HOLLYWOOD—It’s been a long day of interviews for David Duchovny, but the former “X-Files” and current “Californication” star sees the light at the end of the tunnel. Just two more interviews…and then it’s time for a whole new round of questions on the red carpet for the premiere of his latest movie “Phantom,” a based-on-true-events story about a decades old incident involving a Russian nuclear sub that nearly set off World War III.
The divorced actor—he previously was married to actress Tea Leoni with whom he has two children—takes it all in stride. He’s positively happy to be working. The pace of “Californication” is much more manageable than “The X-Files” was, so Duchovny has more free time to make movies and, more importantly, hang out with his kids.
The 52-year-old doesn’t know how much longer the daring Showtime series, currently in its sixth season, will run, but he is ready for anything.
Dressed casually in jeans and a white t-shirt, his hair slightly mussed, Duchovny spoke about playing a Cold War era commie who goes toe-to-toe with Ed Harris, who plays the submarine captain, as they wrestle for control of a nuclear-armed sub in the Todd Robinson (“Lonely Hearts,” “White Squall”) written and directed drama.
Q: You, Ed Harris, Lance Henriksen and William Fichtner—what a great cast.
Duchovny: You never know when you make a movie. This one, I knew we had good actors, I didn’t know if the story would play because I don’t know if I really understood it. (He chuckles.) I understood why in terms of how to act it but I wasn’t sure if the audience knew enough as we went along to keep them interested or guessing enough or guessing too much, which is always the case in a thriller. Are you giving enough (clues) or too much? So when I saw the movie I was like yes, it’s giving me just enough information and withholding enough, and that was all working for me.
Q: Did you shoot this on a real sub?
Duchovny: Yeah. It’s not on a set. It was all on a sub. At least the sub wasn’t underwater. It’s tight, though. The (filming) equipment has changed enough in the last 10 years—the cameras have gotten small and high definition. They’re about the size of a still camera. Without that, there’s no way you could have gotten a film camera in there. Logistically, it was possible but it still didn’t make it easy and still it’s tight. It was really a question for (director) Todd Robinson to block scenes in a way to keep everybody in frame. So you’d often have a really deep frame where you’d see somebody (in) back and then it’s like a play, they come forward. In many ways, he had to treat the space like a proscenium. We didn’t do close ups but you’d walk into a close up in the middle of the scene.
Q: Did it feel like theater to you?
Duchovny: It didn’t feel like theater but you got to do these longer takes where the camera is not in your face and you’re not resetting so much to do coverage so you could get a decent momentum going. It’s not as start-stop as it used to be.
Q: Were you familiar with this story before you were cast or was this near-catastrophe news to you?
Duchovny: Oh yeah. This story just became declassified three years ago. I didn’t know anything about it. I don’t think we ever really know how close we are to disaster. We don’t want to know. That’s the point. I’d rather just live my life and hope the sane people win. Who knows what (really) happened on that sub? I think Todd made up a really interesting story of what might have happened. Who knows what did happen? It might have just sprung a leak, but this is a good story.
Q: You guys don’t speak with a Russian accent on this, which I think audiences will appreciate.
Duchovny: Not everybody is at good at accents as other people. It’s like having a singing voice. Not everybody in this film belonged in a musical, probably, and it could very well be me. (He smiles.) Also, we had three weeks to prepare. It’s an independent film. It comes together or it disappears. You have to shoot it when you can shoot it. If you’re talking about trying to get all these actors into the same accent in three weeks—that’s tough. Also, you’re dealing with this convention of why do we accept that it’s believable to watch English spoken with a Russian accent as if that’s supposed to be Russian? If you want it to be true, you do it in Russian. To me, it’s no more believable to watch guys walking around with Russian accents speaking English than watching the actors act. It’s less distracting also. It was a way of saying everybody here is of the same world. There are no Americans in the film. These are Americans making the film. Therefore the world you’re watching is all one piece. Nobody has an accent in this world to another person.
Q: Your father’s side of the family is from the Ukraine. Did your dad speak Ukraine?
Duchovny: No. My dad spoke a little Yiddish. My grandfather, I’m sure, spoke Russian and Yiddish. My grandmother spoke Polish and Yiddish. My father was born here.
Q: Have you ever gone to Russia to discover your roots?
Duchovny: I haven’t, but I was thinking that this would be the best film to do that. We’re not doing a world tour to promote it, but it’ll definitely open in Russia. It’s not going to open now but it’ll open there in a few months. If it were not wintertime, I’d love to go.
Q: How did the shooting of this film work out with your schedule for the TV show?
Duchovny: My show is very forgiving because it only takes three months to shoot. It’s not like being on a network show or a show like “The X-Files,” which would take at least 10 months of every year, leaving me no time to do anything else. “Californication” is three months and I have my family, I have other work I can do which is great.
Q: There was no overlap with your show at all on this?
Duchovny: No. We shot this right after we shot last season. We would have finished in August and I think we started shooting in September.
Q: You’re in the final season of “Californication” now, right?
Duchovny: We always think that (it’s the last season). I don’t know. You don’t know with ratings on a cable show. The show airs so far down the line that you could get canceled and you’d go, “Oh no, we forgot to finish the show.”
Q: Would you like to see it go on for more seasons?
Duchovny: I don’t know. I love the crew. I love (the show’s creator) Tom Kapinos. I’ve had six years with these people. I love the cast. It’s not a huge hardship for me to take three months out of my year. I’m living in New York. I get to come out here and I love to come out here. A lot of it just kind of works for me in terms of a lifestyle, but that’s no reason to continue to do a show, I’m just saying that I’m fine.
Q: You have a few films read to come out, including “After the Fall,” with Hope Davis?
Duchovny: Yeah. That’s an independent film so that’ll have to go to the festival circuit to get distribution but Hope Davis is a terrific actor and so is Tim Hutton (who also stars in that film). I hope to be directing a film in the fall that I wrote.
Q: I heard you are writing and directing again. (He previously wrote and directed the 2004 comedy “House of D,” and has directed episodes of “Californication” and “The X-Files.)
Duchovny: I hope so. I did it once before. No one is clambering for me to do it again but I’m coming back. (He smiles.)
Q: Is it personal or is it based on a book?
Duchovny: Everything is kind of personal, but it’s an original story, a dramedy. I’m a dramedy guy to my soul.