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  • From Cult Times, August 1997

    I Want to Believe
    by Sarah Lambert

    David Duchovny on his career, The X-Files fourth
    season and dealing with the series' dedicated fan following

    Cover Inside Photo Inside Photo Inside Photo Inside Photo Inside Photo

    Having been well-received on Sky, the fourth season of the X-files finally reaches terrestrial TV next month. The series remains as popular as ever, Radio Times readers voting David Duchovny as their favourite TV celebrity earlier this year. An accolade that is very well-deserved, as the success of the character owes a lot to Duchovny's dedication and what he can bring to the role from his personal experiences. " I try to come up with parallels to my own life", he explains, "because the subject matter is often so unreal and odd, that you can't say, ' Well I can play that scene because I remember when I was 10 I ran into an alien who wanted to take my blood and this is how I felt'. You have to come up with some kind of emotional parallel from your own life that actually works; thats hard to do and you have to make it real. We have to make the show real, or else people are going to laugh at it. If you ever stop to think what the show is about, it can get kind of silly; thats why I often say I would never watch a show like that. It's the actor's job to make it real and to make it involving". It is perhaps, not an easy task when the general direction that the show is taking can be somewhat sketchy.

    "There's a journey, hopefully; and with the time constraints that we have sometimes it's hard to figure out that journey. You'll be almost at the end when you realize, 'Oh, my God, I screwed up last Tuesday. I shouldn't have played the scene that way'. But that's just the nature of the business. The show has taken on a direction of it's own; it's like necessity is the mother of invention. We don't know where it's going. If somebody has an idea - it can be just an image - we'll go in that direction. Like Mulder's character evolving through the fact that we've got to get this image of bees in the show, and, therefore, we have to create this character and that character, and do this to his mother. I don't think Chris Carter knows exactly what will happen next and I'm sure the other writers don't know either. I certainly don't know; they don't sit down and go, 'We'll, what are we going to do with Mulder this year?'. Even though the characters evolve in really wonderful ways because of the story, it's really a story-driven show.."

    Nevertheless, Duchovny is still keen to delve into the origins of his character. "I like to be involved in the creation of the stories, that Chris Carter calls the mythology episodes, that go back to Mulder's family and Mulder's sister and all that, the evolution of Mulder's character. I like to be involved in all of those, because then I get to have a say in the direction of the character. But, last year, I had an idea for the episode that focused on Skinner, that was nothing to do with Mulder; so now that I've had the experience of having an episode off, I think that my ideas will probably have something to do with putting Mulder in some kind of a coma or send him on vacation!" Much has been made of the sexual tension that exists between the show's lead characters, and the question of whether they'll ever get it together. Duchovny has even been misrepresented as wanting a girlfriend in the series, which in some fans eyes would ideally be Scully. " I kind of bridle at that", he explains, "because I think of myself as Frankenstein asking for a bride, you know, like, 'girlfriend, good. Please give Mulder a girlfriend!' It's not really that, it's more like sometimes I want Mulder to have a life outside of the investigation part and outside of the quest for his sister. I know that is the main spine of the character, that is what drives him, but I'd also like to take him into other areas, and the obvious way would be to either be with Scully romantically, or another woman. I'd like to see something like that, just because as an actor that's interesting to play".

    So, does Duchovny think it will ever happen? " I have no idea, I would imagine that, if that was ever to happen, it should be now; because we're talking about doing a movie of this show and about the fact that in a movie we would have to do something that we never do on the show. We would have to justify doing a movie and sex justifies many a movie!" And a lot of journalism too it would seem, as prior to his marriage to Téa Leoni, Duchovny was plagued by all sorts of rumours, among them the suggestion that he was a sex addict."I just want to make love to them all!" he laughs. I don't know where that rumour came from. I had been seen with more than one woman in the last 12 months, so I was an easy target for those kind of things. Sex addiction seems to be a serious business with all those 12 step programs. Its has expanded from substance abuse to any kind of compulsive behaviour, so it's actually a legitimate concern for a lot of people, who feel that they have compulsive sexual behaviour. I don't consider myself a sex addict; it's a very funny term. When those kind of things turn up in the press, I can laugh it off, but it's hurtful to my family. There was another rumour that I was a neat freak before that, and if I had to choose one of the two, I think I'd rather be a sex addict. I just don't want to go from being a sex addict to being called 'a former sex addict', every time my name is mentioned, or 'a reformed sex addict' or 'born again sex addict', back at it and enjoying it....

    "I think it's only funny if your single and it's not hurting anybody. You can walk down the street with a woman and then it will be in the paper that your dating the woman and you're going to marry her. But, if you really are involved with someone, then it becomes kind of hurtful and difficult. I don't think people really believe that stuff anyway and, once you spend any time with a person , they get to know who you are a little bit. It's just odd; you kind of become like isolated, stay inside, because you know every time you go outside, you're making a statement of some kind".

    "My plan is not to be in a hit movie, my plan is to be able to be in a position where I can do the best scripts that are avaliable to any actor in my age range..."

    The rumours, however, are not confined to the actors personal life. Recently it was suggested that the financial terms he was being offered would lead to his departure from the X-files. "I really don't have any idea where those rumours would have started either. I mean, I'm contracted to do at least five years and this is the fourth year, so I would have to do another year legally. I imagine that it's possible to get out of any contract that you really want to get out of, and if I was completely miserable and wanted to get out, I guess Fox would probably let me; but I haven't made any demands like that and they certainly wouldn't be monetary. I'm fine with the money I'm making".

    So what would make him consider going on beyond his contract? "Reasons for going on after the fifth year? Money; loyalty to huge money-making conglomerate 20th Century Fox; loyalty to the character, to see his journey complete, if it wasn't complete by the fifth year. Under the list of the reasons not to do it: fatigue, no longer being aspired to do the character after five years and 125 hours of playing that one person; grees, doing something just because the money is there; and a desire to do something else, to branch out, to fulfill myself creatively in other areas. Oh, and among the reasons for carrying on... David Caruso would be on there...."

    The fortunes of Caruso being a valuable consideration for any popular TV star considering transition to movies. Incredibly popular on NYPD Blue, the actor failed to make the same impact when he left the series to make films after just one year. Duchovny, however, is philosophic. "Everybody's career is unique and everybody has their own lessons to learn from what they do, not from what anybody else does. Caruso could have very easily become a huge movie star, and he still may; he hasn't yet and he didn't in the year that he quit the show, but that has nothing to do with the public's reaction to his ingratitude and things like that, I just think it has to do with the choices of the movies that he did. So the lesson to be learned there is choose good movies to do, and that's an easy lesson."

    Duchovny is no stranger to films having starred with Brad Pitt in Kalifornia, and in others including The Rapture, Beethoven and Chaplin. During the breaks between seasons three and four of the X-files, he played the lead in a new film, yet to be released in the UK, called Playing God. "It's co-stars Timothy Hutton and Angelina Jolie, who is Jon Voight's daughter. Andy Wilson is the director, an English guy, who has done a few of those Craker shows with Robbie Coltrane, and this is his first American feature. I play a doctor who has lost his license because of malpractice, owing to a drug problem. So he's a surgeon who's kind of drifting aimlessly, not being able to pratice what he really does best. Just by chance he falls in with some bad guys, some gangsters who have use for a doctor, a disbarred doctor. When they need treatment, if they have people who get hurt, they don't have to go through the system - they don't want to, because, if they went to a hospital they'd be arrested. So I become that kind of doctor; then I realize at some point that practicing medicine like that is wrong and I try to get out, but it's not easy."

    It seems odd after arduous rigours of shooting the X-files to spend the break filming, but it's all part of Duchovny's quest to be able to play the parts he wants. "My plan is not to be in a hit movie, my plan is to be able to be in a position where I can do the best scripts that are avaliable to any actor in my age range, so I get to do the best work I can; and it has nothing to do with trying to make myself into a movie star, that's not really the point for me. The movie that I did last summer is not going to be a hit, it's not that kind of movie, but it was the best thing I wanted to do. Sometimes I think that I should rest, I don't know why I don't but I like to work and in some ways, just playing a character that wasn't Mulder after three years, was good for me. I really to work on something other than the X-files, and in that way it felt like a rest. So even though I wasn't maybe physically rested when I came back to work this year, I was mentally rested, because I had been doing another character. I don't really concern myself with whether or not one becomes a movie star or a television star or any kind of star, that's really not up to me. I just go to work and let the chips fall where they may."

    Such an attitude may very well be the key to his success. What was it that made him think he could succeed in a field as competitive as acting?

    "Maybe it's because I didn't start acting until I was like 26, which is kind of old to start, and I thought I was doing something that was helping me as a person, but once I started auditioning and I started trying to get work as an actor, I just had kind of a feeling that things would work out for me in some way. That's all I can say. It was just a feeling and I don't think that I naturally had a great temperment for being an actor. I think that there's a lot more demonstrative people out there; there's probably a lot of people who are more physically energetic than I am; but I knew that I had something that I could express that was interesting and I knew that I wanted to do it, and I just had a belief that it would work out because of that."

    "As a teacher, I was probably too much of a performer, and as an actor I'm probably too much of a teacher..."

    Before he embarked on his career as an actor he went to Yale University, studying English, an occupation that involved being a teacher. "Part of the PhD programme is working as a teaching assistant. In American Universities, all the teaching is done by teaching assistants. Being a professor is a great job, because they basically just lecture, and then the teaching assistants take care of all the dirty work, like grading papers and teaching the classes; that's what graduate students have to do, they're kind of an unpaid working force in the University. It's a very odd system, but you do get a lot of teaching experience, and actually the best part of my whole graduate school experience was teaching. I really enjoyed it, and it's probably the only thing I miss about being in academia. But I find that what I do now is very similar, because your trying to express something, to convey something. As a teacher, I was probably too much of a performer, and as an actor I'm probably too much of a teacher, so I'm trying to find the way down the middle."

    His qualifications beg the question of whether he intends taking up a writing career? "I do write and I would like to write a book about my job, a tell-all book or something like that. I wrote a book when I was 23, a little novel of about 150 pages; so I know that, at some point, although I won't get back to that particular project, I will try to write a novel. My father has been trying to write a novel his entire life. He's actually just finished his first novel at the age of 70, so I think that I can beat him, but we'll see."

    Duchovny's own taste in literature vary. " There's always five books around that I am reading and I don't have any particular favourite kind of book that I like to read. Right now I'm just finishing up a book called Out of Carolina and I'm also reading The Selfish Gene, which is the Darwinian biological book by Richard Dawkins from about 25 years ago. So it's all different stuff, and, of course there's my sex addict's handbook!"

    Such secular reading matter contrasts with more fantastic tastes of his on screen alter-ego. It would seem that his cultural origins - his mother is a Lutheran and his father is Jewish - haven't led to strong, personal religious convictions. " I don't follow an institutional religion", he says, then adds, "but I definately want to believe."

    And does he want to believe in aliens too? "I have never seen an extra- terrestrial, I've never seen a UFO. My mother's an alien, it says it on her card, 'Resident Alien'. She's from Scotland but she lives in America. But that's it - just my mom."

    In many ways it is Mulder's character, and the extreme popularity of The X-Files that have resulted in current films like Men In Black, and last year's Sci-Fi blockbuster Independence Day. "If I ever do a movie with 20th Century Fox, I would hope they would push my movie like they pushed that one," comments Duchovny.

    The X-Files itself, seems to be moving under it's own momentum; one recent video release entered the charts in Italy at number two, between Waterworld and Die Hard. "They were two good episodes, but I was very surprised, yes. I think in Japan it's like that too. I guess the reason that something like that happens is because in Europe you're a year behind on the series, so I imagine this has not been on television yet and you can get it ahead of time. That's actually quite smart of them to do that."

    Such fan commitment is typical of Cult TV shows, and like many other Sci-Fi shows The X- Files devoted followers organize conventions. "I don't really have that much time to do them. I do so much work on the show and we do a certain amount of publicity, which adds time onto doing the show, that I just don't need to spend more time being a part of the show. I feel that we all work so hard, and I don't want to pat myself on the back, but we give a lot to make the show and what people get from the show is the show, they don't get me. So I have got to pull back to take care of myself, and then people get angry. But you have to draw the line and say, 'Well, what I give you is that character. I don't give you an experience of me. I'm not going to meet you like a politician and shake hands and things like that.' I won't talk about my personal life, so there has to be a line drawn; and I feel that I give a lot, so I get upset and it's too bad and when people think that I don't give enough, because I don't go to conventions or I don't want to talk about certain things; but there's always going to be that misunderstanding."

    Duchovny still keeps on good terms with his fans, chief among them is his own personal fan following on the internet - The David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade. "When I first heard about it, I said I was just honored to be mentioned in the same sentence with the word estrogen, and now they're always really nice, they send flowers whenever I'm on a talk show or anything, they send me cards on my birthday. They're very nice and I met a couple of them; I think I wrote a letter to one of them, because they were ill. I had like an hour to kill in L. A last week when I was at my managers office, and I said to her assistant, "Let's go into the Duchovny Chat Room." So we logged on and there were eight people in there, not very many. I don't know how to use the computer, so she was typing for me, and I said, "Hi, it's David Duchovny. Anybody want to talk?" And they totally ignored me. They were commiserating over the fact that this woman's cat had died, so I said" Sorry about the cat", she said "I had her for ten years and she's a tabby." Then I said,"No, it's really David. Does anybody want to talk?" No response. "What can I do to prove that I am David?" No response. Then I said in capital letters, "I AM DAVID DUCHOVNY", and somebody goes, "so am I". So I don't think they believed me, but apparently, I asked my assistant, and she said there's always somebody who is saying that he's somebody else. I don't know if you know this, but you go into one of these 'chat rooms' and you lure somebody into a private chat room, then try to have sex with them, you know, sex on the computer, cybersex; so maybe I'm a cybersex addict, maybe that's where that whole thing started!"

    "I was a big baseball fan when I was a kid, and there was one guy, Mickey Mantle, that I probably would have melted had I ever met him, just because he meant so much to me when I was a kid."

    Some people take their admiration all together more seriously. "A lot of times there are people who have stories that they want to share, and they think they're writing to Mulder. It gets really sad for me, because I can't give these people what they want; they want to talk to Mulder. They are seriously depressed that they're suicidal; and they feel like they know that David would understand, because he plays Mulder who would understand. And these are sad moments, because you realize the power of television and of the show, and then your own lack of power in really following up on that; because it would be disingenious in a way to try and actually step into somebody's life, a stranger's life and do something; and, yet, people are inspired to ask you for that, because they see you on television.

    "An old man wrote me and he said that he had never told anyone, but that, when he was a kid, he walking in the woods and he met this man, who he realised was an alien. I know, it sounds terrible doesn't it, it sounds like a TV Movie, fight? And then throughout his life, this guy would show up every 10, 15, 20 years, to check in with him, like, 'How are you doing?' He said that he was in his eighties and he'd never told anybody this story, but he thought that he could tell Fox Mulder. So what do you do? What do you say? You know, it's just like Miss Lonely Heart, you are just overwhelmed with your own inability to actually deal with what you have inspired people to think about you. It's kind of like being in a family."

    But, in some ways perhaps it's for the best all those fans don't get to meet their big hero..."I was a big baseball fan when I was a kid," starts Duchovny, "and there was one guy, Mickey Mantle, that I probably would have melted had I ever met him, just because he meant so much to me when I was a kid. But when people want to ask me questions about my work or about who I am and about what I do, I know how unsatisfactory that always is. It's a mystical thing, the work and all that; the work stands on it's own, and it's always a disapointment when you actually meet the person who does this work that you love. I know, because I see the disapointment in your face right now, how impossible it is to be as good as your work or as interesting as your expression.

    "Sometimes I feel thrilled and proud to be able to sustain the kind of work that we have to do and sometimes I feel empty and scared that I just don't have anything inside. I have nothing and yet I've got to get up and go to work and millions of people are going to see me and I'm totally empty and afraid. So it's difficult sometimes, but the pride that I take in my work is such that, even on these days, I do my job." Doing his job involves working in Vancouver, a situation which has advantages as well a s the obvious disadvantage of being a little isolated. "I feel so lucky to have been up here because we didn't have any pressure from Hollywood looking at us. We were like a big fish in a small pond here and we got to do the show on our own, and we really created a voice and a vision that was unique. I think that, if we were in Hollywood, we would have had a lot more interference from studio people, and Chris would have had to push a lot harder to insulate the show and make it what it is. So I think that, if we hadn't come up here, we wouldn't have been the show that we are. At this point, in terms of like taking advantage of career opportunities, it would probably be better for me to be in L.A., just because I can go on meetings and things like that, and deal with people who I'd like to work with. I wouldn't mind being back in L.A. at this point, but I am very thankful that we started the show here."

    "She's the only one that really knows what I am going through, and I'm the only one that knows what she's going through."

    Duchovny's meteoric rise to stardom has also been easy to deal with in Canada. "Yeah, in Vancouver, it's pretty good, because we've been here so long, and also tend to go in the same areas, so I think that people are kind of used to seeing me around. You will get stopped and people want to talk to you and meet you, but there's no paparazzi. There's none of those people who take pictures and sell them and try and antagonize you into a confrontation, which L.A. is just crawling with and it is really uncomfortable. You don't get that here and I hope you never will. In New York it's the same. and so New York and L.A. are very difficult for me now, which is too bad for New York, because it's where I grew up. It's very strange for me to go to New York, to walk down the street and have people accost me and take pictures of me, because I'm like, "I was here for 25 years and nobody even looked at me." Vancouver is pretty laid back, and because we've been here for four years, they're like, "Oh, him again!"

    So, whilst in Vancouver, who does Duchovny socialise with?

    "I would say Nick Lea (Krycek) and Mitch Pileggi (Skinner) have become good friends through all this, and Chris Carter is definately a good friend, but that would be it. I don't socialize with Gillian, just because we're working together all the time, but we get along. We have our moments. Sometimes we all just show up and go, 'I'd rather be anywhere else but here, and I'm going to make you suffer for it.' But then at other times I'll look at Gillian and think, 'She's the only one that really knows what I am going through, and I'm the only one that knows what she's going through.' So there's a real bond there and at this point, four years into the show. Ultimately, we're all trying to make it the best show we can. If we keep that common goal in mind, we all can forgive a lot."

    Lambert, Sarah. August, 1997. "I Want to Believe." Cult Times.

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