The Wave Magazine
What makes David Duchovny think he can write a screenplay -- and direct it?
By Scott DeVAney
Movie: House of D
When most celebrated actors decide they want to write and direct, it's a case of hubris trumping intellect. But before David Duchovny busied himself chasing aliens for nine years on The X-Files, he was on an impressive academic track. After earning his B.A. from Princeton University (where, incidentally, he also played basketball), Duchovny got a graduate degree in English Literature at Yale and was working toward his doctorate when he decided to drop out to pursue acting full-time in 1987. Smart move, because, try as we might, it's difficult to imagine Téa Leoni married to a book nerd.
House of D is a charming, low-budget film about a 13-year-old boy (Anton Yelchin) growing up in1970s Manhattan. His pubescent angst conflicts with everyone from his single-parent mother (Leoni) to his mentally handicapped best friend(Robin Williams). House of D won't win any Oscars, but it will impress audiences looking for a coming-of-age tale with more complexity than your average American Pie installment.
The Wave: You wrote the script for The House of D in six days. Why did the story unfold so quickly for you?
David Duchovny: Well, I wrote the first draft in six days, but then there was a lot of tinkering. I had the story circulating in my head for a while and had just never sat down to put finger to keys. But I'm not a methodical writer. I just sit down and sort of ride the idea as far as it takes me.
TW: What was the most unexpected challenge of being a first-time film director?
DD: Probably post-production -- the kind of stamina and provision that you have to hold to finish it. I mean, I'm still working on this film and we finished shooting it a year and a half ago.
TW: How well did you know Robin Williams before shooting began?
DD: Not at all. He was sent the script by his agent and responded to it. He called me at home and said, "This is an urban fairytale -- a love letter to New York -- and I haven't seen that before." I said, "Well, you obviously understand what it is. Do you want to do it?"
TW: How is Robin Williams at taking direction?
DD: He's very good. He's got this image of being kind of a loose cannon and wild man, and when people see him on talk shows he appears to be completely mercurial and crazy, but he's a serious actor. He approaches his work pretty methodically.
TW: Did directing your wife offer unique challenges?
DD: Not for me, because I think she's an amazing performer, so I just felt lucky to have Téa Leoni in my movie. For her, I think it was a lot harder because she really didn't want to disappoint me or screw up my movie.
TW: What are some of your favorite coming-of-age movies that made you want to pursue the genre?
DD: Stand By Me. Summer of '42. Cinema Paradiso, I feel, is a coming-of-age story. The 400 Blows. The Bicycle Thief. I think there's areal lack of this kind of movie these days because people don't know how to market it. [The House of D] is a movie starring a boy, but it's essentially made for adults. It's not really a movie for 13-year-olds.
TW: How does your experience as an actor affect your directing style?
DD: Having acted as much as I have, you know, doing nine years of a television show -- 203 hours of the X-Files -- that's like doing a hundred movies. So, I've been on set a longtime, and I started to pay attention after a while. I have a lot of set experience. I know what I want a set to feel like.
TW: You were just featured on Inside the Actors' Studio on April 10. How was that experience?
DD: Well, they shoot four hours to get one hour of material. It was kind of surreal, because, well, right now I'm talking about a project, but there I was just talking about myself. You would think that would be such an ego trip to sit there and talk about yourself for four hours, but actually there verse starts to happen, where you sink into this funk of despair and think, "Oh my God. I have done nothing with my life and I have nothing to say."