The indie comedy Goats, from director Christopher Neil and based on Mark Poirier’s best-selling novel, tells the story of Ellis (Graham Phillips), a 15-year-old looking to find his place among his eccentric family. His mom (Vera Farmiga) is a New Age hippie that spends all of her time working on self-help rituals with her hustler boyfriend (Justin Kirk), while his dad (Ty Burrell) left home years ago and is more focused on his new wife (Keri Russell) and family. And then, there’s Goat Man (David Duchovny), the goat-herding sage who has lived in their pool house since Ellis was a child, teaching him the meaning of expanding one’s mind.
At the film’s press day, actor David Duchovny spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how he approached the role of Goat Man, what interested him about the unique character, how he came to the specific look, what it was like to experience a goat trek, the challenges of working with real goats, and the difference in playing one character over a long period of time, like he does on Californication, versus a finite time with film. He also talked about his interest in doing a third The X-Files film, and where he thinks the second film, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, went wrong. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
DAVID DUCHOVNY: Approaching a part or thinking about taking a part, I never think, “Is that person like me?” I just think I’m me. I don’t think there’s people like me. I wouldn’t say anything is like me. I don’t experience the world that way, really. I’ll instinctively know that I identify with a character. I won’t say that I don’t, but I try not to do one that I can’t identify with ‘cause I’ll do a bad job. It’s your job, as an actor. I’ve turned down jobs because I’ve said, “Honestly, I can’t find my way in. I can’t do it. I love you, as a director. I think the script is good. You deserve better than I think I can do.” That’s not saying I’m a bad actor. We just can’t all play all different kinds of instruments. Meryl Streep maybe can, honestly. She’s like Michael Jordan. But, there’s only one of those. There’s not even a man like her. There’s only one of her. I don’t know how she was created. In a Petrie dish, they made an actor and just gave her the ability to do anything or relate to anything. Not me. So, I find things to relate. You can find your way into stuff that’s not at all like you. You just take different roads to there.
What interested you in this character, specifically?
DUCHOVNY: Within the context of the film, what I liked was that this was what might be considered a morally lax character ‘cause of the drugs. In this world, society and culture, we think of drugs as bad. He is actually a source of wisdom, love and responsibility, within his own weird way. I thought he was a type. We have types, in our culture. I could only trace it back to Cheech & Chong. That was the furthest I could go back to the stoner type. It must have arisen sometime in the ‘60s, but it’s an archetype. I wanted to play him as a type, but also not as a type. I wanted to go against type. It was a very interesting juggling act, to play a type, but try to subtley subvert the type, at the same time. That’s what attracted me.
DUCHOVNY: I don’t remember, exactly. In the book, he cleans up, at some point, so he must have had long hair and a beard. I liked the idea of having a mask and having the freedom of not looking the way I do, so I could maybe even feel differently, and that’s exactly what happened. It can happen with any kind of physical transformation that you get to do, as an actor. Sometimes you can work outside in. It sounds superficial, but I don’t think it is. You put the clothes on, you style your hair, and you do whatever it is that that character is described as or you’ve decided him to be, and then you look in the mirror and you start to feel differently about yourself. You start to feel like that guy might feel. As soon as I put the hair on the beard on, I just remember that was like, “Oh, wow, I’m starting to feel like this guy.” Then, it was fine. That was very fun for me because I don’t normally get called upon to do that type of thing.
Did getting to actually go on a goat trek help you, at all?
DUCHOVNY: No. Those are the things that go under the heading of research. I think people are always trying to demystify whatever acting is, so they want to know what your method is. They talk about method acting, which is not really a thing. It’s a cliche of people who actually think that they are that person. I don’t believe that ever really happens. It’s psychosis, if you actually think you’re somebody else. But, there are moments when you get out of your own head and you exist in the moment, and that can be good acting. People think that the method is that you actually become somebody else. Daniel Day-Lewis is tremendous, in that way. He commits, wholeheartedly. But, I think he could do that without all that. I don’t think that that’s the de mystification of his talent. It just happens to be that his passion runs him, in that way. But, I would say that he’d be great without research. He’s just a great actor. For me, research is good, anecdotally. Something will happen, like on a goat trek, and you don’t know what it is, but you’ll take it into the movie. I’ll go to the director or writer and say, “The goat ate this particular cactus and it was kind of a cool look,” or things like that. What happens with research is that you get details, and those are really indispensable. The devil is in the details. It really is. Research is good for that.
What was it like to have Chris Neil and Mark Poirier behind this film?
DUCHOVNY: Chris weirdly – or maybe not so weirdly because he was attracted to the story – actually had a Goat Man in his life, as he was growing up, and he had pictures and stories. So, Chris actually had everything I needed, visually. And then, we collaborated on the look. He showed me how Goat Man really looked, and I said, “Well, that’s him. Could we do this?” Chris had a bunch of stuff that was really helpful to me, that I’m not sure I ever could have found, on my own. I guess that’s being a good director. Part of being a good director is not only directing on the set, but leading your actors to go on that goat trek or giving them a photo.
DUCHOVNY: They kind of don’t care that much, but they’re not that ornery. They head-butt you a little bit, sometimes, but I never felt unsafe except when I was driving in the car with them. They tend to move their heads around quickly, and they’ve got hard heads and horns. There’s not a lot of room in a car for them to be turning around. They were whipping their heads around in the backseat and, if you got in the way, it would have been a serious knock. But, they were never moody. They were always the same. They were not like working with dogs or cats, that can get tired. They seemed to never really be there, so it didn’t really matter. They were perfectly happy to walk, or maybe not.
DUCHOVNY: It’s just different. It’s like a different meal. Ultimately, it’s the same experience. It’s just a different pace, but not always. I’ve rushed faster through independent films than I have through television. It’s not even always a different pace. And I don’t see any difference in the craft of acting, in film or television. It’s absolutely the same. It’s different storytelling, playing a character over multiple hours, as opposed to two. With a television pilot, you’ve gotta make sure that character comes across, but you have to do that in every film. You don’t have 24 episodes to slowly bring the guy across. You’ve gotta really bring him across, right away, in film and in a television pilot.
When I spoke to Frank Spotnitz about a week ago, he said that he feels it’s a cultural crime that you guys haven’t gotten to finish The X-Files story, and that he doesn’t think it’s too late to do, but that it will be, if it’s not done soon. How do you feel about it, at this point? Have you closed the book on The X-Files, or would you like to continue it with a third film?
DUCHOVNY: Do you know something I don’t know? Am I dying? No. That book doesn’t close until somebody dies, really. One of the greatnesses of the show was its open-endedness. It was about possibility. It wasn’t about closure. It just couldn’t be. There is no such thing as that story ever ending. Those characters are forever searching. That’s what they do. Even if we’re not watching them, they’re out there, in some dimension. Mulder and Scully are still doing their thing ‘cause that’s their nature.
I would love to do another film, or more. I think we’re all game for it. I know I’m kind of perplexed that Fox isn’t more [enthusiastic]. Here’s a homegrown property that you don’t have to go buy, like fuckin’ Green Lantern or something, to make it. Here you’ve got an actual action franchise that’s your own. It’s weird to me, but I’m not an executive. I don’t know if they made the Green Lantern either, but I’m just using that as an example of, “Why make that film? Why not make a homegrown franchise that is excellent, and that has proven to be excellent and interesting?” I don’t get it, but that’s not my business.
I think Chris [Carter] is probably working on an idea, so we’ll see. Unfortunately, with the last one, they didn’t spend the money to compete in a summer fashion, and they brought it out in the summer. It should be a summer film. It should be an action film. But, the last one we made was not. The last one we made was a dark, contemplative, small $25 million film. It was basically an independent film. When you come out against Batman, it’s not going to happen. You’re not going to be sold as an independent film, and you’re not going to compete against Batman with $25 million.