David Duchovny On Baseball And How 'X-Files' Made Him A Better Writer The co-star of the X-Files discusses his novel, Bucky F*cking Dent, about a son reuniting with his absentee father. Duchovny earned a master's degree in literature before starting his TV career.
NPR logo

David Duchovny On Baseball And How 'X-Files' Made Him A Better Writer

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/474820494/474843544" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
David Duchovny On Baseball And How 'X-Files' Made Him A Better Writer

David Duchovny On Baseball And How 'X-Files' Made Him A Better Writer

David Duchovny On Baseball And How 'X-Files' Made Him A Better Writer

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/474820494/474843544" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The co-star of the X-Files discusses his novel, Bucky F*cking Dent, about a son reuniting with his absentee father. Duchovny earned a master's degree in literature before starting his TV career.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. You probably know David Duchovny as Agent Mulder from his nine seasons starring in the Fox TV hit "The X-Files" and the two "X-Files" feature films and the series' recent six-episode revival. Or you may remember his six seasons starring as the womanizing Hank Moody in the HBO series "Californication."

Duchovny is now starring as a 1970s homicide detective in the NBC series "Aquarius." It's less commonly known that Duchovny attended Princeton, got a master's in English literature from Yale and has been writing most of his career. He has a new novel whose title we'll make radio friendly by calling it "Bucky Bleeping Dent," [actual title, "Bucky F****** Dent"]. He spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.

DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: Well, David Duchovny, welcome back to FRESH AIR. I'd like to begin with a reading here.

DAVID DUCHOVNY: Sure.

DAVIES: This is early in the book. And the main character we meet, he's - what? - slinging peanuts in Yankee Stadium.

DUCHOVNY: That's right.

DAVIES: You want to just set up this reading and tell us about this guy Ted?

DUCHOVNY: Yeah, Ted is a - he's a would-be writer. But unlike many writers that you meet in fiction, he's not suffering from writer's block. He's suffering from whatever the opposite of writer's block is. He writes too much and not enough of it seems publishable. So he's an Ivy League graduate, which you'll learn in this little snippet here.

And the first chapter is really inside Ted's head as he's listening to the national anthem before a Yankee game and getting ready to do his job, which is to sell the peanuts in the cheap seats. (Reading) He would rather not be called Ted. Though he liked his job and it paid the bills - kind of - while he wrote, he was a little ashamed that a man his age with his education - New York private school, Ivy League - had to throw legumes at people to make ends meet.

Yet he actually preferred a job like this that was so far away from what he should be doing, falling so spectacularly short of any expectation, that people might think he was doing it 'cause he was a character or 'cause he loved it or that he was one of those genius irreverent guys who thumbed his nose at the world and just generally didn't give a crap.

Rather than be thought of as a failure, which is how he thought of himself, he liked to be thought of as an eccentric - that quirky dude with a BA in English literature from Columbia who works as a peanut vendor in Yankee Stadium while he slaves away on the great American novel.

He is so counterculture. He is so down with the workers and the paroles. I love that guy - Wallace Stevens selling insurance, Nathaniel Hawthorne punching the clock at the customs house, Jack London, among the great unwashed with a handful of nuts in his hand.

DAVIES: And that's David Duchovny reading from the first chapter of his book, which we'll call "Bucky Bleeping Dent."

DUCHOVNY: Yes.

DAVIES: This guy has a degree in Columbia. You went to private schools in New York. You studied at Princeton and then Yale. I mean, you really connect with this guy, don't you?

DUCHOVNY: Yeah, I didn't - I don't know Columbia quite the way I know Princeton and Yale. But, yeah, I understand the education that he got. I grew up on 11th Street and 2nd Avenue, and I was raised by a woman from the Scottish countryside who believed in education as the way that a person advances in life. And that's what I was instilled with.

So from a very young age, it was important to me that I do well in school and that I attend a prestigious institute of higher learning. So I thank my mother for, you know - there was some fear involved, of course, you know, of what happens if you don't make it through those hoops? But ultimately, I thank my mother for instilling in me the idea that education and books is how one betters not only oneself but one's position in life.

DAVIES: Now, this is a guy who's in his 30s and...

DUCHOVNY: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...Somehow never made a living from his writing or from academics and...

DUCHOVNY: Right.

DAVIES: ...Kind of a stoner who, you know, works at menial jobs. Were you ever in that place?

DUCHOVNY: Well, I - you know, in a way, I mean, I - when I was at Princeton, I tutored to make my - whatever money I could make. I catered, I waited, I bartended, I was a lifeguard - but never past an age where it might seem like this was the farthest I was going to get. And these were all jobs I had in my teens and into early 20s.

So I can't say that I ever really made my living through manual labor. But I certainly had jobs to supplement whatever existence I was going for.

DAVIES: And you didn't fear getting just stuck?

DUCHOVNY: Well, I always feared - I don't come from money. My mother comes from no money. My father also - immigrant family. So I always feared having no money. And in fact, you know, an education was a bulwark against that fear. I mean, that's the generation that I grew up in is what I was trying to explain about my mother.

So there was always a fear that there was not going to be any money. But again, the way out of that was to go to school.

DAVIES: There's a wonderful description of the place where Ted lives. I won't ask you to read it, but it's really evocative. What were his quarters like?

DUCHOVNY: Well, he kind of lives near the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. And it's really - I guess it's like a cocoon for a writer. You know, the shades can be drawn so that he can not know - in a way, I relate to his uneasiness that the world is going about its business always - always moving forward - time always moving forward while he sits in this apartment and tries to write the great American novel.

So in many ways, it's comforting for him to be able to shut the blinds and not know that the world is moving forward. And it's a tiny one-bedroom up in the Bronx - very loud, a lot of street noise. He's got, you know, year-old condiments in his refrigerator. And he's got a pet mechanical goldfish.

That's about - when we meet him, that's about the extent of the relationship that he can have with another - I want to say living thing - a facsimile of a living thing is a fish.

DAVIES: The mechanical goldfish.

DUCHOVNY: The mechanical fish, yeah.

DAVIES: He did have a college relationship with a radical - what? - Sue Abramowitz (ph) - Rachel Sue Abramowitz (ph).

DUCHOVNY: Rachel Sue Abramowitz, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: The breakup scene is so touching. Was this - was this like a college romance you had at all?

DUCHOVNY: That is very - that's similar to something that happened to me. That would be close - maybe the closest thing. There's a couple of autobiographical touches in the book. And that's very close. And - but the name. The names have been changed to protect the guilty in this case.

DAVIES: Do you want to tell us how Rachel Sue broke your heart?

DUCHOVNY: Well, it's almost exactly the same as in the book. We had dated during college, and we drifted apart. And I had decided that enough was enough, and I was going to marry her and we were going to stop drifting apart. And we made a date to meet for dinner in New York. I was at Yale Graduate School at the time, so I was in New Haven.

And I came down and we did that thing, as it is in the novel. We did, you know, I got news for you. I got news for you. And I was like, no, you go first. What's your news? And my news was going to be will you marry me? And hers was I'm pregnant, and I'm getting married and - she went first...

(LAUGHTER)

DUCHOVNY: ...Luckily, for me.

DAVIES: Right, and the world begins spinning and...

DUCHOVNY: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...Never mind my news.

DUCHOVNY: Yeah, exactly.

DAVIES: Wow. Does that woman know that that story's in the book? Will she be surprised at this?

DUCHOVNY: Oh, I doubt it - yeah, yeah, yeah. I wonder if she'd be surprised that I was going to ask her to marry me. I don't know if I ever told her that. But, no, I haven't been in touch with her. I wouldn't know how to get in touch with her to tell her that it's in the book a little bit.

DAVIES: So somebody is going to know, one way or another, that they were sitting across from you when she told you she was pregnant and was going to get married, and you were about to propose. Wow.

DUCHOVNY: Yeah, well, I hope she gets the book. I hope she finishes the book. You've got me terrified now (laughter).

DAVIES: We're speaking with David Duchovny. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, we're speaking with actor David Duchovny. He has a new novel called "Bucky Bleeping Dent." There's a great scene where your character, Ted, has a literary agent - well, kind of an agent. I mean, the agent isn't terribly interested in Ted's work. But he persuades the agent to read, like, a 600-page thing he's written. And I want you to share with us the agent's reaction here. Yeah, what is this guy like? Who is this agent?

DUCHOVNY: This is - name is Andrew Blaugrund. I can be very lazy when I'm thinking of names because I'll be writing quickly and I'll be like, oh, I just need a name there. And then it'll solidify as that name and it'll forever be that name.

And I just went - Andrew Blauner is my book agent, and my sister dated a fellow named Blaugrant (ph) in high school, so I just threw Andrew Blaugrund together, and now we're stuck with it. But it has no meaning because neither my agent, Andrew Blauner, nor the - or Blaugrant is anything like this person. (Laughter) Let me just say that...

DAVIES: OK.

DUCHOVNY: ...Right off the bat. It's just - I was just grasping at names at that moment.

DAVIES: So the agent has looked at your 600-page book and -

DUCHOVNY: He says he's looked at - well, he's read Ted's work before, and Ted's work is always long and - what's the word? - deconstructionist in a way. And I was familiar with that by my experiences at Yale Graduate School. So this is my - this is kind of my attempt at satirizing that world. And so it goes (reading) so Ted was complemented, neither surprised nor insulted, when Blaugrund let the 667 pages of Ted's manuscript, a Derridean deconstructionist romp titled "Magnum Opie," drop with some impressive gravity onto his desk and say, what the hell happens in this crap? Nothing happens. At least when you watch paint dry, the paint dries. That happens. The transformation of paint from wet to dry happens. No such luck here, buddy boy. It feels fake French New Wave to me. Alain Robbe-Grillet wants his money back. I feel like I was hit over the head with a baguette for five hours.

You're welcome, Ted said.

Oh, that's what you were going for, is it? A prostate exam on a page? Well, then mission accomplished.

It's in the surrealist tradition, Ted said.

You mean the narcoleptic tradition. That's fine and dandy, Professor Morpheus, but before you get to surreal, you have to get to real. Do you know what I mean?

Absolutely not.

Sit down, Ted.

Ted sat down, maintaining eye contact pridefully, settling in for what looked to be an angry monologue from Blaugrund, who was straightening his stupid, preppy bow tie.

I'm going to tell you this one time because to be honest, life is too short to read books like this. This tome is for the 15 pimply grad students in New Haven sitting at a round table fingering their blackheads and wondering about tenure. And this will surprise you - Ted, are you listening? I see you nodding, but I want to make sure you're listening.

Listening.

You're a writer.

What?

You can write, but you're a pretentious brat, and you've suffered two tragedies thus far.

What, divorce?

Divorce? No. Divorce is nothing, a zit on the rear of life. Divorce is a bad thing for a kid, sure, but it's good for a writer. I wish you had more divorces. I wish your mother was a whore, an actual prostitute, and your father was a serial killer.

DAVIES: (Laughter).

DUCHOVNY: (Reading) Thank you.

DAVIES: The secrets of great literature from your agent. Did you have encounters - I know that when we spoke 11 years ago, you told me that you had written a novel and submitted it to an agent, who politely declined to publish it. Was...

DUCHOVNY: ...Yeah.

DAVIES: You have experiences like this?

DUCHOVNY: Not experiences, but I will say that I have wished for the luck to be born in interesting times. And I don't know where that quote comes from, but I know that - is it may you be born in interesting times? I think that as a young man who thought of himself as a writer, which is what I was when I was young, I thought about war.

I thought about how war had made writers, made men into writers, made callow men into writers. I thought about a big event that might turn me - that might alter my consciousness in such a way to give me something to write about. I felt like I had - nothing very much had happened to me. Nothing very much was happening in the world - this is in the late '70s - that was going turn - that was going to give me my story, that was going to give me my way in to find my voice.

So I think Blaugrund kind of comes from that, kind comes from that thinking that yeah, you can write, but what's your subject, you know? And too bad you didn't have a worse childhood. Too bad you don't have a war to survive. Too bad you don't have a catastrophic event that would give you - that would turn your words into a voice.

DAVIES: Right. He says you should've gone to Vietnam, you should've committed a crime.

DUCHOVNY: Right.

DAVIES: Well, I mean, you've managed to live to your age without committing a crime or going to war, but you've managed to come up with a pretty good book.

DUCHOVNY: Well, you know, the years go by and life accrues. And you find your voice, I think, ultimately, if you pay attention or if you stay awake, maybe. And, you know, I think I don't actually believe in those things that I was saying. I don't think you need those things to find your voice, but that is the kind of thing that a young writer might hear. You know, what is your subject? Find your subject.

Can I just say - I just want to add one thing because I realize that it might sound flip if I say, you know, dammit, I didn't have a war to go to and insulting to people that actually have to go fight. So I don't want it to sound like that. I hope it's clear that what I'm talking about is in the vein of this agent talking to a young writer.

DAVIES: No, I think it is clear - and, I mean, there are many, many people who've written books about war, Hemingway and others. I mean, it's a horrific experience. And for some, it's material. So Ted is drifting along and selling peanuts at Yankee Stadium, working on his novel, and his life changes when he gets some news about his dad. What happens?

DUCHOVNY: Well, he and his dad are estranged. You don't necessarily know that at the beginning of the novel until he gets this - until he gets a call from the hospital about his father. And apparently, his father has been suffering from lung cancer for three or four years. So this is the first Ted's heard about it, and that just shows the disrepair that their relationship is in. And that becomes the calling card for Ted to kind of try to get some kind of reproche mon with his father, but it's on his father terms.

And the terms of his father that he learns when he goes to see him in the hospital after this suicide attempt - which is kind of a suicide attempt slash attempt to show that he's immortal - what his father is saying is that he was born in 1918, and this is the year that the Boston Red Sox were cursed by trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and that he is unable - he is also cursed, and he is unable to die, which is what he's supposed to be doing, until the Red Sox win it all, which makes him know that the Sox are going to win it all this year because he is surely going to die. But he's not going to die until they win it all, which will be sometime in October. So he's saying, until then, I'm a god. Until then, I'm able to eat all these Quaaludes and Seconal and survive - look at me. And that's how the son comes to know this incarnation of his father at this point in time.

DAVIES: Yeah, this is where baseball gets into the story and the name of the book. And anybody who's a baseball fan of a certain age will remember it was 1978 - wasn't it? - when the Red Sox had an incredible year, led to the end, until there was a fateful playoff game. And a shortstop who couldn't hit very much named Bucky Dent had a big hit, thus the title. What's interesting is that Marty, the dad who's dying of lung cancer, is a lifelong New Yorker, but he's a Red Sox fan. Are you a Red Sox fan? You grew up in New York.

DUCHOVNY: No, I was a Yankee fan. I wasn't even a Mets fan. I was an actual Yankee fan. But if you do the math, you would see that myself having been born in 1960, I came of age, came of fan age - let's say 5, 6, 7, 10 years old - horrible, horrible Yankee teams. Like, Yankee fans are always accused of being front runners and of buying pennants and all this stuff, but the Yankees that I knew, the Yankees that I fell in love with as a child were terrible. It was right after Mantle had retired, and they were just in an abyss of mediocrity.

DAVIES: Yeah, it's easy to forget that because the - then the '70s became great years for them.

DUCHOVNY: Yeah, well, they spent - you know, they spent - but this was before you could really spend on players. You know, you relied on your farm system and stuff like that. And they were just in disarray at that time.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded with David Duchovny. Duchovny has written a new novel called "Bucky Bleeping Dent." After we take a short break, they'll talk more about the book and about "The X-Files," and John Powers will review the new AMC miniseries "The Night Manager," which premieres tonight. It's adapted from a John le Carre spy novel. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded with David Duchovny, the costar of "The X-Files," "Californication" and "Aquarius." He has a new novel called "Bucky Bleeping Dent" about an aspiring writer and his estranged father, Marty, who is dying.

DAVIES: Let's talk about the relationship between father and son. We can talk about it - there is this reading where - talk a little bit about what...

DUCHOVNY: Well, I'll tell you what informed it.

DAVIES: ...What kind of a day it was.

DUCHOVNY: I will do that reading. But if I could, I could maybe explain it. Well, first of all, in terms of - and this is important to me because people do assume that what you write is autobiography. I'm not saying you do, but in general people assume that. So they will assume that this father, this character of Marty, is based my own father, when in fact there are some autobiographical touches that are the same. My dad did pitch for a Puerto Rican softball team in the city. And he was known as gringo number one.

But my dad could not be more dissimilar from Marty. My dad was a very gentle, very permissive parent - very soft-spoken, very the opposite of Marty. And it would pain me to think that people thought that this was a portrait of my own father. So it's not. But the other part that informs the story, the heart of the story, is really the most autobiographical part of the novel for me. And it informs it philosophically, really, or emotionally. And my daughter, when she was 9 months old, got very ill - not with cancer or anything that ultimately hurt her, but there were days - you know, she was in the hospital about a week - and there were days when it felt touch-and-go.

And it was in those days that I would go home and go to sleep, and I would try to imagine - and this is very much in the book, and it's almost written this way, and this was the heart of the "Bucky Bleeping Dent" story - and I would imagine the world without her. I would imagine what it might be like to lose a child because it felt like it was happening. And it was so - it was so devastating that I couldn't imagine it. I couldn't imagine that life could continue in any form that was joyous again.

And then when she came through and was fine, I had a couple months where I felt like I was having trouble reconnecting to this child because I had been so scared. And that became the heart of the book. That's the heart of the relationship between Marty and Ted is that Ted gets sick when he's a child. And Marty feels that darkness - that possibility that any parent would when their child is threatened. And Marty feels like he never reconnected.

He felt like he got so scared, so devastated by the mere prospect of Ted dying, that he couldn't love him again because that love was too painful. And that's kind of where they get - that's the journey that they're going to take. And, you know, if I'm talking about anything autobiographical, that's the heart of the story is - that's the autobiographical part of it.

DAVIES: I know what that feels like. I mean, when my daughter was born, she was in an intensive care unit for several days. And yeah, there were moments when it looked like she might not come out of it. And - I mean, I sense the gravity of that.

There are amazing passages here - and I thought this was a remarkable part of the book - when you write from the perspective of this tiny infant in the hospital. How did you find - I mean, seeing how the infant felt when his father came close to him, and his terror communicated something that the infant got. You know, talk about how you - could you talk about that a bit?

DUCHOVNY: Yeah, I don't know where that comes from. That's just one of those - I mean, I guess I told myself a baby doesn't reason that way. A baby just feels intensity. You know, a baby is just is like an animal - is preverbal and feels the intensity. And I thought about the scene where the father - and I can't say whether I ever did that with my daughter or not. I may very well have. I don't remember it literally.

But there's a scene in the book where Marty as a young man basically challenges what he calls the devil or the demon in his child's lungs, which is hurting his child, which he feels his child is being killed by - to come out of his child's lungs and into his. And I think it's - for me it's a powerful scene because the child doesn't know - the child would just look and see the anger. And could the child be scarred by that - looking up at its parent, its God, and hearing these words come at what seem to be the child, when in fact they're addressed to what this father is conceiving of as the demon inside the child?

DAVIES: Right.

DUCHOVNY: And whether that would cause any irreparable damage, you know, in the child, who would then misinterpret this hatred as being directed at itself.

DAVIES: Well, whether the estrangement began in that infant illness or not, I mean, the dad certainly wasn't a model husband and father. He was distracted. He wasn't faithful. And there's a moment in the book here where they're now living together while the dad has - you know, has terminal lung cancer and trying to figure out how they relate. Do you want to - would this be a point to read some of this dialogue?

DUCHOVNY: Sure. This is after they've had kind of their first attempt at a conversation now that Ted has said he's going to move back in with his dad and try to take care of him. And that's not gone so well.

(Reading) There was no exhausting his anger - Ted's anger. There was no exhausting his anger at his father. And every word, however well-intentioned or intentionally barbed, was a pull at a scab on his bloody heart. It was too late for any of this. There could ultimately be no healing. Marty had terminal cancer, and so did the two men have a cancer between them. They were terminal together - as father and son. They remained momentarily exhausted, but it was really only that quiet between lightning and thunder, as sound lags behind speed. The lightning had cracked the ground already, you just hadn't heard it yet. Marty was the lightning and the thunder.

Just tell me what you want to apologize for and I will. I don't give a crap. I don't have time. I know I was a lousy husband and a lousy father. So are millions of other guys. It's called being human. That was really beautiful. Really, cleaning up your side of the street means a lot to me. I'm sorry, OK? For what? Ted was aware of his own sadism, but he felt entitled to it - justified. He wanted his father to spell it out. He wanted to rub Marty's nose in his own piss. Everything. Like what? Everything - I said everything. Ted said, everything like what? Everything, everything. You don't even know. What? A million little things - I'm sorry for a million little things. And three or four big things. And three or four big things - happy? Not yet.

DAVIES: And it goes. So what were the things that Ted resented his father for?

DUCHOVNY: Well, I think ultimately he couldn't - Ted wouldn't be able to put his finger on it at this point in his life or in the book, but Marty having fallen in love with a woman that he had seen during one of the softball games that he plays every weekend is distracted and distant from Ted's mother and from Ted. And it's not even clear in the book whether that attraction or infatuation was consummated back then, but he - Marty, that is - goes on to create an entire almost fantasy life in which he is with this other woman even as he stays in his own family.

And I think that as a boy, Ted very clearly, if not verbally or consciously, understands that his father is not present. So he doesn't know what he's asking to apologize for in terms of action. He just needs an apology that covers that lack of presence in some way that's satisfying to him, and I'm not sure that he can ever get it or anyone can ever get an apology that can solve that kind of problem.

DAVIES: Well, and he felt angry on his mother's behalf, who was denied her husband's love. And we don't need to tell the whole story here, but in the end, you get a whole different look at this question of infidelity. Is that based on anything that you ever saw in your own family or your own life - I mean, this whole question of, you know, people being unfaithful in marriage and understanding why it happens?

DUCHOVNY: Well, I think we all have experience, you know, in our families of these kinds of things for sure. They're part of the human condition. And I think what I'm addressing in the book, I think, is it's not really about that issue so much as the issue of being present and being inside the life that you are living with those that are living with you and around you.

And I think that's the story I'm telling. The tragic story that I'm telling through Marty is of a guy who - he wasn't there. In some profound way, he wasn't present. And that, to me, is the greatest tragedy, you know, because children feel that; loved ones feel that. It's - that, to me, is the real story of the novel.

DAVIES: At some point, Marty, who was a great ballplayer, apologizes to Ted for never showing him how to throw.

DUCHOVNY: Yeah. But then - you know, then they find this photograph where Marty is showing Ted how to hit. And Ted would've told you that, you know, my dad never taught me how to hit. And here's a picture that they find later on where his dad is teaching them how to hit. So there are these memories, non-memories - you know, every family has them.

Every child has a list of grievances. You know, and some of them are true, and some are symbolically made to feel true even though they weren't - like, he never taught me how to hit, yet here's a picture that's - he's showing me how to hit. It feels like he never taught me how to hit. You know what I mean?

DAVIES: Right. That's the way it is in your head.

DUCHOVNY: Yeah.

DAVIES: We're speaking with David Duchovny. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, we're speaking with actor David Duchovny. He has a new novel called "Bucky Bleeping Dent." One of the things I've read is that doing "The X-Files" for nine years had made you a better writer. How?

DUCHOVNY: Yeah, in terms of plot - in terms of what the Agent Blowgrend (ph) would - how he would speak to Ted about how to be a more interesting writer. Writing for television and writing for movies is really what happens next? What happens next? What happens next? That's what's interesting. Words - nice words strung together - poetic words, descriptions are not so interesting in film and television.

And a show like "The X-Files," which was very story-oriented, you know, we had to - I say we but not me - the writers had to come up with a plot that could sustain usually a two-hour movie but was just going to a be a one-hour episode of television every week. So there had to be plot - plot after plot.

And I watched or ingested or I just kind of got through osmosis how these plots work. And it was never - I was coming from getting a BA in English literature from Princeton and then going on to Ph.D. program at Yale. And you don't read for plot. You don't sit in those classes and go, what happens next?

DAVIES: (Laugher).

DUCHOVNY: You know, you're talking about anything but plot, really.

DAVIES: Deconstructing, yeah.

DUCHOVNY: Yes, so that was my education in terms of, well, what happens? You know, what happens? Can that be interesting, too? Can that be as interesting as how do I describe what happens?

DAVIES: You recently did a six-episode revival of "The X-Files" - this after doing it for nine seasons before, I think, and two feature films, right? How did you feel about returning to that character?

DUCHOVNY: In many ways, I felt like it never left me. So I didn't really think that hard about it when the idea of doing it again came around. It just seemed like - to me, it - the frame of the show was always so flexible and inclusive - such a great storytelling device with those two characters and that subject matter - infinite - that it didn't seem tied to a time and a place to me.

It didn't seem tied even to our characters, even though we're still around and can still do it. So it just seemed like, yeah, let's see what we got. I had no interest in coming back as like a camp reiteration of our show. I wanted to see if we could do the show, you know, and do it with Mulder and Scully, whatever age we are now.

Why not? You know, our brains are still intact. We can still do the show.

DAVIES: Well, you know, you were, I think, in your 30s when you started the series.

DUCHOVNY: Yeah.

DAVIES: And for the revival, I mean, you know, you were back, Gillian Anderson's back, the creator Chris Carter was back, a lot of the other actors who are - all had a lot more life experience, certainly more professional experience since then.

DUCHOVNY: Yeah.

DAVIES: And I'm just wondering how that affected, you know, the writing, the acting, what it was like on the set?

DUCHOVNY: Well, that was the exciting thing for me in coming back was thinking, well, it wasn't my first job, but it was close to my first job. And as we've been discussing on the program today, I was not trained as an actor. I was trained to do something else. So I really taught myself how to act on "The X-Files" 'cause I had to go to work every day and act for 12, 14 hours a day for seven, eight, nine years.

I mean, it was invaluable. You all didn't know that you were sending me through school but you were.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: Well, we didn't cover it in this interview, but, yeah, you had envisioned being an academic, right?

DUCHOVNY: Right, right.

DAVIES: Teaching and writing - and then kind of got into acting...

DUCHOVNY: Right.

DAVIES: ...Kind of...

DUCHOVNY: So...

DAVIES: Yeah.

DUCHOVNY: So after "The X-Files," I continued to work a lot. And the idea of coming back to that character that I had created for myself when I was so green and then bringing it to bear the craft that I've been apprenticing at for the last 20, 25 years is exciting. You know, I felt like in the beginning of "The X-Files," it was just everything I could do to just spit the words out.

And I don't feel that way anymore. I feel much more - I don't want to say comfortable because that leads to crappy work - but comfortable in my excitement or nerves. I know different ways around problems now. So - and I think Gillian would probably feel the same way. She was even more green than I was when we started.

So here we are coming back having had busy careers and then being able to use whatever we've learned in those careers to go back to this first or second job that we had. And that's - it's an amazing opportunity for an artist or an actor to say, hey, hey, you can paint this picture again, the one you painted when you first started painting. It's - I don't know anybody else who gets to do that.

DAVIES: Well, congratulations on the book. David Duchovny, thanks so much for speaking with us.

DUCHOVNY: Thanks for speaking with me.

GROSS: David Duchovny spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies, who is also WHYY's senior reporter. Duchovny has written a new novel called "Bucky Bleeping Dent." After we take a short break, John Powers will review the new miniseries "The Night Manager" adapted from the John le Carre spy novel. It premieres tonight on AMC. This is FRESH AIR.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.