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Excerpts from Neon Magazine, September, 1998
Transcribed by alfornos on

Dilemma for Mulder
by Lesley O’Toole
Photographs by Moshe Brakha

When David Duchovny joined TXF, he was nobody. Six years later, it’s the biggest show on television and he’s a major star. The movie raises the stakes. Should he stay and risk typecasting? Or leave and lose it all?
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DD has a confession to make. "I’m not Mulder," he says flatly. "I don’t speculate about alien forces and don’t have much time for conspiracy theories about life. I’m too pragmatic and cynical for that."

This matters. If David Duchovny, or rather the person we think is David Duchovny, wasn’t famous enough already, then "Fight The Future" - to give TXF movie its extended title - is surely going to make him even bigger. And it’s something he’s not sure about.

His commitment to the cause has never been unshakeable. He risked alienating the rest of the cast and crew by insisting the production move from Vancouver to LA so he could be closer to his wife, Téa Leoni. Leoni needed to be in LA for her series The Naked Truth, and Duchovny was tired of travelling back and forth. The irony was that by the time that move was in the works, Leoni ’s show had been cancelled. The show duly relocated and the many people who work on TXF - some of whom had bought houses in Vancouver, settled their kids in local schools - had all moved to suit one man.

That man is unrepentant. "I don’t think wanting to live a more normal life with my wife makes me a bad guy," Duchovny says in his defence. But it shows that, at the moment, he’s his own first priority, not the show. So at the point where TXF continues its unlikely rise to being one of the most recognisable cultural products in the world, Duchovny is wondering whether he should be a part of it at all.

"I try to maintain a healthy attitude about my work," he says, "but after five years it’s extremely difficult to cover the same material or find new angles to your character or to the plot without diluting the value of the series. Some time this year Gillian and I will sit down with Chris Carter and hammer everything out."

While Chris Carter was literally surfing through college, Duchovny was finding a way to sabotage a promising academic career. He was born in Manhattan in 1960. His mother was a teacher and his father, who worked for the American Jewish Committee, harboured an unfulfilled desire to be a writer. They separated when Duchovny was 12, but Duchovny grew up to be the perfect American kid. He was good at baseball, good at basketball and good enough academically to set himself up for the most elite college education available: getting a BA at Princeton, an MA at Yale. He was an excellent student. And he hated it.

"The atmosphere was incredibly arrogant and stifling," he recalls, "and I never felt very comfortable sitting next to people who’d count up their stock portfolios and complain, ‘Todd and Kimmy won’t be able to fly down to the Bahamas for Spring Break...’" he says. "I always felt like an alien at places like Princeton and Yale. I just had to get out of that Wasp-ish environment, and acting was the only thing that gave me creative validation."

During the early ‘80s, Duchovny couldn’t quite work out what he wanted to do with his life. He worked evenings as a bartender, tried writing a novel - about a bartender - and began a PhD at Yale before dropping out to concentrate on acting. It was a long, slow haul: his first film appearance, as ‘Tess’s Birthday Party Friend’ in 1988’s Working Girl, didn’t come until he was 27, and his career didn’t exactly take off from there. After James Spader had dropped out at the last minute, DD played the transvestite DEA Agent Dennis/Denise Bryson in Twin Peaks, but this was a brief high spot in a filmography that includes the likes of Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991), Beethoven (1992) and of course TV’s Red Shoe Diaries series, which he narrated.

A role alongside rising stars Brat Pitt and Juliette Lewis in the pretentious Badlands-rip-off Kalifornia (1993), shortly after TXF began airing, did little to catapult DD onto the C-list, never mind the A-list. And it wasn’t even the film that captured his new, laconic persona on celluloid for the first time - that was achieved by an obscure, barely-released curiosity called The Rapture (1991), a film directed by Michael Tolkin, the maverick scriptwriter who penned Robert Altman’s The Player. It was Tolkin who spotted Duchovny’s potential and may conceivably have been the first to identify the qualities that came together to create Fox Mulder. Duchovny, said Tolkin, had " a flatness that I really liked."

Summer 1998. Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny and Chris Carter are sitting on a stylish red sofa installed on a platform in an otherwise virtually empty soundstage on 20th Century Fox’s LA film lot. They’re here for the biggest on-line chat ever conducted - to be broadcast live in the US on MSNBC, giant network NBC’s 24-hour news channel competitor to CNN, and of course on the Internet, where their words of wisdom will be immediately translated into French, Spanish, Chinese... It will feature questions from XF fanatics the world over whose medium of choice is, of course, the Internet.

All three look completely relaxed, sitting knee to knee with CC between his two stars. They make small talk between themselves directed at the media. Someone walks on stage proffering small bottles of Evian water. Without consulting each other, without even breaking the flow of conversation, Anderson, Duchovny and Carter immediately begin the seemingly unconscious task of peeling the Evian label from the bottles. By the time the cameras roll, none will be seen to be promoting the particular brand.

Carter isn’t affected by criticisms that the film delivers little of what was promised. "It answers a lot about the project and what the Syndicate is up to," he insists. The problem, he thinks, is that the "serious fans had such high expectations but the film could only answer some of the questions." But of course, the main rumour sweeping X-philes was the unthinkable: Mulder and Scully would finally get it together...

"No," says DD. "There was never going to be a sex scene between them in the film. Because that would have betrayed everything the series said about them. They find refuge in their shared obsessions, the fact that they’re alone against the rest of the world and they have to rely on each other to keep their knowledge alive. That type of secretive association is what people find sexy about the relationship. The sexual energy comes from what is not spoken between them. They only have each other to trust, and their work comes first.

"Mulder doesn’t get off on Scully sexually - that’s not what attracts him to her He doesn’t want to fuck her; he wants her understanding. He listens to her and needs her scepticism to keep his head screwed on straight - at least as straight as possible. And as the series has evolved, she’s become more the believer, while he’s grown more dubious about the aliens."

At the Internet conference, he and Anderson are bombarded with e-mails begging to know what’s going on.

Question: Is there sexual chemistry between Mulder and Scully?

GA (Giggling): Yes, there’s definitely sexual tension between the two of them.
DD: It’s chemistry of a kind.
GA (Indignant): I’d say that’s chemistry!
DD: We like to keep the sexual tension underplayed, especially between The Smoking Man and me!

Question: Why do Mulder and Scully never refer to each other by their first names?

DD: We use them as a dramatic device.
GA: Because it ends up getting pretty intimate when we do. Using the name Fox sounds naughty. (DD laughs)
GA: It seems like a step towards intimacy.
DD: Next she’ll call me Fo, then Fff...

Rumors of a sex scene were so rife, it was even suggested that the film involved nudity. Specifically, Mulder’s behind.

"People always ask me when we are going to see his butt," says Carter. "If I had known that putting his butt in the movie would have gotten that much attention, we might have put it in. But I do what I want. I’m not putting his butt in just because people tell me to, and I won’t have them kiss if people tell me to."

Carter plays down allegations of tension between his stars. Everyone involved is well aware of the rumours that they don’t speak, and many have remarked on the number of scenes in the series which show the two communicating by phone and rarely in the same shot.

"That is not true," Carter says. "Imagine the relationships in the last five years of your life that are not contractual. They are always difficult; there are always ups and downs. The same things happen with every serious relationship as happen with people who work together every day. You are happy to live your life and do your work and go home. Just because they don’t socialise outside the workplace doesn’t mean they don’t like each other. There’s really no drama here."

"If there is, I haven’t seen it," says William B. Davis. "But then I haven’t seen them together that often. I don’t see a whole lot of Gillian, period, but when I’ve seen them together they seem fine. They come back to work on Monday and say, ‘Where did you go on the weekend?’ Normal stuff."

Duchovny strays a bit further from the party line. "We get along as much as we have to get along - professionally. But we’re two very different kinds of people, and that’s as true today as it was at the beginning of the series. We don’t spend time together away from the set because we work very long hours together and we need to get far, far away from each other. I’m too glib and sarcastic, and I know that rubs Gillian the wrong way."

If there have been rumours about Duchovny and Anderson, that’s partly because there have been rumours about Duchovny and a lot of people. Stories that Duchovny is addicted to sex, stories that he’s addicted to porn. He denies being addicted to anything, but being INTERESTED is a different matter. He won’t deny that until his recent marriage, he had more girlfriends than the average man. As he sees it, it was part of his search for something missing. Being Jewish, educated and from New York, he’s been in therapy.

"Therapy has helped me try to figure out who I am and gain some greater self-awareness," he admits. "I don’t suffer from extreme highs and lows but I have a natural tendency to feel down and depressed even though I try to pretend that everything’s OK. That’s not a very satisfying way to live, and I don’t want to bring other people down to my grim level. But somewhere along the way in life I lost my capacity to experience pure joy. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it doesn’t make you the life of the party either."

When asked if he had always envisaged the show as a movie, Carter is entirely convincing in his deadpan response: "Oh yes." In fact, nothing was further from his mind in the beginning. "You just can’t imagine this kind of success because TV shows don’t have this kind of run. Normally in the business, shows just come and go. And to be honest, so much of what has happened is unprecedented so it’s best not to dare imagine anything."

Duchovny and Anderson both say they envisioned a film version early on. "We always thought the show was like a movie though," Duchovny insists, "and I really wanted to do this film from the first or second year."

Anderson disagrees. "It might have been a better experience to do the film when the audience no longer had the show to watch any more," she suggests.

O’Toole, Lesley. September, 1998. "Dilemma for Mulder." Neon Magazine.

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