USA Weekend: The Truth about David Duchovny
By Gillian Anderson
Archived March 24, 2000
Gillian interviews David. Hmmm. Simple idea. Why hasn't it happened before? Friction? A conspiracy? USA WEEKEND sends the X-Files co-star on assignment.
David Duchovny is standing outside his trailer on the Los Angeles set of "The X-Files," waiting for his co-star, Gillian Anderson. "She's on the phone with Mike Wallace," he says with a half smile. "She's getting interview tips." He's kidding. Anderson hasn't contacted the 60 Minutes bulldog. But when she does show up for her first-ever assignment as a journalist, she's exceedingly well-prepared. She was "thrilled" when USA WEEKEND asked her to interview Duchovny and was flattered to learn he'd suggested her for the job.
Sitting "Indian-style" beside Duchovny on a couch in his trailer, Anderson consults eight pages of handwritten questions and leads a frank, funny exchange that "X-Files" fans will surely consider historic. The actors touch so many bases: the rumors that they despise each other; the reasons their "biggest fans" are annoying; the final image viewers should have of their characters, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, when their show ends its run. Anderson, 31, is especially curious about how Duchovny, 39, shook his persona as the deadpan Mulder to play a charming romantic in the new movie "Return to Me," in theaters April 7.
4:03 p.m., Los Angeles
Anderson: Are you nervous about being interviewed by me?
Duchovny: I'm not nervous. I can't wait to see your questions: "What's it like to work with Gillian Anderson? Are you two friends? Do you hang out after work?"
Anderson: Well, first of all, I saw the movie.
Duchovny: That's very interviewerlike of you.
Anderson: I loved that there wasn't an ounce of Mulder in it. What's scariest for you when you start a non-"X-Files" project?
Duchovny: It's such a reality at this point in my career that [audiences] are going to look for Mulder. I can't fight it. It's so hard -- all of a sudden you're trying to do something different. It's hard to keep track of it, because so much is unconscious.
Anderson: God forbid you do a movie and they ask you to look scared. You have to do a different version of looking scared.
Duchovny: And you're stuck with your face and body. If you're not in heavy makeup or doing an accent, there will be similarities.
Anderson: What drew you to "Return to Me"?
Duchovny: I liked the old-fashioned quality of the movie. The simpleness of the humor and characters couldn't be farther away from the convoluted movements in "The X-Files." [He plays a widower who falls for Minnie Driver, a transplant patient who receives his late wife's heart.]
Anderson: Did it jar you to act out a romance where you actually do go to the next level?
Duchovny: I remember the work I did before "The X-Files." There were plenty of love scenes. I didn't feel the need to show that I could simulate coitus onscreen. [Anderson laughs.]
Anderson: Here's one for you. How do you perceive our relationship?
Duchovny: It's like the roots of a tree. It's very twisted, but it's growing. You know the tree is alive, and it works in its own treelike way, yet you couldn't untangle it. You could, but you'd need the help of a gifted professional.
Anderson: [roaring with laughter] Like a therapist?
Duchovny: Yeah. I always think back to the third or fourth episode. I was sitting in the office with ["X-Files" creator] Chris Carter, and he actually wanted us to get help. He was concerned with how we were relating onscreen. He said, "You seem bored or angry with each other. Maybe you should go see somebody." I thought, "What? We'll go as the characters? 'Hi, my name is Fox Mulder. This is my partner, Scully. We're here for couples therapy.' "
Anderson: I have no memory of that.
Duchovny: You might not have been in the room. But maybe we should have therapy for long-running series actors. It'd be good for the cast of "Friends" to have group therapy. We'd have couples therapy, because we're not an ensemble. Actually, when Chris said that, I thought he was insane. But we do spend so much time together, and it's a hard relationship to navigate. As soon as I say, "No, we don't see each other after work," then it's "You hate each other." There seems to be no room in fans' minds -- as the fans are portrayed through journalists -- for a complicated relationship between us. It can't be summed up with "I love her. She's the best!" or "I can't stand her!"
Anderson: Ever hate Mulder?
Duchovny: No. I hate that people think I'm Mulder. It's very odd. I hate being called Mulder. I don't like being called Scully, either. Do you ever get called Mulder?
Anderson: Yes. It's very weird.
Duchovny: People say to me, "I'm a big, big fan, Scully! I love your show, Scully." [Both laugh uproariously.] Or they say, "Where's Scully?"
Anderson: What's been the most difficult thing in the last seven years?
Duchovny: Probably the stuff in Vancouver. [He'd made disparaging comments about that Canadian city, where "The X-Files" was shot for five seasons. He later said he'd been joking.] I felt I had put myself in a situation that I wasn't able to right. People were angry. There was no remedy.
Anderson: Now that "The X-Files" has moved to Los Angeles, do you miss Vancouver?
Duchovny: All the time. But I was stubborn. I refused to say I missed anything or anybody [in Vancouver], because I was so angry at them for misinterpreting me. I didn't want to be misconstrued as apologizing. Then they'd say, "He's sucking up." I thought it was a great place. But L.A. is still a better place for me.
Anderson: What's the biggest misconception of you?
Duchovny: That I don't like rain. [Pauses.] I don't know. By answering questions like that, I'd be giving power to the misconception. Even if people never thought of me as having red hair, if I talk about it, they'll think, "Maybe he does." The next thing I know, people will be saying, "I thought you had red hair."
Anderson: Is your public persona at all close to your private persona?
Duchovny: You don't want to be exposed, give away things that are meaningful to you, on a silly situation like a talk show. You want to do your job as an actor, which is to feed this [publicity] machine, yet you also want to go home at the end of the day and not have to scrub six layers of skin off to feel clean. So I appear not to take things seriously. I joke. But I take it all very seriously.
Anderson: Is solitude important to you?
Duchovny: You're not the only person I don't see after work. I've always been pretty solitary. Téa understands. She doesn't get hurt if I want to be alone.
Anderson: If you could live two different lives at once, one being the life you're living now, what would the other one be?
Duchovny: Can I use a lifeline? Call somebody in America? [She laughs. He thinks.] I'd be a pro athlete or teaching.
Anderson: If you could do the last seven years over, what would you do differently?
Duchovny: I'd have had a lot of things put in writing instead of just a handshake.
Anderson: What do you know about me that I don't know about myself? It can be a negative thing. I'm a grown-up.
Duchovny: You should not cover up your mole. You should have refused to do it in the beginning, and you should refuse now. It's a Chris Carter thing. I know it's not vanity for you. He deemed your face not big enough for the mole. And so for seven years, you've put makeup on this mole. It looks like you have a boogie. For both Scully and Gillian, the mole is fine. Oh -- and it's a beauty mark. Don't call it a mole. It doesn't have hair growing out of it, does it?
Duchovny: You don't like it when I ask you questions, do you?
Anderson: [Laughs.] Do you think we could make a non-"X-Files" movie together?
Duchovny: Absolutely. It would be fun to play characters whose relationship is more overt than covert. It would be fun to have a volatile relationship.
Anderson: There have been times where a movie I've been looking at to do, I heard they wanted to use you as the male.
Duchovny: Theoretically, it's fun to think about, but practically, there'd be no way we'd do it. Unless it was the best script either of us had ever read and we'd say, "Screw Mulder and Scully. We have to do it." It would be silly otherwise. People would just go to movie theaters to make fun of us. [Both laugh.] Don't underestimate how much people want to make fun.
Anderson: I don't know about making fun, but certainly they'd judge.
Anderson: At the time Piper [her 5-year-old daughter] was born, I got so many handmade gifts from people all over the world. It showed me another aspect of fans that I hadn't been aware of before -- that's based more in appreciation and love than annoying neediness. Do you know what I mean?
Duchovny: No. My fans aren't big knitters, I guess.
Anderson: Is there anything you collect? Like little jade elephants?
Duchovny: Yes! Starting now. Please, fans, send me jade elephants. Big, small -- I'll collect them all.
Anderson: Any thoughts on the end of the show?
Duchovny: We'll do another movie, at least, so I don't think it'll actually end. There'll be an ending image, but by the sheer fact that it's a self-conscious ending image, I think it'll be overloaded and won't work. My favorite image of the show's seven years is the end of the black-and-white episode, where they had us slow-motion dancing. However it ends, to me, that's my favorite.
Anderson: That's it. I've asked all my questions.
Duchovny: I'd never have taken it as seriously as you did or done as good a job. So now are you going to call me in two weeks with follow-up questions? [Both laugh.]
The Daddy Files
That's "The XX-Files" now that Duchovny and wife Téa Leoni have a baby daughter, 11-month-old West.
On starting to shoot a movie when West was 4 days old: "Téa made it easy. She was so involved in becoming a new mother, which made it easier for me. It was still hard. It was hard to watch her get so comfortable with the baby, and I was still at work."
Father in training: "I'm still catching up. West didn't seem to know me. But now we're more comfortable around each other. It took me a while to feel like I wasn't going to kill her [by handling her]. I used to dread when Téa would leave me with the baby. I'd think, 'I'm going to screw up!' "
Fame, fans and new fatherhood: "You get more protective of the family unit. That becomes more pressing when a child actually starts to look like someone. At this point, she just looks like a baby. When she's a recognizable human being, I'll be more concerned. I don't want her to live a weird life. I don't want her to be exposed to all this."
Parenthood's effect on making movies: "Téa is someone who doesn't put show business or work over family. If she wasn't an actress, maybe I could sell her on having to go away for six months to make a big, important movie. But Téa is someone who'll say, 'Screw the movie! Who cares?' "