DATE April 20, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: David Reynolds talks about his new book, "John Brown,
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.
Americans have thought a lot about terrorism in the last few years and my
guest, David Reynolds, believes we can learn a few things by examining the
life of a famous 19th century terrorist, abolitionist John Brown. Brown is
mostly remember for his 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry for which he was hanged.
But three years before that, Brown led a raid in Kansas in which his followers
slaughtered five unarmed settlers as part of his crusade to rid the nation of
slavery. He was a well-known figure among Eastern intellectuals of his day,
some of whom helped finance his plans for guerrilla war in the South to free
Reynolds sees Brown as a fanatic in pursuit of a just cause and believes his
extremism sharpened the issue of slavery for Americans and hastened the
outbreak of the Civil War. David Reynolds is a professor of English and
American studies at The Graduate Center and Baruch College of the City
University of New York. His book is called "John Brown, Abolitionist: The
Man who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights"
Brown became an anti-slavery activist late in his life. Before that, he was a
tanner by trade who had a series of failed business ventures. He fathered 20
children in two marriages and was deeply religious. Reynolds says John
Brown's views on racial equality differ from those of other abolitionists.
Professor DAVID REYNOLDS (Author, "John Brown, Abolitionist"): There were
many very, very noble abolitionists of his period who hated slavery, who
devoted their lives to ending slavery. However, virtually all of them
unfortunately retained the racist views of their era. It was an era in which
blacks were considered to be innately inferior to whites. And it was
surprising and a little bit sad that even Abraham Lincoln believed that blacks
and whites could never live together in America and, therefore, Lincoln was a
colonizationist who believed that once emancipated, blacks should be shipped
out of America and Thomas Jefferson was the same way. And so many of the
abolitionists shared this racism at the same time that they loathed slavery.
John Brown was very different. His parents integrated blacks into their
household. They took in fugitive slaves. John Brown became very active on
the underground railroad and not only that but he chose to live in North Alba,
New York, which was a community of African Americans in upstate New York, not
only fraternized with them and helped them with their farming but would quite
often shock white visitors by inviting them to his table and treating them on
exactly the same terms as anybody else.
DAVIES: John Brown is most remembered for the raid on Harpers Ferry, which
ended his life, but there was this remarkable event in Kansas in 1856 known as
the Pottawatomie massacre in which Brown essentially led in the slaughter of
five unarmed settlers. Let's talk about this. What were the conditions in
Kansas at the time? John Brown was living there with three sons, right?
Prof. REYNOLDS: Yes. He was there fighting slavery. What was happening was
that Kansas was in a state of transition. The question was: Was it going to
become a slave state or was it going to become a free state? And what was
happening is that it was holding state elections, but they were being largely
determined by pro-slavery people from nearby Missouri who would come over in
drunken hordes, armed with bowie knives and terrorize the polling booths, take
of the polling booths and elect pro-slavery legislators in Kansas and it was a
horribly corrupt situation. And John Brown and a few other abolitionists went
out there to fight this. And eventually Kansas became a free state, but there
was a period of transition when there was quite a lot of violence in Kansas.
DAVIES: All right. We're not just talking about election tampering, there
were murders here--Right?--a lot of them.
Prof. REYNOLDS: Yeah, there were murders and some people who point at John
Brown say, `Oh, he was a horrible murderer.' It was true that he dragged five
pro-slavery citizens at midnight out of their beds and murdered them with
swords. It was a horrible situation. However, that act is very rarely placed
in context. We have to realize that between 1855 and 1858 three-quarters of
the deaths were anti-slavery citizens, were people that opposed slavery. They
were killed by pro-slavery people. And among those deaths, 28 were murders.
So in other words, there were 28 anti-slavery people murdered and only eight
pro-slavery people, five of whom John Brown murdered. So it's possible to say
that to defend John Brown not only on those terms but also in the sense that
he viewed slavery itself as a state of war. Slavery for him was a state of
war against African Americans. That was his view of slavery.
DAVIES: So John Brown decides that action will be taken and vengeance will be
inflicted upon the pro-slavery criminals in Kansas.
Prof. REYNOLDS: Yes. Yes.
DAVIES: Tell us about the raid. What did he do exactly?
Prof. REYNOLDS: What happened was that there was something called the
so-called Law and Order Party which was a pro-slavery party in Kansas, and
there were five members of this party that a couple of them had bragged,
`Well, pretty soon we're going to wipe out all the abolitionists in Kansas.
We're going to strew Kansas with their corpses.' And this got to John Brown,
and among the other triggers, this is another thing that made him take the
action that he did. He gathered eight people, including a couple of his own
sons, and at midnight--he had some broad swords--he went to the cabins of
these five people--actually, it was a father and two sons in one cabin. That
was the Doyle family, and then he went on to another cabin and took out a
couple of other men and murdered them--took them outside...
DAVIES: And in some cases with wives weeping and protesting, right?
Prof. REYNOLDS: Yeah. The first cabin, James Doyle, his wife, Mahala--well,
she said, `You know, I told you, James, you know, something bad was going to
happen.' And James Doyle said, `Hush, Mother.' And, of course, at the time,
you know, John Brown came in and said, you know, `I hereby arrest you in the
name of the Northern party, the anti-slav'--and--excuse me, the northern army.
And at the time, I don't think Doyle or anyone believed that he was going to
be immediately executed.
But he was taken outside with two of his sons and was murdered while the wife
and the other children were inside the cabin. You know, it's a horrible kind
of situation; on the other hand, so was, you know, several centuries of
slavery and so was what was happening in Kansas at the time with those 28
murders committed by pro-slavery people. There was a reason it was called
DAVIES: You know, 80 years after John Brown took the militant actions he did,
Gandhi in India used the strategy of non-violence in resisting the British.
And, you know, the pacifists' critique of the kind of killings that Brown and
his followers undertook was that once you commit to this kind of violence, you
in effect lose some of the humanity which drove you to embrace the noble cause
you were seeking to advance. And I'm wondering: How did members of John
Brown's party react to the carnage that they inflicted that night?
Prof. REYNOLDS: Well, his own sons were devastated. They--you know, some
had mental problems after that. Some of his followers were, you know--they
said that there can be no more work such as this. This is just too much for
us. And John Brown himself even had ambivalent feelings about it, although
ultimately he'd come to reconcile himself with it.
But, you know, we have to--you mentioned Gandhi and so forth. What's
interesting is someone like Henry David Thoreau who introduced the idea of
civil disobedience that was used later by Gandhi and by Martin Luther King and
himself had been the greatest exponent of passive resistance in the 19th
century because he was sent to jail for refusing to pay a tax to a pro-slavery
government, the United States government. You know, he was sent to jail for
that, and he wrote civil disobedience and this influenced Martin Luther King
and Gandhi. But he became the great champion of John Brown in full knowledge
of Pottawatomie and Harpers Ferry and all of John Brown's violence. Why?
Because slavery at that moment was--it seemed to be cemented forever in place.
Lincoln before the Civil War said, `Well, it'll probably take you a hundred
years. Slavery will some day leave.' People were saying, `Fifty, 80, a
hundred years slavery would remain.' Why? Because there were a series of
laws--the fugitive slave law, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and then the Dred Scott
decision by the Supreme Court--that increasingly seemed to put slavery in
place for good. So it wasn't quite a Gandhi situation. This was a situation
where action had to be taken. Unfortunately violent action had to be taken to
attempt to dislodge slavery.
DAVIES: My guest is critic and cultural historian David Reynolds. His new
book is "John Brown, Abolitionist." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: We're back with David Reynolds. He's a critic and cultural
historian. His new book is called "John Brown, Abolitionist."
Well, David Reynolds, while John Brown was touring the East and raising money
among intellectual elites, he was assembling an army in Iowa for a plan he had
developed to attack an arsenal and open up a guerrilla war to liberate slaves
throughout the South. He's been described as crazy, but do you think the plan
actually was somewhat rational? Tell us: What exactly was the idea? What
was the plan?
Prof. REYNOLDS: His idea was to raid a certain slave area, it turned out to
be Harpers Ferry, Virginia, a slave region, liberate slaves, and with the
liberated blacks, to flee into the mountains. The Appalachian Mountains ran,
well, really all the way from the North deep into the South and then scatter
groups of both whites and blacks down along the mountain range and then
periodically make raids of plantations, liberate more slaves, assemble a
rather large colony of blacks in the mountains, large and yet disbursed. And
John Brown knew the mountains quite well because he'd been a surveyor and
actually had gone into Virginia, and he knew a lot of the crags and so forth.
And eventually he hoped to, through his con--see, the worst fear of the South
was slave rebellion, slave insurrection. And he wanted to cultivate this
fear, this terror--he used the word terror--to make this terror grow, increase
to such a degree that the South would come to want to compromise with the
North on the slavery issue, to say, `You know what? This is becoming
unmanageable down here. You know, we're just--these slave rebellions are
breaking out and, you know, OK, we'll compromise.' That was his goal.
And some people have said that he was crazy. I think it was a very smart idea
because if we look at modern times, at bin Laden in the mountains, there are
examples--or the Afghan guerrillas against the huge Soviet army and so forth
in, you know, the '70s and '80s. You know, you can give examples of modern
times of people who have used mountainous territory to evade much, much
superior forces. And John Brown said, `Let them try to pursue me in the
mountains. Go ahead.'
And I think that if he had actually done what he said he was going to do, if
he had managed to get away from Harpers Ferry--I mean, I don't know if he
could have gotten rid of slavery like that, but certainly he could have waged
a campaign of terror in the South that would have had a very disturbing
DAVIES: So he develops this plan which involved taking a military arsenal and
armory to Harpers Ferry, Virginia, which is on a peninsula between two rivers,
and he would have others go in the countryside and liberate slaves and then
they would have the arms and the slaves and then retreat to the mountains to
build a guerrilla war. Now it began smoothly. I mean, they took the two
bridges into the armory...
Prof. REYNOLDS: Yes, they did.
DAVIES: ...took the armory and took the guards hostage relatively easily.
And also his Confederates went through that countryside, liberated some
slaves, brought their masters in as hostages. It all seemed to be going to
plan. Why did it bog down?
Prof. REYNOLDS: I believe the reason it bogged down was that the reaction by
the slaves was not quite what John Brown had expected. He thought that when
he made his strike, as he said, the bees would hive, that suddenly the slaves
would be so happy and they would rush to his side and then he would just, you
know, take these hostages, go into the mountains and begin his campaign of
terror against slavery. What happened was a lot of the slaves were shocked.
They were bewildered; they were confused. And one could say, `Well, why
didn't'--you know, obviously slaves wanted to be free, obviously. Innately,
they wanted to be--why didn't they suddenly say, `OK. Let's go join John
My view of it is that it's almost as though a martian showed up. I mean, to
them the idea of a white person showing up at midnight and saying, `You're
free'--a white person--John Brown had five black soldiers as well--in the
company of blacks showing up and saying, `You're free,' it was just a
completely strange and bizarre thing for these enslaved blacks and some of
them did fight with John Brown and joined him willingly. Others were just
basically confused and they had been so oppressed and so degraded for so many
years that it was hard for them to suddenly identify with this person who
shows up out of the blue, you know, late at night and says, `You're free.'
So John Brown really had this kind of idealistic vision of suddenly this whole
army of black warriors rushing to his side. And when that did not happen, he
stalled. He delayed. He kind of kept waiting for it to happen and it was
really the delay that caused the defeat of his plans because he waited and
waited. Finally the train went through and the news spread and pretty soon
the federal troops were there by noon the next day, the local militia was out
and he was cornered. He was trapped by that time.
DAVIES: So Brown and his followers were cornered in this armory...
Prof. REYNOLDS: Yes.
DAVIES: ...you know, confronted by local militia and eventually federal
Prof. REYNOLDS: Mm-hmm.
DAVIES: It did not end peacefully. What happened?
Prof. REYNOLDS: Well, what happened is that John Brown, as I said, stalled;
the word spread. Finally from Washington, Robert E. Lee came with federal
troops and John Brown eventually--I mean, there was a lot of violence.
Several of his men were either shot down--two of his own sons died very long,
painful deaths. One was shot in the bowels and, you know, died over a course
of 16 hours right by John Brown's side.
And ultimately what happened is that John Brown and a few of his remaining
followers were trapped inside the fire engine house at Harpers Ferry which
later became known as John Brown's Fort and so Robert E. Lee sent some troops
that battered down the doors of the fort and came in, killed a couple people.
And one soldier made several thrusts at John Brown with his sword and John
Brown should have died then because he was stabbed in the stomach and he was
stabbed in the head several times, but the person who stabbed him had
accidentally picked up his dress sabre, his dress sword, which is like a sort
of phony sword and kept on stabbing John Brown, but--instead of his military
sabre. A military sabre would have just instantly killed John Brown, but just
in the rush that morning he picked up his dress sword. And as a result, John
Brown lived and that's the only reason why John Brown had an effect on
American history, because what happened is that he lived and he talked and the
nation watched him talk and act nobly during his imprisonment.
DAVIES: You conclude that John Brown's raid had enormous impact on slavery
really because of the way John Brown behaved during and then after it at his
Prof. REYNOLDS: Yes.
DAVIES: ...and the way those events were perceived. I mean, how was John
Brown remembered or even mythologized, you know, by both sides in the conflict
over slavery after the raid?
Prof. REYNOLDS: Because he lived, the legend of John Brown grew and the
reason it grew is the way he behaved during his imprisonment and trial. He
didn't go--some of his backers in the North went crazy. One was overwhelmed
with guilt and ended up in a lunatic asylum and so forth and others fled the
country, but John Brown himself remained very strong throughout his entire
trial, and at the very end, he made a statement of less than 250 words that
Emerson said was as great as the Gettysburg Address. It was just a statement
of his anti-slavery views, and as a result, he slowly gained favor in the
At first, virtually all the Northerners said, `Who is this whack, you know,
strange guy who attacked the South?' They basically--you know, they kind of
admired his anti-slavery views, but they really disassociated themselves from
him. But then Thoreau and Emerson and a few others said, you know, `Wait a
minute here. This guy is'--Thoreau and Emerson put him virtually on the same
level of Jesus Christ for, you know--very literally because Emerson said,
`John Brown will make the gallows as glorious as the cross.' And this
statement by Emerson, who had a lot of cultural clout, shot throughout America
like a ricocheting bullet and it polarized the country.
And the South, which had formerly praised John Brown's character--of course,
as I said they always hated him but they praised his character--suddenly
demonized him and suddenly John Brown was not only evil but also
representative of basically what was going on in the North, that in--so
suddenly John Brown became an incredibly polarizing figure, a symbol,
something much larger than, let's say, Ruby Ridge or Oklahoma City had become
in modern time. He became a huge, tremendous symbol for both the North and
for the South.
DAVIES: Well, David Reynolds, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Prof. REYNOLDS: Thank you very much.
DAVIES: David Reynolds is a professor of English and American studies at the
Graduate Center and Baroque College of the City University of New York. His
new book is "John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man who Killed Slavery, Sparked
the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights."
I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: Coming up, how a former PhD candidate in English at Yale becomes a
Hollywood hunk. A conversation with actor David Duchovny about acting, "The
X-Files" and his new film, "House of D."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: David Duchovny comments on his film career and his
new movie "House of D"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.
David Duchovny has had his share of success in Hollywood, but he didn't follow
a typical route getting there. After growing up in New York and attending a
prep school on a scholarship, he graduated from Princeton and was getting a
PhD in English at Yale before deciding to move to California and pursue
acting. After minor parts in several movies, Duchovny found a role that
seemed to fit him perfectly, in a TV series that became one of the breakout
hits of the '90s. In nine seasons on "The X-Files" Duchovny played FBI Agent
Fox Mulder investigating supernatural happenings and government cover-ups with
his partner Dana Scully, played by Gillian Anderson. The role made Duchovny a
Since leaving the series five years ago, Duchovny has made guest appearances
in other TV shows and has starred in several films, including "Evolution,"
"Playing God" and "Return to Me." Now Duchovny has written and directed his
first feature film. It's called "House of D," and it's a coming-of-age story
about a 13-year-old boy growing up in New York in the `70s. Here's a scene
from the film in which the boy, Tommy Warshaw, played by Anton Yelchin, is
talking to his mom, played by Tea Leoni, about some problems he's having at
(Soundbite of "House of D")
ANTON YELCHIN: (As Tommy Warshaw) Mom, listen, I really can't go back to that
Ms. TEA LEONI: (As Mrs. Warshaw) St. Andrews(ph), what are you talking
ANTON YELCHIN: (As Tommy Warshaw) We have to move. I did something bad. I
said something, and they hate me there, and the girls really, really don't
Ms. LEONI: (As Mrs. Warshaw) What are you doing with girls?
ANTON YELCHIN: (As Tommy Warshaw) That's not the point, mom. The point is
that we have to find another school.
Ms. LEONI: (As Mrs. Warshaw) No, don't tell me what the point is, Tommy.
Your scholarship is the point and getting into a good college is the point.
Girls are beside the point. Jesus, Tommy, what are you trying to do to me?
ANTON YELCHIN: (As Tommy Warshaw) I'm not trying to do anything to you, Mom.
Forget it. OK?
Ms. LEONI: (As Mrs. Warshaw) You tell me you're gonna piss away your
scholarship because of girls, I'm not going to forget it. What am I working
for, slaving away for you every day?
ANTON YELCHIN: (As Tommy Warshaw) Forget it.
Ms. LEONI: (As Mrs. Warshaw) Tommy, where are you going?
ANTON YELCHIN: (As Tommy Warshaw) Out!
Ms. LEONI: (As Mrs. Warshaw) Out where?
ANTON YELCHIN: (As Tommy Warshaw) Out. Out.
Ms. LEONI: (As Mrs. Warshaw) Go on. I know why you're just like your
ANTON YELCHIN: (As Tommy Warshaw) He didn't run away, Mom. He died.
DAVIES: Well, David Duchovny, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. DAVID DUCHOVNY (Actor): Well, thanks for having me.
DAVIES: This new film of yours, "House of D," is, I guess, in part about a
coming-of-age crisis involving a 13-year-old kid growing up in New York whose
mom, played by your wife Tea Leoni, is struggling with the death of her
husband. You grew up in New York.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Yeah.
DAVIES: Your parents split up when you were, I guess, 12 or so. How much of
this character in this film is autobiographical?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Well, mostly what's autobiographical in this film are
superficial details of time and place because I grew up in the Village at that
time. So when it came time to write it, I wanted to write a universal
coming-of-age story really, because my particular life story is not dramatic,
and I didn't think it would reach out to anybody really. So I thought that in
order to be universal, I would actually be as specific as I could and try to
make the time and the place come alive.
DAVIES: Is there any particular directing style that you were influenced by?
What do you like on a set?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: I think the best thing that I can do as a director and the
best thing a director can do for me as an actor is make clear to me what the
tone of the film is, and the tone of this film is kind of a mix of reality and
fable. And in that, I was instructing the actors to try and exist on both
worlds so that when it was funny--and I think that the movie is often
funny--we didn't stretch the tone so much as to become ridiculous so that when
it came time for the tragedy of the film or the, you know, the tear-jerking
part of the film, that it wouldn't break at that point. So as a director, I
just try and give--I try and inform the actors what kind of a movie they're
appearing in so they all appear in the same movie, and hell for an actor is
when he sees a film and he realizes he was acting in a different film from
DAVIES: Have you had that experience as an actor?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Of course. I think every actor has. And, you know, it's
really not the actor's fault in that case. In that case, it's always the
director's fault, I think.
DAVIES: You, of course, are known to most of America as Agent Mulder from
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Yeah.
DAVIES: ...which, you know, became an incredibly successful show. It was--I
think called by one writer in The New York Times `the defining series of the
`90s.' And it developed a cult following of sorts. And I wonder if you, you
know, feared that you might forever be associated with this and you might
become, you know, a Leonard Nimoy, who we always expect to be a Vulcan with
pointed ears somehow.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: I never really did. I mean, I think that I don't want to
compare us to "Star Trek," but I think what separates the two shows is "Star
Trek" was somewhat campy, I guess. And "The X-Files" always seemed to me kind
of cinematic or filmic and the drama realistic and, therefore, I thought that,
yeah, playing a character is playing a character even though I'm playing him
every day for eight, nine years and then eventually, after the iconic
significance of that character fades away in the public memory, then I'll be
allowed to move on, and if I'm not, it's mostly my fault for not working
harder and for not being more imaginative. And if I'm not there it's just
testament to the power and the quality of the show.
DAVIES: Well, you know, we looked at--as I was preparing for the interview, I
looked at two "X-Files" episodes which you wrote and directed, and when the
first one popped up--I hadn't seen an "X-Files" episode in a long time, but I
actually remembered this one. I mean, it really stuck in my head. And it's
one--it's about a baseball player in the Negro leagues in New Mexico in the
`40s who could easily be a big-league player but always avoided playing well
before scouts because, it turns out, he's actually an alien who's come to
Earth as part of a plan of conquest but fell in love with the game of baseball
and went native and became a ballplayer because he loved the game of baseball.
Where did that story come from?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: It was the--it was in '98 when McGwire and Sosa were...
Mr. DUCHOVNY: ...having their home run race and baseball was on everybody's
mind, and there was an article in the New York of the LA Times about a
minor-leaguer, and I can't remember his name, but he hit more home runs than
anybody. He hit 70-some home runs for the Nevada something-or-others. So I
thought, `Well, here's a guy in the desert near Area 51, who's hitting all
these homers, and he's unknown, and I just started to kind of meditate on that
idea and then, you know, also Roswell happened...
Mr. DUCHOVNY: ...the same year that Jackie Robinson went to the bigs, so I
thought that was an interesting coincidence to try to play with. And
everything started to fall into place from there, and I liked playing with the
ideas of aliens and alienation from society. And I thought that--I thought it
all kind of worked and came together thematically, and then the plot came.
DAVIES: Yeah, and it worked well because there's actually an alien bounty
hunter trying to track him down and bring him in for having deserted his kind.
I want to listen to a little piece--a clip of that episode. This is early on
when you, Agent Mulder, are with Agent Scully and you're going over records
from newspapers in New Mexico, and she notices that you've actually been
looking at some baseball scores. Let's listen.
(Soundbite of "The X-Files")
Ms. GILLIAN ANDERSON: (As Agent Dana Scully) Mulder, you cheat! I can't
believe that you've been reading about baseball this whole time.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As Agent Fox Mulder) I'm reading the box scores, Scully.
You'd like it. It's like the Pythagorean theorem for jocks. It distills all
the chaos and action of any game in the history of all baseball games into one
tiny, perfect rectangular sequence of numbers. I can look at this box and I
can recreate exactly what happened on some sunny summer day back in 1947.
It's like the numbers talk to me; they comfort me. They tell me that even
though lots of things can change, some things do remain the same. It's...
Ms. ANDERSON: (As Agent Scully) Boring. Mulder, can I ask you a personal
Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As Agent Mulder) Of course not.
Ms. ANDERSON: (As Agent Scully) Did your mother ever tell you to go outside
DAVIES: It's a nice little piece of dialogue.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Yeah.
DAVIES: Do you remember that. Do you remember where it came from?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: That came from my heart, really. You know, I love box scores.
I look at them. I look at them over and over, not so much anymore, because I
don't follow baseball so much, but there was something about the numbers and
the box score and the fact--you know, my wife would say, `You know, how do you
read that? What do all those little notations and numbers mean?' It's really
not that complicated, but it appears to be some kind of mystical, you know,
sequence of numbers and letters, and I always felt it.
DAVIES: My guest is David Duchovny. His new film is "House of D." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: My guest is actor, writer and director David Duchovny. He has a new
film which he has written and directed. It's called "House of D." What did
get you out of academia and into Hollywood?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Well, when I was getting my PhD, I always had the sneaking
suspicion that I was in the wrong place and that while I could have been, I
think, a good teacher, I would always be a mediocre academic, and I wasn't
ready at the age of 22 or 23 to resign myself to mediocrity. I wanted to try
to find something that I could be better than mediocre at, so I was
really--that doesn't sound very ambitious, but I was looking for an out.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: And, as I said, I started writing, and if I thought I would
write stage plays, I thought I should learn how to speak the words that I was
DAVIES: And you eventually found yourself in Hollywood and got parts here and
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Yeah.
DAVIES: And then "The X-Files" happened and your life changed.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Yeah, I was--I'm talking to you from the Carnegie Hall
building, and I studied acting here many years ago, just a few floors above
from where I'm talking to you, and it was Robert Modica. So I worked hard
when I was in graduate school. By the time I got out to California, I was
beginning to understand a little about what I was doing, and I managed to get
some pretty interesting film roles, like in "The Rapture" and in "Kalifornia."
But I was really going from film to film, and it was kind of haphazard, and
when I did get "The X-Files," it really enabled me to act every day, and
that's what I really needed to do, because I started when I was 26 and I felt
and I knew that I needed experience. I needed to work every day so that I
could teach myself my own acting.
DAVIES: That's interesting. I wonder if you can think of an example of
something that you found you were able to do in the fifth season that you
couldn't do in the first.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Well, you know, it's very much of a tradeoff because when I
look back, sometimes I'll be flipping channels with my wife, and a show from
the first year will be on, and I'll say, `Just look at how bad I am. Just
watch. This is really great how bad I am.' And she'll say, `Yeah, but look
at you; you're trying so hard. It's great. You're so committed to trying
So I think that even though I became more competent, I think I lost some of
that green eagerness that can read really well. There are so many things that
can go into a performance. Sometimes you're not--most of the time you're not
in control of the best things. Eagerness can go a long way and can seem kind
of winning in a character, but you know, by the time you ask him the third or
fourth year, `What can I do?'--I think I was relaxed enough with the process
of making a TV show or film, relaxed enough with a bunch of kind of scientific
sounding dialogue to actually start to relax, to have fun with it and to bring
other things into play rather than just, `Oh, my God, how am I going to
survive this scene? Look at all this dialogue.'
DAVIES: You know, you were quoted in a Playboy interview a few years back as
saying, "The best actors convey the idea that they never truly get there." I
love--this is, again, when you were quoted as saying, "I love when you sense
failure in an actor's performance. The best actors have an air of failure
even at the height of their success." What did you mean by that?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: I think I was thinking specifically of Marlon Brando, who has
always been one of my favorites if not my favorite actor. And I think he
always had such a kind of--he was always torn, it seemed to me, about the very
process of acting, and it kind of read in all his performances, not a disdain
but an ambivalence. And that lent to him, to me, an air of sadness or failure
around it and that he was reaching--he was reaching for these characters that
he could portray so effortlessly and so wonderfully, and yet there was still
something that was missing for him, and that was conveyed to me. And I feel
like there's always something in life, in everybody, and that made him human
to me no matter what character he was playing. And when I see a seamless
performance, I lose that. I lose the humanity of it.
DAVIES: You've had a series of memorable appearances on a lot of sitcoms. I
mean, "The Simpsons" and "Sex and the City." And there was one that I really
loved on "The Larry Sanders Show" where Garry Shandling has the talk show on
the HBO series, and you play a guy--no, you don't. You play yourself. You
play the celebrity, David Duchovny.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Well, I play a character named David Duchovny.
DAVIES: OK, this character in this case, who has a sexual preference that's,
let's say, open to some speculation.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Yes.
DAVIES: And you just do a wonderful job of making Larry Sanders feel
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Yeah.
DAVIES: What--yeah, where'd that come from?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Well, I had done "The Larry Sanders Show" one time, and through
that, Garry Shandling and I became friends, and this was a year later, and he
and I were talking and I said, `I'd love to come and do the show again.' And
he said, `Sure, you know, come up with an idea and we'll--whatever you want to
do. If I like it, we'll do it.' And I called back sometime later and I said,
`I think it will be great if I had a crush on you but I'm straight and I don't
understand it, and I just--but it's a real crush. I just don't get it, and
you're the only guy that I have a crush on.' And he said, `That does sound
funny. Let's try to do that.' And they wrote it up, and I just thought, my
instinct is always to play it real first and to just, you know, commit to the
reality of the desire. So I thought, you know, it's just going to be really
funny if this--if you're not winking at all. Don't wink at all, you know.
What's funniest is commitment, not winking to me. So I thought, yeah, just
caress his cheek and, you know, tell him that you're confused.
DAVIES: Let's hear some of this. This is David Duchovny appearing on the HBO
series "The Larry Sanders Show."
(Soundbite of "The Larry Sanders Show")
Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As David Duchovny) Hey, could you give Larry and I just a
Unidentified Woman: Oh, yeah, certainly.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As David Duchovny) Thanks. You're not upset that I'm taking
Carol to the beach, are you?
Mr. GARRY SHANDLING ("The Larry Sanders Show"): Don't be silly. Of course
not. She's a nice girl.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As David Duchovny) Oh, good. Oh, I'm sorry I'm not going to
be on the show with you.
Mr. SHANDLING: What are you talking about?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As David Duchovny) Because my agent called and said the
network went ballistic and they put me back on with Jon Stewart.
Mr. SHANDLING: Damn it. (Censored)
Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As David Duchovny) Wow, you're...
Mr. SHANDLING: They're just not supposed to do that.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As David Duchovny) You're really upset.
Mr. SHANDLING: Damn it!
Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As David Duchovny) Sh, sh, sh, sh, sh. God, you're really
upset, aren't you? God, you really care about me, don't you? Are you
Mr. SHANDLING: (As David Duchovny) A little bit.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As David Duchovny) OK. We'll see you.
Mr. SHANDLING: See you later.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As David Duchovny) Bye.
Mr. SHANDLING: Did you see that?
Unidentified Man: Yeah, next time kick him in the (censored).
DAVIES: That was David Duchovny on "The Larry Sanders Show." You know, I
have to say, since you have such a reputation as a Hollywood hunk, was it sort
of fun to play off that as a guy who's struggling with his sexual identity?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Well, you see, what I thought was so funny was, I wasn't
really struggling with my sexual identity. This was like a one-time offer,
you know, and it was only for Larry Sanders. But that's what I found funny
about, was it was the confusion--the kind of playing with--playing confused
with sexual confusion, you know, and just kind of reducing it and reducing it.
And so that's what I was attracted to in that kind of a scenario. But in
terms of a Hollywood hunk and all that--I mean, I don't care and I don't ever
really think about it. I, you know, I'm just a, you know, I'm just getting
DAVIES: Just a regular guy.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Just getting along. Oh, `I was an ugly duckling in high
school, all that stuff.' No, no. But I don't know. That just seems like
it's on the outside.
DAVIES: Well, you've come a long way from the graduate program in English in
Yale. Not only did you come to Hollywood, not only have you been in a hit
series, but you are actually married to a beautiful actress. I mean, what a
cliche. Is it true that you...
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Again, just like Hollywood hunk, being a cliche just lays on
top of me. I don't feel it.
DAVIES: Sometimes it works. Is it true that you met your wife, Tea Leoni,
when you both were auditioning to be on "The Tonight Show"?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: That's when we first met. My manager had told me, `You should
get on "The Tonight Show,"' and I said, `Well, why would I do that?' And she
said, `Well, it's good. You know, people see you out there and they think of
you.' And I said, `Well, then I'll go.' And she said, `Well, they don't
really want you.' I said, `What do you mean?' She said, `Well, you kind of
have to--you know, you kind of have to have lunch with them, and they'll see
that you are intelligence and you can speak and perhaps you can tell a story.'
And I said, `I'm auditioning to go on talk show.' And she said, `It'll be
worth it. Don't worry.' And I said, `All right. I'll go.'
And so I showed up in the valley at this restaurant and I sit down, and now
I'm not the only one auditioning for a talk show. There's actually a woman
there who's auditioning at the same time. This was brutally shocking to me.
I couldn't believe that somebody--that I'd have to audition for a talk show
and next to somebody. And Tea--was Tea. She was married at the time, and she
was charming and smart and completely dominated the conversation. I became
morose and withdrawn and was not invited on "The Tonight Show," but Tea was.
DAVIES: God, you failed your lunchtime audition.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Yeah.
DAVIES: You directed your wife Tea Leoni in an "X-Files" episode. It was
"Hollywood AD," I think.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Yeah.
DAVIES: I'm wondering if you learned things about working with her that
helped her later when you--when she played the role in "House of D."
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Well, you know, everybody knows that Tea is a brilliant
comedienne, and I kind of used her that way in "Hollywood AD." But in "House
of D," even though I think it's a very funny movie in places, she is not a...
DAVIES: She's not funny.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: ...comedienne in this film. And, you know, because I live with
her and because I know her, for me, humor is often a key to any character that
I play because I think the way a character is funny says so much about them,
and I often think that the way a character is funny hides exactly where their
pain is. And with Tea, living with her, I know the pain, you know, that
drives the humor. And so it was very easy for me to know that she could play
this kind of a role.
DAVIES: My guest is David Duchovny. His new film is "House of D." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: My guest is actor, writer and director David Duchovny. His new film
is "House of D."
You're working on some other stuff, including, I read, you've written a film
set against the Boston Red Sox 1978 pennant race collapse?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Yeah. Yeah, it's called "Bucky F'ing Dent," Bucky "Freaking"
DAVIES: OK. OK.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: It's what all the Boston Red Sox fans refer to Bucky Dent as.
He's known throughout New England and Bucky `Mm-mm' Dent. And I just thought
it was a great title for a film. And it is set in `78, and it's really a
father/son piece using that collapse as a backdrop.
DAVIES: And we should mention, for our audience that doesn't know, that Bucky
Dent was a...
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Yeah.
DAVIES: ...singles-hitting shortstop who slew the Boston Red Sox with a
pop-up wind-driven home run in Fenway in a playoff game in 1978.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Well, Red Sox fans will say the bat was corked, but in the
movie, Bucky Dent is used as a kind of a metaphor for the little guy that
beats you, that comes up from behind in life and beats you. It's not the
Mickey Mantles and the Reggie Jackson, because you can see them coming, but
it's always Bucky Dent that ruins your day, and that's kind of the heart of
DAVIES: And is it going to be made?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: I sure hope so. You know, I'd have to change the title
DAVIES: Yeah, right.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: But "Bucky Dent's" not a bad title.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: I think it's the best thing I've ever written, so I hope it
gets made. I would like to shoot it either this fall or next fall, because it
takes place in September in New York and some in Boston, and I'm just trying
to get financing the cast right now.
DAVIES: You write--I mean, you're an actor, but you've obviously spent a lot
of time writing. When you were in "The X-Files," you found time to write some
episodes, and you've written screenplays, you have a novel, there's poetry.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Well, a novel, I mean...
DAVIES: No? No?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: You use that term loosely. It's--it will never see the light
of day. It is just--it's a collection of words.
DAVIES: Wow. That bad, huh?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Maybe not that bad. There are a couple of things, you know,
there are a couple of chapters that are decent. It's got a great title. I'll
give it that.
DAVIES: Well, tell us the title, if it's not profane.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: It's called--no, it's called "Wherever There Are Two."
DAVIES: Uh-huh. Has your wife, Tea Leoni read it?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Underwhelming for you, but I like it.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: It's--has my wife Tea read it?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: I believe she has. I think she has, and I--she may not have,
though, but maybe she has.
DAVIES: OK. I sense a discomfort.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: How's that for an answer?
DAVIES: I sense a discomfort in this area.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: No, there's--honestly, there's no discomfort. I honestly
can't remember. I mean, I wrote that when I was 21, and I got a very nice
rejection letter from Putnam, who said that I would probably have a
wonderful first novel in 10 years. So what I did was 10 years later, I sent
it to them again. I thought, you know, great.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: I thought they were saying I was ahead of my time. No, I
didn't send it to them again. But, you know, I think it showed promise, but
it wasn't structured. You know, I did--in some ways, becoming an actor and
being on "The X-Files" and learning about drama was the best thing that ever
happened to my writing because I was, you know, kind of a modernist.
DAVIES: So are you going to go back to that novel, or no?
Mr. DUCHOVNY: No, there's no way. It's like, you know, Henry James used to
say in one of his prefaces that--and he used to rewrite all the time and
revise--that it was trying to follow somebody's footprints in a snowstorm, and
I'm a different guy. It would be like trying to revise a novel that you
wrote, as far as I'm concerned. I think when you're writing, you really have
to ride the inspiration in the moment that you have it.
DAVIES: Well, David Duchovny, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. DUCHOVNY: Thank you.
DAVIES: Since leaving "The X-Files" five years ago, David Duchovny has
appeared in several movies. "House of D," which he wrote and directed,
premiered this month.
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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