Friday, October 27

David Duchovny: ‘Telling my kids we were getting divorced was the worst moment of my life’

David Duchovny for The Telegraph: ‘Telling my kids we were getting divorced was the worst moment of my life’

The actor and musician on days out with his children, meeting Garry Shandling, and how he nearly missed out on the X-Files.

Born in New York City in 1960, David Duchovny graduated from Princeton with an AB in English Literature before earning a Master of Arts in the same subject from Yale. Following a small role in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks he won the starring role of Fox Mulder in 1993 on the global smash hit UFO series The X-Files opposite Gillian Anderson. From 2007 to 2014 – a period which coincided with treatment for sex addiction – he played troubled womaniser Hank Moody in Californication. He’s also written five novels and released three music albums. He has two children, 24-year-old actress West and 21-year-old son Kyd with his ex-wife Téa Leoni.

Best childhood memory?
I think it’s probably just being in the park playing football or baseball with my dad, in New York City, 21st Street and Second Avenue where I grew up. It conjures up memories of being with my dad and enjoying the sort of simple communication that you can have through a game. I did the same sort of thing with my own son, who was good at playing baseball for a while.

Best day of your life?
There’s no one specific day but in my mind’s eye I can see a beach and my kids. I don’t know if it’s a particular day I’m thinking of; it’s just one of those summer days. It could be on holiday, or it could be in the States; it’s really just that feeling of no structure, summertime and no school for the kids; being in the water and feeling the waves and having to protect them a little and teach them about the water.

Best moment on a TV set?
About two or three years after I started on The X-Files, I did the Larry Sanders Show with my friend Garry Shandling although he wasn’t my friend at the time. He didn’t know me, but I loved his show. The producers told me, “Oh, Gary loves you.” Then I got there and it was clear that he didn’t have any idea who I was, which was fine. We did this scene – half written, half improvised, maybe – and Gary said, “How old are you?” I said, “32” and he said, “What took you so long?” and that felt like a blessing as to me he was the king of a certain kind of comedic performance.

Best Hollywood party?
I didn’t really go to many, especially at the peak of the X-Files years. For five years the show was shot in Vancouver and in many ways, it was a blessing to be out of that world, but I had some interesting, if nerve-racking moments at awards ceremonies. I remember going to the Golden Globes and being sat on the same table as a really good friend of mine, director Bart Freundlich and his wife Julianne Moore. My ex-wife Téa was sitting there, and Téa went to the bathroom, and she came back and said, “Did I miss anything?” I said, “Yeh, they announced my award. I won and you missed the whole thing.” Which was not true at all. I only kept her in the dark for a couple of seconds as it became rapidly apparent that I had no statue.

Best moment of self-realisation?
In many ways we remain children no matter how old we get and in many ways a lot of my reactions were based on childhood stuff; not necessarily something that I am ever going to change, but something to be aware of and keep an eye on. It’s the fine line between realising that a lot of your personality was constructed a long time ago, before you were really smart about these things, or knew about these things. And that that’s the same for everybody – but that’s not an excuse to continue reacting like a child. So, for me, life is this balancing act between honouring that kid and also not letting him drive the bus.

Best personal characteristic?
Perseverance. There have been many occasions when I’ve felt like giving up on everything, but I didn’t. I don’t give up. I guess I gave up trying to be a professional athlete at some point. I loved baseball and basketball and before getting to college I still had secret dreams of going pro.

Best decision?
This is going to sound negative towards education, but to leave graduate school and try to find out what else I wanted to do aside from being an academic. Not to denigrate academics but, for me, that was a hard and good decision although a scary one. I was a dissertation away from my PhD. I had done four years as an undergraduate, nearly four years of graduate work. Eight years towards a certain life; a good third of my life pointing towards a certain goal and then saying, “You know what, I’m gonna go do this thing, where none of that matters.” At the time it felt a little like I was throwing it all away. But in the end I think I’ve honoured those academic years and they also fed me.

Worst childhood memory?
My parents’ divorce. I was 12, which wasn’t a good age – but it’s never a good age. It’s hard to say exactly what the impact was on me, but it was profound. And I think having gone through it, as a parent as well, it’s taught me what I might not have been able to process at the time: it really pulls the rug out of a kid’s life. You can sugar-coat it all you want but it’s a traumatic experience. It’s not the end of anything and it’s not like you can’t recover from it but you do have to acknowledge that the world turned upside down. It’s hard to say how my life would have turned out had it not happened but I think I’m thankful for being hurt. I’m thankful for the wound because that’s what makes you human and makes you an artist. If you can survive it and remain empathetic it makes you aware of other people’s hurt. And without that, I don’t think I’d have anything.

Worst moment of your life?
Telling my kids about getting divorced. I still can’t think about it without feeling terrible. It’s actually a memory that I push out if it comes up. I don’t want to think about it. It happened nearly 10 years ago now, so the wound has healed a little but it’s not my wound; it’s theirs. And that’s why I push it away. I’ll never know it.

Worst moment on a TV or film set?
I wouldn’t want to name the project because I wouldn’t want to hurt the people involved. Probably my feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time was more about me than it was about the project or them. But, yeah, and that’s just a terrible, terrible feeling. I’ve certainly had periods of self-doubt and I very nearly got fired on an early job. They gave me dailies to take home to see how bad I was. I wasn’t great but I think I was just young and green. I just needed some more gentle direction.

Worst moment of self-realisation?
I guess I have two self-conceptions. One is that I’m really talented and can do a lot of stuff easily. The other is that I’m not very talented at all and I have to work, work, work hard to do anything. And I believe I’m both of those things. It’s a fight when I’m not working. When I’m working, and I have something to work on; to put my perseverance and hard work into, then I’m healthy and I’m good. When I’m not working, I can be a little on edge. And I know this sounds like a humble brag, but it’s my reality. Obviously, I do a lot of stuff, but I feel lazy. I always feel like I’m not doing enough or working hard enough. Whether it’s in work or life, I always feel like I want to go and rest, to switch off and tune out. I also want to give up half the time, which is why that tendency in myself of perseverance is my greatest trait.
Worst thing anyone has ever said about you?
It would have to be something that I thought was untrue – and there have certainly been plenty of untrue stories written about me. But then, I’m willing to entertain anything. Whatever you say to me, I’ll entertain it for a minute, and I feel like that’s a strong point for me. It’s a painful thing to be that open but whatever is said I’ll consider the source then come up with my own opinion.

Worst decision?
I think even some of my worst decisions have been beneficial. When I took the X-Files job I’d also accepted a small part on a TV movie, and I had to let the director of that project down because the dates of the two projects conflicted. I told my agents and obviously they said, ‘Take the X-Files’, which meant breaking my word, which I wasn’t comfortable with. But, clearly, ultimately my agents’ decision was absolutely correct. If it had been left to me, I would have made the wrong decision.


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