Writer/director/actor David Duchovny
David Duchovny writes, directs and stars in House of D. Credit: Lions Gate Films

We first noticed David Duchovny’s sardonic tone, quick wit and immense talent back in 1993 with a then little-known sci-fi show called The X Files. The role brought Duchovny to the forefront of critical acclaim, supported by a slew of acting roles in such films as Michael Tolkin’s The Rapture, Henry Jaglom’s Venice/Venice, Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin, Bonnie Hunt’s Return to Me and Steven Soderbergh’s Full Frontal.

This month, Duchovny puts his extensive resume to work with House of D, his debut film as a writer-director. The coming of age flick is set in New York City during the 1970s, as Duchovny’s character takes a look back at his childhood. The cast includes Robin Williams, Erykah Badu and Téa Leoni.

Duchovny recently chatted with MM about adding “moviemaker” to his repertoire, and those who inspired him along the way.

Michelle Devereaux (MM): You’re known for your bone-dry sense of humor. Why the decision to write and direct a poignant, coming-of-age drama like House of D as your debut feature?

David Duchovny (DD): An appetite for self-destruction.

MM: How long did it take you to put the entire project together—from the story’s initial conception to final edit?

DD: It took about six months from writing to standing on the set watching my wife eat a donut.

MM: How did having a name for yourself already help you in making this film, if at all?

DD: My name helped, but not as much as Robin Williams’ name.

MM: How important was it for you to use real New York locations?

House of D

DD: The story was a New York story, not a “big city” story, and therefore not a Toronto story. This caused some budget demands as New York City is expensive, but the city was a character and couldn’t have a Canadian accent—no false moves at all.

MM: Was it difficult to shoot a period piece in New York City?

DD: The trick was getting the right clothes, blocking modernity with a handful of cars and, when necessary, keeping the camera at ankle height.

MM: You’ve worked with the likes of Soderbergh and Attenborough. What techniques have you stolen from other moviemakers that you were able to pass off as your own on the set?

DD: I steal unconsciously. I learned a certain looseness with the actors from Bonnie Hunt. Technically, I’d say Rob Bowman and Chris Carter have taught me more about filmmaking than anyone else.

MM: What about Zalman King? You must know how to light a sex scene beautifully.

DD: Zalman actually taught me a lot about acting, about stillness and confidence. He’s a good man and a good friend and a talented dude.

MM: Not only did you direct yourself and your wife your first time out, you also had eternal nutbar Robin Williams to contend with. How did you control him?

DD: By answering this question, I am not agreeing with the characterization “eternal nutbar.” Robin loves to act. He’s got more power in his hands than all of us in our everything. He’s a force, a machine, and he loves to do it. Any director would be lucky to have someone who loves to do it like Robin.

MM: Who have been your greatest influences, as an actor and director?

DD: Woody Allen. Coppola. Bertolucci. Soderbergh. As for directing, I’m not so sure. Also, I’m beginning to get into Bob Hope as an actor.

MM: One of the best—not to mention weirdest—movies you’ve ever done is Michael Tolkin’s The Rapture. Any chance you might go the metaphysical thriller route on a future directorial project, or are you more comfortable with material like D? What about, dare we say, sci-fi?

DD: I’m comfortable with anything I think might be good. As for my own ideas: I like them about half the time and an idea announces itself early on and you just have to service it—and you know what I mean by “service.”

MM: What’s up next for you—directing or acting-wise?

DD: I just acted in Trust The Man, directed by Bart Freundlich. I am about to act in The Secret, directed by Vincent Perez. I’m also raising money to direct and act in a script I wrote called Bucky F@#king Dent.