It takes motivation, patience and just sheer determination to try and get a TV pilot on air without compromising your artistic and creative vision. Just ask Mike (David Duchovny), who stars in THINKFilm’s new comedy The TV Set. The film follows him as he goes through the process of getting his pilot into a primetime spot and the challenges he endures along the way.
ComingSoon.net sat down with Duchovny to talk about his new role.
ComingSoon.net: So David Duchovny, why don’t you love me?
David Duchovny: Mostly because I don’t know you.
CS: I heard you had a great sense of humor about this on set.
Duchovny: Oh the song. They got a hold of that song and they were playing it a lot which doesn’t bother me. I think it’s a nice song. I enjoy the tune. I’ve already given instructions to my wife to play it at my funeral only as a slowed down acoustic.
CS: How much are you like Mike?
Duchovny: Not so much I don’t think. When I talked to [writer and director] Jake [Kasdan] at first about doing the role he said, “you know you should put on weight.” And I said, “yeah, no. You’re not paying.” I said, “I’ll grow a beard and I’ll wear a fat pad. I think a fat pad will be fine. I don’t have any nude scenes.” He’s based on Judd Apatow who is a writer and director you probably all know, but you didn’t know him then, but you know him now. Actually the first read through we had of “The TV Set,” he was there because I think he’s one of the producers and that was the night of the “40-Year-Old Virgin” premiere which made life different for him. So I’ve known Judd for a number of years through Garry Shandling. He said, “yeah you know, don’t tell anybody at the time. But it’s kinda of like based physically and a little temperamentally on Judd” so that gave me a real handle which is great because anytime you can base a character physically or temperamentally on something outside of yourself, it’s really you shouldn’t ever give it away like I just did, but it’s really helpful as an actor to get outside of yourself.
CS: Did Judd know the character was sort of based on him?
Duchovny: Oh yeah.
CS: Judy Greer was just telling us that her character was based on someone that Jake knew as well. Do you know if anyone else’s character is based on a real person?
Duchovny: I know Sigourney’s is based on somebody, but I can’t say the name because I want to work. But, it’s not on television, I’ll give you that hint.
CS: So you must know all the characters in this film?
Duchovny: No, aside from that. I’m sure there are examples from Jake’s life that are told for this movie, but not mine. I never had the experience of being a show runner on television. My experience is more like Fran Kranz where I’m just a silly little actor you know listening to music in my trailer while the big boys fight it out about what the show is. So, no I didn’t have any experiences as a show runner and I still don’t. I don’t want to either.
CS: When you were doing “X-Files,” did you have producers coming on set trying to change things up?
Duchovny: No, we were lucky enough to be on Fox at a time when Fox was truly almost like a cable network. They had “Married with Children” and they had “The Simpsons” and they weren’t like the fourth network that they are now. I don’t know where they’re at now. They’re like beating the other networks so they needed product more than anything. They couldn’t get the kind of ratings that the big networks got because they weren’t in as many households. We weren’t held to any kind of standard for ratings so we were really allowed to do our own thing. The fact that we shot in Vancouver, they couldn’t just come out of their offices and come down and hang out on set. They’d have to get on a plane and it was an ordeal to get there so we really were or Chris was left alone with his key producers. That was probably a good thing.
CS: Did you have to audition before the suits at some point?
Duchovny: For “The X-Files”?
Duchovny: Oh yeah.
CS: Was it anything like in the movie?
Duchovny: I probably wasn’t as good as Fran. There were a number of auditions. I had to audition for Chris and Randy Stone who was really instrumental in me doing the show. He just died about a month ago. So Randy was a great casting director and then I had to come back for the network. At Fox, the network room probably wasn’t much bigger than this. It wasn’t like an ABC stage. Sometimes it’s a big stage, but it was kinda weirdly intimate. I had this idea. They told me that Mulder was kinda irrelevant for an F.B.I. agent. So I wore this suit, but I wore this tie that had painted pigs on it. I just remember when Chris saw that tie he was like (makes an annoyed face). He was just selling the network on an F.B.I. guy basically and I came in with this stupid pig tie. I got the job anyway. I still have the pig tie. My kids love it.
CS: Was it almost maybe a deal breaker?
Duchovny: No, it’s not so much a deal breaker, but it’s the kind of thing that just gets you off on the wrong foot. From then on, you’re kinda playing catch up. It can be a deal breaker, but nobody ever said it was the pig tie. They would have just said, “he doesn’t feel F.B.I. to me.”
CS: So you really did wear a fat pad for your character?
Duchovny: Oh yeah.
CS: And what was that experience like?
Duchovny: It feels like you’ve got a really thick cumber bun on. It’s not bad. It’s a little sweaty. We shot during the summer and I was so vain, I had to make sure everybody knew I had a fat pad on.
CS: Given the fact that you came from a popular TV series and struggled a little bit to get break into movies, did you have any reservations about doing a film that’s about television?
Duchovny: No. See I don’t see it as a struggle. I just see it as a career. It’s a long career and you evolve into different things. There are different things that interest you as the years go by. I never see the difference between TV and film because to me it doesn’t exist in terms of my job. My acting is the same whether it’s on television or film, directing, writing, producing. It’s all pretty much the same. The only difference is the size of the screen and in terms of quality, I see very little difference. Maybe there is better TV now than there is films. I just take it as like a case by case thing. I don’t try to over think the strategy of every role.
CS: Are you writing or directing anything right now?
Duchovny: Yeah. At the moment, I’m just sitting here. I have a bunch of stuff that I’ve written. I’ve found that when I went to do “House of D” it kind of took me out of circulation for a couple of years. It was difficult to reestablish myself as an actor because it seems like cycles are so quick now. I didn’t want to pull myself out for another couple of years and I think I’m going to wait another year or two before I direct one of the scripts that I have written. It’s a big commitment. It’s an adult’s job to actually go in and direct a movie.
CS: Would you ever want to direct a TV show or produce one because your look at the end of the movie is classic?
Duchovny: Thank you for noticing because that was one of the most important parts for me in this film. In the script it’s written that the last shot is flop sweat is beginning to pour down his arms and half way through the shoot, I had a talk with Shandling because I was talking to him about the movie and I said, “this last shot is kind of bugging me because it’s flop sweat and this and that.” He said, “no, no that last shot is the hero shot. You’re not giving up.” I went to Jake and said, “I’ve been thinking about that last shot and I really don’t think I should be scared and sweaty. I think I should be ready for the next round of compromises and bulls**t.” When I saw Jake’s cut I was like, “wow that’s the longest close up I’ve ever had.” Everything we talked about… and this is a testament more to Jake’s directing than my acting is that at that point in the movie, you really know what that guy’s thinking. That’s really what a director has to do is let the audience know a person well enough so that he doesn’t have to speak. I feel like that look at the end just says everything. I’m really pleased with it.
CS: We got to see a lit bit of the hilariousness of raising kids in Hollywood. Have you had any similar experiences?
Duchovny: My kids are pretty young. They’re going to be eight and going to be five. My son and I play the “X-Files” pinball game machine. He’s never seen the show and he won’t until he’s a good deal older. Things happen in the machine where the Fluke Man tries to get me at some point and I always tell him that if he doesn’t hit the ball in a certain way, I’m going to die. He knows it’s a joke and he really likes. He doesn’t even really know exactly where he’s supposed to hit it so he’ll say, “are you dead.” And I’ll say no, “you saved me.” So I guess it’s Hollywood to have your own pinball machine. And it’s my own voice coming out of it. He goes, “that’s you.” [imitating the pinball machine] “Success in our mission is imperative.” I’ve had the machine a long time and I’ve brought it out of storage recently because I thought my kids are old enough to play it.
CS: Can you talk a little about working with Sigourney?
Duchovny: She’s great. Sigourney had that kind of steeliness in this role that was really fun and easy for me to play off of as the guy I was, because throughout the film it was always like, just like, are you serious? We can continue to have this conservation, but I don’t know if you’re joking or not. It was like that. She also had this kind of optimism that was crazy and great. She wasn’t like a nasty piece of work. She was nasty, but she was kind of nice. You couldn’t really hate her. She was very pleasant when she was telling you to f**k off. It’s a great role that way. I just love that shot of her when that kid who gets hired is auditioning and he’s awful. They cut to her (he imitates her look). She was captivated by him. It’s a great face.
CS: Were there any great improv scenes?
Duchovny: There’s not a lot of improv that exists in the movie. I think the Jewish line. Did we talk about that in here? The Jewish lined was improved. I’m so f**king fat. That was improved. I say why am I so f**king fat. That was such a funny question. Why? Why am I so f**king fat. That tickled me always. Judy and I had a little riff on “Taxi Driver,” but they didn’t leave that in. We tried to recreate it just moments ago and it wasn’t funny. So it might be best, but we were kind of loose enough to improvise within scenes which is the way Jake works. We also shot this on HD which means that you can run the video for an hour. You don’t have to cut. You don’t have to change mags which as an actor it’s really kind of cool to not feel the pressure of oh we’re burning film. So it’s just like stay in there and don’t cut. It’s hard for an editor to try to find s**t. I’m sure we had some improved lines here and there, but there was no like big improv riffs and the script was pretty much shot as is.
CS: How long did it take to grow the beard?
Duchovny: A while. It’s a good beard. I was happy with it.
CS: Did your wife like it?
Duchovny: No, she didn’t like that. The kids too. I’m not beyond cheating on that kind of look and stuff. It’s amazing how that kind of stuff actually helps just in terms of getting away from yourself.
CS: Did you treat you differently like, “oh are you out of work?”
Duchovny: I don’t know. I got some sympathetic looks. I didn’t know it was the out of look work. “Yeah he’s really gone to hell.”
The TV Set opens in Los Angeles and New York on April 6.