Born: 7 August 1960
Where: New York, New York, USA
Awards: Won 3 Golden Globe
When gauging his chances of success on the Big Screen, one name strikes fear into the hearts of David Duchovny fans. No, not The Smoking Man. Rather, it’s David Caruso — a big TV star who failed wretchedly in a crossover attempt. Duchovny himself, typically, considers the comparison lightly and intelligently. He knows that Caruso, star of NYPD Blue, did not spend long cementing his reputation on TV, while he himself has completed seven seasons of The X-Files. He knows that, as a hitter, he’s heavier. And he knows his latest movie vehicle, Evolution, in which he stars alongside Julianne Moore, is close enough in theme and spirit to his TV series to work as a stepping-stone to more varied projects. He’s a clever man, this Duchovny.
He was born David William Duchovny on August 7th, 1960, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His father was Brooklyn-born Amram Ducovny (a man who clearly has no need of extra Hs), a playwright who also worked as publicist for the American Jewish Committee. His mother, Margaret, was a Lutheran Scot, and a teacher. With that heritage, Duchovny jokes, you shouldn’t ask him for money. He also says it gave him a "Protestant work ethic combined with Jewish guilt and introspection". He has an older brother, Daniel, and a younger sister, Laurie.
Amram and Margaret divorced when David was 11, Amram moving to Boston, then Paris where he worked on novels and plays (one being The Trials Of Lee Harvey Oswald). The kids stayed with their mother in New York, becoming ever more distant from their father. Life was not easy. According to David, mother would remind them constantly that poverty was only a small step away, thereby engendering a real fear of ending up in the gutter. David, fortunately, was exceptionally bright and, at 13, won a scholarship to New York’s Collegiate, an elite private boys’ school. Nicknamed Duke, sometimes Doggie, he found himself surrounded by the children of the rich and famous, including John F. Kennedy Jr, with whom he roomed on a school-trip to Washington in 1975. There were also many child prodigies, one of whom was already editor of the New York Times’ crossword. David fitted in easily. He was brilliant at baseball and basketball, playing the latter to college scholarship standard, and studied diligently.
His work paid off. He was class valedictorian, and was offered places at Harvard, Yale, Browns and Princeton, choosing to attend the last of these. He made friends fast, and got a girlfriend. Seeing her on his first day, he discovered her name, and joined a politics class in which she’d enrolled. When she turned up (actually three months later), she asked to borrow his notes, he asked her out and they were together for the next four years. David was already fairly successful with women. He’d lost his virginity, he says, at 14, to a girl one year younger but a great deal more experienced. At 16, he’d had his own Mrs. Robinson, an older woman who’d seduced then discarded him. At that point, he was working as a janitor and had a small room with two single beds. He’d met a girl who was having trouble at home, offered her a place to stay and suddenly realised he was in love with her. They went out for a year. So, here’s to you, Mrs Robinson.
David graduated from Princeton in 1982, with high honours, his senior thesis being The Schizophrenic Critique Of Pure Reason In (Samuel) Beckett’s Early Novels. With a friend, he spent five months travelling in South-East Asia. On one occasion, he recalls, they smoked opium with an addict in Thailand. As they slipped into semi-unconsciousness, it began to rain, and pigs and horses came into the hut for shelter — David remembers believing he could understand what they were saying.
Next came Yale, Modern Literature and a teaching fellowship. One class, in Romantic Poetry, was taught by Harold Bloom — Duchovny remembers being impressed by one of Bloom’s undergraduate students, the young Naomi Wolf. Then there was acting. Though firmly set on the path to an academic life, and having no acting experience other than appearing in one show for a student playwright, he still fell into it. David returned to New York one vacation, hoping to earn $2000 bar-tending. He did well too, rather scandalously giving people free drinks in return for big tips (he also admits to petty shoplifting in his early days — a refreshingly honest guy). Then a friend suggested he try auditioning for commercials. He did and, despite having smashed his front teeth when he fainted in a lift at age 17, he got a few call-backs, and then got an agent, who took him on on the understanding that he would take acting lessonsDuchovny says now that he’s spent his life trying to recapture the thrill of sport — the astounding catches, the unworldly telepathic teamwork. Acting must have been a buzz. David commuted to New York more and more regularly, for classes and to work in off-Broadway shows until, realising he spent more time in New York than Yale (where he’d graduated and was now working on a doctorate), he decided to turn pro. At 27, very late, and surely another major buzz.
At first, Duchovny laboured in small roles in major productions. He played a party guest in Working Girl, starring Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith (joining him way down the cast were Kevin Spacey and Ricki Lake), and was Club Goer #3, alongside Rob Lowe and James Spader in Bad Influence. His breakthrough was to come via artier works. First, he was spotted by self-promoting maverick director Henry Jaglom, who cast him as an arch-seducer in his latest study of modern-day relationships, New Year’s Day. Next, he found himself togged up in high heels and underwire bra, as tranvestite DEA agent Dennis/Denise Bryson in Twin Peaks. Then he was a group-sex freak with Mimi Rogers in the weird, apocalyptic The Rapture. He made dirty phone-love in the minimalist comedy drama Julia Has Two Lovers, then went back to Jaglom for Venice, Venice. There were more small roles in big movies. He was Officer Tippit in Ruby, the last and arguably least of a slew of JFK movies. He was a cameraman in Richard Attenborough’s excellent Chaplin, and played alongside Bonnie Hunt in Beethoven, about a big, funny dog.
And he got to star in The Red Shoe Diaries. This was a made-for-cable film by Zalman King, the third part of a trilogy-of-sorts which began with the controversial Wild Orchid, starring Mickey Rourke. Here Duchovny played Jake Winters, a grieving widower who discovers his wife’s diaries and finds she was having all manner of illicit rumpo. The film spawned many sequels, usually episodic, with Duchovny appearing in each as star or narrator; the premise being that Winters buys small ads asking women to send him their explicit diaries. Only this way, it seems, can he conquer his grief. This series, along with The Rapture and the fact that Duchovny liked to date beautiful women (including Lisa Loeb, Perrey Reeves and Sheryl Lee), probably contributed to rumours that he had to seek treatment for sex addiction. Untrue. Oh, there’s also that famous photo of him naked, pouring tea, and holding his genitals in a teacup. When asked what his wife Tea Leoni thought of it, he replied: "First, I think she thought it was funny. Second, I think she thought I was an idiot for doing it. And finally, she’s vowed never to drink out of that cup".
1993 changed everything. First there was Dominic Sena’s excellent Kalifornia, where Duchovny played a writer on a road trip, visiting the scenes of mass murderers’ crimes. One of his passengers is Brad Pitt, who turns out to be a killer himself. Then came producer Chris Carter. Planning a paranormal detective show, he needed an actor who could convincingly convey a belief in everything otherworldly. Duchovny, keen to advance his movie career, thought he’d try it. It couldn’t, he reckoned, last more than 12 episodes, and it would get his name around. So, alongside Gillian Anderson’s disbelieving Agent Scully, he became Fox "Spooky" Mulder. And, of course, The X-Files took off. Tapping in to New Age belief systems and pre-Millennial fears, as well as appealing to all lovers of Rod Serling, it dominated the ratings and made Duchovny and Anderson the biggest names on the fledgling Internet. Everyone wanted to know if Mulder and Scully were going to, you know, DO it. They didn’t. Mulder watched porn, but only ever had sex with a vampire. Perhaps his replacement, Robert Patrick from T2, will fare better.
Duchovny stayed with The X-Files for seven years, being nominated for an Emmy twice, further boosting his reputation with a series of hilarious guest appearances on shows like The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live (which he hosted twice) and Space: Above And Beyond. There were also those now-legendary episodes of The Larry Sanders Show where, playing himself, he flirted outrageously with Garry Shandling — his nerve and timing winning him an American Comedy Award and another Emmy nomination). He also had a song written about him, by one Bree Sharp. Called "David Duchovny", it went "David Duchovny/ Why won’t you love me?/ I’m cute and I’m cuddly/ I’m gonna kill Scully". The X-Files crew picked up on it and filmed an unofficial video with Brad Pitt and Whoopie Goldberg amongst those lip-synching along. Sharp actually got a record deal on the back of it.
Duchovny spent most of those seven years in Vancouver, where The X-Files were filmed — chosen for the rainy ambience (and the cheap labour). Once he got into trouble for complaining about the weather, causing an uproar in the Canadian media. Signs were put up, ordering him to go home. And eventually The X-Files set was shifted to Los Angeles, at his request. But this was so he could be with his new wife Tea Leoni, star of The Naked Truth, at their home in Malibu. David had met Leoni (also the product of a Manhattan private school, with an Ivy League education) some time before. They’d both auditioned for a spot on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. She got it, he knew she deserved it. Leoni was married, nothing happened. Then, with Leoni’s marriage over, agent Risa Shapiro tried to hook the pair up. They didn’t bite at first, but did meet once at a party to which Shapiro had cunningly invited them both. Duchovny arrived just as Leoni was leaving, but they said hi and, later, each asked Shapiro for the other’s number. They married in 1997 and have one daughter, Madelaine West.
Due to The X-Files, David put his film career on hold, making only two more movies in the Nineties. In Playing God, he went right out of character as a disgraced speed-freak doctor who gets employed by gangsters. It was cool and nasty, and featured an early appearance by Angelina Jolie. Duchovny was at her audition and backed her for the part. And there was the X-Files movie which, to Duchovny’s amusement, was slaughtered at the box-office by his wife’s Deep Impact. He did pick up experience though, writing or co-writing several episodes of The X-Files, and directing a couple too. One he wrote and directed was Hollywood AD, where a movie is being made, based on Mulder and Scully’s cases. Shandling plays Mulder, Leoni is Scully.
After seven seasons, Duchovny decided to return to cinema. He left the TV show on fairly amicable terms — amicable if you ignore the $25 million lawsuit he launched against the 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. He claimed that the studio had intentionally sold X-Files reruns and show-rights to their own subsidiaries at a low rate, so his percentage of the profits was kept artificially low. His re-entry into cinema was 2000’s Return To Me, directed by Bonnie Hunt (his co-star in Beethoven), where he played a widower whose new girlfriend (Minnie Driver) turns out to have had a heart-transplant. With his dead wife’s heart (I want to believe!)! He had tried out for the Batman role in Batman And Robin, but it went to George Clooney. Now comes Evolution, directed by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) and, next, Ben Stiller’s Zoolander.
Duchovny could just take it easy, lounge about with Leoni, indulge in sports (he loves basketball, baseball and swimming), listen to music (Rolling Stones, Black Crowes, Sly Stone, Seventies funk) or read (Norman Mailer, Elmore Leonard and Thomas Pynchon are among his favourites). He could simply marvel at his collection of hundreds of pairs of sneakers. But his ambition now is to write and direct. It would, after all, be a shame to waste an education and a comic talent like that.