The Guardian – Interview with David Duchovny: ‘I’ve more self-doubt as an actor than as a writer”

The Guardian - Interview with David Duchovny: 'I've more self-doubt as an actor than as a writer"

David tells The Guardian more about his acting and writing career, as well as his upcoming projects.

By Rachel Cooke | Feb 22, 2015

David Duchovny is best known for his role as FBI agent Fox Mulder in The X-Files, and as dissolute writer Hank Moody in Californication. He has a BA in English literature from Princeton, where he wrote a dissertation on the early novels of Samuel Beckett, and an MA from Yale. He has now published a novel, Holy Cow, in which a cow called Elsie, a pig called Shalom and a turkey called Tom escape a farm in upstate New York in search of a better life.

How did you get the idea for Holy Cow?

I had an idle idea while driving one day that if I were a cow I’d probably do my best to get to India. I thought that was funny. But then I thought: what else could happen? If I were a pig, I’d try and get to a place where kosher laws were enforced and I wouldn’t be eaten. And… a turkey might think that Turkey would be safe. So then we’ve got our three… This sounded to me like it could be a kids’ movie, so I wrote up a treatment and pitched it as an animated film. But the story includes some Muslim-Jewish political discussion, some drug-taking, and the circumcision of a pig. They politely passed. So I shelved it until, a year and a half ago, I thought: why don’t I write it up as a novel?

It seems to come with a message about how we treat farm animals, and perhaps that we eat too much meat.

I’m not a polemicist. I’m not a proselytiser for vegetarianism or climate change. I don’t force my personal morality on others, and I don’t like books that try to. To me, it’s a work of entertainment first and foremost. A decent work of art raises more questions than it answers. If it answers questions, it becomes propaganda. The book really comes out of my earliest reading: I grew up on Aesop’s Fables… the first stories I ever heard involved talking animals.

Which is harder, writing or acting?

I can’t say that I enjoy writing; it’s difficult. I would say I enjoy having written. But I’ve way more self-doubt as an actor – I come from more of a writing background than a performing background. My sense of myself from an early age was as an observer, a thinker. I didn’t even see that many movies as a kid.

What about reviews? When you act, you’re part of a team; you can hide. But as a writer, your name’s the only one on the jacket.

I don’t read any reviews of anything I do. I haven’t for 10 years, and it has made life a lot better. So much criticism today is snarky and ad hominem. I’m of the school that says: judge the work, not who did it. It’s hard for actors; it’s their body and face they’re using. As a writer it should be easier, but I don’t think it is. I didn’t want to use a pseudonym: I want people to read the book, so why not use whatever celebrity I have to bring attention to it? But reading reviews is like finding your beloved’s journal: the only reason you’re going to open it is because you want to hurt yourself.

You abandoned your PhD at Yale… what was it about?

The title of the dissertation that never will be was: Magic and technology in contemporary fiction and poetry. The writers I was going to discuss were James Merrill,Norman Mailer, Ishmael Reed, Robertson Davies, Thomas Pynchon. I didn’t finish it because I’m a lazy piece of shit. I started acting, and once I left the halls of academia, it was hard to keep the focus on something so rarefied.

Did you regret giving it up?

I still have regrets; I’m a regretful person. Before I had any success as an actor, when I was receiving rejection after rejection, I thought: what the hell are you doing? You worked your ass off, you were at the best places, you were set up to have an interesting and nice life teaching and writing, and now you’re auditioning for a potato-chip commercial in your bathing suit.

Do you buy a lot of new books?

I order up to four every week. The last two I enjoyed were Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill, which I found to be devastatingly sad, and Outline by Rachel Cusk. She writes beautifully about things that are very difficult to write about.

Both those novels are about women who are getting older and feel invisible, a subject the movies don’t ever touch on. This isn’t a problem for men, is it? They just get (supposedly) more attractive, especially on screen, where their wives and girlfriends only get younger.

Well, that’s the cliche, and there is a standard that is kinder to men than to women. That’s unfair, though I don’t know how you legislate against it. But of course I worry about ageing. I don’t want to get old. I’d have a facelift if they ever worked… But it seems to me they don’t look good.

What’s coming up for you next?

I’m writing another novel, and I have an album coming out, Hell Or High Water. I also have a new show on NBC, Aquarius. It’s set in late-60s LA, and I play a homicide detective who’s watching the world change and isn’t so happy about it. An old flame of mine calls me and says that her daughter has run off with this guy, Charles Manson. This is before that name rings anybody’s bell. So I get caught up in the counterculture, a world I don’t understand, because I grew up in the 20s and 30s.

Why don’t you come to London and do a play by your beloved Beckett?

[Laughs] Well, Gillian [Anderson, his X-Files co-star] has done so well in London. But she’s a proper actress. She studied; I taught myself on the job. Doing theatre wouldn’t be a return to my roots — that would be going back to grad school. I do love London, though. If you came to me with a brilliant play, I imagine I’d try to do it.

There is still talk of a Mulder and Scully reunion. Aren’t you done with The X-Files?

If you’d asked me this question 10 years ago, I would have said: yes, I’ve had enough. But at this point, it’s almost like going out on a greatest hits tour. It would be a lark. And I think it’s going to happen pretty soon.

WBUR: ‘Holy Cow,’ It’s David Duchovny!

WBUR: ‘Holy Cow,’ It’s David Duchovny!

WBUR speaks with David Duchovny about what he’s been up to on their segment “On Point.”

by Tom Ashbrook | February 11, 2015

Actor David Duchovny has a wry way of seducing audiences that slides easily to the outrageous.  He was the transvestite DEA agent in “Twin Peaks.”  Intrepid agent Fox Mulder in The “X-Files.”  Over-the-top bad-boy novelist Hank Moody in “Californication.”  He’s coming out next month with a first record.  Think Wilco or R.E.M., he likes to say.  And he’s out right now with a first novel.  A whacky, half-serious fable about a cow, a pig and a turkey looking for a better life.  It’s called “Holy Cow.”  This hour On Point:  we’re talking with actor, now novelist, David Duchovny.

Check out WBUR’s website to listen to the full hour interview.

Today: David Duchovny has a ‘Holy Cow’ moment with new book: ‘I didn’t write it with a moral’

Today: David Duchovny has a 'Holy Cow' moment with new book: 'I didn't write it with a moral'

Today interviews David to ask him more about the story behind his first book, Holy Cow.

By Randee Dawn | February 10, 2015

Though he was the star of “Californication,” which ended last June after seven seasons, many fans still mostly think of David Duchovny from his days as Fox Mulder on “The X-Files.” Well, time to put both of those items further down on his resume: Duchovny is now a published author and the new star of the upcoming NBC drama “Aquarius.”

But don’t look to Duchovny to answer the big questions behind his book “Holy Cow,” which TODAY’s Willie Geist described on Tuesday as being about “a talking cow, a cranky pig and a suave turkey on the run.” For instance, what is the moral of the story?

“I didn’t write it with a moral,” admitted Duchovny. “I didn’t write it to teach anything; I wrote it as a piece of entertainment like any novel. … It’s way in the back of my mind. It’s so far in the back of my mind that I’m not thinking about it.”

Head over to Today’s article to watch the full interview.

NPR: From The Ivy League To ‘The X-Files’ David Duchovny’s Big Break

NPR: From The Ivy League To 'The X-Files' David Duchovny's Big Break

NPR looks back with David Duchovny of all varied and multiple creative successes he has had in his life.

By NPR All Things Considered | February 1, 2015

Here’s something you probably know about David Duchovny: He played one of the 1990s’ most iconic roles, FBI agent Fox Mulder in The X-Files.

Here’s something you probably don’t know about David Duchovny: Only six years before landing that role, he was a Ph.D. student studying literature at Yale University, planning to become a writer.

In fact, he’d originally planned to be a poet.

“It’s funny,” he says. “[As an undergraduate] at Princeton, Walter Kirn — who’s a terrific novelist — he was a year younger than me. And he was an actual poet. And I think when I read Walter’s stuff, I was like, ‘You know what? I’m not a poet.’ And that kinda woke me up.”

Then Duchovny thought he’d write fiction. But as a 20-something graduate student, he felt like he didn’t really have anything to write a novel about. He hadn’t really lived yet. So he turned to the theater, thinking he’d give one-act plays a shot.

But he struggled at that, too.

“I thought, ‘Well, if I’m gonna write things that are gonna be performed by actors, then it’s probably helpful for me to know something about what that’s like,’ ” he says. ” ‘What it’s like to say words might help me write words.’ “

He spent a summer in New York City, taking acting classes and auditioning for commercials — a friend had told him that a commercial would pay as much as a summer’s worth of bartending. Right at the end of summer, he landed a role in a Löwenbräu beer commercial, then headed back to New Haven to keep working on his Ph.D. He continued the acting classes, commuting between Yale and New York City twice a week.

“I would ride my bike to the train station,” he remembers, “I’d get on the Metro-North … and I’d take it to Grand Central. I’d ride over to Marcia Haufrecht’s class. Then I’d ride back to the station and be in New Haven later that night.”

He worked on acting on the other side of the country, too; short trips to Los Angeles turned into longer trips. After a year or two of fruitless auditions, Duchovny started to land a handful of small parts — a cop in the crime drama Ruby, a sleazy businessman in Beethoven (“the movie not about the composer, but about the dog,” he jokes).

Then came the three-episode arc on Twin Peaks, where Duchovny memorably played a trans woman named Denise Bryson.

(“Dennis?” says Agent Cooper, surprised at how different his old friend looks. Duchovny, wearing makeup and a wig, smiles. “It’s a long story, but actually I’d prefer Denise, if you don’t mind.”)

By 1992, he’d already starred in a feature film (The Rapture) and thought he was done with TV. But then his agent convinced him to audition for a pilot called The X-Files.

“I had no idea what it was gonna be, or what it was,” he says. “I knew that the pilot was good. But beyond that, I didn’t know.”

He got the part. Now, looking back at that first season can be a little painful for him.

“I hadn’t done a lot of acting,” he explains. “I’d done some classes. I’d done a few roles. My [total] time on set? Maybe two months, in my life. And then I had to do it every day for 12 to 14 hours a day, to act.

“And after about two or three years of having to do this thing, acting, every day … I started to actually get to the point where I could access the things that I thought I wanted to access from the very beginning.”

He says, of course, The X-Files is his big break.

“But not in the sense … that it was a huge success,” he says, “but in the way I had to go to work every day. To go from this idea of limitless potential that you have as a young person — ‘Oh, I can do anything! Just give me the chance!’ — and then realizing, well, maybe you can’t do anything.

“But then what do you do? What do you do after that happens? What do you do after you realize that? Do you give up? Or do you try and make your art out of your own limitations? I think that’s my biggest break.”

Twenty years later, he’s finally lived enough life to write a novel, he says. It’s called Holy Cow. And as for the doctorate —

“How did it end? The Ph.D.?” he says, laughing. “It never ended. My mother is still upset, but I never finished my Ph.D., no.”

LA Times: With ‘Holy Cow,’ David Duchovny is finally, officially a novelist

LA Times: With ‘Holy Cow,’ David Duchovny is finally, officially a novelist

LA Times interviews David Duchovny about his soon-to-be-released Holy Cow: A Modern Day Dairy Tale

By Carolyn Kelogg | January 30, 2015

For his first book, David Duchovny is not telling behind-the-scenes stories of “The X-Files” or opening up about the sex scenes in “Californication”: He’s written a caper about a cow that goes on the lam.

“Holy Cow” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 224 pp., $24) is a fable for adults, full of puns and silly jokes. A turkey is jive. A pig peppers his speech with Yiddish like a grandpa in the Catskills. In fact, the story is set in upstate New York, where the three animal heroes, led by Elsie Bovary, decide to escape their farm to fly to countries where they’ll be safe from being eaten.

Duchovny, who reads and signs “Holy Cow” at Barnes & Noble at the Grove on Feb. 18, spoke to us by phone from New York.

You interviewed Craig Ferguson onstage about his novel in 2006. Was writing a novel yourself on your mind back then?

It’s been on my mind forever. If you’d asked me when I was 20, “What are you?” I would say, “I’m a writer,” even though I had nothing to show for it. It’s always been my self-identification. My father was a writer; he published his first novel when he was 73, so I guess I’ve beaten him by a little bit.

You’ve written a loopy fairy tale. I wonder what inspired you to make that choice.

I wish I could tell you that I make choices in life, but I kind of fly by the seat of my pants. I had this idea a long time ago as an animated feature. That’s the business I find myself in, Hollywood, and I pitched it to a couple of places — they didn’t bite. And I didn’t think they would, because there’s some religion in it, some politics, there’s some discussion about whether or not keeping animals to eat them is a good thing or bad thing.

I wasn’t surprised when they didn’t want to make it, but I always had this idea — I thought, “If I was a cow, I’d try to get to India.” Last year, I woke up and I thought… “You’ve been saying you’re a writer your whole life, why don’t you … write something?” That’s how that all started.

In the book, Elsie engages with her editor, who’s giving her a hard time for being too political. Did you get that kind of feedback about the book?

Not at all. My editor was Jonathan Galassi at FSG, and he was nothing like that. The editor, in my mind, was the person I would have pitched the movie to, the powers that be that would tell me: “You can’t make an animated film about Muslims and Jews and not eating meat.”

It’s possible that they were right. [Laughing.] I’m saying they’re right. I’ve been saying they’re right from the beginning.

Read the full interview here