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COVER STORY

A Man and His 'X'

Setting up for a fifth season of 'X-Files,' David Duchovny is tired and proud at the same time: 'I get worried that it's never going to end.'

October 26, 1997|Carla Hall | Carla Hall is a Times staff writer

When David Duchovny started dating Tea Leoni, the sitcom star and rising movie actress, she told him she had never watched "The X-Files."

In fact, she told him, she thought the television show that had made her date (eventuallyher husband) a global star, an object of Internet sexual obsession, a multimillionaire and a ceaselessly written-about magazine cover boy, was just a stupid science-fiction show.

He agreed.

"I said, 'I don't know how to explain it. It's a really stupid science-fiction show, but it's good.' I said, 'You just have to watch it, because if I explain it, it's going to sound like what it is--a lame, dumb-ass show. But you watch it and somehow it's good.' "

He delivers this with his usual deadpan aplomb, the one quality that Duchovny most shares with his small-screen alter ego, Fox Mulder. He gave Leoni a few of the best tapes ("Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" among others), she fell in love with the show--and him--and now he's sitting in his roomy trailer on the 20th Century Fox lot, his upholstered recliner within view of a couple of snapshots of Leoni lovingly tacked to cabinet doors. They've been married five months.

"They said it wouldn't last, you know," he says with a sigh.

Ditto for the show that went from being a tentative add-on to the Fox network schedule five years ago to a blockbuster series that fuels millions of insatiable fans and has already spawned a much-talked-about movie, shot this summer under a cloak of secrecy and slated for release next summer.

All those contradictions about the show that Duchovny tried to explain to his wife reverberate even more so as he stands at a crossroads in his life and career--or at least at the curb of it.

For four seasons, Duchovny has made eccentric FBI agent Mulder, who investigates unexplained cases related to paranormal phenomena (the so-called X-Files) and believes his sister was abducted by aliens, into one of television's smartest and most watchable characters--as opposed to the nut case the character could have been.

But as he wrapped up work on the "The X-Files" movie and prepared to head up to Vancouver in Canada for a fifth season of the television show, Duchovny was tired of Mulder and proud of him at the same time.

The actor worries less about the movie roles he will be offered after "The X-Files" and more about when after will begin. "I get worried that it's never going to end," he says ruefully.

If he could, he would have the show end after this fifth season, but the chances of that happening are practically nonexistent, so he's asking that the show be moved from its Canadian locale to Los Angeles.

"I'm married," he says. "My wife lives in L.A. I have to go work in Vancouver. That's a great hardship."

Whether he's really delivering an ultimatum--move the show or I won't be back--seems up to interpretation. His agent indicates that it's not a threat. "David will do the show," says Risa Shapiro. "He loves doing the show."

In the space of one interview, Duchovny zealously defends each season's body of work ("You're talking about 24 hours of television, 15 of which can stand up to any movie that comes out over the year") and laughingly skewers the sometime-windiness of scripts packed with scientific and FBI jargon.

"It's like, who's writing this? Do you ever, like, stand up in the middle of the room down there in L.A. and try to read it out loud?" He chuckles. "Off a page? Forget about memorizing it and making it, like, talk. Just try and read it."

(This, by the way, is nothing the producers haven't heard directly from him.)

The unconsummated on-screen chemistry between Duchovny as Mulder and co-star Gillian Anderson as his partner, FBI agent Dana Scully, is palpable. But in real life, Duchovny and Anderson have a relationship as much a conundrum to outsiders as any X-File.

"We have a relationship that is completely odd and fabricated," Duchovny says. "We've been thrown together, two people who don't know each other, and we've been forced to spend more time together than married people do. So you can't describe our relationship as 'like' or 'dislike.' "

Sounds a little frosty.

"It is frosty," Gillian Anderson agrees when she is read Duchovny's description of their relationship. "But it's accurate." She laughs. "It's not that we don't like each other. It's complicated."

Duchovny says he was annoyed that Anderson chose to make an issue of the fact that her salary was half his when she complained publicly at least half a year ago that she deserved a salary increase.

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