‘The X-Files’: Why Working on the TV Show Humbled David Duchovny

The X-Files, the hit 90s TV show, starred actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. The sci-fi series ran for over a decade (including the 2016 reboot), but when Duchovny was cast, he had no idea what the show could be. In fact, the X-Files star was so inexperienced in the industry that the intense shooting schedule deeply challenged Duchovny.

David Duchovny was studying poetry before being cast on the sci-fi TV series

David Duchovny
Actor David Duchovny reading a script for an upcoming TV episode of The X-Files | Rex Rystedt/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

Before Duchovny blew up sci-fi TV as Agent Mulder, he was studying literature at Yale. (Before that, he was a Princeton undergrad.) But as a Ph.D. student dreaming of becoming a poet, Duchovny had an academic epiphany.

“It’s funny,” the actor said in a 2015 National Public Radio interview. When he was reading poetry he suddenly thought: “You know what? I’m not a poet.”

“That kinda woke me up,” he said. Once realizing as “a 20-something graduate student” that he didn’t have enough life experiences to write about, he tried acting. Duchovny said:

I thought, ‘Well, if I’m gonna write things that are gonna be performed by actors, then it’s probably helpful for me to know something about what that’s like.’

Duchovny went to New York to take acting classes, eventually traveling to Los Angeles for TV and film auditions.

The X-Files
David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, co-stars of cult hit TV series The X-Files on the set of the show | Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

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“After a year or two of fruitless auditions, Duchovny started to land a handful of small parts — a cop in the crime drama Ruby, a sleazy businessman in Beethoven,” NPR reported. Later — a part in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Finally, “his agent convinced him to audition for a pilot called The X-Files.”

David Duchovny got a work culture shock on the set of ‘The X-Files’

Duchovny also told the radio station about his career before The X-Files.

“I hadn’t done a lot of acting,” he said. “I’d done some classes. I’d done a few roles, My [total] time on set? Maybe two months, in my life. And then I had to do it every day for 12 to 14 hours a day, to act.”

The X-Files
David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson on The X-Files | FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

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In many ways, Duchovny wasn’t prepared for that work schedule. However, the role more than paid off for the actor.

And after about two or three years of having to do this thing, acting, every day … I started to actually get to the point where I could access the things that I thought I wanted to access from the very beginning.

The X-Files, Duchovny admits, was “his big break.” However, he explained, “not in the sense … that it was a huge success, but in the way I had to go to work every day.”

It humbled Duchovny, he explained, to have the experience of such a demanding job.

“To go from this idea of limitless potential that you have as a young person — ‘Oh, I can do anything! Just give me the chance!’ — and then realizing, well, maybe you can’t do anything,” The X-Files star shared.