LOS ANGELES - David Duchovny is well aware that his starring role in the upcoming sci-fi comedy, EVOLUTION (2001), will hardly be regarded as a stretch.
Directed by Ivan Reitman, who previously brought us Ghostbusters (1984) and Kindergarten Cop (1991), EVOLUTION (2001) sees Duchovny play a scientist who finds himself in the desert underneath a giant canvas dome which is meant to hide an entrance leading to an underground cave where a mysterious extra-terrestrial creature is preparing to take over the world.
Well, you have to admit, it DOES sound a lot like X-Files territory. "I know, I know, making a movie about aliens is not exactly a quantum leap for me in terms of career choice," sighs Duchovny. "But I wanted to work with Ivan Reitman who has made some great comedies in the past, so I couldn't say not to his movie. It's just an unfortunate coincidence that it happens to centre around aliens. "
The plot unfolds with Duchovny, playing Ira Kane, a small-town college chemistry professor, being sent by the government to investigate a meteor which has crashed in the Arizona desert. Together with a college colleague (Orlando Jones), Duchovny analyses a rock fragment and discovers the existence of a mysterious organism that begins evolving at an astonishing rate.
Next, a government scientist (Julianne Moore - doesn't she remind us of Scully?) is dispatched to assistant Duchovny & Co. to monitor the growth of the creature. Things begin to go wrong when the alien develops so fast that it poses a threat to civilization itself.
Although the destruction of the world is always an ironic event, EVOLUTION (2001) is the major comedy offering in this season's summer blockbuster lineup.
Director Ivan Reitman is an acknowledged comic genius as a director, and he led the original script through twenty variations until a serious story about alien invaders turned into a classic comic vehicle.
"The original script written by Don Jakoby (Arachnophobia (1990)) was serious," says Reitman. "But I am always on the lookout for material that's just a little bit different, and this seems to have that. I thought that if I could combine it with comic characters doing things in a realistic way, there might be a very interesting movie from that. "
In Reitman's view, Duchovny's X-Files background combined with his inherent comic talents made him the perfect choice for the role of a batty yet brilliant chemistry professor. "I knew David from the movie Beethoven (1992) which I produced about ten years ago," the director recalls. "And I remember thinking even then, 'Wow, this guy is really good-looking. He's got this wonderfully wry and ironic sense of humour, he's smart as hell, and someone ought to do a comedy with him."
"And then he got this job on TV for seven years where he plays somebody smart but not usually funny. So most people don't realize that humour is a major part of his personality. I called him as soon as I got the script and started talking to him about it because I thought that his X-Files credentials on the one hand would be usful baggage but at the same time he would be playing a totally different character. "
I spoke to David Duchovny in Los Angeles recently where the 40-year-old actor maintains a home with wife Tea Leoni and their two-year-old daughter, Madeleine. Duchovny was looking exceptionally relaxed and in good spirits as he looks forward to a film career now that he has left The X-Files for good. He's definitely more bright-eyed and enthusiastic about things than I've ever seen him in the past, and he looks forward to life away from Mulder and towards building on his nascent family life.
EVOLUTION (2001) is the kind of comedy audiences might not expect to see you in?
That's good, because I think I have a talent for humour that you've rarely seen in any of my work. That's one of the reasons why I didn't mind jumping into a project about aliens again because my character is completely different from Mulder and this film is not meant to be taken seriously whereas X-Files is trying to suggest deeper meanings to life. I loved Ghostbusters (1984) and I think Evolution (2001) has a good chance of capturing that same brand of comic relief.
There are a lot of special effects in EVOLUTION (2001). Did your X-Files background help with that?
Yes. You learn to invent your own perceptions of what unimaginable horrors you're supposed to be witnessing. (Laughs) Acutally, Ivan (Reitman) gave us detailed artistic drawings of the kinds of creatures we face in EVOLUTION (2001). There are many different creatures that we come across during the course of the film, so the drawings helped us understand what our reactions should be like.
No, not really. Julianne was also in a similar place when it came to playing her character. Like me, she's not normally noted for humorous characters. She's done a lot of brilliant work over the years and I'm a great admirer of hers. We enjoyed working together and I swear to God I never once thought about Scully when I looked at Julianne even if she does have red hair and a pale complexion like Gillian!
What is the most difficult thing about playing in a comedy as opposed to serious drama?
Comedy is challenging because there's really only one criterion, and that's whether people laugh or not. In drama, people like it a little or they like it a lot. But you don't have to cry to like it. In comedy, if people aren't laughing, it's not successful, period, so you're really putting your ass on the line. .. .And in a film like this, you're treading this fine line between irony and farce and you've got to maintain the illusion of being seriously involved with the story even though you know the situations are meant to make people scream with laughter while you have to play everything for real.
Are you finally glad to be free of the daily grind of doing The X-Files?
Yes. Even though you suddenly have to think about what you're going to do during the day. You find yourself in this strange limbo where you're not quite sure what you're supposed to be doing. When I was doing The X-Files, I had somewhere to go every day for seven years. I've had a sheet of paper that tells me exactly where I'm supposed to be, who I'm supposed to be, and exactly how much time off I have before the next day's shoot. .. .There's been a huge process of adjustment, but at the same time I've had my daughter to look after and I've been able to spend much more time with Tea than I was ever able to before. So family duties have very wonderfully replaced my X-Files routine.
Is it psychologically strange for you not to be putting yourself in the head of Mulder after so many years chasing goop-monsters?
No, I'm glad I've said good-bye to Mulder. He has his problems, I have mine. At least now I truly don't have to give a damn about what Mulder is worried about, not that I ever really did. Mulder and I always had different reasons for being miserable. I think I've evolved a lot more positively than Mulder has during our years together. He's still bugged by a lot of things. (Laughs)
What about another X-Files movie?
It could happen. There's a lot of money out there that I'm willing to accept in exchange for doing a sequel. I'm not snobbish about the X-Files now that it's over. I don't thumb my nose at the series because I owe it and Chris Carter a great deal. It's been the most important event in my career, it's given me lifetime financial security, and it's enabled me to go on and work on other projects that I might never otherwise have had the chance to do. But I think I need a little more distance before I'll do another one. I'd like to do at least a few more films and play different kinds of characters before I remind audiences of who I used to be.
You've spoken of making the adjustment to family life. Has it surprised you in any ways?
What's surprised me is how much Tea and I enjoy being home together and taking care of Madeleine. It's a pleasure watching your child grow up and teaching her new things and seeing how she reacts to being with you. I've been pleasantly shocked by how much I enjoy the process of being a parent.
Do you miss the private time with your wife which having a baby daughter necessarily takes away from you?
At first when your baby is still very young you have to accept the fact that you're not going to be together and having quiet romantic dinners or looking forward to wild sex as much. Your life does change but you don't question it. Somtimes we miss it, but we don't dwell on it. As Madeleine has grown older, Tea and I have found ourselves spending more time together and not having to worry as much about looking after our daughter. Also, since I've don't have the demands of a series to worry about anymore, I have a lot more free time to spend with Tea anyway. I'm thrilled every day about being a father and participating in the process of having a family.
Several years back, you expressed scepticism in some interviews about family life given your parents' divorce. ..
My scepticism came from growing up in a fairly unhappy family environment. I was the kind of kid who would have loved to have experienced a happy home life where you didn't worry about how much your parents were arguing that particular week. So naturally that kind of thing leaves you with some fairly heavy emotional wreakage and negative feelings which are difficult to erase. When my parents divorced, it was hard for me to accept the fact that I didn't have a family anymore in the usual sense and I spent a lot of years worrying that love is a very transient and fragile thing. You learn to accept living in a world where you don't feel you belong and you don't feel that people care about each other or about you.
How do you compare your outlook on life today to what it was when you were in your teens and in your twenties?
It's hard to compare because your states of mind are so different yet there's also a wave of continuity that links your previous selves to your current self. Who I was when I was in university and then trying to make a living as an actor in L. A. are still very much part of me. The most important change lies in the way I'm able to relate to the outside world now and how I don't see as much darkness or let myself get bogged down by whatever darkness I do see out there.
Has it been comforting to see how happily you've adjusted to being a husband and father yourself?
Oh, immensely. I've experienced an enormous amount of relief by realizing how much I enjoy being with Tea and our daughter. If you have bad memories of your own childhood, you always worry about what kind of family life you're going to have yourself. So once you see that it can be a warm and wonderful thing, you sort of breathe a sigh of relief even though of course you know that there's still a long road ahead of you.
Did you ever discuss with Tea your fears of family life?
Thankfully, I've been able to have serious discussions with Tea about everything that bothers me about life. She's probably one of the most solid and sensible and self-confident people I've ever known, and I've benefited a lot by being around someone who doesn't have a lot of dark doubts. What's amazing about her is that she has a kind of iron will that prevents her from getting bogged down by problems. The difference between us is that she relishes in her healthy disdain of our absurd condition in life and I tend to internalize it. Being with her has taught me not to let frustrations and paranoia accumulate. Because of Tea, because of who she is and what she means to me, I feel a lot looser and less weighed down by life. What more could I ask for?