15 Minutes with David Duchovny

The actor is flexing his comedy muscle portraying a sleazy, tracksuit-clad app developer in ”The Estate.” He speaks all about it with LAMag—and reveals his go-to local restaurant and favorite L.A. mystery
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Comedies about greedy families fighting over grand inheritances are a time-tested staple, but the newly-released indie The Estate offers a fresh take that delivers some big laughs— many of them courtesy of Richard, a sleazy app developer, played by David Duchovny.

The Estate comes from writer-director Dean Craig, who wrangled some top talent to portray the dysfunctional family members at the center of the film, including Toni Collette, Anna Faris, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ron Livingston, and Kathleen Turner, the latter of whom plays the cast’s terminally ill aunt.

While Duchovny is perhaps most closely associated with The X-Files, his comedy credentials go way back, as he earned one of his early Emmy nods (he has four) for his guest spot in a 1996 episode of The Larry Sanders Show. And let’s not forget his comedic turns in Zoolander, The TV Set, and the beloved cult classic, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. The guy knows a thing or two about getting laughs.

LAMag: How did you first get involved with The Estate, and what drew you to this hilarious character? I mean, had you worked with Dean before?

David Duchovny: No, I’d never met Dean, I only met him over Zoom when he called to ask me if I’d do the film. At first, I said I wasn’t sure because there wasn’t a scene where [Richard] kind of said who he was. He was just a conglomeration of attributes. Then I asked him for—not so much deeper [stuff], because [Richard] isn’t a deep guy—and he kind of walked [me] through the mirror app thing, which was something I had suggested to him, and even the whole cousin stuff was new. So I was like, “OK, now I can kind of sink my teeth into those areas,” so I was in. 

What I said to him was, “I really like the movie, I just don’t know if there’s enough there for me to do this guy.” And then from there, we figured it out. But what I responded to in the script was that it was a callback to screwball, topsy-turvy, and people behaving super badly. We live in a much more PC climate and we haven’t been asking our movies to do this, and it kind of harkened back, to me, to [Judd] Apatow’s early films and even Bridesmaids or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, going further back, or Dinner With Schmucks. Just really horrible people, and I was like, “okay.”

Was working with this great ensemble part of the attraction for you as well? It just seemed like everyone brought their A-games because no one wanted to be the weak link in this cast.

It was great because everybody kind of had a different approach. People always have different approaches, but in dramas, it’s all kind of unilateral, in a way, but in comedy, everybody is very, very different, especially these performers, who were all so very different. And I like that dilemma of not knowing who my tennis partner is going to be or how they spin the ball. It’s a real joy to have to react to their spin, and then you get somebody like Keyla Monterroso, who I had seen on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and already said to myself, this is just a very weird, wonderful performer. Like, real specific, but [with] a super weird comedic take on things,

Now, obviously, I know you’re wealthy, but let’s say you received a sizable family inheritance. What would you do with the money?

I never know what to do with money. I spend my money on things that aren’t that expensive, I think. I don’t cook, so I spend my money on food, and I have enough to pay for that. I didn’t grow up with money and I always think I should leave money to my family and my kids, but then again, maybe it’s not a good idea because you see what happens [in The Estate].

Well, you mentioned spending money on food, so do you have a go-to restaurant here in Los Angeles?

I don’t even spend money on expensive restaurants. I’ve gone to the same restaurants ever since I went to L.A. I’ve been eating at A Votre Santé in Brentwood for the past 150 years, and I’ll probably keel over there, which makes sense. I used to eat there with Garry Shandling and I used to see George Carlin, and I’m not linking death with A Votre Santé, but it’s just a place that engenders that kind of loyalty, and it’s just a great spot for me. I eat out [at] lots of other places and I’m sure I spend too much money on other restaurants, but if I had my druthers, I’d eat there every day. That’s how boring I am.

Tell me about the ’stache in this movie. Was that real or did they just slap that on you every day?

No, that was real. I got to New Orleans the day before I was going to start shooting, so I went straight to wardrobe and I said, “I see this guy in $3000 dollar tracksuits,” and [Wardrobe Supervisor Embree] said, “We can’t afford $500 dollar tracksuits.’ And I was like, ‘OK, let’s [just] get some flashy-looking tracksuits.”

I’ve seen athletes who, when they’re walking into the stadium, have really tight highwaters on and moccasins with no socks. I said, “I think this guy dresses like he’s in the NBA even though he’s not ever going to be in the NBA… but he doesn’t know that. And like, he lives in Miami.” So she had amazing stuff that I wear in the film, and that I actually enjoy wearing myself. I stole everything, all the wardrobe. Again, getting back to how I don’t like to spend money. So I stole all the wardrobe. 

But I had just grown everything out for two months just because I knew I wanted some facial hair for this guy. And then I called Dean Craig and he was shooting right there and I said, “You’ve got to come in here because I’m about to start shaving some of this off and we’ve gotta figure out if it’s a Fu Manchu or if it’s a goatee, or long sideburns, but, like, executive decisions are about to happen and you should be here. We sat there and we were like, “What’s the funniest facial hair for you?’ And I was like, ‘If we shave this part, we can’t come back once we shave it off.’ But we got there!

You rocked it. It added a little sleaze to the character… [And speaking of characters], do you have a favorite Halloween costume?

My favorite costume was [the] Burger King face because I find it very creepy. I find that mask very creepy and I like to be hidden when I trick or treat [so] there’s no hassle or all, but I haven’t been out there in a while. I don’t think anybody has. I mean, I dress up in my real life. As an actor, I’m always playing dress up, so I’m like, “Fuck that, I’m just gonna let the kids play today.”

If The X-Files had shot an episode that was specific to Los Angeles, is there an L.A. mystery you’d like to have seen Fox Mulder investigate?

Well, the Black Dahlia. I was going to play [James] Ellroy in My Dark Places, and The Black Dahlia is a novel that he wrote and, obviously, a famous L.A. mystery… [and] an enduring one.

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