'X-Files' actor is a (super)natural

By Eirik Knutzen
Copley News Service

If they had tried to, the producers of "The X-Files" couldn't have done a better job of typecasting than when they hired David Duchovny to portray FBI Special Agent Fox "Spooky" Mulder--a man possessed when it comes to tracking ancient genetic mutants and 200,000-year-old parasites from another galaxy.

The highly educated Ivy Leaguer, who holds degrees in English literature from Princeton and Yale (where he is also a dissertation away from a PhD), has an open mind when it comes to paranormal phenomena. He's intellectually receptive to certain "weird stuff," due to a few personal experiences for which he is still seeking explanations.

"I certainly have experienced the paranormal--I was in love once," says Duchovny, 34, a man of dry humor.

"Actually, I saw something in the sky during the spring of 1982," he says. "A student at Princeton at the time, I was running along the beach in Ocean City, N.J., on a bright and sunny morning when I looked up and saw what I thought was a ship or plane, about 100 yards directly above me. It made no noise; I didn't hear a thing.

"Thinking it was an odd-looking plane, I took a couple of steps before looking up again. It was gone. Looking back, it seemed triangular in shape, somewhat similar to today's stealth bomber."

Duchovny, "in a way," also believes in ghosts.

"My (Scottish) grandmother said that when she was a little girl, she saw her grandfather--who had drowned a couple of years before--come into the house and go up to the crib where her younger brother was sleeping. The 'ghost' kind of looked in, nodded and walked out. I believed it happened to my grandmother, and I have definitely felt the presence of loved ones, though I have never seen anyone."

Duchovny approaches his character and life in general with a handfull of salt.

"Special Agent Mulder gave up a thriving career in the FBI's violent-crime section and disgraced himself in the eyes of peers when he went after the paranormal cases no one admits to," he says. "And, because nobody trusts or believes in him, he has become hard and sarcastic. I guess that happens to people who get buried in office basements while higher-ups try to take their budgets away. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is a medical doctor charged with observing this nut case and debunk some of his outrageous theories."

During a recent visit to the FBI's headquarters in Washington, Duchovny and his co-star had a close look at the organization's high-tech approach to crime, but received no hint that anything resembling "The X-Files" actually exists.

"I have no proof of it, but I assume that (the FBI) possesses classified documents dealing with such things as alien life forms," he says with a shrug. "I don't know if we've been contacted or the aliens have landed, but it would seem rather odd to me if this planet is the only one in the universe with life on it."

Long before chasing UFO and telepathic pyromaniacs on locations in and around Vancouver, British Columbia, Duchovny was a jock-scholar in various parts of New York City. His mother, Margaret, is a Scottish-born grade-school teacher, his father, Amram (Ron) Ducovny, of Russian-Jewish extraction, went from public relations to being "a writer of sorts" and saw his play, "The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald," performed on Broadway in 1967.

When his parents divorced, David was raised along with two siblings, Daniel and Laurie, by his mother.

"My father took the 'h' out of our last name because he was tired of having it mispronounced," Duchovny says matter-of-factly. "But when my parents divorced, my mother put the 'h' back in, as a show of solidarity with how a family member spelled the name. I spell it with the 'h'; my brother doesn't use the 'h.' My sister goes back and forth, depending on her mood.

"Regardless, I think it's a beautiful name that I'm told means 'Spiritual' in Russian. I don't care how people spell the name as long as they get the meaning."

Smart and athletic, Duchovny earned an academic scholarship to an elite Manhattan prep school and parlayed his physical skills at Princeton into one year as a basketball guard and two seasons in center field on the baseball team. While Duchovny was at Yale as a teaching assistant outlining his Ph.D. dissertation in 1985, a friend suggested trying a few acting classes.

"It made sense, because I was 26 years old and didn't feel like spending the rest of my life teaching," he says. "I liked teaching, but it seemed like being coddled in an unreal world."

Duchovny found a teacher affiliated with the New York Actors Studio and discovered he was able "to have an emotional life really for the first time. It was great. I could scream, yell and cry on stage without consequences. I could have a full life; nobody would arrest or leave me for (behaving) like that."

Two years later, while still teaching at Yale, he made $9,000 for appearing in a TV commercial for Lowenbrau beer. It was twice as much money as he made as a teaching assistant.

When cast in the feature "New Year's Day" in 1987 (but released in 1989), Duchovny left Yale in a flash, only to spend the next 1-1/2 years in Hollywood virtually unemployed and "leeching off people pretty much."

He lived with his girlfriend, actress Perrey Reeves, who paid the rent. He kicked in with earnings for occasional commericals, writing a couple of magazine articles and making himself useful with a catering company.

Duchovny eventually picked up speed with feature film parts in "Chaplin," "Beethoven," "The Rapture," "Julia Has Two Lovers" and last year's quirky "Kalifornia."

The handsome actor has a serious bent for the offbeat, as he continues to act as the enigmatic host of Zalman King's "Red Shoe Diaries," the half-hour weekly series (tomorrow night at 10) on the Showtime channel that "focuses on the secret desires of women."

But his strangest character to date is undoubtedly Dennis/Denise Bryson, the "Twin Peaks" (1990-91) transvestite FBI agent.

"I was chosen for 'The X-Files' because of previous experience playing an FBI agent--although it's the first time I'm doing it in a suit," he says. "Fortunately, I don't have to use J. Edgar Hoover as a role model this time around."

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