It's a hot day in Los Angeles, and I'm running late. I'm rushing to LAX to catch a flight to the east coast and getting ready to interview Golden Globe-winning actor David Duchovny for his latest film Louder Than Words, the true and inspirational story of a married couple (played by Duchovny and the wonderful Hope Davis) who, following the tragic death of their youngest daughter, set out to open a children's hospital in her honor. Duchovny is as impressive in this role as a grieving father as he was playing FBI Special Agent Mulder on Fox's The X Files or beautifully damaged novelist Hank Moody on Showtime's Californication.
David Duchovny is a fantastic actor, but that's not why he scares me. I've been writing about fantastic actors for years. I'm scared of writing about David because he has a BA in English Literature from Princeton and a Master's in English Literature from Yale. He's a brilliant guy, and I'm intimidated by the thought of him reading this blog post and honing in on all my weak spots.
As I hurry to make my flight, a flood of thoughts pour into my head: Did I pack my cell phone charger? Do I have time to stop somewhere for breakfast so I don't have to spend $95 for a sandwich at the airport? What would it sound like if Joe Cocker covered Bruno Mars' "When I Was Your Man?" It's all spinning in my head at once as I feel something crunch underneath my foot. I look down and see that I've accidentally stepped on a snail. I feel terrible. This poor, little guy was just trying to make it across the sidewalk, and I literally crushed whatever dreams he may have had.
I board the plane and sit next to Dexter actress Jennifer Carpenter. We talk about David Duchovny, Hollywood projects, North Carolina and Charles Manson. A flight attendant spills coffee all over my Duchovny notes, and later takes a selfie with Jennifer. It's quite a trip.
The plane lands in the cockamamie, summer heat of Southwest Florida and, as I prepare to talk with David Duchovny, I'm still feeling bad about the innocent creature I stepped on back in LA. I wonder if karma still wants to kick your ass if the bad thing you've done was an accident? I consider asking Duchovny his thoughts on this matter, but switch gears, figuring it's probably best to ask what drew him to Louder Than Words?
"It seemed like a really sweet, meaningful story that could be a very emotional tale if told on the screen," Duchovny says. "The story is about a family that faces the worst tragedy a family can face, the loss of a child. Instead of dwelling on the tragedy, which you are going to do for a length of time, they moved on to an area of actually helping other people. So, they ended up becoming better people from this terrible event. They became this hugely philanthropic family that made this children's hospital, which is an amazing accomplishment and helps numberless people who are suffering terribly. I thought it would be nice to find an audience for a movie like this."
I ask David what method of preparation he used to portray a dad stricken with such tragedy?
"My method of preparation was having a family," he replies. "If you are a father and an actor faced with playing a role in which you lose a child, there is really not a lot of imagination that goes into how that might feel. It's an unfathomable pain that would occur. So, I understood the need to throw oneself into a big project after such an event. The truth is that the pain never goes away. You don't get past the pain. You learn to live with it, and this family made beautiful use of it."
I ask David what inspires him and, as he formulates his answer, I again think about that poor snail I stepped on. I try to imagine how he must have felt. I picture a gigantic foot crashing down through the ceiling above me, squashing me like a grape and then traipsing off to interview a Hollywood celebrity. I shake this crazy image out of my head as David explains where he finds inspiration.
"I've been pushing myself into areas that I haven't done before, like fiction writing and recording music," David says. "I've learned how to play guitar and I know enough to be able to throw some chords together and write some country rock songs and folk rock songs. I've been pushing myself into uncomfortable areas and that's been inspiring. I get inspired by challenging myself. It's the old Dylan thing, 'he not busy being born is busy dying.'"
I ask David if he has a favorite quote, one that is exceptionally meaningful to him.
"'Fail again, fail better' from Samuel Beckett," Duchovny shares. "That's my life's motto. I try to teach my kids that you're going to fail so many more times in life than you're going to succeed. It's all about getting back up after you get knocked down. It really is 'fail again, fail better.' There's never a total success. Everything is just gradations of failure. Some things are total failures. Some things are just minor failures. That's what I mean by 'fail better.'"
I mention Hank Moody, Duchovny's legendary, bad boy character on Californication, and ask what the show's creator, Tom Kapinos, meant when he described Californication as wish fulfillment for writers.
"The show portrayed a world in which Hank Moody, the writer, walked around his Venice neighborhood like a rock star," David says. "Women wanted to be with him and men wanted to be him, and he's a writer. That doesn't really exist in our world. Writers aren't rock stars."
"Why can't writers be rock stars in today's world?" I sadly ask, wishing I could sing like Steven Tyler or have my own reality show on Bravo.
"I think the culture has moved on," Duchovny says. "In the early Twentieth Century, writers were rock stars because there were no rock stars. There was no recording or mass culture for music or film. As we've gotten into this mass produced, technological world where music and movies can reach the entire world, music and movies are consumed in such a greater quantity than the written word. So, I think that's one of the reasons."
Now, I'm sitting at my laptop, looking over my David Duchovny rough draft. I don't feel like writing. I want to be a rock star. Writing can be tough on a hot, summer day. You feel like life is passing you by. I can't focus. I imagine David Duchovny reading my work and thinking I'm some kind of illiterate moron. I think about the snail yet again, and picture another giant foot crashing through the ceiling and crushing my existence. I imagine a vengeful army of snails cheering and snickering.
And then I realize I'm taking this snail bit much farther than I should.
Louder Than Words opens in theaters on August 1
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