Inspired by true events, Phantom is a Cold War era suspense thriller about a Soviet submarine captain, named Dmitri “Demi” Zubov (Ed Harris), forced to lead a covert mission that could start a nuclear war. With replacement sailors filling in for many of his regular crew, the captain quickly learns that the real mission is to launch a missile strike against the Americans while making it appear to come from a Chinese vessel, triggering a nuclear showdown between the two superpowers and forcing the men aboard to make impossible choices that could end their lives.
While at the film’s press day, actor David Duchovny spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what made him want to get involved with this project, the decision the director made to have his cast avoid using Russian accents, that the technical dialogue comes easy for him and has since his days on The X-Files, how challenging it was to work on a real submarine and do fight scenes without getting hurt, and how great it was to work with Ed Harris. He also talked about how he would be surprised if Season 7 weren’t the last season of his Showtime series Californication, and that they’ve been finishing each season as it was going to be their last, for the last three years now. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did this project come about for you?
DAVID DUCHOVNY: The script came through my agent. I was actually not wanting to work ‘cause I was back in New York and I was spending time with my kids and I thought, “It’s probably a good time to stay home.” And then, I got the script and I was really interested in it. I didn’t know why the director (Todd Robinson) wanted me to play that role. I don’t say that to be funny, I just thought, “Why me?” So, I asked him, “Why would you hire me? Why do you want me to do it?” I can’t remember what he said, but it was good enough. For me to ask myself, “Why would I be hired?,” is probably a good sign that I should do whatever it is ‘cause it’s challenging.
It’s a very unique idea to present this Russian story, but to have the actors use American accents.
DUCHOVNY: Yeah, you’re not bumping against an accent, even if it’s great. I want to say, “Oh, I’m bigger than thinking about the fact that Ed Harris doesn’t have an accent,” but you’re not. You’re constantly aware of the performance. Also, it’s a weird convention that we think it’s more believable to watch Russians speaking in English with a Russian accent than it is to just watch them speaking in Russian. What’s believe is to watch Russians speak Russian, not to watch them speak English with a Russian accent. It’s an odd convention that we have. All the Nazis in films always had an English accent. Accents are an odd convention that we deal with. This is an independent film that was all coming together quickly, as they do. They materialize and have a moment, and if you don’t jump on it, they disappear. So, we didn’t have time. Even if Todd had said, “We’ve gotta do accents,” it would have been risky because three or four weeks with all of us trying to sound the same would have been tough.
DUCHOVNY: Ed [Harris] really had the bulk of that stuff. Certainly, that’s like speaking a foreign language. I had a little bit of it, trying to describe what the Phantom is, and that kind of stuff. It’s a good question. Just speaking for myself, having done The X-Files, I’m fine. You can give me stuff like that all day, and I don’t mind it. But, a decision that I made – and I remember having this conversation with Todd – was that this was not naturalistic speaking. We’re not looking for the words. These people know what they’re saying and they know when to say it. I did make the decision that I was not going to find the words, but they were going to be there. Usually, when I act, I try to forget the words and let them come, and just find my way through them. But, this was a disciplined military person. He’s not searching. He knows exactly what he wants to say and when he wants to say it.
What was it like to work on a real submarine?
DUCHOVNY: It was really small and not for people that are larger than small. I was probably too tall to be on that sub, and Bill Fichtner is probably over six feet. You were constantly banging your head or something. Stuff was sticking out and it was all metal. It was not made so that everybody could be comfortable. It was made to be functional. Fight scenes were tough. Just moving around was tough. I talked to people about whether there’s a difference in the way that you’re trained for the Russian military, in terms of your presentation and posture, or whatever, and I went in prepared to have that kind of bearing, and it all just went out the window because I had to bend over, all the time. You’re playing a military guy who is literally upright and uptight, but you’re slouching around this fucking submarine. So, you had to figure out a way to embody that, that wasn’t just standing up straight and sticking your chin out. The biggest problem is that when you walk through those little portals, there’s a lip because they all shut with th door. You’re constantly stepping over a lip, but the top is low, so you’re constantly banging your head, but if you’re looking up, then you’ll trip.
DUCHOVNY: It was great to work with Ed. Ed is totally intense and a professional. Obviously, he’s such a good actor, so there’s nothing not to like. We had fun. And I’m a huge Bill Fichtner fan. He might not be a household name, but he’s such a good actor. I also thought John Schaech did a great job in this. I think everybody is really good in it. Todd Robinson did a great job with casting.
Only a couple of episodes into Season 6, Californication was already been picked up for Season 7. Are you proud of that fact, with as hard as it is for a show to even make it to pilot, let alone to series or through a first season?
DUCHOVNY: Yeah, I think so. I’ve done three pilots in my life, one of which was Red Shoe Diaries, which also went forever, another was The X-Files, and the other was Californication. I could say that I’m just really lucky, or I could say I had something to do with it. But, if I take pride in anything, it’s continuing to work and continuing to try to grow, get better, learn and understand what it is I do, as an actor, writer, director, or anything. I’m still interested. So, yeah, I’m proud that those things go, but I’m also proud that I’m not just phoning it in. I’m still trying.
Does it feel like you’re seeing an end point now?
Do you get any say in how the show ends up?
DUCHOVNY: No because, unfortunately with cable, it airs so long after you’re done that, by the time you realize you’re done, you’ve shot that, long ago. What has happened is that Tom Kapinos has tried to write each season, the last three years, as a possible ending for the entire show, which is exhausting. I don’t know. You don’t know. I don’t get a say because we don’t know.
Phantom opens in theaters on March 1st.