Tuesday, April 5

The Bubble: David Duchovny Gets Deep About Working With Judd Apatow

The X-Files and Californication star reveals what it was like tackling the extremely meta Netflix comedy

For decades now, David Duchovny hasn’t been afraid to poke a little fun at his own image. The veteran TV star has peppered his career with roles in which he satirizes the nature of being “David Duchovny,” most recently seen in the first season of the Netlfix series The Chair, in which he satirized himself with aching attention to details like his recent literary and musical efforts.

But as he tells Consequence.net, taking on the role of “David Duchovny” was a very different experience from his role in The Bubble, the new Netflix comedy directed and co-written by Judd Apatow. The Bubble tracks a pandemic-era cast and crew assembling to film the latest installment of a fictional blockbuster franchise called Cliff Beasts 6, with Duchovny playing Dustin Mulray, one of the film’s stars, whose complicated relationship with ex-wife Lauren (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s real-life wife) is just one of the difficulties faced by the Cliff Beasts production team.

Duchovny wouldn’t say which actors, in particular, he was satirizing with his performance — aside from himself. Though as he explains below in this Zoom interview, transcribed and edited for clarity, playing Dustin was a different experience from his past experience in playing “David Duchovny,” which he did perhaps for the first time while guest-starring on The Larry Sanders Show, the groundbreaking HBO comedy which gave many, including a young Apatow, their start.

He also reveals some of his favorite moments of improv that were left on the cutting room floor, and what it was like learning the film’s many dance sequences. But things eventually get a little deeper than that.


To begin, talk to me about how you got involved with The Bubble?

We’ve been circling each other for years and I’ve always loved his stuff, and actually I did a movie called The TV Set, that was loosely based on Judd’s experience doing Freaks and Geeks. So I’ve played Judd, and he doesn’t hold that against me so much. He just called out of the blue and said he was doing this thing — he had this idea to do a movie during the pandemic about the conditions of doing a movie during the pandemic, and it sounded good. I wanted to be in his world.

In terms of that, did you know going in what role he wanted you for?

No, he said there were, like, five or six leads, and he didn’t really give me a choice of who I was going to play — he had the character that was going to be playing opposite his wife, and he trusted me.

Did you have a sense of him wanting you to play him again?

Oh, absolutely not. This was an actor who — and I think I’ve been like this myself — wants this type of mass entertainment you’re doing to have an effect, or mean something. My character in The Bubble wants it to be like Don’t Look Up. But he wants to do it like Jurassic Park. So that’s his struggle — yes, I’m getting paid all this money, yes, we’re making The Fast and the Furious 25 or whatever we’re doing, but we’re going to change the world with this. We’re gonna get through to people.

It’s a similar message from Don’t Look Up, he wants to get a message through about climate change and disrespect to the planet, and stuff like that. And I get it. But he’s a figure of fun in this case. He’s not Adam McKay in this case. He’s something else.

Aside from your own experience, were the other actors you were looking to as a potential model?

Oh, sure. But I would never say, because I would never want to give away those trade secrets. But I don’t have to look that far. I understand the struggle of “Can’t this mean something? Can’t it also have an effect in the real world that’s positive?”

How do you feel about the overall message? The Bubble seems like it’s in this really fascinating position of acknowledging that the idea that a movie can change the world may be a little silly, but at the same time, everyone involved did get together to make a movie to try to say something.

Yeah, if only we treated the Earth with the same respect we treated movie franchises, we’d be okay. I think that’s a good question, because Judd was very, very particular about Dustin not ever drawing a line between the pandemic and disrespect and destruction in the modern age. Because it isn’t Don’t Look Up. It isn’t that message. It is a piece of entertainment. So it’s really not that movie.

And I think it’s best that way, because that would weigh it down, you know? I keep on mentioning Don’t Look Up, because that’s an interesting phenomenon where you have a movie that wants to entertain and be funny from time to time, but also is weighted with this message. Whether or not you think it succeeded, that’s not what Judd was trying to make.

Do you feel like the movie would have been affected negatively if it had tried to pull that kind of messaging in?

I just think it’s the wrong place. I think it’s tonal. We’re making a spoof of Hollywood, of actors, of very privileged people trying to escape from their own multi-million dollar movie. So, to all of a sudden teach a moral lesson, I think would have been disingenuous at the point. It’s more about the morality of these particularly ridiculous people, and less about a bigger picture.

If only for the sake of the improv, how deep into Cliff Beasts mythology did you end up getting?

Well, you know, we’d just make up shit as we went along. I guess there were six Cliff Beasts movies, and there’s a documentary that’s being made that actually becomes the hit in the world of the movie. I guess I was always surprised – like, oh, there’s the one with the water. There’s the one that takes place here, that takes place there.

We didn’t really get into it, except to kind of handle the idea that some of the actors in the franchise had wanted to go to have their Oscar moment, or show that they could transform with an accent and shit like that. So I think not so much, except in the moment. And it would be utterly surprising when Judd would yell something out: “Remember this, or remember that?” “No, I’ve never heard of it before, but that sounds good.”

You did have a lot of dancing to learn – what was that experience like?

It was hard for me, because I’d never danced, and I kind of had this delusion that I’d be a good dancer, because I’m a pretty good athlete. So I thought, “Yeah, I could’ve been a good dancer.” And I was rudely awakened from that delusion. It was hard. It’s like learning a language, and as we all know, languages get harder to learn as you get older, past the age of, like, 12. It was tough for me.

But I embraced it. I loved going to dance rehearsal. I loved that stuff. I love learning new things for a role, or for life. I loved that aspect of it, but I was scared that I would be the one that fucked up on the day. It was that kind of pressure, like, “Are you going to shoot this all in one?” If it’s all a oner, it’s all shot as one-take, then you can’t screw it up. And I was afraid that we have eight, nine dancers here, and I’m gonna be the one who screws it up.

Were there things that you were really excited about that ended up getting cut from the final product?

Yeah — because we do improv so much, I think the first day and the first scene, I shot the kind of quarantine nonsense that individuals get up to because they’re bored and they’re in their hotel room alone, or whatever. And I sang Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page,” jumping around with a guitar, fairly badly, I would imagine. But I was kind of hoping that that would make it.

There were some improvs with Leslie that Judd was driving from behind the monitor that were pretty funny. I can’t remember any of them, but I know that we were laughing. And sometimes Judd would yell something out for me to say, and I didn’t really even understand it. There’s one in particular where Leslie says: “I only wanna talk about our son,” because we’re trying to not have a physical relationship. We’re divorced, but we have this kind of pull towards one another. And she says: “I will only talk to you about our son [Rafael].”

And Judd goes, “Rafael looks really sexy in that dress tonight.” And I was like… huh? And then I said it like that: “Rafael looks really sexy in that dress,” even though I didn’t understand it. I remember the moment was funny, because I was just like, “I’m gonna say it, but I have no idea what I’m saying.” Then I got the joke afterwards.

I feel like we’ve said the words “spoof” and “parody” a lot, which feels like a trend that goes through a lot of your career, going back to The Larry Sanders Show, even. What interests you about getting to play with your own image in so many ways?

I’m not really doing that in this, but I do understand the question, and I do agree that there’s something that’s been attractive to me from the very beginning. Sanders gave me the opportunity – it wasn’t like I had that idea, because Sanders was in the business of celebrities presenting themselves in a way that they would never want to present themselves in reality. It was pre-Internet. But it was the first kind of show that allowed celebrities to wink and say, “hey, we’re screwed up, we’re just people, we can make fun of ourselves,” whatever it was.

I don’t associate it with myself — if I’m playing a character named “David Duchovny,” I don’t think of it as me. Depending on how many times I’ve done it: I’ve done it on Larry Sanders, I’ve done it more times, I can’t remember. To me, that’s a character. I would never want to present myself in a way that is truly me — that’s very personal. Perhaps if you were doing a documentary on me, I’d try to be as honest as possible, but that’s not the way I see it. So I guess what I’m interested in is playing with that disconnect.

To take this really meta, do you feel like you’re playing a character with me right now in this interview?

Well, I mean we all act. I’m certainly not speaking to you like I would with my kids or my loved ones. I’m not as vulnerable or probably not as honest. I probably stay away from certain things. I’d say I’m editing. I give you an edited version of my complex self, I would suppose, as far as I can go with it. I try to answer the questions, or have a conversation that’s as true to what I believe without causing me heartache or problems down the road.

We all live in a very tender time. Everybody’s very tense. Everybody’s parsing words. Everybody’s looking very closely at exactly what comes out of a person’s mouth, and that doesn’t really lend itself to honesty at all.

I love the description of this being a “tender time,” because I don’t think I’ve heard it put that well. I think that really does capture it.

It’s like a wound is healing, you know?

For the record, I didn’t ask that question to imply that you feel like you’re not being authentic in this interview.

It’s not an insult to me. I don’t feel it that way. Many times when I’m asked questions in interviews, if they’re similar, I’d find myself giving different answers, just because I feel differently at a certain time. But I feel like for that question — I might stand by that answer for a while.

How would you say Dustin, the character you’re playing in The Bubble, differs from David Duchovny, the character you played on, say, The Chair?

Those are trade secrets. I don’t know. There’s a certain part of that I wouldn’t want to give away, just like I wouldn’t want to say, oh, I watched interviews with so-and-so actor because that guy kind of was doing the things that Dustin was doing. I don’t know. In The Chair, I don’t think they’re very similar at all. Dustin certainly takes himself very seriously. The guy in The Chair is kind of weirdly childlike, and he takes himself seriously, but he just wants awards and he wants to be a doctor and shit like that.

Dustin is doing everything politically correctly. He’s adopted a Latinx child. He’s done these ostentatious, Hollywood-type gestures. And yet, I feel like his connection to trying to make this piece of mass pulp entertainment meaningful in some way… that’s like me. I kind of respect that, even though he’s a joke.

The Bubble is streaming now on Netflix.

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