Chicago Sun-Times

'D' is for Duchovny, and now Director

April 24, 2005


The D stands for Dear Old Friends. David Duchovny got a call from one of those last weekend.

"I pick up my cell phone and it's a very familiar voice I haven't heard in over a year," says the actor, who makes his directorial debut in the film "House of D," which opens Friday.

Yes, the former Agent Fox Mulder of "The X Files" was again listening to the mellow tones of Agent Dana Scully.

She was not on the line to report an alien attack in the City of Angels.

"Gillian Anderson was in Los Angeles and she caught my movie," Duchovny says. "She wanted to call to say she really loved it and that meant so much to me because the call was out of the blue. I haven't spoken to her in over a year. We e-mail, but it was good to hear the voice of a friend."

Duchovny needs some support for his directorial effort, which many have called a charming coming of age story set in New York City. Others haven't been as kind.

"Critics aren't really helping," says a blunt Duchovny over tea at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago. "I really have to depend on word of mouth with this movie.

"It's painful," he adds. "You work hard. You work sincerely. I'm not trying to rip anyone off or pull the wool over anyone's eyes. I'm not trying to hurt the children. I'm trying to make a movie to reach out and maybe make you feel or think a little bit."

The movie marks Duchovny's big-screen directorial debut in his favorite genre: coming-of-age films. "House of D" revolves around a teenage boy named Tommy (Anton Yelchin) in New York, who later becomes an American artist living in Paris (Duchovny).

The story flashes back to Tommy's troubled childhood near the women's house of detention in New York City -- the House of D. Tommy also must come to terms with his depressed mother (played by Duchovny's real-life wife Tea Leoni) and a mentally challenged janitor (Robin Williams) whom he befriends.

"I wrote the first draft in a few days, and apparently a lot of people hate me for that," Duchovny jokes. "Honestly, I've been tormented by the idea of writing a script my entire life. And then I just sat down and wrote."

Duchovny worried about the serious tones of the piece. "I never wanted it to be medicine," he says. "I wanted it to be funny and real rather than just relentlessly dark. I also wanted a hopeful ending, which was a new beginning."

The New York native set part of the film around a landmark he remembered from his own childhood. Duchovny lived near a real House of D, where the women would try to yell out the windows to anyone passing by the sidewalk.

"It was such a haunting place," Duchovny says. "I've had screenings in New York and each time someone comes up to me and says, 'Oh God, I remember that place.'"

After Duchovny wrote his script, he didn't waste much time casting. He went to Williams whose very name attached to the project got Duchovny a green light. Duchovny met Williams when the comic made a visit to "The X Files" set years ago.

"I was filming the show in Vancouver and he came to the set. He was up there shooting 'Jumanji.' I'm a good friend of Bonnie Hunt, so they came to visit," Duchovny recalls. "It was like Mork visiting 'The X Files.' You can imagine the jokes."

When it came to casting the troubled mother character, he only had to look to the pillow next to him, though Leoni was not his first choice. "I always thought of her as too young to have a kid who is 13," he says. "I wasn't thinking of her. But when she asked me for the role, I said, 'Sure.'

"The hardest thing for her was she was worried about disappointing me," he says. "That was ridiculous because she was amazing."

Unlike other celeb couples who work together, like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, Duchovny didn't have to change his residence. (Sarandon and Robbins famously lived apart during the filming of "Dead Man Walking").

"If we do a full movie together, maybe we'll move out," Duchovny jokes.

One thing he's certain of is that he liked the job of director.

"It was a lot of thinking. A lot of asking questions. I loved that part of it," he says. "You just run around thinking, 'Is this right? Is that right?' Still, I felt comfortable and invigorated by the work."

Distributed by Big Picture News