'House of D' Doesn't Stand for Duchovny

Tue, Apr 12, 2005, 10:04 PM PT

By Mike Szymanski

David Duchovny is aware that marketing the first film he's written and directed as "semi- autobiographical" may be misleading, but it could help sell tickets.

"We don't have any explosions, but we have emotion and we have humor and I think that makes it a big movie," he says about his independent film "The House of D." "But it's a movie for adults starring a boy. Name me a film that worked, that made money of an adult film starring a boy? You can name one, but after that you can't name anymore."

"Stand By Me" is the one, he adds. Duchovny's film is a coming-of-age story about a man in his 40s who harbors a dark secret from the time he was a boy growing up in Greenwich Village. The boy who co-starred with Anthony Hopkins in "Hearts of Atlantis," Anton Yelchin, stars as the teen version of Duchovny's character named Tommy. Duchovny's real-life wife, Tea Leoni, portrays Tommy's mother, and Robin Williams plays Tommy's mentally handicapped friend.

"My mom didn't go through what happens here and I didn't have a best friend who was mentally handicapped when I was a kid," Duchovny explains. "But there's a lot that is absolutely from my childhood. I knew what a stickball game should look like. I know what it's like to live in an apartment where you only have one bathroom, so while you're taking a shower your mother comes in to pee. I urinated on my mother's cigarette butts [in the toilet]. I'm guilty of that."

This is the second film in a row where Leoni portrays a rather irresponsible mother, and this one is a bit more callous than her part in "Spanglish."

"I know that Tea will turn down roles on the basis of cruelty to children," he says in a private interview with "She just doesn't want to go do a movie where a child is kidnapped or hurt, but in terms of character I'm sure she doesn't think of it in that way. And there are moments in the film where you can see why this kid loves her so much."

He says he enjoyed having his wife on the set, even if she was there for only a week. "It was the first time that I was seeing people speak the words I wrote, it was nerve racking for me," Duchovny confesses. "I was just comforted by her presence and I'd like to work with her again if she'd have me." The character of Tommy befriends an unseen woman in an inner city prison known as the House of D which was in the heart of Greenwich Village where the actor grew up. People think the title stands for his last name, but Duchovny laughs, "No, I've often wished that there was another word for detention that they use because I would've loved to have called it 'House of I' or 'House of J' or house of any other letter but D. But it was a women's house of detention and there was nothing that I could do about that."

The woman in prison is played by singer Erykah Badu, a priest is played by Frank Langella, a pimp is played by Duchovny's "Evolution" co-star Orlando Jones and a rich girl who gives Tommy his first kiss is played by Williams' daughter, Zelda. Duchovny says he wanted to first play the retarded adult friend, but then went to Academy Award-winner Williams to see if he'd be interested in the part.

"He really understood it's an urban fairy tale," Duchovny says. "I wanted to make a realistic movie that's like those silly blubs about some classic movie: 'You'll laugh, you'll cry.' I wanted that."

Williams plays the part with childlike glee, and is very physically. "He hurt me a couple of times just shaking my hand and I'm not tiny, he's very powerful, and he has access to a real childlike quality."

Duchovny says he learned about directing by doing some of his own on the "X-Files" TV series, and watching his directors, David Nutter, Kim Manners and Rob Bowman on the show. "These guys were really confident, on schedule and still pulling off really interesting shooting in just eight days. Nutter was the first director that I ever worked with who really could edit on the set in his head. That was great to know. Aside from that he just had a really good sense of how to move the camera around," says Duchovny.

Moving the camera around was an art, especially on a low budget movie like this one where they did guerrilla camerawork, such as Duchovny bicycling down the busy streets of Paris without permission. Now, the actor says he hopes to give himself a bigger role when he writes and directs another project. Meanwhile, he's in "Trust the Man," "Parallel" and another "X-Files" film coming up in the next year. And, he's correcting the publicity machine that is saying this film is about his life.

"My life was not as dramatic as this, movies are more dramatic by nature," Duchovny explains. "I did have a delivery boy job. I played stickball."

But, he confesses that a painfully funny moment in the film is actually true exactly as it happens. He calls a girl "flat-chested" in the film and they retort by saying he has "small balls." "The whole thing to me was indicative of the raised stakes of being 12 years old and these girls don't like me," Duchovny sighs.

"That actually happened and I thought I had to leave the school."

"The House of D" opens in limited release on Friday, April 15, and plans to expand to major cities throughout the month.