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From X-Pose Magazine, December 1997

Trust In God
by Mike Thomas

David Duchovny takes his first steps towards big-screen super-stardom with his new movie Playing God and the eagerly-awaited X-Files feature film.

At the beginning of 1993, David Duchovny was teetering on the brink of movie stardom. After working his way up through a string of supporting roles in such films as Beethoven, Ruby and Chaplin, Duchovny had just appeared opposite Brad Pitt in the stylish road movie Kalifornia and looked destined to become one of Hollywood’s hottest leading men. All he needed was a starring role in a major movie.

It was at this critical moment in time that Duchovny’s career took an unexpected detour. While waiting for a suitable film to come his way, Duchovny agreed to play the leading role in a science fiction mystery/thriller series called The X-Files. Convinced that the show would last 12 episodes at the very most, Duchovny saw The X-Files as the source of some healthy exposure and believed that it would help him bide his time before he made his next movie.

"Initially, [Playing God's appeal] was just to kind of get away from The X-Files and have a vacation of sorts."

Instead, of course, The X-Files swiftly became one of the most popular and acclaimed TV series of the decade, thus forcing Duchovny to turn his back on the big screen and concentrate on Fox Mulder’s investigations into the unexplained and extraordinary.

Now, with The X-Files entering its fifth and possibly final season, it seems fitting that Duchovny is returning to the big screen in his first starring vehicle, Playing God. Shot in the Summer of 1996 (during The X-Files’ third season hiatus), the film toplines Duchovny as Dr. Eugene Sands, a famed LA surgeon who loses his medical license after performing an operation high on drugs, and subsequently agrees to work as a ‘gunshot doctor’ for a local gangster.

An intriguing cross between a contemporary crime thriller and morality play, Playing God couldn’t be much further away from the hi-tech, fantastical world of The X-Files. And for Duchovny, that was an important factor in his decision to star in the movie.

"Initially, [the film’s appeal] was just to kind of get away from The X-Files and have a vacation of sorts," the actor explains. "It was working with a new crew and new people and a new story and a new character. So it was really kind of liberating and rejuvenating in that way.

"But what drew me to the role were the kind of interesting moral questions of the character; of somebody who feels that he was put on Earth to do one thing - namely be a surgeon - and have that taken away, for good reasons, through a fault of his own. And then, do you continue to practice? Do you continue to do what you think you’re supposed to do, or do you listen to other people who tell you you can’t do it any more? Do you save the life of somebody who takes lives; do you save the life of a killer? Is that a good thing?

"These were interesting questions that I didn’t see addressed in movies that often. And the character, to me, was always like a minor character in a movie, and I thought this was a very original character to see. So I wanted to do that."

"The worst part about surgery is like the worst part about acting. You get up at about four in the morning."

As the first film Duchovny has starred in since opening The X-Files, Playing God represents an important test to see if the actor can successfully break away from being identified with Fox Mulder. Should the public respond badly to the movie or his performance, it might become harder for Duchovny to resist his worst nightmare - being typecast.

In view of this fact, it seems somewhat surprising that Duchovny didn’t try to play safe by choosing a more conventional film than Playing God as his follow-up to The X-Files. Yet the actor maintains that he never felt the need to appear in a more mainstream project, and doesn’t actually perceive Playing God as a risky career move.

"There might have been thoughts on the part of other people; on the part of my manager, my agent and things like that. But I think they know better than to try and tell me anything," he laughs. "Well, my manager told me to do The X-Files, my agent told me not to...I’ve forgiven them both. I’ve forgiven Melanie for telling me to do it and I’ve forgiven Reesa for telling me not to!

"I didn’t feel [choosing Playing God] was courageous. I just wanted to do something different and I feel like The X-Files, even though it’s an odd TV show, it’s a TV show. It’s extremely mainstream. I didn’t feel the need to be in a movie that had to make $100 million or to find a mainstream audience because I’m already doing that. So my responsibility was to find something that I wanted to do, rather than something I thought people wanted me to do."

To portray Dr. Eugene Sands in Playing God, Duchovny studied real-life surgeons at work. "I can’t say it was fun to hang out with them," he remarks. "The worst part about surgery is like the worst part about acting. You get up at about four in the morning.

"I went in to watch a brain surgery and surgery on an infection on somebody’s legbone...The brain surgery was difficult to watch. It’s all very difficult because the patient, you may not notice, is anaesthetized during surgery because they’re cutting you open. And so it’s hard to look at somebody defenseless like that. It’s very strange to watch an unconscious person get cut open and dealt with in that way.

"I had a friend that divorced her surgeon husband and she said she didn’t trust him because he was more comfortable dealing with people when they were unconscious. It’s a strange relationship you have with your surgeon. He cuts you open when you’re not looking. So there are all like weird [psychological] things to think about, apart from the blood and the gore and the knives and things like that which you would think of off the top of your head. It’s a weird psychological place to be in."

"In terms of the psychological deficit, I think we all know why he might take drugs: reality is overrated; it’s no good, so we want to feel better."

Duchovny also read about drug abuse and its effects before starting work on the film. But his extensive research hasn’t affected his personal view on the subject. "As an actor, I have no moral judgment," he explains. "An actor you can’t have a moral judgment. You don’t go, ‘Is this bad or is this good?’ ‘Is this true?’ is the only question you can ask. ‘Is this real?’ So it was interesting, as watching surgery was interesting.

"It was interesting to figure out psychologically why a person like that would take drugs and then [to learn about the] physical manifestations; really wonderful kinds of little things about what drugs do to your body. And to play them with a sense of reality is a lot of fun; it’s like learning a new skill. So now I know how to do that."

Some cinemagoers have found it hard to believe that such an accomplished doctor as Duchovny’s character in Playing God could take drugs. However, the actor is quick to point out that drug abuse is a surprisingly common problem among members of the medical professions, and feels that Dr. Sands’ predicament is wholly believable.

"In terms of the psychological deficit, I think we all know why he might take drugs: reality is overrated; it’s no good, so we want to feel better. In terms of somebody who knows what drugs do to you, I think that’s exactly why he takes drugs, because I’m sure he thinks, ‘I’m the boss of the drugs. Drugs aren’t going to boss me around.’

Besides challenging the popular image of David Duchovny as Fox Mulder, Playing God also presents a different side of Duchovny’s co-star, Timothy Hutton. While Hutton is usually associated with the caring and sympathetic characters he has played in such films as Ordinary People, the actor shines as Playing God’s main villain, Raymond Blossom, the infamous counterfeiter who secretly employs Dr. Eugene Sands to be his personal physician.

"I think it’s a great role for Timothy," says Duchovny. "He came into public view being a sensitive, vulnerable [character]. Her does it so well. From Ordinary People on, he’s a wonderful actor in that vein. But I think Tim has a lot of acerbic wit to him and a lot of hardness that he can also bring to his acting, and I think this is a great role for him in that he can be nasty. And I don’t think people are used to seeing that."

"I saw it as a character study; I wanted to do my movie of the week writ large and Andy wanted to do his Pulp Fiction."

The two actors come to blows in the movie when Dr. Sands has a fling with Blossom’s girlfriend, Claire. Duchovny helped cast the relatively unknown Angelina Jolie as Claire, and was delighted by here performance in Playing God.

"We read a lot of women," he recalls. "A few of them were good; really good, and they would have been good in the movie. And we were kinda trying to decide who it was going to be, and then there were a few more women coming in that day. And Angelina, I think, might even have been the last girl to come in. She cam in wearing like this black raincoat, it was 95 degrees out and she looked like hell - I mean she looked terrible. And I thought she had this weird like Eastern European accent and when she spoke I couldn’t understand her. But when she read, it was like, ‘Wow! That girl just won herself a part.’ It was one of those great moments where she left the room and the director and I both said, ‘She’s the one’, and then we had to convince the people with the money to go with somebody nobody knew.

"It was a great moment because it was really reaffirming to watch somebody come in and win a part, rather than somebody come in and get handed a part because they’re on the cover of Entertainment Weekly," he continues. "As an actor, it’s really nice to see that happen. Also as an actor, it’s great to be in a position that I’m in, where I don’t have to audition right now! But it was really wonderful to see that happen in Hollywood and it can only really happen at the level of this movie - a $10- $12 million movie. If it had been a $40 million movie, we wouldn’t have been able to cast her."

Playing God marks the feature film debut of British director Andy Wilson, whose previous credits include the UK version of the drama series Cracker. While Duchovny is quick to praise Wilson’s work on the film, he does admit that they didn’t always see eye-to-eye while it was being shot.

"The making of the movie was difficult because we never had a script that was like set in stone," he explains. "So a lot of the times we were coming to it and trying to create it on the day, and Andy had a certain vision of the movie that was different from mine. And I realize that, as I’m getting mostly positive responses to the movie - which is great - a lot of it had to do with what Andy did. Specifically, that is, making it exciting, making it funny and not making it a melodrama, which is how I saw it.

"I just don’t think it’s good idea to tell you what happens in the movie because I don’t want to know what happens in any movie that I go in to see."

"I saw it as a character study; I wanted to do my movie of the week writ large and Andy wanted to do his Pulp Fiction. I think that the good thing that happened was that we collided and neither of us could make the movie that we wanted to make, and in the end it turned out to be something better than what either of us would have done alone. And when I see people respond to it, I think that what’s happening is that it became kind of an adventure movie, which I never saw it as.

"I realize that most adventure movies in Hollywood don’t have an idea to begin with; they just explode things trying to find an idea. It’s like, ‘If I blow up this building, maybe an idea will be beneath it.’ And if they’re lucky, they’ll find one. Our movie started out as an idea movie, and then became an adventure movie of some kind. So I feel like that’s why it works on that level; it actually has a foundation of, ‘Okay this is a character study, and now bring in the games, and the toys, and the chase, and lights, and stuff like that.’"

Of course, no matter how big a hit Playing God proves to be, it will almost certainly be overshadowed by Duchovny’s next big screen outing, the X-Files movie. Shot earlier this year under the dummy title ‘Blackwood’, the film is believed to expand upon the weekly series’ ongoing alien conspiracy storyline, and is destined to be a massive worldwide hit at cinemas next summer.

Like the rest of the film’s cast and crew Duchovny becomes cagey when asked about X-Files movie. However, the actor is quick to dismiss claims that he has been ordered not to discuss it by Fox executives.

"I’m allowed to say whatever I want," he declares. "It’s funny because the worldview that is kind of portrayed on X-Files is this one of conspiracies and like monolithic propaganda machines, and it’s funny when people ask us about the X- Files movie, it’s as if we’ve been like programmed to speak a certain way about it!

"I just don’t think it’s good idea to tell you what happens in the movie because I don’t want to know what happens in any movie that I go in to see."

"I wanted to win an Emmy. But I think there are great actors in that category."

Without giving anything away, then, can Duchovny drop some hints about the film?

"I can tell you that it’s more along the lines of the shows that we do that deal with my past and extraterrestrials and what is generally considered to be ‘The Conspiracy.’ And you would think that; I mean, you’d probably make the assumption that it wouldn’t be the Jersey Devil episode or the building that tries to hurt people [Ghost in the Machine] episode.

"It’s a combination of the five years of the show, dealing with whatever this conspiracy is. Whether or not there is extraterrestrial [life], where are they, what happened to them, who’s hiding them, who’s killing them, what are we doing genetically with them....All of those questions are addressed in the way we do it, which is fictionally. And so that’s what the movie is about.

"It’s a perfect plot for what it is," he promises "Without sounding like a salesman, I have to commend [writer/producer] Chris Carter because if you haven’t seen the show, it stands alone as a movie and if you have seen the show, there’s enough new stuff so that you won’t feel like you’re watching a reprise of the last five years. So it actually works really well."

Straight after the production of X-Files movie, the cast and crew started work on the series’ fifth season. Even in its fifth year, the show is steadily continuing to grow in popularity and there’s no signs of discontent or boredom from its viewers. Duchovny admits that he remains baffled by the series’ success, and still finds it hard to account for the show’s almost universal popularity.

"I think that it came at the right time and it was a good show and it was about something that the other shows weren’t about," he muses. "You know, it’s not a doctor drama, and as good as ER is, that’s all it is, and Chicago Hope... That’s all they are. They’re great TV, but that’s what they are; they’re soap operas set in a hospital. It’s not a cop drama. As good as NYPD Blue is, as great as Law and Order or any other Emmy-winning show is, these are cop dramas. The X-Files is something completely different - it has a little bit of both. It has a little cops, it has a little medicine, it has a little soap opera and it has a lot of scary stuff. So I think it’s just unique in that sense.

"...at first when I started to realize that people knew who I was, I always felt guilty because I thought they had just met me and I had just forgotten them."

"Beyond that, it’s well executed and it’s well written, it’s well shot and I think it’s well acted. It’s just a really good show that happened to come across the screen at a time when aliens were hip."

The X-Files hit the headlines recently when Gillian Anderson won a prestigious Emmy Award for her portrayal of Dana Scully, while Duchovny went home empty handed. Although some tabloid reports have suggested that Duchovny was deeply jealous of his co-star’s victory at the Emmys, the actor laughs off all such suggestions and maintains that his career isn’t driven by awards or accolades.

"An award is really just like a qualified opinion," he explains. "I want them, and it makes you feel good for 20 minutes, but it really is just the opinion of the people who got together to give the award. And opinions are nice, they’re fine, but you can’t have everybody love you, and you’d better stop trying or else you’re gonna be very unhappy.

"I wanted to win an Emmy," he admits. "But I think there are great actors in that category. I’m just stunned at the amount of good actors...I mean, they left four or five great actors off that list. They could have exchanged us five for five other actors on TV and nobody would have complained. I mean they might have complained a little, but they would have said, ‘Yeah, well those guys are great too.’

"It just seems like such a competitive category and the kind of work that I do on the show is not the kind of work that wins awards really. I don’t have an alcohol problem, I don’t have a personal relationship, I don’t do the things [that normally win awards]."

Even if he doesn’t win an Emmy Award for his work on the show, there’s no disputing the fact that X-Files has changed David Duchovny’s life. As Fox Mulder, Duchovny has become a household name everywhere from Aberdeen to Zaragoza, and stands alongside ER’s George Clooney as the hottest actor on TV today.

Naturally, success has come at a price, and in Duchovny’s case, the price has been the gradual but total loss of his privacy.

"I certainly don’t plan out what it was like for me to be famous. I can tell you that I never gave it a moment’s thought what it would be like for my family."

"The initial thing that’s odd is that people always have an advantage over you because they know you and you don’t know them," he remarks. "So at first when I started to realize that people knew who I was, I always felt guilty because I thought they had just met me and I had just forgotten them! And I was constantly trying to get people’s names and trying to remember them, and then I gave that up a long time ago.

"It’s a weird transition that you have to make. And then, without whining, without making myself a tragic figure, there is no replacement for the loss of your privacy. It’s a huge sacrifice [and] you don’t know what you’re doing when you make that sacrifice. You didn’t know it was going to be that way and you didn’t ask for it. You certainly must have known that it might have happened, but you didn’t say, ‘Please, everybody know me, everybody take away my privacy’. And once it’s gone, there’s no underestimating how painful and strange that is. And irrevocable."

The X-Files has not only thrust David Duchovny into the spotlight, but has also intruded into the private life of his parents. Incredibly, both his mother Margaret and father Amram receive fan mail from X-philes and are frequently asked for their autographs!

"That’s something I feel guilty about," the actor reveals, "because I never thought about it. I’ve just been told that there’s a picture of my sister in a magazine, that’s kind of like, ‘Whose sister is this? Is it Brad Pitt’s sister?’ That’s kind of fun, but then I think, ‘I don’t want people to know what my sister looks like.’

"I certainly don’t plan out what it was like for me to be famous. I can tell you that I never gave it a moment’s thought what it would be like for my family. So I have a certain amount of guilt about that. I think my Dad likes signing autographs, so I don’t feel guilty about that. But in terms of safety, I do; I feel a responsibility and I don’t know what to do about it."

Such is the interest in Duchovny’s parents that his mother was shown sitting in the audience of The David Letterman Show when her son appeared on the top- rated chat show. "The funny thing about introducing her on Letterman is that when I first started to do talk shows, my mother only had two requests: ‘Don’t mention me’ and ‘Don’t mention where I work.’ Like I’m going to go on Letterman and go, ‘My mother: she has a job over at...’, you know!

"So of course, when I first went on talks shows, I really only talked about my mother because they’re the only stories you have; about your parents. So she was mortified. But when she came to Letterman and they introduced her, and put the camera on her, Letterman actually said, ‘Your mother’s a handsome woman.’ So I told my mother later and she said, ‘What does handsome mean?’ and I said, ‘He thinks you’re a man’ and then it got worse from there!

"I think it can get mean and it can get nasty when [the press tries to] set people against each other."

"The thing about my mom is that she’s not impressed by much; she’s actually not impressed by anything. So we go on Letterman and you know there’s the usual hysteria that’s involved whenever you’re supposed to be in public place and aren’t actually there. People have had time to wait and hypnotize themselves into thinking that you’re Paul McCartney. So I walk out there and they’re screaming, and my mother go asked for her autograph! My Dad wants to sign autographs, my mother does not - especially not on a check. And so my Mom signs a couple of autographs and she comes over to me, my sister goes, ‘Mom signed an autograph, it’s funny’ and my Mom goes, ’25 years of teaching and nobody’s ever asked me for my autograph’. That’s my mother’s point of view on the whole thing and I think she’s right."

Public interest in all things Duchovny increased even further earlier this year when the eligible bachelor was romantically linked with actress Téa Leoni (Flying Blind, The Naked Truth, Flirting with Disaster). Although Duchovny fans were distraught by the news that the couple had secretly married in New York City on May 6th, the actor is pleased to report that his fans have generally come to accept and even like his other half.

"I had my fans and she had her fans, and now my fans are her fans," he says. "There’s more people interested in both of us now."

By marrying another TV star, it would seem that Duchovny has made certain that his private life won’t be leaving the headlines for the foreseeable future. However, the actor insists that having a celebrity wife actually helps him deal with being under constant scrutiny from the world’s press.

"It’s somewhat easier because we both understand the kind of thing that’s going on," he explains. "But I don’t think we expected that much right when we got married, because it was like a physical imposition; there were actually people [standing] in our way!

"I think it can get mean and it can get nasty when [the press tries to] set people against each other," he continues, "or if one person in the relationship is doing well and the other’s not. I expect and will be very happy to be called ‘Mr. Leoni’ at some time in the future because that’s how much I think of her talent. So those are the kinds of things you have to deal with.

"In terms of more people looking, I don’t feel the difference. The odd thing is that people ask you about your wife; ‘Hey, how’s your wife?’ Or the people hate me because I’m married to her. I realize that everybody hates me now."

Besides facing constant scrutiny from the media, Duchovny’s marriage has another problem to contend with - namely, the fact that his wife is based in a different country to him. While Duchovny has to spend most of his time in Vancouver, Canada, to make The X-Files, Leoni is based in California, USA.

"What has to stop is not the picture-taking but the intrusion onto people’s lives and the lack of respect for human decency that occurs."

"It’s hard because I get a little time off, and then I’m traveling during it and trying to get back [to LA] to be with Téa," he says. "But I only see it for this year. I will only do it for this year; whether they’ll move the show to LA or I won’t be on the show any more. It has an end.

"I know that we can make it to May and it’s not a dramatic relationship; there’s not a lot of anxiety in it. I’m not like sitting on a set on a Tuesday afternoon going, ‘I’ve go to get to LA and deal with this crisis because Tea’s hair color is wrong.’ It’s not like that. It’s just so easy...I’ll be lonely up there and want to be with her, but it’s not like I feel the relationship is in jeopardy."

Duchovny’s experiences with the press and paparazzi photographers have transformed the actor into a keen advocate of new privacy laws.

"What has to stop is not the picture-taking but the intrusion onto people’s lives and the lack of respect for human decency that occurs," he states. "People will say, ‘Well why don’t you be like the old timers and pause and pose for five minutes, and then we’ll leave you alone.’ Well then that’s not true; you pause and you pose for five minutes and they still follow you down the street and they still get in your car!

"I’ve been involved in chases, I’ve been involved in trying to lose people. And it’s frightening, especially if you’re trying to go home, because once you get home, if you lead somebody to your home, then anybody can go there.

"98% of the people in the world are harmless and wish you well, but it only takes one person to not. And that’s what you’re constantly on guard against."

The actor argues that existing privacy laws were created at a time when hi-tech equipment such as long-distance lenses didn’t exist and are now effectively defunct. Perhaps even more importantly, he believes that the current situation could harm the entire nation in the long run.

"And the truth is that anybody interesting, anybody worth their salt, anybody that you really want leading your country cannot stand up to that kind of scrutiny. So instead we get plastic people who can."

"What’s going to happen is that you’re going to get people who will not go into public life, who will not serve, who will not entertain because they don’t want to give [their privacy] up. Because I’m telling you, if I had to make the decision again, I might seriously consider not going into it. And that’s regardless of the fact of whether or not you think my contribution by being on The X-Files has enriched your life in any way.

"Say I was a politician, and somebody who actually had something specific to give to this country or to give to the people and I didn’t want to be scrutinized; I didn’t want my sex life scrutinized, I didn’t want my family like scrutinized, I didn’t want my mother held up to any kind of scrutiny, and I didn’t go into public service. The entire nation suffers for it. And we’ll get the leaders that we deserve: plastic, public figures who stand up to this kind of scrutiny. And the truth is that anybody interesting, anybody worth their salt, anybody that you really want leading your country cannot stand up to that kind of scrutiny. So instead we get plastic people who can. And you know we’re gonna get the kind of country that is a result of that."

If David Duchovny hadn’t chosen to pursue his career as an actor, it’s a good bet that he would be working as a university professor right now. A brilliant student, Duchovny was working on his Ph.D. at Yale University when he decided to abandon his dissertation and try his hand at acting.

"In terms of making a decision to be an actor rather than a professor, I never actually made the decision," he clarifies. "It was more of a gradual slide from one thing into another, rather than walking up one morning and going, ‘No to Thomas Pynchon. Yes to Marlon Brando.’ It wasn’t like that."

Surprisingly, Duchovny believes that his experiences as a student have benefited his acting career.

"I think that the discipline I created in being a good student and going as far along that life that I did has served me really well as an actor," he elaborates. "I think I’m one of the more disciplines actors that I see and I think that it helps me, because acting is all preparation. Like most things in life, when you get there there’s no telling what’s going to happen, but if you’ve prepared as much as you can, then you can let everything else go. You’re not actually trying to execute a plan; you’re confident enough to know that you’ve done enough work and something good’ll happen."

"Being sincere is easy. Comedy is difficult and I would like to be challenged in that way."

Despite his enthusiasm for his current craft, Duchovny does admit that acting make much use of his Gray matter. "It doesn’t really challenge me intellectually...I have come to believe that there’s a lot of different types of intelligence in people and in each person and acting doesn’t challenge any kind of intellect.

"The X-Files is heralded as a smart show, and it’s a lot smarter than most of the other shows, but it’s not nearly as smart as a lot of books that you and I have both read. So it’s not that; it challenges you emotionally, spiritually as a person and those are other kinds of intelligence.

"I guess I’ve heard the phrase emotional intelligence thrown around recently...and I believe in that. And I think that’s the kind of intelligence that’s challenged in acting. Not the intellect really."

If Duchovny is looking for a greater acting challenge, he could always try his hand at comedy. Although the actor has demonstrated his flair for parody in the spoof chat show The Larry Sanders Show , he confesses to being both excited and scared by the prospect of starring in a big screen comedy or even a sitcom.

"Comedy’s hard," he says. "Being sincere is easy. Comedy is difficult and I would like to be challenged in that way. For instance, Téa I feel is a brilliant comedian, so I am inspired by her physical comedy in that way. I wouldn’t mind trying some of that.

"I don’t know if I could do it. It’s scary to be challenged...I’d be terrified to try and do a situation comedy. I would need a lot of help."

Move over Jim Carrey - David Duchovny, comedy superstar, is on his way...


Thomas, Mike. December, 1997. "Trust in God." Xpose #17.

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