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Big Yuks with David Duchovny

Poor guy can't solve his weird relationship with BC.

By Steve Burgess 14 Mar 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about film and television every other Friday here on The Tyee.

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'Was trying to make it funny.'

Voltaire said, "God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh."

In that way at least, God and David Duchovny are alike. At a press conference held Wednesday at Vancouver's Sutton Place Hotel to mark the completion of principal filming on next summer's X-Files movie, Duchovny joined series creator Chris Carter, writer Frank Spotnitz, and Carter's dog Larry in fielding questions from a small group of local reporters (co-star Gillian Anderson was too ill to attend). Duchovny cracked jokes, and reporters dutifully took notes. "Have you taken your kids to visit your favourite Vancouver places?" one reporter asked.

"That might not have been wise," Duchovny deadpanned. After absorbing the resulting moment of silence, he added, "Thank you."

Then everybody laughed.

An eerie fan base

The still-untitled X-Files movie will arrive July 25. The plot remains largely secret. For that matter, the timing seems equally mysterious. A full 10 years after the first theatrical film X-Files: Fight the Future, and six years after the TV series went off the air, a second X-Files feature film doesn't exactly seem like a project the world is waiting for. The days when the series dominated pop culture are long gone and it's too soon for '90s nostalgia. So does the fan base still exist? "6,000 people turned up at a recent San Francisco convention," Carter noted. "So there are 6,000 people who will definitely come."

Not to mention the people who have been going through garbage cans near Vancouver and Pemberton sets, searching for production call sheets that could reveal plot details. Numerous sheets have been posted on the web (spoiler alert: Amanda Peet's character falls down an elevator shaft). Some industrious soul recorded a voice mail message and posted it on YouTube in the belief that it was an important message from Chris Carter. It was actually a production manager announcing a schedule change (but please, YouTubers, do not draw the conclusion that your lives are dribbling away by teaspoons).

Moving targets

Carter and Spotnitz confirmed that the film's plot is not tied to the ongoing conspiracy thread that ran through the series and the first movie. "It was liberating not to have to talk about those questions," Spotnitz said. "We just asked ourselves, 'If this is the last thing we get to do with these characters, what is the story we want to tell?'"

The movie will be set six years after the events detailed in the series. "It was smart to have the characters move ahead," Duchovny said. "It's an interesting problem as an actor -- not to freeze people in time."

Watching Duchovny work the room, it was easy to believe his description of his general influence on the classic series. "I was always trying to make it funny," he recalled, "and [Carter] was trying to make it scary."

Does a bear sob in the woods?

At its best, the combination of mystery, humour, and romantic tension helped elevate X-Files far above the usual sci-fi offerings. Duchovny's sly, self-deprecating wit took the edge off the conspiracy stuff (witness the series' occasional hints that Agent Fox Mulder was an avid connoisseur of pornography). Welcome though it was, the humour appeared to run counter to the stubborn fanaticism of certain hard-core fans.

An inability to get the joke worked against Duchovny off-air as well. Almost a decade after the fact he is still patiently explaining the infamous joke about Vancouver rain, made on the Conan O'Brien Show. "They suggested I make a nasty remark about Vancouver," he recalled, "and then they would cut to the audience where a Mountie, a hockey player, and a bear would be crying. A bear crying is funny."

Noting the respectful silence in the room, Duchovny added, "To me, anyway."

The resulting explosion of hurt feelings has required Duchovny to assuage Vancouver's civic insecurities ever since. On Wednesday, however, microphone problems wiped out his initial expression of warm feelings toward Vancouver. With the mike repaired, Duchovny was asked to repeat them. "I can't stand this city!" he shouted.

And the reporters laughed. This time.

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