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David Duchovny on New Film Based on Novel, Podcast, X-Files

David Duchovny on New Film Based on Novel, Podcast, X-Files

Like many agents seeing client schedules cleared by the 2023 strikes, David Duchovny‘s suggested he start a podcast. Unlike many actors faced with that proposition, Duchovny had a hook: failure — or, rather, a reassessment of it. “This is the podcast that’s like, ‘OK, David failed at being a movie star,’” says the 63-year-old, referring to the period just after his wildly successful nine-season run on The X-Files. “Well, it enabled me to be a novelist, a musician, a director. I don’t really call it failure. It’s opportunity.”

Duchovny’s relationship with failure might be so healthy because of his successes. Fail Better debuted May 7 and soon made headlines for a viral interview with Bette Midler, during which the actress said she should have sued Lindsay Lohan for bailing on her 2000 sitcom, Bette. Indeed, Duchovny seems to find an audience for all of his varied pursuits — and there a lot of them. The Princeton- and Yale-educated actor rebounded from his own fallow period by starring in another long-running series, Californication, publishing five novels, releasing three albums (he sings and plays guitar) and directing his second feature film. Reverse the Curse, based on his novel Bucky F*cking Dent, stars the filmmaker as a dying Red Sox fan reconnecting with the son he neglected and gets a limited theatrical release June 14.

Speaking over the phone in late May from the Greek island of Paros, where he’s filming the Amazon series Malice, Duchovny opened up about his friendship with Garry Shandling, misconceptions about Method acting and the ever-present possibility of more X-Files.

How would you describe your relationship with failure?

I’m not a perfectionist, but I am never satisfied. The work is never what I imagined it would be. Sometimes, it’s better different. Sometimes, it’s worse different. But it’s never that thing that I have in my head. It’s probably better that way, but there’s a patina of failure over everything I do. Professionally, it’s a question of whether or not you can take the criticism that’s meant for you — when it’s from a good source.

Who are those sources for you now?

Chris Carter, the creator of X-Files, is someone that I always come back to. I also listen to my kids. I’m sure they were embarrassed when I was trying to play rock and roll at my age, and I don’t blame them. But, two years after I released my first album, my son just left me a message saying, “Hey, I really like your album.” That’s all I needed.

When you tour with the band, how would you describe your audience?

I do meet-and-greets beforehand, and it’s like 65 percent X-Files [fans], 30 percent Californication, 3 percent miscellaneous movie and TV roles, and then 2 percent music. (Laughs.) But it’s changing. And I [don’t care] why you come, I have a feeling that I’ll hook you.

Your new movie opens with an editor essentially telling a writer he lacks substance. Any real-life feedback that inspired the scene?

I was once talking to an agent. She’s no longer my agent — and not because of the story — but I was not getting the roles that I wanted. I felt stuck. She was like, “Well, do you want me to tell you the truth? They’re not seeing an edge to you.” A year later, I do Californication. Then I’m getting, “There’s too much edge!” It’s all bullshit. Perception can change with any role, any project. People put you in a box. The trick is to keep breaking out of the boxes — if you have the energy for it.

What box are you in now?

I have no idea. Put me in the writer-director box, please. (Laughs.) But, as we age, we’re good for different roles. How do I use that? It’s a cool mystery.

Your novel and the festival release of this movie were both originally titled Bucky F*cking Dent. How do you feel about the title change?

I was convinced that the asterisk that replaces the “u” of “fucking” was going to — excuse me — fuck with the algorithm and searches. That made sense to me.

There’s something else to blame the algorithm for!

Exactly. I was also told, when this goes to a streamer, they’d hide it because of the title — even though it’s appropriate for children.

Duchovny (right, with Logan Marshall Green) in Reverse the Curse.

Courtesy of Vertical

Has the scope of your work been a response to being in something as big as The X-Files?

For sure. I felt pressure toward the end of The X-Files. But I sensed then, and now know, that there’s no way you’re ever going to do another X-Files. Globally, it’s one of the biggest television shows of all time. You don’t get two of those in your lifetime. So, I didn’t try to compete with the visibility and the influence of it.

TV success is different now than when you started. Did you ever feel trapped by the label of “TV star”?

In 2002, I would’ve said, “I’ll never do TV again.” But I’d have only meant, “I’m not doing 25 episodes a year again.” Because that was all there was. When I did Californication, TV had changed. The in-between — doing a couple of movies that did OK but not great and not getting the things that I thought I could really score and do well with — that would’ve been the toughest time. Californication opened up comedy for me and allowed people to see me in a different light.

When you say, “OK but not great,” what were the projects that you thought might or could have been bigger than they were?

I think I did really good work in movies that weren’t seen. And I did decent work in movies that were seen a lot. Return to Me is a really good movie, but it wasn’t a huge hit. So, all of a sudden, I’m not going to be the next rom-com guy. Evolution was a pretty good movie, and it did OK, but it wasn’t a huge blockbuster. So, I wasn’t going to be a huge blockbuster guy. It just never jibed in film to make that magical moment.

I think a lot of people associated you with the comedy community before Californication. How did you fall into that world?

Even on The X-Files, I was always trying to sneak humor in. It wasn’t, “Hey, here’s some comedy gold!” It was, “I can try something here, I hope it doesn’t ruin your show.” But, really, it was Garry Shandling. Doing The Larry Sanders Show for the first time [in 1995], he said, “Hey, you’re funny.” That gave me worlds of confidence. But I knew comedy wasn’t going to be handed to me. I was going to need to find that material or generate it myself.

See Also

Garry’s Sunday basketball games are now Hollywood lore. How would you describe them?

Sarah Silverman was the one woman who was in the game. I think she describes it best, like Sundays from when you were a kid. You knew Monday was coming, you’d have to go back to school, but somehow going over to Garry’s felt like that endless Sunday. He’d have all this takeout food after, and people would just hang. Nobody ever chipped in. Garry paid for everything. We hung in his kitchen where he’d have the football game on. You didn’t want to go home.

You recently appeared on The Sympathizer as an actor taking the Method way too far. Didn’t you study Lee Strasberg?

I did. I think people have a misconception of what the Method is. It’s much more complicated than, “Oh, somebody who never drops character.” That’s not something they teach you in Strasberg.

Duchovny’s 2016 novel Bucky F*cking Dent.

Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

People go off of what they’re told, and that’s often wild anecdotes about actors staying in character.

My feeling is, don’t give away the tricks. You’re going to kill all the magicians. That’s anything that sheds light [on the work] for somebody that’s not in the business. Sometimes you do concentrate that hard. Sometimes you’re not going to be the nicest person on set because you’re just staying in your bubble and doing the best you can. It can get heated in that state. I’ve had plenty of those situations for myself, and I’ve witnessed them. It’s from trying to stay in a place where you can pull off the magic trick, not a person thinking they’re really that character.

You played Fox Mulder in two series and two movies. Is The X-Files ever really done for you?

I don’t wake up and wonder, “Where is the X-Files stock today?” But I love that show. I don’t know what my character would be like at my age. It’s an interesting question. That show can address the present as well as it addressed the ’90s. It just depends on Chris [Carter] or the other writers. I’m always like, “Hey, let’s see.”

This story first appeared in the June 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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