It’s a classic X-Files moment. Special Agent Fox Mulder, played by David Duchovny, stares forlornly off a bluff, contemplating yet another investigation gone wrong. Only minutes earlier, he had been driving wildly, then came to a screeching halt on this bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In the backseat: a man Mulder desperately wanted to save. Close behind was Mulder’s partner, Special Agent Dana Scully, bringing a syringe full of the mystery concoction that could have saved the man’s life. But when you specialize in the paranormal you can pretty much expect that your victim will expire in a most paranormal way. And that’s precisely what happens. Unable to inject the medication in time, Mulder watches helplessly as the victim’s head explodes all over the backseat. No wonder Mulder is depressed.
Later, back in his trailer, Duchovny gives some insight into his character’s mood. “Any time somebody’s head explodes in your car, it’s upsetting,” he explains drily.
Horror and humor. Without those elements subtly intertwined, The X-Files would be just another TV show instead of that odd hybrid–a hit TV show with a devoted cult following. And no one manages to straddle the mixed demands of the show better than Duchovny, whose morose underacting is deftly leavened by a deadpan sense of humor. It’s the perfect combination for a show often described as a cross between Twin Peaks and The Twilight Zone – a TV series for paranoids and zealots who are sure the government covers up what it knows about the UFOs and aliens among us. Mulder’s own obsession stemmed from having seen, or so he believed, his younger sister abducted by aliens when she was eight.
In a bit of fortunate casting, Duchovny was paired with Gillian Anderson, who landed the role of Dana Scully, the rational disbeliever. Anderson, voted “most bizarre girl” in high school, was the perfect match for the wry Duchovny. Their chemistry worked, and the palpable sexual tension could be milked for the entire series without any actual romance. Mulder, after all, is a guy who sleeps on a couch, watches pornographic videotapes and never has sex (except with a vampire).
The series has done more than help boost the Fox network in the ratings. A movie spin-off, The X-Files: Fight the Future, was released this past summer. It was a bold attempt, because more movies-from-TV-shows have failed (The Avengers, The Saint) than have succeeded (The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible). But the gamble paid off, as the $60 million X-Files movie grossed $83 million domestically and is expected to more than double that internationally.
Few TV shows or movies develop such a fanatical following. At conventions and on the Internet, diehard believers debate every conspiratorial nuance (there are hundreds of Web sites devoted to dissecting the meaning of the ghost trains, black helicopters, bees, corn, Agent Scully’s crucifix and other obscure details). But the show has also grown beyond cult status: Twenty million people tune in on Sunday nights (and 10 million for the syndicated repeats) to see what’s been cooked up by the Cigarette Smoking Man or the head of the Syndicate or the faceless men or the alien-human hybrids created by a black-oil virus.
*At the heart of all this attention is Duchovny. He was born on August 7, 1960 and grew up in New York City. When he was 11, his parents split up and he and his sister and brother stayed with their Scottish-born mother, Margaret, then a teacher. His father, Amram, a playwright (The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald) and publicist who edited the humorous book The Wisdom of Spiro T. Agnew*, moved to Boston after the divorce and now lives in Paris. Duchovny won a scholarship to Collegiate, an exclusive prep school in Manhattan, where one of his fellow students was John Kennedy Jr. Duchovny excelled in sports (baseball and basketball) and academics (he was valedictorian) and was accepted to four Ivy League schools – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown). He chose Princeton for undergraduate and Yale for graduate school (on a teaching fellowship), where he studied modern literature, concentrating on Samuel Beckett. To the chagrin of his mother, he never completed his doctorate because a friend introduced him to acting as a way to supplement his income (he also worked as a bartender during the summer). Duchovny had discovered his profession.
He started doing commercials in 1985 and auditioned for parts in the movies Bull Durham and Valmont. It was director Henry Jaglom who recognized his potential and cast him as a seducer in his 1989 film New Year’s Day. Duchovny followed that with small parts in Venice/Venice, Julia Has Two Lovers, The Rapture, Beethoven, Ruby and Chaplin. In 1993 he appeared with Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis inKalifornia. That same year The X-Files creator Chris Carter thought Duchovny might be right for playing Fox Mulder.
Duchovny also gained notoriety for his sexually adventurous roles. He dressed in drag for Twin Peaks, flirted openly with Garry Shandling during a running story line on The Larry Sanders Show and appeared as a regular character on Showtime’s erotic breakthrough series, Red Shoe Diaries.
*Like most TV actors, Duchovny has big-screen ambitions. His X-Files *contract is up in two years, and he plans to leave TV behind (though he will continue to star as Fox Mulder in the series of X-Files movies the studio hopes will live on long after the TV show dies). Duchovny starred in the little-seen movie Playing God in 1997, about a doctor who is coerced into working for the Mob.
*Movie roles might be easier to come by now that the series has switched locations. The X-Files was originally filmed in Vancouver, which gave the show its moody, rainy look (and saved the studio from paying Hollywood salaries to the crew). But when Duchovny fell in love with and married Téa Leoni (who starred in the TV show The Naked Truth *and the films Flirting With Disaster and Deep Impact), the long shooting schedule and lengthy separations began to drag on him. Furthermore, he managed to offend Canadians when he complained to a reporter that “Vancouver is a nice place if you like 400 inches of rainfall a day.” Soon after, the marquee on a local strip club suggested that Duchovny go home, and he took the advice, persuading the producers to move the show from Canada to Los Angeles.
To find out more about this unorthodox actor, Playboy sent Contributing Editor Lawrence Grobel (whose last interview was with Christopher Walken) to the Fox lot and on location. Grobel’s report follows:
“The first few times we met, Duchovny was in his trailer on the Fox lot, putting the finishing touches on the X-Files movie. There were constant interruptions – visitors who wanted to say hello or have a picture taken or signed, studio heads who wanted, as Duchovny told me after they left, ‘to blow smoke up my ass.’ He was as interested in asking me questions about people I had interviewed for Playboy as he was in answering my questions. 'Which actors did Brando say he admired?’ he wanted to know. 'Would Pacino rather direct than act? Why won’t he do ads in Japan?’ 'How does Anthony Hopkins memorize his lines?’ 'What did Saul Bellow think of the dramatization of Seize the Day?, 'How does Joyce Carol Oates feel she can write well about men?’
"For our final sessions, we spoke in his TV trailer in San Pedro, a few months after The X-Files: Fight the Future had come out and he was back playing Mulder for the series. He was pleased with a poem of his that a magazine had published and showed me others he had written and hoped to turn into a book. I read his poems, offered my suggestions (for whatever they were worth) and then we got down to business.”
Playboy: You once described The X-Files to Garry Shandling on The Larry Sanders Show as “Laurel and Hardy with sexual tension.” Do you still believe that?
Duchovny: No, we were improvising. When you did the talk-show part on The Larry Sanders Show you were actually doing a talk show. None of that was scripted. What I said makes no sense to me. I don’t know what that means. I think what Mulder and Scully have goes back to Cary Grant movies, where verbal sparring had to code sexual sparring. I think that’s what people really like about it. It’s this kind of chaste love affair. And we’ve done it for five years. That’s a lot of chastity. Usually at the end of a movie the guy and the girl kiss, even if they’ve been sparring throughout. With us, it’s an intense buildup. People ask, “Are Mulder and Scully ever going to get it together?” I think no at this point. I don’t think they should.
Playboy: How did the show keep from getting stuck in the science fiction ghetto and attract more than a cult following?
Duchovny: We do a cop show with paranormal phenomena. The show is amazing because it has an all-inclusive tone. On one end it can take itself completely seriously on ridiculous stuff like liberating aliens or a conspiracy that will bring down the entire world, and on the other end it can be lighthearted and funny.
Playboy: Is that what accounts for the show’s popularity?
Duchovny: The enduring popularity of our show has to do with the fact that we’ve established two interesting characters in almost soap-opera fashion. We have embarked upon a long-running mythological story that people want to get to the bottom of, punctuated by interesting stand-alone monster-of-the-week episodes. When we started we were really the only scary show on TV. Now there are scary shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Millennium. I think Caroline in the City is very scary [laughs]. People like to be scared; it’s fun TV.
Playboy: Some people claim we’re all looking for a religious experience, and that shows about alien abductions are basically that.
Duchovny: If not a religious experience then a life-changing experience. Every week something happens that would be world-altering if it were true. The genetic freaks or monsters we deal with would revolutionize any evolutionary way of thinking. If the series is not religious in the normal sense of the word, it’s cataclysmic.
Playboy: You’ve called it a “secular religious show.”
Duchovny: I was stretching. The show is evocative, it’s part of the cultural lexicon now. ER is twice as popular, but you don’t hear people making an adjective out of ER. We’ve achieved iconic status somehow. Everything is the something-files now.
Playboy: How much have we embraced the world view of The X-Files: “Trust no one,” “The truth is out there”?
Duchovny: I’m not sure that people are so into that. On a popular level it was one of the first shows to state outright that the government is lying to you. Or, at least, that the FBI is lying to its own agents. People always like to have somebody to blame.
Playboy: How much of the show is based on real-life events?
Duchovny: Read the recent news about splicing, cloning and genetic engineering. That has become important for the idea in our show that experiments are being conducted with alien DNA. Things that were science fiction ten years ago and were pretty much a joke – as cloning was in Sleeper – are now a reality. It helps that science is more imaginative than science fiction. It helps that there are brilliant people out there, so that we knuckleheads can actually make metaphors out of science and make trivial use of incredible breakthroughs.
Playboy: What do you think about all these breakthroughs?
Duchovny: Biologically, we’re not far from cloning a human being, but what would be the purpose? We’d have to decide who is worthy of cloning. We’d clone Stephen Hawking and Michael Jordan, but what does that mean? It kind of ruins the preciousness of life.
Playboy: Cloning could also be used for spare parts.
Duchovny: Oh, so you farm your own. That’s so mean to the poor clones. So you’ve got all your clones in the backyard fighting because they don’t want to give up their liver. I don’t know if life should be so precious that we try that hard to hold on to it. Maybe there are people who love life a lot more than I do.
Playboy: Are you often unsatisfied with what you do?
Duchovny: Always. I have never been satisfied.
Playboy: There isn’t one show in which you feel you nailed it?
Duchovny: No. There are definitely shows I feel are really good, even great.
Playboy: Of the 110 shows you’ve done, what percentage would you say are really good?
Duchovny: I’d say ten percent are the great ones. Really good, or good, 80 percent. Lousy, ten percent.
Playboy: Do the lousy ones make you cringe?
Duchovny: There are the lousy ones that you know are going to be lousy. Then there are the lousy ones that should have been better. Those hurt more, because you think, Maybe I fucked up.
Playboy: You told Playboy a few years ago that Fox Mulder was on an inward journey and asked, “Why is this man in so much pain? Why is he obsessed? Why would anyone want to live their life this way? How do we heal him? How do we show him the truth?” Any answers?
Duchovny: I said that? That’s good. I think his pain comes from the fact that he feels he could have protected his sister but didn’t. She was taken from him when he was 12 and she was eight, and he’s come to realize that she was abducted by aliens – at least he thinks so – and that he might have been able to stop it in some way. Then, during the journey we’ve had for the past five years, he found out that he was the one who was supposed to have been taken and not his sister, so there’s a lot of survivor guilt going on. He can’t enjoy himself. He can’t rest until he’s sure they’ve done everything to find the girl he let go.
Playboy: As you said, why would anyone want to live that way?
Duchovny: Right. He doesn’t appear to have any interests outside that. We’ve never seen him in a bed; he sleeps on his couch. He watches pornography. He doesn’t have sexual relations, except once, with a vampire. He cannot have joy until somebody else does. As soon as he starts to have joy he feels guilty.
Playboy: Will he ever find the truth?
Duchovny: No. When he matures he’ll realize that the truth is not something to be had. Mulder is very young because he really thinks there’s an answer. He thinks there’s a bad guy. He thinks if someone finds that guy, everything will be OK. That’s a young point of view. When he grows up he’s going to turn into a different person. But I like that about him. I like the intensity of his belief that he can fix things.
Playboy: Your schedule conflicted with appearing in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday, a movie about pro football. Was that disappointing?
Duchovny: I would do anything to work with Oliver Stone. I really like him. I’ve always wanted to play an athlete in a movie, and it was a rude awakening to realize the only part for me in his film was that of an aging quarterback. But Oliver wanted me for the team doctor. When we first met I told him I was a good athlete and he said he had seen George Clooney, who is a really good athlete. I said, “I’m a better athlete than Clooney. He talks about how he can beat me in basketball, but I guarantee you he can’t.” And Stone said, “Well, you don’t have the neck for it.” I said, “Joe Montana doesn’t have a big neck. If you tell me I can have this part, I’ll work on my neck.” We laughed. Then he called later and asked again if I wanted the doctor part. I said, “I’m working on my neck.”
Playboy: Are there any other movies in the works?
Duchovny: Bonnie Hunt co-wrote and will direct Return to Me, a romantic comedy about heart transplants. I want to do it.
Playboy: Is TV better than movies?
Duchovny: Yeah, though I think a great movie beats a great television show. It’s like, does a great karate guy beat a great boxer? A great movie is a movie. But look at the writing and the drama on X-Files and NYPD Blue, which to me are the two best dramas on television. I feel they’re better executed than the drama in most movies.
Playboy: Then why do movies?
Duchovny: Regardless of how good the story line is on a TV show, you’re playing the same character. I’m proud of The X-Files, and when all is said and done I’ll be proud to have created 150 hours or so of really good entertainment and the best TV we could do. But in the end I’m playing 150 hours of the same guy.
Playboy: Another actor who attempted to make the leap from a successful television show to the big screen was David Caruso. His career has certainly faltered since he left NYPD Blue. Is his a cautionary tale?
Duchovny: No. As trite as it sounds, everybody is individual, everyone has their own career to pursue. Alec Baldwin came from a soap opera, so did Demi Moore. Bruce Willis came from Moonlighting. Tom Selleck came from Magnum, P.I. – it didn’t happen for him. Clint Eastwood came from TV. There are millions of actors who were never on TV or film, who never made it. There are film actors who were successful at first and then weren’t, then made a comeback. To think there’s an equation is bogus. We all have our paths. What Caruso did is so different from what I’m doing: He left a hit TV show after one year. He acted in a couple of movies that didn’t do well; now he’s back on TV. I’ve been completely loyal. This is my sixth year on the TV show. I’ve fulfilled my responsibilities.
Playboy: How was the The X-Files movie received?
Duchovny: Critically, it was hard for people to discuss the movie without discussing the television show. Critics had an ax to grind. The movie did great and I was really happy with it – it was a smart, funny adventure/science-fiction thriller. It worked. But critics seem to have a prejudice against television. A lot of them said they didn’t understand it because they don’t watch the TV show. They missed the fact that our show deliberately leaves people in doubt – that’s part of our m.o. They thought if they were in doubt it was because they didn’t have enough information. That might be a risky situation in film because it’s a one-shot thing, whereas in TV you get to come back. So the critics may have had a point. But underlying their criticism is the idea that it’s only a TV show blown up into a movie. But what’s wrong with that if you’re telling a good story? Look at Armageddon, Godzilla, Independence Day. Those are much thinner stories than what we attempted to tell, yet they didn’t get that kind of criticism. So there were some prejudices against the film that I hadn’t anticipated. Also, our TV show is still on and it’s playing five times a week and it’s free. The movie has been a success, so they’ll do another one. It’s a $60 million film that has already made $83 million domestically. Worldwide we’ll probably make as much or more than Armageddon. I won’t do another one until the TV show is off the air. I think the audience will miss it when it goes off the air.
Playboy: Recently you said that you and Gillian have been thrown together, that you’re “two people who don’t know each other, and we’ve been forced to spend more time together than married people do.” It’s curious that you would use the present tense when describing someone you have worked so closely with for five years.
Duchovny: I was referring to the original coupling. But we still don’t know each other very well. We’re not close personally. We’re close professionally. But we’re not tight. I don’t think we ever will be. I like her. I think she likes me. It’s all fine.
Playboy: What is it about your on-screen chemistry that makes it work?
Duchovny: The meeting of two minds. Mutual respect. Scully came to this relationship believing Mulder was a crackpot, but she was open to some of his ideas. And he took this new partner and trusted her, what she had to say. It’s an equal partnership, and that’s sexy to people.
Playboy: Can Mulder or Scully ever be replaced?
Duchovny: Yeah, everybody can be replaced. It’s a double equation and it’s contradictory, and here’s how it goes: The X-Files would not have been a success without me, but I am replaceable at this point. It wouldn’t have gotten to where it is if I hadn’t been in it in the beginning, but now that it is where it is, I’m dispensable. I mean, you get fans who say, “Oh no, it wouldn’t be the same without you.” But in the end, you’re just an actor playing a role.
Playboy: Before the X-Files movie, you starred in Playing God, which disappeared quickly. You said that it was your way of saying, “I’m not Mulder; hear me roar.” Was anyone listening?
Duchovny: Not with Playing God. That was a small movie, but because I’m a big TV star people assumed it was my breakout movie. I never intended it to be that. When it didn’t make $40 million, people assumed that I thought it was a bomb or that I was disgraced. It was exactly what I thought it would be. Maybe not as good as I wanted it to be, but I never saw it as a hit movie.
Playboy: One writer said that you have an air of confidence that could be interpreted as smugness. Are you smug?
Duchovny: Gillian did an interview in which she said I was arrogant, and when I read the article I wondered, Why would someone think I’m arrogant? A friend of mine said, “If you don’t need something from somebody, if you’re independent, they’ll think you’re arrogant. Because that’s threatening.” OK, I’ll take that. I’m a little like Holden Caulfield – the things I hate more than anything else are hypocrisy and pretension. They make my skin crawl. And I would put arrogance in the same category. To perceive myself as arrogant would hurt.
Playboy: Vanity Fair described you as “very handsome, though in a winsomely flawed way, his nose a bit too large, his grin slightly geeky.”
Duchovny: I called Téa and asked, “What does winsome mean?” [Laughs] I know what win means and I know what some means, it’s like you win some, you lose some.
Playboy: Do women still come on to you or has marriage changed that?
Duchovny: I don’t think marriage changes that. What changes is the way the sexes relate – you smile at each other and then it escalates. I don’t respond to that now. It’s not someone else’s responsibility to honor my marriage. It’s my responsibility. I never got that attitude toward cheating: “How could she have an affair with a married man?” Isn’t that his responsibility?
Playboy: So it doesn’t matter what Monica Lewinsky did, it matters what President Clinton did?
Duchovny: Absolutely. And I don’t care what either of them did.
Playboy: Lewinsky’s father knew where to put the blame.
Duchovny: Well, he’s her dad. If she were my daughter I’d probably blame Clinton, too. When you have family involved, it’s another story.
Playboy: One of Lewinsky’s lawyers called the president a misogynist. Do you have an opinion?
Duchovny: That comes from fucking women’s lib. We’re all smarting from that. It was a necessary revolution. Women had to have a revolution, but let’s now have a counterrevolution and get back to where we should be. We can’t have Andrea Dworkin saying that unless a man asks for a kiss, it’s rape. That’s not human nature, it’s not animal nature. I see her on TV saying we should have guidelines for dating in colleges. The man would have to ask if he can hold a hand, have a kiss, each step of the way: “May I touch your breasts? May I put my hand down your pants? May I touch your clitoris?” It’s ridiculous.
Playboy: What do men do in the workplace now, when they have to fear charges of harassment if they say the wrong thing?
Duchovny: Sexual harassment is about sex, not about harassment. It’s become about power, and that’s not the same thing. It’s all fucked up. We’ve got people trying to win the lottery on other people. It’s easy, because it’s just he said-she said. If I try to get you to have sex with me and I threaten that you’ll lose your job if you don’t, that’s sexual harassment. If I say, “Nice ass,” I shouldn’t be sued unless you say, “You know, it bothers me when you say I have a nice ass.” And then I say, “Nice ass” ten more times. Then you say, “Obviously I’m not getting through to you. Do I have to sue you?” But now people are being sued for millions of dollars because they said “Nice ass” once, jokingly, by the water cooler. It’s horseshit.
Playboy: What if you pat a woman’s ass by the water cooler?
Duchovny: I don’t think you should be sued. She can slap you, or she can say, “Next time you touch me I’m going to get my brother” or “I’ll sue you.” I believe in warnings. What happened to the warning?
Playboy: Do you like pornography?
Duchovny: I think pornography is fine. Without getting into a discussion about how it demeans women and all that shit, I like to watch other people fuck. That’s the fun part – they’re doing all the work. Something funny happened to me in Vancouver. At hotels in Canada you get full porn, unlike in America, where they cut out all the penetration and private parts, and you just get a shot of the guy from behind, which I don’t need to see. When I watched porn, I’d rent three tapes and do reconnaissance work first – I’d fast-forward to see what caught my eye and then I’d catalog it. Then I’d make my choices and go back and watch. But you can’t do that in a hotel because the movie won’t play again for another eight hours. So if you’re masturbating and not just watching, you have to make a decision fast. I had to change my porn-watching habits and commit early. In Vancouver I learned that beyond the initial commitment to the scene where I wanted to get off, I had no control over the moment I got off. Once you go over that edge to an orgasm, you can’t pull back. So you give over and then you’re at the mercy of the cuts – and all of a sudden you’re looking at a guy’s sweaty ass and you’re coming, and then you’re thinking, Oh my God, I’m questioning my sexuality, because that wasn’t half bad. That’s my porn story from Canada.
Playboy: Did you have favorite porn stars?
Duchovny: My big porn years were the late Eighties. It’s like watching sports – it has eras. Was Marilyn Chambers better than Ona Zee? Who knows? The names that will forever be in my pornographic heart are Alicia Monet, Alicia Rio, Amber Lynn, Ginger Lynn. You know how the moviegoing public likes to see Tom Cruise – they like to have a known quantity out there. I was the same way with porn. I was like, “Who’s that nobody? I’m not sure she’s good.” Alicia Monet was my favorite. If anything good can happen from this interview, it’s that Alicia Monet would contact me and we could have lunch. God, if she only knew how many lonely periods she got me through. I don’t think porn stars know how weirdly important they are in people’s lives.
Playboy: Do you agree with Robin Williams that fame leads to money and drugs, which are there to tempt and distract you?
Duchovny: I never had the drug problem. Fame does lead to money, which I don’t have a close relationship with. I’m the kind of guy who never sees the money – it all goes somewhere else. I don’t understand it, I don’t like to deal with it. I have a fear of not having it, because I grew up without it. My mother was always vocal that we were very close to not having anything. There was always a fear that one day we’d be out on the street, though, looking back, that was not a reality. But I definitely was scared of ending up in the gutter – that’s the way we put it.
Playboy: Is that one of the reasons you decided to be an actor rather than a professor – because it’s more lucrative?
Duchovny: No, it wasn’t about being rich. I never imagined being rich. It wasn’t something that I strove for. A professor makes plenty of money, and it’s a solid income once you get tenure. You’re pulling in $60,000 to $100,000 for the rest of your life – that would have been fine.
Playboy: Which teachers left their mark on you?
Duchovny: I studied poetry with Maxine Kumin. That was fun. One of the problems with being in college is you’re all the same age and writing about the same things. Maxine used to sneak in friends from her generation, so we’d have a 70-year-old woman writing poems with us. It just opened up the class. I wrote a break-up-with-my-girlfriend poem, a get-back-together-with-my-girlfriend poem, and I had to read them. A lot of coffee, cigarettes. Then this woman friend of Maxine’s began her poem: “I have stitched my labia shut.” It was so far beyond, both thematically and chronologically, anything any of us were approaching. We were just investigating labia for the first time and she was leaving it behind. Maxine was very good that way.
Playboy: What’s the difference between graduate and undergraduate students?
Duchovny: Graduate students are petrified. As an undergraduate you say what’s on your mind, you rap with the teacher. But in graduate school you pronounce yourself a professional – this is what you do for a living. You’re petrified to be wrong. All of a sudden these lively discussions about literature that used to take place are silenced. In our graduate Romantic Poetry class with Harold Bloom, there was a precocious undergraduate, Naomi Wolf, who has since become known as a feminist writer. She was the only one who would talk. Because she didn’t care, she didn’t have anything to lose. Bloom was always bemoaning something in his lilting, sad voice, asking about what something would be like, and we’d all be silent, afraid to be exposed. But Naomi Wolf would raise her hand and respond, “It would be a world without adjectives.” And he’d say, “Exactly, my dear.” And I was like, I’m in the wrong place. Not only did I not get the answer, I didn’t even understand the question. A world without adjectives. I just don’t get it. Though that would be a good name for a book, wouldn’t it?
Playboy: Did you learn discipline playing basketball at Princeton?
Duchovny: No. I learned discipline more from academics than sports. And sacrifice and single-mindedness. My entire life has been an attempt to get back to the kind of feelings you have on a field. The sense of brotherhood, the esprit de corps, the focus – there being no past or future, just the ball. As trite as it sounds, I was happiest playing ball. But I can’t do that for a living. And I’m not sure professional athletes have that kind of joy anymore; it’s a job for them. With acting you can approach the lack of self-consciousness you have on a basketball court. Acting, sex, sports, religion – those are your ecstatic moments, when you’re an animal.
Playboy: And what order do you put those four in?
Duchovny: It’s been so long since I’ve had that feeling in sports, I can’t remember it. Sex is great until you die, but it’s never as great as it was when you were a kid, when it was a mystery. I’m not a religious person. If I get close to religion it’s in these moments when people faint and shudder and have orgasms with religious fervor – I don’t think they’re kidding. And I’m envious. I guess at this point I’m trying to attain those states through acting. But it’s hard when you act as often as I do on a television show, because the nature of a TV series is that you don’t get there often. I’m looking forward to the show’s ending so I can work less and try to make my professional career more in tune with that.
Playboy: Staying with sports for a moment, which sports figure would you like to have been?
Duchovny: Mantle or Mays or Walter Frazier or Pistol Pete Maravich.
Playboy: Who was a better baseball player, Mantle or Mays?
Duchovny: Willie Mays was the best ever. When I was in college I once made a catch like the one Mays made over his head. Sometimes when I’m lying in bed at night I think about it. It still makes me warm.
Playboy: What other sports memories do that for you?
Duchovny: There was a moment when I was in high school playing basketball. My junior year we were 21-5 and had all our players coming back, so we thought we might go undefeated the next year. But we lost our second game, and our confidence. We had barely won our third game and were losing our fourth. It was tied and they had a couple of foul shots with eight seconds left. The guy hits the first and misses the second. Our center gets the rebound, outlets it to me, I dribble it up and at the top of the key, with three seconds left, I jump. There was something speaking to me and I rifled a pass right under the basket rather than shoot and hit a guy for a lay-up. We won at the buzzer. It’s the feeling I had that made me pass that I think about. And that makes me smile. It’s that extrasensory feeling that we live for.
Playboy: Do you still have friends from those days?
Duchovny: I have mostly childhood friends. When you’re younger you’ve got a lot of friends, but you don’t have time for that many friends when you get older. It’s good to have the one or two guys who’ve known you a long time who you can check in with.
Playboy: So you don’t have half a dozen guys you’re comfortable playing poker with?
Duchovny: No, not really. My college friends have all dispersed. My best friend from college lives in Beijing. He’s a lawyer. We used to play squash together. After we graduated we traveled together for five months in Southeast Asia. But he didn’t speak Chinese then so he was no help at all.
Playboy: Where in Southeast Asia did you travel?
Duchovny: Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, all around there, backpacking.
Playboy: Did you smoke opium while you were in Thailand?
Duchovny: Yes. That was very interesting. It was north of Changmai. A group of us were trekking, ten people and two guides. It was a 12-day trek. They said, “Do you want to smoke opium with this guy? He’s an opium addict.” We said sure. We lay down next to him. He used some kind of pipe, where he put the resin on the tip of a stick and then inserted the stick into the pipe. He didn’t speak English and was trying to show us how to do it, to draw in deeply. I did one, not a good one, then I did another that was better. Me and my buddy were the only ones in our group who did it. All of a sudden this big storm started and all the animals congregated underneath the hut. We were nodding off and waking up, and the animals were making all these noises and I was convinced that I could understand what they were saying. I’d hear the pigs snorting and the horses talking to one another throughout the village. When you’d go to take a shit you’d walk away from the village and take a dump in the bushes, and the pigs would follow you because they were going to eat your shit. It was hard for us Americans, being so modest, to take a shit while the pigs were watching for a good one [laughs]. “Don’t pull on that just yet, I haven’t released.” When we were high we imagined the pigs calling for us to feed them, that we would open up the floorboards and just lay one right there. We were having this whole conversation with the animals. And then some event happened, and somebody came in to talk to the head man of the village, who was one of our guides. There was some kind of crisis, and five people began arguing in the room and they wanted him to settle it. My friend and I were so stoned that we decided we knew what they were talking about, and we made it into a soap opera. Every time somebody spoke I’d go, “What happened was, she slept with his brother. And his brother is his cousin.” We were like children, laughing hysterically at how funny we thought we were being, while this serious business was going on. Every once in a while they would look over at us giggling like fools in the corner and shrug, “They’re stoned.” That was my night on opium. It was what you’d call very dreamy. With your eyes open.
Playboy: Different from marijuana?
Duchovny: Very different.
Duchovny: Yeah, more dreamy. My experiences with mushrooms were always kind of hyper. Very intense. This was more slow and syrupy.
Playboy: Ever try peyote?
Duchovny: I may have. Pretty sure I did.
Playboy: If you had one wish, what would it be?
Duchovny: It would have to do with writing. To be able to tell a story like Homer. To almost sing a story. Actually, I’d rather sing. If I could sing I probably wouldn’t care about writing.
Playboy: What person would you like to be able to sing like?
Duchovny: Many, many people. Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, even Bonnie Raitt. It would be funny, Bonnie Raitt’s voice coming out of me, but I would change my physical appearance to make it work.
Playboy: Did you ever write anything for magazines?
Duchovny: I wrote two articles, one for the English Tatler, about my high school, and the other I can’t remember.
Playboy: What did you write about your high school?
Duchovny: It was years later. And it wasn’t good. It was basically about the fact that a lot of rich, famous people’s children went to my high school, like John F. Kennedy Jr. and Jacques D'Amboise’s son Chris, F.A.O. Schwarz IV, William Kennedy Smith before he was famous, and then a couple of kids who were prodigies on their own merit. We had a guy who was the editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle in high school! We had some geniuses there. It was a special school, called Collegiate. I had a great time there.
Playboy: Did you know John Kennedy Jr. at school?
Duchovny: Briefly. My first day at Collegiate I was kind of starstruck. I just wanted to see who John John Kennedy was. I asked this kid at lunch, “Which one is John John?” And he said, “His name is John.” That was my first slap in the face. John left after my first year. We had a class trip down to Washington in 1975 and because I was new they put me with him. We roomed together. We went to the White House and one of the tour guides said, “I’m told that John Kennedy Jr. is among you.” And we’re all saying, “Who?” so that John wouldn’t be embarrassed.
Playboy: You mean that they didn’t recognize him?
Duchovny: Not then. We all had long hair parted on the side.
Playboy: Did Kennedy talk about the White House?
Duchovny: No. Not at all.
Playboy: Do you know him now?
Playboy: Was it during your high school years that you first had sex?
Duchovny: I lost my virginity when I was 14. And I haven’t been able to find it.
Playboy: Did the girl go to high school with you?
Duchovny: She was 84.
Playboy: Are you going to tell us?
Duchovny: She was a year younger, but she wasn’t a virgin. She was more experienced than I was.
Playboy: Did she seduce you?
Duchovny: No, it was mutual.
Playboy: Did she know it was the first time for you?
Duchovny: No, but I told her many years later.
Playboy: Any other interesting teenage experiences with women?
Duchovny: When I was 16 I had a Mrs. Robinson. It was really good, gave me a lot of confidence.
Playboy: Was she the mother of any of your friends?
Duchovny: No, though I definitely had my eyes open for that [laughs]. That’s all I ever thought about. I always wanted an older woman. Actually, at that age it was any woman.
Playboy: How did you finally meet your older woman?
Duchovny: Two girlfriends of mine were babysitting for her. She had kids and was married.
Playboy: Did she seduce you?
Duchovny: Oh yeah. I didn’t have the balls. We all went out dancing and she sat on my lap and said, “Take me home and make love to me.” She definitely had to make every move.
Playboy: Could you believe it when it was happening?
Duchovny: Oh, I felt I was the luckiest guy in the world.
Playboy: How often did you see her?
Duchovny: Whenever I could!
Playboy: Had you seen The Graduate?
Playboy: Have you talked with this woman since?
Duchovny: Yeah, the summer after. It was hard because I was feeling heroic and I took a friend to see her. I was showing off. And she didn’t mince words: It was over. And I shouldn’t bring anybody around or talk to anybody about it. It was like an introduction to the adult world. I wasn’t thinking of any consequences, but she made it clear.
Playboy: Was she sophisticated?
Duchovny: To me, yeah. She was a woman. I’d never been with a woman. I’d been with girls.
Playboy: What happened after that, when you went back to girls?
Duchovny: Actually it’s kind of romantic because I fell in love for the first time with a girl my own age while I was seeing the older woman. It was a really specific moment in my life. I was lying in bed with this woman, and she was just beautiful and totally exotic to me. She was younger than I am now. That summer I was a janitor in a place and had a little room. I met a girl who was having trouble with her parents, so I invited her to stay at my place – I had two single beds. I liked her. I called from this woman’s house just to see how she was doing. And I remember thinking, I want to be with her. It was weird, because here was my fantasy, and I was having feelings for this girl. It was the first time I fell in love.
Playboy: What happened with her?
Duchovny: We went out for about a year. I still hear from her every now and then. She’s been married a couple of times.
Playboy: How did you react when your parents divorced?
Duchovny: I don’t think I understood what divorce was or what it all meant. If you tell a child that his father is going to live somewhere else, it’s like hearing the sun is so many miles from the earth. You understand what it means but you don’t know what it is until it actually happens. It goes on for a month, then six months, then a year – and then it’s, Oh, now I understand what that meant.
Playboy: How often did you see your dad after he moved out?
Duchovny: First it was weekends, then less as time went on. It hurt, but I wasn’t aware of that. I probably felt rejected. It involved things I wouldn’t have had the vocabulary or the mentality to deal with.
Playboy: Did you have other problems as a child? Did you ever steal, for instance?
Duchovny: Yup. I was a good thief. I stole food, candy, all this stuff. I had a foolproof method for stealing sodas: I’d carry a tennis ball can with one ball into the store and then I’d take out the ball and the soda would go right in, perfect, with the ball on top. I never got caught but I got extorted. My friend’s big sister said, “You steal for me.” I tried it for a couple of days, stealing for me and for her. I realized I was going to get caught, so I quit.
Playboy: Did you ever steal again? Were you totally honest when you worked as a bartender?
Duchovny: I stole money then. Fifty bucks here and there. Wouldn’t put it in the register. There were more legal ways of stealing: You come in and have seven drinks and I give you four for free and you give me a $50 tip. That’s stealing – I didn’t make you pay for the drinks so I would get a big tip.
Playboy: If you could steal anything today, what would it be?
Duchovny: A great artwork from a museum. I don’t know which one. Maybe the Mona Lisa, that’s a wonderful painting. I could look at her.
Playboy: Are there any actors you particularly admire?
Duchovny: I admired Bogart. He didn’t give it all away. He was underplaying. If you look at a film of Bogart’s, he may have the same expression for the entire movie except for that little twitch, and yet he trusted his own power enough that his moves would be evident. I like actors who don’t condescend, who let the audience make up their own minds. Brando has always been my favorite. I love Pacino and Duvall. Meryl Streep is so gifted it’s hard to even place her. She’s a real actor. Brando, Pacino, Duvall, they’re great actors, but they’re forceful personalities. You really get a sense of the man. Streep – I’ve never seen an actor, male or female, who comes close to what she does. I’m not saying I’d rather watch her than any of those guys – sometimes I wouldn’t. But her gift as an actor is greater than anybody’s I’ve ever seen. She’s like a freak, like Michael Jordan.
Playboy: You married an actor. You took the press by surprise when you and Téa secretly wed. Was that satisfying?
Duchovny: Yes, except that we stayed in New York for our honeymoon, which was a mistake. We were followed around, and it was infuriating. It’s hard to describe the powerlessness – an AA word. You can’t win. And it’s difficult to be in a position where you can’t win. For some reason somebody decided, OK, here’s the price you have to pay. Then when you complain about it people go, “Didn’t you understand? That’s the price you have to pay.” Because the technology of spying, picture-taking, surveillance has far outstripped the laws against it, we have to redefine spying. There used to be no telephoto lenses. If you’re 100 feet from me with a telephoto lens you’re actually an inch away. Ostensibly you’re in my space, illegally. We really have to reconsider what it is that a public person gives up. Why does a public person give up all his or her rights to privacy? I’m not sure I understand that.
Playboy: How does marriage work between two Ivy League-educated actors?
Duchovny: Téa went to Sarah Lawrence, then she got into Harvard but didn’t go. She went on a dare to the Charlie’s Angels cattle call. They were casting and wanted three unknowns, and she got a part. It never got made, I think because of the Writers’ Guild strike.
Playboy: You’ve said that Téa is “beyond gifted.” Is that like saying there are no words to describe her talents?
Duchovny: I know I sound biased, but I truly believe that Téa is a unique performer. She could have been in Showgirls, Speed 2, in one bomb after another, but she would have survived because she has something that’s undeniable. Her performance is always wonderfully enthusiastic, funny, smart, sexy. It’s like she can hit and field. She’s like Willie Mays, great with the bat and on the field. She’s a beautiful woman who’s a really talented comedian, and that’s rare. She just hasn’t yet found the writer and director who can service her, because she’s able to do it all. And if she doesn’t get too depressed about the business and quits, she will.
Playboy: Were you surprised when her film Deep Impact outgrossed The X-Files: Fight the Future?
Duchovny: I thought there was no way Deep Impact would make more money than our film, and then it did. I wasn’t competitive because I thought I’d win easily. Then I was disappointed [chuckles]. No, I was happy. She’s not competitive at all that way. She was also surprised at how well Deep Impact did.
Playboy: Are you and Téa developing a sitcom similar to I Love Lucy?
Duchovny: No, that’s out of whole cloth. At this point in my career television doesn’t appeal to me at all because of the repetition. I could change my tune, but the idea of doing the same thing over and over doesn’t appeal to me. Because The X-Files is going to be syndicated and playing with The Twilight Zone and I Love Lucy and all these time capsule-type TV shows, I think there’s enough David Duchovny out there. Also, I know my own limitations – you don’t want to step onstage with Téa, because she will eat you up.
Playboy: Speaking of being upstaged, isn’t that how you and Téa met – during a preinterview for a guest shot on The Tonight Show, which she got and you didn’t?
Duchovny: Yeah, that’s true. The audition for The Tonight Show takes place over lunch. It’s like a meeting, and if you’re not famous but a working actor, somebody at the show might know who you are. Then they meet you to see if you have any interesting stories and whether they want you to take up the last five minutes of the show, from 12:20 to 12:25 a.m., after the the monkey has shit on Jay’s head and the band hasn’t closed the show. That’s the spot I was going for. For some reason my manager convinced me that it was a career move of some kind. Téa’s manager probably convinced her of the same thing. She was doing a sitcom, Flying Blind, at the time, and I had just finished Kalifornia and Twin Peaks. Unbeknownst to me they were meeting with Téa at the same time. It’s brutal enough that you have to audition with your life – it’s not like being an actor where you do material. It’s like, Am I interesting enough for you, Mr. Leno? And he’s not even there. Téa was much more effusive and interesting and funny. She took over the meeting and I sulked. She got on and I didn’t, and every time I’d hear her name after that I’d spit, because I thought she had ruined my chance at the big time.
Playboy: And there was no attraction to her at the time?
Duchovny: She was married then. I remember talking to her before the producer showed up. We had both arrived at the restaurant on time, but she doesn’t remember that part. I thought she was lively, funny. And she turned it up a notch when we sat down. She hates that story because she thinks it makes her look like some showbiz All About Eve. When I finally went on The Tonight Show I told this story and then I made up notes that the producer had taken, like, “Téa Leoni is gorgeous and funny and talented, we should have her on the show immediately”; “David Duchovny is a morose loser.” And the audience thought it was real. On talk shows I guess I have a deadpan delivery, and people assume what I’m saying is true.
Playboy: Are you more in love now than when you married?
Duchovny: Yeah. It feels different.
Playboy: You said before marrying that staying monogamous requires cons