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The former "X-Files" star talks about life after Fox Mulder and his new sci-fi comedy "Evolution."
Los Angeles CA June 6 2001 (Los Angeles Times) - Ivan Reitman, the director of the upcoming comedy "Evolution," insists that leading man David Duchovny was the model of acting professionalism. "He had smart things to say about the material and made a lot of contributions to the script," says Reitman, who directed both "Ghostbusters" as well as "Dave" and several less successful comedies. And when words would not suffice, the former Yale graduate student in literature, who once contemplated writing a thesis titled "Magic and Technology in Contemporary American Fiction and Poetry," bared his buns.
"I'm watching my monitor, and suddenly I'm thinking, 'Is he taking his pants down?'" recalls Reitman, who was surprised but pleased by Duchovny's improvisation. The director related how in test screenings, they'd get 30 to 40 comments about the actor's, uh, derriere, "and that he should show it more."
Of course, fans of "The X-Files" have been swooning over Duchovny's physical attributes for years, spawning such fan clubs as the David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade and the David Duchovny Drool Brigade. For the moment, they'll have to settle for his big-screen exposure with "Evolution" (which opens Friday), as Duchovny has famously quit the series, making May's season finale smooch with longtime partner Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson) his last appearance as the prime-time prophet of alien abduction.
"Evolution" is Duchovny's first high-profile movie role outside the "X-Files" franchise. The path from little screen fame to big screen stardom is littered with such casualties as Luke Perry and David Caruso. "Evolution's" fate in the commercial arena will certainly impact whether the fame of Duchovny's gluteus maximus ever rivals that of fellow celebrity mooner Mel Gibson.
Not that the weight of ambition seems to hang heavily on Duchovny. He's like a classic leading man, shot through with a vein of irony.
He arrives at the W Hotel in Westwood, soon to be the locale of a weekend of flacking the film, in jeans and a faded gray T-shirt. After a 15-minute session with a stylist and a makeup artist, he emerges looking almost essentially the same, but now his hair poufs upward, and his new blue shirt clings. The stylist-concocted outfit hangs on Duchovny's extra-large, 6-foot frame with all the subtlety of armor. His arms rest stiffly at his side, as if he's not quite accustomed to the manufactured swankiness.
When he finally sits down for a chat (after a brief photo session), it's hard to know when he's being serious, because almost every line is delivered in a half-mocking, half-affable manner. He in fact claims to be shocked--simply shocked--that anyone would see his character in "Evolution" as a spoof of the long-suffering, ever-questing Fox Mulder.
"Evolution," he gamely concedes, is a send-up of those alien-stomping summer blockbusters such as "Independence Day" and "Men in Black." But apparently those are different types of extraterrestrials than those he so vigorously pursued on so many Sunday nights at 9.
"I never thought I was trading in on any kind of identity from 'The X-Files.' I don't think that way. It was weird, when I sat in the screening, and there was a big laugh at some line where I said, 'Don't trust the government. I know those people.' It was a shock to me.
"Any kind of playing off some thing you've done--when De Niro does it in 'Meet the Parents' or Brando does it in 'The Freshman,' it's the heart of the movie. It's a spoof of the characterization. But I find it almost more reprehensible to go from project to project trading in on any value I have from the 'The X-Files.' That's just bull and inadvertent. I apologize," he deadpans.
His Dark Material Forms a Pattern
Despite his fame from "The X-Files," Duchovny's film work has tended to the dark and obscure, from his pre-TV highlight "Kalifornia," about a yuppie who ends up on a cross-country journey with a serial killer played by a baby-faced Brad Pitt, to a de-certified drug-addicted doctor who ends up working for crooks in "Playing God." Last year, he turned on his keel by playing a nice building contractor in the little-seen romantic comedy "Return to Me."
"Evolution" continues his evolution. He saw the film, in which he plays a debunked government researcher who discovers alien life springing from a meteor in the Arizona desert, as an opportunity to do "a broad comedy."
It was a chance to try for "some kind of level of intensity of performance that I haven't done. It's almost like being on stage," he says, sounding curiously serious. "Ivan was guiding me through. He said, 'I'm going to push you until you're fake and then we're not going to use that.'"
Of course, this being un film de Ivan Reitman, the man who turned Arnold Schwarzenegger into a comedy star in "Twins," the fakeness plateau to which the director pushed his star was rather high, even for Duchovny, whose stock-in-trade has been the utter stone-faced conviction with which he's played ludicrous situations.
Indeed, Duchovny seems pleased with the way he played opposite what could be described as a 6-foot-wide anus.
"He gave a lot," says Duchovny of this particular co-star. "A lot more than some actors I work with. Sometimes, when your head hits the pillow and you realize you've been battling a 6-foot anus all day, you just sleep better."
Duchovny seems perfectly relaxed about his current spot at a professional crossroads. "The X-Files" saga has been as soap operatic off-screen as on. Duchovny was the prime instigator in moving the show from its original location in rainy Vancouver, Canada, to Southern California in order to be able to spend more time with his wife, actress Téa Leoni, and baby daughter, Madelaine West.
The 40-year-old actor also was one of the first pieces of talent to attack corporate synergy. In 1999 he sued Fox, the studio behind "The X-Files," for syndicating the show at what he felt was an unfairly low price to its own cable outlet and Fox-owned stations. The move dramatically reduced the fees owed Duchovny, who says he had forgone some of his upfront salary for a larger piece of the back end. Fox settled the case, paying Duchovny more than $20 million, it's rumored, although under terms of the settlement he can't comment.
Although the potential for self-dealing is great for the multi-headed conglomerates now dominating the entertainment business, few people ever take them on.
"You do suffer. You do pay," he says. "It's not cheap to conduct a lawsuit, and no corporation like that is interested in settling it quickly. Any big business is not going to get sued that often because there aren't that many people in the lucky position that I'm in to be able to throw that kind of money away."
Although Duchovny and Anderson didn't enjoy a cozy friendship off-screen, Duchovny nonetheless found the last day--the moment of the big kiss--the culmination of years of the characters' pent-up attraction, to be "very emotional. It kind of crept up on me. It crept up on all of us. I just wanted to keep shooting that scene and hold on to it, but it had to end.
"Everybody clapped and I hugged everybody and then all of a sudden they had to go back to work, and I kind of faded off into the distance."
Displaying what an Ivy League education can teach you, he says, "It reminds me of a poem by Wordsworth. It talks about crossing the Alps. That was a big rite of passage for a man in the 19th century. It was not that easy to do. You had to be pretty fit, and it was probably the most awesome physical site in the world. So Wordsworth's going to write a poem about the feeling of crossing the Alps and he's walking and walking for two or three weeks, and he's preparing himself psychically to cross the Alps and he asks this guy he's with, 'When are we going to do it?' And this guy said, 'Oh, we just did it two hours ago.' That's a little how I felt. You think you're going to have these big moments in your life, but you know, they usually happened two hours earlier."
The Natural Conclusion to an Ivy Education
Duchovny's decision to become an actor was one of those "two hours earlier" moments. The son of a Jewish writer and a Scottish schoolteacher, who split up when he was 11, he attended Collegiate, a well-known private boys' school in Manhattan, on a scholarship. Then came Princeton, and then graduate school at Yale, before a friend introduced him to acting as a way to supplement his income. He landed the first job he tried out for--a national beer commercial--and soon left academia behind.
Duchovny says he doesn't really know what he plans to do in his post "X-Files" life. He's had only one hiatus in the last five years of the show, so "I don't want to rush and I don't want to work just because I can work." He has a script that he's working on with a friend that he might direct.
Like many TV stars, he's dabbled--happily--on his own show, writing and directing two episodes. In one, an unconscious Mulder dreams of an alternate life he might have lived with a wife. It was inspired by "The Last Temptation of Christ," which delves into the fantasies that go through Christ's mind in his last few moments on the cross. "It was Christ's last temptation to live a normal life,' says Mulder. "To me Christ is in every man, and that's what that book was about, that Christ's logical journey is the journey of a man." Some viewers took offense at the episode, however. "When they saw the episode, it was seen as a presumption of importance. How can you compare Mulder to Christ?"
Unlike Mulder or Christ, Duchovny is happily married, the father of a 2-year-old who looks mostly like her mother, the ebullient blond star of such films as "Deep Impact" and the upcoming "Jurassic Park 3," except "when she's pensive, then she looks like me." He recently taught her to say "So long, sucker," to all the passersby who smiled at the happy trio as they sat in a Starbucks in New York City. "So, she'll say that to me all the time because she knows that I think that's funny. When she gets on the phone, she goes, 'It's Daddy, it's Daddy,' and she goes, 'Sucka.' "
Duchovny has even tattooed a compass with his daughter's name above his ankle. He got it when she was nine months old and sick in the hospital for more than a week with double pneumonia. "I'd take walks around the hospital. I kept passing this tattoo parlor and I didn't know what to do to help her, and that was the only thing I could think of, to help her." He smiles slyly, but then at last David Duchovny is dead serious.
"As soon as I got it, she was fine. I guess I wanted her to know that I wanted her to be permanent."