David Duchovny in the "House of D"

April 12, 2005 by Lynn Barker

He'll be known forever as Fox Mulder of "The X-Files" and that doesn't bother actor/director/writer David Duchovny. In fact, he tells us that he's ready to star in another "X-Files" feature film as soon as a script is ready. But, the cute, lanky actor wanted us to know that he's branching out. He's written, directed and acted in a wonderful new coming- of-age film called The House of D that is based partially on David's own youth in New York's Greenwich Village. The "D" is a women's House of Detention that existed in the area in the 1970's when the film takes place.

In green pull-over sweater, black tee and jeans, David looked very boyish as he told us about his love for this project and casting Robin Williams, singer/actress Erykah Badu and the excellent young actor Anton Yelchin in his film. He also mentions casting his wife Tea Leoni as the boy's mom and his special challenges with directing, writing and acting.. oh, and falling off his bike.

TeenHollywood: How close is this film to your own childhood story? What are the similarities?

David: My own personal story is not the stuff in the movie. I wanted to make a universal film about growing up, but in order for me to be keenly specific, I was going to use stuff from my own childhood, images and things that I knew. I knew the city. I knew the time. I knew that the House of D was there. And I thought that was an interesting, dramatic situation that I'd never seen before; a prison in the middle of the city where you can talk to prisoners. It's not like in Dead Man Walking where you have to go through the gate and they pat you down. I went to a private school and I had a scholarship and I was afraid of losing it. My mother was a single parent after I was 11. So that was similar. The character isn't similar, but a lot of the superficial stuff, riding that bike, I did all of that.

TeenHollywood: In the film the family ends up riding bikes together. Do you and Tea do that with your kids?

David: Well, my brother had a tandem bike that he never used and he brought it over to my house to store it and Tea and I said, 'Oh, lets get on this.' And we got on it and we got like ten feet and we both fell. I don't know what happened, I'd never been on a tandem bike before, but we'd started going up a little hill and we kind of stalled and then we just went over. We were lying there, honestly, laughing for like ten minutes at how lame we were with the bike on top of us. That was our bike ride.

TeenHollywood: Did you write the mom part for Tea?

David: No. I didn't write any of the roles for anybody. But late in the process she kind of said, 'I'd like to play the role of the mom.' And I said, 'Fine.' It was that easy. I think that we both realized maybe shortly after that that she'd be playing my character's mother. So that was just an added bonus.

TeenHollywood: How weird was directing your wife? Do you argue?

David: No. It was a six and a half week shoot and her character shot six days of work. So that was the first week and I felt great. For her, I'm sure she felt very nervous. She expressed to me that she didn't want to screw up my movie and she really felt that way. And I didn't feel that was a problem. There was a never [a time] that I thought it wouldn't work out beautifully with her. I mean it was five days so it wasn't like a lifestyle change. It was a nice week.

TeenHollywood: When you were writing the script, did you let her read it?

Duchovny: Well, yeah. She read it as I was writing it. Whatever I'd have I'd be excited about it and I'd want someone to look at it and I'd give her five pages, seven pages, two pages. She said I should keep acting. [Laughs, he's kidding] No. She didn't say that. She loved it. She was very supportive. I remember her reading certain things and crying and she really enjoyed the story. She also thought that it was funny. She got everything that I wanted her to get or that I wanted an audience to get.

TeenHollywood: A lot of teens and young adults are interested in writing screenplays. How were you able to write this in six days? That seems incredible. Was it easier because it was partially your life?

Part of it. Yeah. But the times that I've written, I've written really fast. I don't sit down every day. I wish that I did. But when I do finally get my ass into the seat I tend to go fast because I think that I wait that long on purpose until I can't help but do it. But these are images that I've been thinking about for however many years. So the physical process of setting down a first draft, yeah, that took six days. But the psychic process of making this movie? Who knows?

TeenHollywood: Can you talk about casting Robin Williams, Eryka Badu and young Anton Yelchin in the film?

David:I had to attract a bankable type of actor or actors. Robin was my first choice and I got lucky that he responded and that he remained loyal as the financing came and went and so that's how that happened. And then Erykah didn't add anything in terms of financing, but I thought was a really interesting choice for that role and then as far as Anton, it's a hard role. He's got to be so human and so sensitive and so mature and so immature and so funny and emotionally available. It's tough role. It's hard to find a 14-year-old kid that can do that. Anton's name had been brought up to me a couple of times. He walked in and he was the guy. He was perfect. He was perfect in his audition and he was perfect on set. He's a phenomenal young man. He's not just an amazing young actor, but he's a human being of such integrity and intelligence that he's an artist. I have so much respect for him as a person.

TeenHollywood: What did Tea bring to the role of the mom?

David: I think that she understood it. Personally, I would've preferred to write a funny role for her because I think that she does that better than anyone. I also know that she's a talented dramatic actress.

So I think that like any actor they want to do the things that they're not known for. It's perverse, but I want to do comedy and she wants to do drama.

TeenHollywood: What was the biggest fear you had when starting to direct this film?

I think that my biggest fear going in was my kind of technical grasp of film language. Just the simplest thing of what they call crossing the line, keeping people on the correct side of frame and I'm not geometrically inclined or mathematically inclined and I have a big problem with that. Getting back to my room will be hard. So I'm not good with physical space a lot and I get intimidated by having to manipulate things in 3-D, which is what you do in film. So I was terrified that I was stunted in that area, that my brain was shriveled for some reason in that area and it wasn't as bad as I thought.

TeenHollywood: And, you have people to help you, right?

David: Yeah, the DP and the script supervisor will take care of that stuff for you if they need to. They'll tell you, 'He's on the right and she's on the left. She has to stay there.' They'll take care of that, and that's not the most important thing of directing. And then all of the other stuff like dealing with production design, dealing with creating shots. In terms of editing it was an education everyday, but that's really instinctual. I don't know how to work that machine, but I didn't have to. I had people. All the technical, mathematical things that I was so scared of you get a lot of help with.

TeenHollywood: So, what is up with the next "X-Files" feature film? Is there going to be one?

David: Yeah, I think so but I don't know when because there's no script. But the willingness is there, mine and Gillian [Anderson] and Chris [Carter] and I think that Chris would direct it probably. So it depends on Fox sitting down with Chris really and deciding how they're going to go about getting a script out of him and when. Chris tells me that it's early next year, but since there's no script you never know. But it seems like it's got to happen because I always thought of it as a franchise and I always wondered why the studios go to such great lengths to try and make franchises out of these obscure comic books when they've got this homegrown thing of their own.

TeenHollywood: Why wasn't there another feature film right after the first one?

David:Well, we were doing the TV show for another four years and it was logistically so difficult. I mean, it nearly killed Chris (Carter) and Rob Bowman and Gillian and I to do a movie like that while trying to keep up the quality of the TV show. And when that came and went the show had lost some popularity and it wasn't the wonderful thing that it was six years earlier and then it just made sense to wait, I think, until people missed it. I think it was even until we missed it. The last thing we wanted to do at the end of nine years was do a movie.

TeenHollywood: Back to House of D, any funny moments on or off the set?

David: The funniest thing to me was that I had to have these dogs pee on the delivery bike and I was concerned since I've worked with animals. So the trainers came and they had a few different dogs. I had my uptown poodle. I had my downtown mutt. I could see them in the van and I don't want to say that they were abused, but I could tell that they had to pee. They were like holding themselves for the moment. And the moment comes and the assistant trainer has a spray bottle of the liquid and he's spraying the wheels of the delivery bike with it and I was like, 'Oh, that's the magic stuff.' I said, 'What's in there?' He goes, 'Other dog's pee.' I was like, 'I could've done that. I paid for that? I paid for a spray bottle of dog urine?'

TeenHollywood: Was directing a film what you thought it was going to be?

David:I had a wonderful time. They wouldn't have to pay me to do this and in fact they didn't. So I've never been more lit up than I was on the 35 days, 34 days that we were shooting. The rest of directing is that you have to keep your focus and it's a long haul. It's like a year and a half of your life. So it's not everyday that you're jumping out of bed ready to work, but everyday that I was shooting I was jumping out of bed like, 'What's going to happen today? Where the spray bottle of dog pee today?' Every day something unexpected happened and actors surprised me constantly. They're better than I wrote. It's a good feeling.

TeenHollywood: Would you rule out ever doing another TV series?

David:There's something about a sitcom that's kind of attractive to me, but on the other hand, I don't think that I'd ever do another hour drama. I think that the 'X-Files' was the best that I could do. I don't know if I want to work that hard on one thing again. I like going from project to project and fulfilling each project and it's the same with the sitcom. You're working so hard on one thing, doing one thing over and over. There's a certain wonderful thing in that because you get better and better but I feel like I have other things to do. If you see me on a sitcom you'll know that I've given up on those other things.

TeenHollywood: Besides falling off tandem bikes, what do you and the family do to unwind? Do you travel?

David: We're pretty simple. I mean, I'm simple. My wife may be miserable. I don't know. But I like the simple things in life. Honestly, after 9/11 the thought of putting my kids on an airplane was.. (he shakes his head). If I have to bring my kids with me to work, it was like, 'Okay. I have to.' But I got in this mode where I wanted to keep them safe in the same place and I'm just getting out of that now. But I certainly reacted like, 'We're not going anywhere. If I have to go somewhere I'll go alone.' So I think that there was some of that.

TeenHollywood: So no family vacations?

David: Actually right now Tea's on vacation with my kids. I'm alone in L.A. right now. I've been alone for the last four days. She's taking them on a cruise and I'm so happy that I'm working because that's the last thing that I ever want to do, but they haven't been able to call me because they're out in the middle of nowhere on a boat and they can't get me on their cell.

TeenHollywood: What cruise is it?

David: Well, I don't want to plug it because we're paying. If we weren't paying I'd say it. The kids apparently are loving it. I can't think of a worse thing.

TeenHollywood: Until "X-Files" becomes a movie again, what do you have coming up?

David: Trust The Man which was directed by Bart [Freundlich] and stars Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup and Maggie Gyllenhaal. It's a New York couple's comedy, kind of in the good Woody Allen mode of Manhattan and Annie Hall I hope. Bart is really a funny director and this is his like first all out funny film and I think that it's going to be great. And then I'm about to go shoot a movie called The Secret that Vincent Perez who's a French director is directing. It's his first English language film. We shoot that in Montreal. And then after that I have a script that I'd like to direct that I wrote.

Lynn Barker is a Hollywood-based entertainment journalist and produced screenwriter.