He played the FBI's former keeper of the X-Files, but there's much more to David Duchovny than Fox "Spooky" Mulder...
"You know, I was Agent Fox Mulder more than I was David for eight years in terms of hours. That's not healthy." David Duchovny is speaking with SFX at Philadelphia's Four Seasons Hotel. The eternally youtful, sandy-haired actor appears as calm and composed as the character he made famous. But in a few hours, Duchovny will introduce his directorial debut film House of D at the city's 14th Film Festival. House of D opens across the US in a few weeks' time, and a number of critics have already dismissed the film for being overly sentimental. With this in mind Duchovny may not be in the right mood to discuss The X-Files and his iconic role as Special Agent Fox Mulder (the thinking woman's heartthrob and welcome proof to geeks everywhere that smart is sexy) - but we can't resist asking him if he's adjusted to the phenomenon of not playing him.
"The phenomenon of not playing Fox Mulder?" he says with a laugh. "That's funny, I haven't heard it put quite that way before. Yes, yes, I think finally I have. It took a while. You know, when you work that hard, that specifically and that long on one character..."
Since he's talking X-Files, we ask Duchovny if, with his new found feature-film directing experience, he'd consider directing an X-Files movie. The question seems to catch him off guard.
"Possibly," he says, his eyes scuttling from side to side as he reflects, "but it's like... that's the kind of movie that I'm not so interested in at this point. Although I know I'd learn a lot doing it, to have to keep track of all those toys, a big-budget action picture... I'd be forced to learn big-budget action filmmaking, so in that case maybe I would be interested. but naturally I think I gravitate more towards movies like House of D, so it wouldn't be something that I'd instinctively go after."
"I actually think Chris Carter wants to direct the next one," he adds, "so I also think I wouldn't be able to."
Duchovny's prior directing experience, like much of his fame, came from The X-Files, of which he helmed three TV episodes ("The Unnatural", "Hollywood AD" and "William"). He explains his initial reason for getting behind the camera: "In terms of directing, I thought, you know, I've been around a set long enough and I've done enough work to have absorbed enough of the technical aspect of directing... "
"In many ways it would seem like a movie's a bigger thing [than television]. But by the time I directed The X-Files, I mean, they were spending like three-and-a-half million dollars an episode. So it was big, there was a lot of stuff, which was great, because I got to start with an action-directing job. Technically - which is where I felt the weakest - that's the hardest thing to do. So, when it came time to actually shoot a story like House of D I felt completely capable of handling the camera."
"But the other part of shooting X-Files is that I had so much that was already done for me. I had the characters, Mulder and Scully were there. That was like half the battle: you had them. The look of the show was taken care of by the DP, who by that time could do it in his sleep... There were a lot of decisions I couldn't make, didn't have to make. So coming into a movie and doing it from whole cloth, and having to really make every decision, that was a bigger deal."
Duchovny also wrote and stars in his new film alongside his wife, Tea Leoni, and Robin Williams. He claims the idea for House of D came to him "from many different areas, but mainly the image of the women's house of detention, which was in Manhattan, near the neighbourhood that I grew up in. I'd heard stories about women hanging out at the bars and yelling at people, and having conversations with strangers, and I thought, that's an interesting dramatic situation. And then I just kind of filled it in with a coming-of-age story. I also wanted to make a story much like in Cinema Paradiso, where a man looks back, or a man is jolted into looking back, on the mystery of why he's not fully the person that he thought he would be, why he shut down. So those were the two pieces of narrative that I wanted to stick together."
Though the film doesn't feature little green men or supernatural creatures, House of D, like so many of Duchovny's projects, does reveal his fascination with myth and fable: "I guess I'm really interested in retelling and in kind of playing with mythical elements. Obviously not as programmatic as George Lucas, where it's almost... I don't want to say 'paint-by-number' but you know, you go to Joe Campbell and you see what he's doing. But I'm definitely interested in those archetypes... "
So, does Duchovny find his fans willing to follow him on his different projects? If he feels any apprehension, it's masked once more by an expression as deadpan as Mulder's.
"I hope so," he says. "I think they would be. It all depends on the project. If the project's any good, I think that people will like it. But I don't know, I really can't tell. I can't tell what 'the fan' is, you know? Like, if I'm a fan of an actor I like to see them most of the time in whatever they're doing. That's the only way I can think of it. If I like Ben Stiller and he's doing a drama - which is something I haven't seen him do much of - yeah, I'll go and see Ben Stiller in a drama."
"So I hope my fans are like that. I don't know... " SFX