- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

LONDON

Near the beginning of David Duchovny's latest movie, he uses a hair dryer on his trousers just before an important ceremony. His wife, played by Joely Richardson, looks on in an "isn't my husband adorable?" reverie and the dog huffs and puffs on the floor between them.

For those whose knowledge of Mr. Duchovny derives solely from his role as FBI agent Fox Mulder in "The X-Files," a man to whom the concepts of romance and comedy are the most alien he'll ever encounter, it is an uncomfortable moment. The very act of smiling seems undignified on the lips of an actor whose emotional range has come to be characterized by various shades of the unamused.

Once over the initial shock, however, "Return to Me" is a surprisingly likable film. For Mr. Duchovny, it is a chance to prove that he has more expressions in his repertoire than skepticism, although he insists that's not why he did it.

"I know I'm funny, I don't have to go out and prove it. I don't understand why I would have to prove that I'm funny. I do what I do and I'll do what's interesting to me. But the idea of proving anything to anyone is just weird to me."

This is delivered deadpan, like a well-buried joke, although he doesn't appear to be joking. While unfailingly courteous, his professional manner has the unfortunate effect of hanging somewhere between arrogance and conceit.

When we return to the subject of him not having to prove himself, he mutters an expletive, as if it were a line that he finds wearying.

Mr. Duchovny, 40, was born in New York City to a Scottish working-class mother and a father whose family originally came from Russia.

"My mother was definitely an outsider and not shy about speaking about that. I felt like a New Yorker, but I knew there was another way of life," he says.

When Mr. Duchovny won a scholarship to a prestigious prep school, he didn't establish himself as the loud kid or the showoff. He had skill on the sports field and, up until the end of high school, his ambition was to become a professional athlete. But he was happier in the role of observer, something he worries that success is denying him.

"As an actor and as a writer, I like to watch. But people become watchful when they come into contact with somebody famous. They don't act like themselves anymore. It's sad. I can't complain about it, but I kind of miss … it is what it is."

His watchfulness did not translate into infatuation or groupie-dom or any of the props of teen-age identity crisis. The portrait Mr. Duchovny paints of his teen-age self is of a boy as measured in his emotions as he is now, self-possessed and straightforward.

"I kind of dreamed about being a famous athlete; not wanting to be famous but wanting to be good enough so that everybody knew who I was. But it wasn't fame for fame's sake. I didn't know what fame was, really. I didn't know anyone famous; I didn't know any actors when I was growing up; I didn't understand what acting was.

"When I watched television, I didn't think, 'I wonder what they do when they go home.' I didn't want to read about them. I just watched TV. I never dreamed of shaking anyone's hand. Even with sports heroes, I liked watching them, I loved them from afar, but I didn't want to get to know them."

When "The X-Files" became popular, its creator, Chris Carter, wanted to be photographed alongside the stars. Duchovny advised against it.

"I just said, you're so lucky, you're making money and you're creatively challenged, and you're doing what you want to do. Don't let go of your anonymity. People think that it's fun, but then there are repercussions."

SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE

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