Combustible Celluloid

Interview with David Duchovny

Magic Trick

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Best known as Agent Mulder on "The X-Files," David Duchovny, 45, cut his directorial teeth on several episodes of that same show. Now his first feature film as writer, director and actor, House of D, opens this week in San Francisco theaters. It's a coming-of-age story set in 1970s New York about a young man (Anton Yelchin) and his friend, a mentally retarded janitor (Robin Williams). Duchovny's wife Tea Leoni plays the young man's mother, and Duchovny plays the young man, all grown up and living in Paris in the present day.

Combustible Celluloid: How did you go about re-creating 1970s New York on a low budget?

David Duchovny: Big cities change a lot but there are a lot of places that don't change at all. I knew I could do it for a certain amount of money. All I was paying for was cars and clothes. The whole thing was putting a car in front of something that said, 're-elect Clinton' or things like that. I got a big bus and brought it everywhere I went. And there's a green Opal that you see in the background five or six times. It's like a magic trick. You give people some clues, you give them the cars, and hopefully they won't notice anything else.

CC: I know songs can get expensive. Did you get all the 1970s-era songs that you wanted?

I'm happy with the music. Those songs, even if they're not the best songs, sometimes they mean so much to me just because they were around that time. That's part of what music is. As much as I don't like what's on the radio now, I recognize that 30 years from now somebody's going to write a period piece and these songs are going to feel like what these songs feel like to me. "Whoops, I Did It Again!" is going to bring tears to middle-aged man's eyes 30 years from now. So romantic!

CC: When you directed your "X-Files" episodes, you probably had a lot more money and a lot less time. How was that different from this experience?

DD: Maybe I had a crane for three days on this movie, and on "The X-Files," by the sixth or seventh season you could have a crane anytime you wanted. Maybe I could have used a couple more days, but generally I felt I had everything I needed. It wasn't like making a movie on my credit cards. I would have been hard-pressed to figure out how to spend more money on the technical stuff. A lot of times when you don't have money you're forced to make really interesting decisions, but if you have all the money in the world, you never have to leave your room. You just draw up everything on the computer.

CC: How did you find working with Robin Williams?

DD: When I first talked to Robin, he said he wanted to do the prosthetic teeth and do something with his ears, and I was afraid of this, because it cost money. I got this bill, and I was like, 'there goes my crane.' At first I was against it, because his character is like a magical entity. He's not a recognizable syndrome. You're not going to look him up in a book and say, 'this is what he's got.' And making him physically different I thought was going to be too specific. But when he showed up, it was subtle and profound. That was really all the directing I did with Robin. It was just staying on the same page and I wanted him to be mythical.

CC: What do you mean by 'mythical'?

DD: He's that childhood protector that you outgrow. He's a fairytale character. He's an ogre. He's a dragon. He's Puff the Magic Dragon. Little Jackie Paper grows up and poor Puff has to stay behind alone. And I always thought as silly as that song is culturally, I always get sad when I hear that song, because he leaves Puff behind. So Robin was Puff.

CC: How was working with your wife Téa Leoni?

DD: She was really scared that she wasn't going to get it. I didn't have an idea of what was right and I think she's so good that it wasn't really an issue for me. But it was tough for her. She was saying, "I'm terrible. I'm screwing up the movie." Actors are very insecure that way, but when you're married to one and she's in your movie, it's doubled.

CC: Did you actually shoot in Paris?

DD: Yes. I did all that bike riding stuff in Paris. None of that was locked up. They were like, 'you sure you want to do this?' And I was like, 'Yeah! It'll look cool when I get out in front." I'd stop and look at playback on the Steadycam. And people had been yelling out the car, "Mul-DAIR, Mul-DAIR!" My dad retired and moved to Paris, which was partly the inspiration for the kid leaving, and he was known as "Pere de Mulder." He said, "You're helping me get free coffee."

April 29, 2005

Partial David Duchovny Filmography:
Working Girl (1988)
New Year's Day (1989)
Bad Influence (1990)
Twin Peaks (1990)
Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead (1991)
The Rapture (1991)
Ruby (1992)
Beethoven (1992)
Chaplin (1992)
Kalifornia (1993)
Playing God (1997)
The X-Files (1998)
Return to Me (2000)
Evolution (2001)
Zoolander (2001)
Full Frontal (2002)
Connie and Carla (2004)
House of D (2005)
Trust the Man (2005)
The TV Set (2005)
Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)
The Secret (2007)
The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008)

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