What was it about the screenplay that drew you to this project?
I think it was the intrigue of the story, the thriller aspect of it. You don’t really know what’s going on. I had to read it three or four times. Who is trying to do what? What does the Phantom do? What is my operation? What is their operation? It was fascinating to see how Todd [writer, director] worked it out.
Some people might view your character as a villain?
He is kind of a KGB operative. His mission is pretty much to destroy half of the world. There has to be some kind of psychological process going on in there. He believes enough in his cause that that amount of death is going to save life, or save the right kind of life. This wouldn’t be the first generation to grow up under Soviet rule. They are true believers.
Did you do research before the movie?
I did whatever research I could into the Osnazs and the KGB. It was really just kind of that mindset of looking into the idea that somebody wouldn’t only just kill somebody in cold blood, but be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands. How do you get there? I don’t know if that’s research, but that’s the hurdle.
Duchovny is a Russian name. Can you tell us about your family?
They’re Russian Jews. I don’t think we come from KGB stock. Probably came from the other side of the fence. If my father was alive, I’m sure he’d get a kick out of it, the fact that part of his DNA is playing a KGB officer. My father’s father is from Kiev. My father is a first generation American immigrant. I didn’t know my grandfather when he died. I was an infant. But I’ve always been approached by Russians and Eastern Europeans who knew what the name means.
Can you describe what it was like to work with [the director] Todd?
Todd was very collaborative and very open. We had a lot of different actors in the movie. Sometimes there were scenes with four or five people and everyone had their own logic to the characters as Todd was working through them. I pretty much stayed out of Todd’s way and asked him a question if it felt pertinent.
Tell us about working on a real submarine.
Shooting inside a sub was difficult. I’m six feet tall, maybe a little taller. When you see the movie, it’s not set decoration. It’s all these knobs, wheels, metal, pipes, and they’re sticking out everywhere. I banged into a periscope at one point. I knocked the top of my head quite a lot. Ken Sewell, who was giving us training on the submarines, told us he actually knocked himself out once because you kind of step up through a hatch which has a lip, and he hit that lip. I didn’t mind shooting in there because it’s so real. And the confining tightness of the set helps you a lot as an actor to work in the reality of it.
Can you talk about the specific technical language of the script?
It’s almost like Jabberwocky. You’re learning another language and it has to just roll off the tongue. I mean these guys, they have to know what they’re talking about. They’re not searching for words. I had a few of those runs and it just has to come.
What message do you hope audiences will take from it?
What’s interesting about the movie, being made by Americans, is that everyone is Russian. There’s not one foreign person. Everyone on the sub they meet and see/hear is Russian. I think it’s pertinent still where you have the Russian POV of the Americans... which is they’re going to kill us all, they hate us, they’re going to destroy us, and the Russians were indoctrinated into this philosophy. It’s an interesting historical point where one culture has to demonize another to kill them. You have to kill hundreds of thousands of them. How else are you going to do it? Unless you think they’re less than human, like killing animals.