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The X-Files: I Want To Believe - David Duchovny interview

David Duchovny in The X-Files: I Want To Believe

Interview by Rob Carnevale

DAVID Duchovny talks about returning to the iconic role of Fox Mulder in The X-Files: I Want To Believe, working with Gillian Anderson and Chris Carter once again and why he always believed a further movie adventure would become a reality.

He also talks about exisitng in the shadow of The Dark Knight, coping with fake facial hair, why he thinks the original TV show was ahead of its time and why the most creative place to work right now is cable.

Q. When we first see Mulder he has a beard. Was that home-grown?
David Duchovny: That wasn’t my beard. It was fake. But I’m glad you were fooled because it’s a real concern for an actor when he puts fake hair on. Once you see that it’s fake that’s all you can look at and it’s something that Chris [Carter] and I… I agonised over it. I didn’t really want to wear it because I thought that if you see it’s a fake beard, then it’s just Mulder in a fake beard.

Q. Was shooting the film as cold as it looks?
David Duchovny: Yeah, it was. Vancouver doesn’t actually get that cold. It gets down to about zero but up in Pemberton it was well below zero. I’ve lived in LA on and off for about 20 years now and I love any kind of extreme weather. Perhaps not to live in, but it was a lot of fun to not only be in, but because it’s extreme weather it makes for an extreme landscape, which is great for the film. But it’s also just awesome to look around. Just staring into the middle of that valley of ice, and those majestic mountains across the way… it was beautiful. At night-time, it adds so much atmosphere to the visual of the movie.

Q. Do you also seek out extreme characters, such as the ones you played in Twin Peaks and are currently playing in Californication?
David Duchovny: Maybe unconsciously but I don’t sit down and go what’s going to be different? Sometimes I sit down and go: “What has been successful?” And then do exactly the same thing [laughs]! I like the challenge… we all like the challenge of trying new things. So I think there’s a little bit of that. But I also think that I can relate to extremes somehow as an actor and as individual, so I enjoy going to those. It’s not a strategy.

Q. Was another X-Files movie always on the cards once the series came to an end?
David Duchovny: For me it was. I left a year early and came back for the last two episodes in the ninth year… but going out of the door at the end of the eighth year, I’d said to Chris: “We’re all dead; we’re all just burned” I’m gone and I don’t know how much longer you guys are going to be able to keep this up. Good luck, I’m sorry but I won’t be there. But this is a great show and it’s a cinematic show. It’s almost a better movie than it is a series…” I felt like we were making little movies every week and that was ultimately what was so debilitating… the quality of the writing and the shot-making. It’s not like taking Sex & The City to the big screen, or Friends or whoever it’s going to be next… The X-Files is really a movie, it’s not just a television show on a big screen. So I wanted to do it because I love the show and I love the character and I did enjoy the people even though we had plenty of problems while we were doing it because we were all insane.

So, out the door, I’d always said to Chris: “Let’s keep on it; it’ll work. We can all do it again and we’ll want to when enough time passes.” So I actually never doubted it would come off even though it was a little harder to co-ordinate than I imagined.

Q. Can we assume that you’ll return to it in another few years?
David Duchovny: Sure.

Q. Will that fit in with the mythology of the show and the alien invasion that had been planned for 2012?
David Duchovny: I’m not the expert on that but apparently 2012 is the big year… for the Olympics. Mulder has to solve something at the Olympics [laughs].

Q. Was the opening weekend box office in America a cause for concern for you?
David Duchovny: Well, I’d prefer that it was a huge hit. You always do. But there are mitigating circumstances that were completely out of our control. We happened to open on the worst day in the history of cinema… to open on the second week of Batman. The only other worse day would have been to open with Batman and nobody would have done that. So, without being imbecilic about when you’re opening your film, which would have been against another big movie, this was the worst day because we’re actually competing for the same audience with what is probably going to be the highest grossing film of all-time! So, bad luck… what can you do?

It’s no reflection on our work or the movie. What saves us is that we’re a $29 million movie; we’re actually a small movie masquerading as a blockbuster. We don’t have to do any kind of business like that. Would it have been great to? Of course! But in the other territories outside of the States it’s doing much, much better. I’m still interested to see what it does on its second weekend, even though it’s still the worst weekend in history to have opened and the second worst week to be out. I haven’t seen The Dark Knight, I’m the only one but it’s become something even of itself. It’s not even a movie, it’s something to be a part of. Go figure…

Q. What have been some of your strangest requests or encounters with X-Files fans?
David Duchovny: I haven’t had a lot of those. People are really much more respectful than they’re made out to be and much more discerning about the fact that I’m not the character I play.

Q. Is Mulder a character that’s easy to play? Was it an easy pair of shoes to slip back into?
David Duchovny: Somewhat… it’s faily easy. It’s easier when I get to work with Gillian [Anderson] because, for me, the character comes to his full life in relation to Scully… and vice versa. So, it was easier when we started working together. It was then that we really started to find our way. What saves it, for me, is that I’m not trying to recreate a performance; I’m not a comic book character. I’m not Indiana Jones or Bond, I’m a flesh and blood guy who is ageing and changing. I don’t have to do what I did in ’93. I couldn’t do it and thank God. Even if you watch the continueum of what we laid down before this movie, the guy in ’93 is very different from the guy in ’98 – aside from wearing better clothes and having a better hair stylist [laughs]. The performance is different and I think better… and then jump to now, it’s just a matter of filling it in.

As we age, there are different things that become important to us and that means that different aspects of our character come to the forefront; certain aspects recede. And that’s fun. It would be shitty to have to imitate myself. That wouldn’t be fun. And I don’t think I would be involved at this point if we were trying to do that. I think it would ultimately be a humiliating experience if I was trying to recreate exactly what I did 15 years ago.

Q. Did you know Billy Connolly before you did this?
David Duchovny: No, but it was a pleasure to meet and work with him. I wanted my mother to meet him. I think Billy is very tired of people trying the Scottish accent in front of him, so I didn’t try mine.

Q. It’s a disciplined performance from him as a peadophile priest. Was all his stuff as written, or did it change during the course of filming?
David Duchovny: Thrillers are generally are carefully plotted and non-improvisational. They have to be. They have to move along at a certain pace. Maybe you can throw in a thing here or there, but ultimately it’s a disservice to the film to try and get in the way of the material. So, there’s not a lot of… maybe that shit that I say right before I get suckered back into doing another X-Files; that was improvised. I can’t think of other examples.

Q. It’s also intriguing that the film doesn’t pander to what those of us who aren’t devotees of the series might have expected, which is more outlandish stuff with aliens? Were you surprised by that?
David Duchovny: No, because I knew it was a $29 million film and although that seems like a lot of money, that’s average of just shooting 40 days on set. To try and make a thriller, to try and make a summer blockbuster, to try and make a movie that’s going to compete with the Hancocks, etc… you can question the wisdom of when you bring this movie out, but we had no control over that. We had a certain budget that the movie had to be made at, so the story was somewhat driven by the budget. You have to be able to tell your story without all those tricks and it becomes about doing your job.

So, I had two expectations. I knew it was going to be a smaller movie. In some ways – and I hate to say this because it drives some people away – it’s smaller than some of our episodes. But I knew it would make up for its size with its intelligence. There’s only small ideas; there’s no guarantee that we would have been better if we’d got to spend another $100 million. Who knows?

Q. Did that even apply to the theme tune, which is similarly low-key and even used for a comedy moment?
David Duchovny: No, because we were playing the moment. I knew that it was supposed to be a funny moment but there was no call for the sting of the music… that was a later addition. It’s not my favourite moment but I acknowledge that it’s a cool thing for the fans and it doesn’t hurt the movie. Personally, it is a cheap laugh.

Q. Was it important for you to move the relationship between Mulder and Scully forward?
David Duchovny: Well, just as it was important for me to be able to change this guy, it was nice to be able to play the relationship a little bit differently. I was thankful that it wasn’t a movie about us getting together because I don’t think anybody wants to see the romantic comedy of Mulder and Scully. I like to think they’re together… now deal with it. Now how does it work? The show was always these two are in love? So, how are they going to love? This turns that on its head and says: “OK, now they’re together, how’s it going to work?” I like that. I think it’s a bold choice to make. It’s not giving in to the repeat of the expectations of the show; it’s not just trying to do the show again; it’s actually trying to evolve the show. That’s interesting to those of us who make it, and hopefully interesting to those of us who are interested in watching it once they get over the initial disappointment that it’s not basically the same show they were watching before. I think there are probably some people who just want to see it as it was, but I think that’s an impossibility.

Q. Did you ever get annoyed about the secrecy that was involved in making the movie? Not knowing what was going on…
David Duchovny: I think hair and make-up did. When you’re dealing with the continuity of a look it’s hard not to have the whole script and to keep track of what comes before what – of the distress of your clothes or your beard. So, I think it was really hard for them. In terms of the crew, I don’t think they gave a crap really.

Q. What was it about some of the stand-alone episodes that people really responded to?
David Duchovny: I think this movie is a call back to the kinds of shows that people responded to in the beginning before it took on a life of its own as a Mulder and Scully story, or as a mythology that was happening. In that way, I think it’s smart because I think for the same reasons that people fell in love with the show in the first place, people that don’t know the show will have a chance to fall in love with it again for the first time. As for why it worked? I think there was no show like it, or there hadn’t been one for a long time. I think The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits… when I was a kid there used to be this thing called Chiller Theatre, where they showed crappy horror movies… I just loved them. You weren’t discerning of the quality of the show, you just wanted to be scared. And I think Chris’s insight was into the fact that there wasn’t this now. So, we kind of jumped into this void and it was a big void. People didn’t know what they were missing until we got out there. So, I believe unlike most television, there was actually a desire for us before we got there even though people weren’t aware of it.

I was in an elevator recently in LA [as part of the junket] and a woman got in with me who said: “Oh my God, I loved The X-Files when it came on. It’s as if I actually created a show for myself.” I think there’s always a doctor drama… there’ll always be a Grey’s Anatomy, so there’ll be the next one. There’s always an ER. There’s always a CSI. But I think Chris was the only one to see that there’s no Nightstalker or Twilight Zone.

Q. Do you think TV is in a better place now?
David Duchovny: Because of cable… I don’t know about network TV. But cable, to me, is the most creative place to make any kind of drama or comedy because the movie business is so difficult in terms of grabbing a shair of the market-place that by necessity these movies have to reach so many people. You’ve got to make a movie that a 10-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman will enjoy. Now what kind of movie is that going to be? With cable television you have the freedom that’s given you that it’s not sponsored, you don’t have to worry about alienating commercial advertisers with language or situations. And on top of that you’re not trying to please everybody; you’re just trying to make noise and find a niche. Just trying to find a space.

So, aside from independent film… and even independent film now is just a low-budget arm of the major studies; they’re just trying to find a cheap way to make a lot of money. I like to think of this new X-Files movie as the first independent blockbuster [laughs]. So, to answer your question I really think that in cable television, in any kind of drama or comedy making, the people who make the show probably have more freedom than in anywhere else… aside from true independent filmmakers and filmmakers that have earned the right to call all the shots. And there’s only a couple of those.

Q. Do you feel like you’ve reached some sort of cultural notoriety when you’er invited to recreate your character for The Simpsons?
David Duchovny: [Laughs] People ask me that a lot but I could care less about The Simpsons. Honestly. It’s something that’s totally passed me by. I recognise that the characters are iconic or touchstones in a way for certain points of view or phenomena that people use it to refer to, or apply to their experience. So, that’s cool when you realise that. But not so much The Simpsons unfortunately.

Q. Do you remain healthily sceptical on the mention of conspiracy theories?
David Duchovny: Yeah, I find it hard to believe.

Q. Because people don’t keep secrets…
David Duchovny: No they don’t. I do – but that’s a conspiracy of one.

Q. Are you doing more Californication?
David Duchovny: We just finished on Wednesday [July 23, 2008]. So, there’ll be 12 more episodes, starting airing in the States on September 20.

Q. Will it be dirtier than the first season?
David Duchovny: I’m actually fairly prudish. It’s funny, sometimes I say: “I can’t say that!” I recently said in fact: “There’s too many shits and fucks in this script! I’m really offended. Can’t we just save it for an appropriate moment? Why must every other word be fuck or shit?” [Laughs] But, to me, what’s really interesting about that show… I don’t mind going to the limits of physical comedy, or physical humour, or sex farce, so long as its tempered with a very sentimental heart about a guy who really just wants to be with this one woman. If he didn’t, I think it would be a very different experience watching the show.

Q. Did you do any directing on this season?
David Duchovny: I directed the first episode this year. I won’t be able to direct anything but the first episode of each year because I wouldn’t be able to prep it.

Q. Would you ever consider moving away from acting into directing?
David Duchovny: It’s certainly something that I feel passionate about and involved in. The idea of not having to sit in the make-up trailer every day as a grown man and have a fake beard fixed to your face is attractive to me [laughs]. Although as a director I might just wear a fake beard anyway!

Read our review of The X-Files: I Want To Believe

Read our interview with Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz