Stars of the small screen tend to shy away from the big ol' intimidating stage, and some will skip it altogether if given the option — but not all: James Spader, a "Boston Legal" Emmy winner, stepped from the tube directly onto Broadway last season with some resounding success in Race (yes, he played a lawyer). Zach Braff, a "Scrubs" Emmy contender, warmed up with some Shakespeare in the Park before he took on Second Stage in August in Trust.
Now — in Neil LaBute's seventh collaboration with MCC Theater, The Break of Noon, now playing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre — the only TV star ever to win Golden Globes for comedy ("Californication") and drama ("The X-Files") is gamely trying his hand at the stage, for the first time since high school (and some murky, embryonic stuff "Off-Off-Off-Off" Broadway, which he'd sooner forget — and has).
Say this for Duchovny: he's certainly taking LaBute by the horns, playing one of those unsettling Mr. Not-Nice Guys for which the playwright is justifiably notorious.
Heretofore, these men-behaving-badly were confined to mortal combat — either they were in the company of other men, or they were misogynistic messes that win no friends on the other side of the footlights — but this time The Deity is involved. In Noon, white-collar businessman John Smith is the sole survivor of the worst office shooting in U.S. history. Amid the bloody, senseless chaos, he believes he hears the voice of God. "He's an average guy who suddenly begins to think he's special because he is singled out by God to be spared while 37 of his co-workers around him are being mowed down," offers Duchovny. "He feels there must be a reason...and he thinks that this reason is to demonstrate what a good person he can be. He was never a good person, and it logically follows that he's not very good at being good."
There is unexpected humor as well as heartbreak in his attempt at self-makeover, but it's a pretty heavy role to carry around with you. "It drains you," the actor admits. "At the end of the day with this guy, I'm depleted. In fact, I feel tired all the time. And my dreams are getting weirder — my wife has left me, things like that."
Shepherding Duchovny through this emotional maelstrom is director Jo Bonney, who knows her way about a LaBute battlefield — having been the unflinching director of his Fat Pig and Some Girl(s). Amanda Peet, John Earl Jelks and Tracee Chimo carve up the other characters in John Smith's life — wife, daughter, mistress, detective, jerk, dominatrix, television host. It makes quite a menagerie.
Duchovny has had only one previous exposure to the chronically corrosive world of Neil LaBute, but Peet starred in it, along with Ben Stiller and Jeffrey Wright: This Is How It Goes at the Public Theater in March of 2005.
In the two years since he and his family switched coasts and came back to his hometown of NYC, Duchovny has been able to catch more theatre and do more writing. "I write and direct these little independent films — that's really where my heart is," he says. Starting him down this path was 2004's "House of D," a semi-autobiography of sorts about growing up in Greenwich Village in the '70s; he and wife Tea Leoni starred alongside Anton Yelchin, Robin Williams, Frank Langella, Orlando Jones and Stephen Spinella.
New York theatre, it eventually dawned on him, was one way to work and still stay near the family nest. (Being a dad to Madelaine West, 11, and Kyd Miller, 8, is all-important to him these days.) "I've been looking around for plays for a while, and this particular one was one that I could not not do. I just had to do it."
The original game plan was for him to do it once more for the West Coast — specifically for the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, since it is co-producing the play with MCC — but he has cooled to that idea. "The run of that play — plus shooting the fifth season of "Californication" — would keep me away from my family for six months, and I just don't want to do that right now," he explains.
But for now, he is happy to do The Break of Noon for the home team, and he hopes there will be more where that came from. This metaphysical mash-up plays right into his Golden-Globed strong suit — a brooding presence and dry, deadpan humor — plus, the fact that "Duchovny" just happens to be the Russian word for "spiritual."
(This feature appears in the November 2010 Playbill that is distributed in Off-Broadway theatres.)