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Playboy Interview - David Duchovny
  • December 13, 1998 : 15:12
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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.

Playboy: Mushrooms?

Duchovny: Yeah, more dreamy. My experiences with mushrooms were always kind of hyper. Very intense. This was more slow and syrupy.

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