this year]. I love Dean Parisot, the director, and I wanted to work with Jim Carrey. It is perfect; I'm having a blast doing it. When my daughter was born, I said, "I'll never work again. I never want to spend a moment away from this angel." But then I had to admit this terrible news: [whispers] I am an artist. I whisper that because it sounds so pretentious and awful. But I'm better off filling myself up as an artist and coming home completely fulfilled and inspired.
DD: In my position now in my life and career, I feel like I should be working on something all the time. During The X-Files, I worked almost every day for nine years, so I was pretty tired. But doing the same job for nine years also made me ambitious. I still have a lot of things that I want to do.
What made you write House of D?
DD: A few different strands of ideas I'd had kind of coalesced at one critical point. I had an idea about a coming-of-age story in New York City. I had always known about the women's house of detention sitting right in the middle of Manhattan until 1973, and I'd always thought it was great for drama - a prisoner could contact the outside world just by popping her head through the bars of her cell. And then I thought, What if a kid needed a friend or a mentor, and what if this woman prisoner that he could never really see or meet became that? Also, there is now a garden where the prison once was, and I liked the symbolism of that and that kind of transformation - how prisons become gardens, both literally and figuratively.
Did you always envision Tea in the role of the boy's mother?
DD: No, we didn't talk about it, really. I didn't want to put her in the position of having to do it, because I knew she would have to say yes if I asked her.
TL: I had read it, and I loved it. But it's funny, because there was a moment where David didn't want to put me in that position, and I didn't want to put HIM in the position of having to say yes.
But then you did ask to play the role, right?
DD: I had never imagined her for the mother. I had always thought of that character as a little older and not as beautiful.
TL: Which I love.
DD: So when she asked, I was surprised but I didn't hesitate to say yes.
TL: Of course, for some bizarre reason it hadn't occurred to me that in the end I would then be standing on a set with David directing me. I was just excited that it was a great part.
DD: She was excited because she used to be a smoker, and the script called for it.
TL: About a week before we started the movie, it dawned on me: What was I thinking? Here was David's directorial debut, and I didn't want to be the jerk that ruined it. I panicked, thinking, "I have to get this." I haven't felt that kind of pressure since maybe my first gig. It felt like a first gig. But once I realized that I could rely on David in a new way, in a different relationship as a director, and realized that he's personally very calm and supportive, and not a screamer -
DD: It was a different story behind her back, of course.
TL: Then I was fine.
low-key and loving it
You two seem to have cultivated a manageable level of fame. Other than the occasional paparazzi photo of one of you at Starbucks, you're rarely in the public eye. Is that by design?
TL: I don't think we're afraid to be out there as a couple; we just don't go out. With both of us working, I'd rather be at home with David and the kids than walking up a red carpet. But if you go by magazines, we do love our Starbucks, don't we? A friend of ours said, 'Jeez, do you only go to Starbucks and then home? That's the only picture we've ever seen." And we don't even drink much coffee! But in Malibu, that's where the photographers are.
DD: Britney Spears moved in a couple of months ago, and since then it's been crazy. The other day I ws walking into a restaurant, and there were a bunch of photographers in front, and they took a picture of me. I said, "What's going on? Why are you here?" And they said, "We're waiting for Britney." I knew they weren't waiting for me.
Did that bruise your ego?
DD: Not at all. We've had out time when we were Britney, and it's no fun. When we got married we went through the Beatlemania thing, where we had to dash into a hotel exit and leave through the other side, then duck into a car and get low in the seat. It was Help! Tea really hates that. She gets anxiety attacks. I just get pissed off.
Tea, do you tend to be more emotional in general?
TL: David is a lot braver.
DD: I don't think that's what it is. I think you're just more high-strung in that way. When you did your sitcom, you would sometimes vomit beforehand.
TL: When am I calm? I'm calm as a mother, aren't I? I'm calm on the golf course.
keeping things hot and torrid
After eight years of marriage and two kids, how do you sustain your romantic connection?
TL: We should get away more.
DD: We just really like each other's company. What we need is to make time alone without the kids. We like doing that.
TL: I wanted to wait until our daugther had a younger brother or sister before we went away. So after Miller was born and off the breast, when he was about a year old, we went to Santa Barbara for a night.
DD: It felt like a month's vacation.
TL: It was amazing. We were talking and not getting interrupted. We were both like, "We have GOT to do this more often."
DD: We went for two or three days the next time. Tea goes through major emotional swings. She feels guilty the first day, the second day is great, and by the third day she never wants to go back. I'd never give advice to other couples, but when you have kids, it's important to remember that you got together because you like to spend time with each other.
TL: I grew up with that. My parents took a weekend a month and went away together. And they're still very into each other after 45 years.
DD: I never give you flowers anymore.
TL: I don't miss the flowers. I should, maybe, but I don't.