David Duchovny is an erudite guy. Although formal collegiate education is often lacking in big screen stars, he possesses both an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a Master of Arts in English literature from Yale. So his casting in director Christopher Neil’s new coming-of-age indie film “Goats,” as a bearded and not particularly motivated gardener named Goatman, may not seem like the most obvious fit. Duchovny, though, breathes dimensionality and life into his character, even if he spends most of the movie actually inhaling. For ShockYa, Brent Simon recently had the chance to speak to Duchovny one-on-one, about the movie, Craigslist, goat bleating, his thoughts on marijuana legalization and what he would still do to Seann Willliam Scott in a heartbeat. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: Even watching “Goats” cold, there’s a sense that it has to be an adaptation. The feelings of this offscreen world just emanate from the screen. Were you familiar at all with the book before filming?
David Duchovny: No, I’d never heard of it. Chris (Neil, the director) sent me the book when we talked about doing it, and it was a source for a little more depth, and even some dialogue, I think. I just underlined all of his dialogue in the book, and then if I liked a line I would try to smuggle it into a scene if it could fit. Chris was not precious about any of that stuff.
ShockYa: Chris explained his connection to the character of Goatman — how deeply it reminded him of his stepfather, and that even a good bit of the physical look of the character was drawn from him. To me, Goatman seemed like a slightly sager version of Kato Kaelin, a uniquely modern Southwestern character. Have you known people like him, these curious adult houseboy-types?
DD: I didn’t know anyone in New York like that — maybe there he’s like a tennis pro? But yeah, definitely in California I’ve known people like that, where you wonder how they made money. They seem to live there but how are they eating? It’s just a mystery. For me the inspiration for the character was to have this cultural archetype, the stoner, Cheech and Chong dude, which is an easy stereotype that everyone knows. You laugh at it as you soon as you see it, because you know him, or think you know him. And then I wanted to subvert that, for him to seem like that and then kind of fool you into thinking he’s one-dimensional. That was the challenge and interesting part to me, and having that look was important, because that’s the fake-out.
ShockYa: Marijuana seems to be something of a talisman in the movie, no?
DD: I think that’s the same reason that the Jamaican music is in there. I think for Goatman it’s more like a sacrament — it’s more like the wine in the chalice. With the rastas, ganja is part of the religion. I don’t know if Goatman is a rasta, but he certainly has a lot of the effects of it. He likes the music, and it’s obviously in his world. If you put that together with the wandering and his general approach to life, I would think that altering his consciousness is part of how he tunes in.
ShockYa: Goatman goes on these treks, which draws some snickering from the audience because you think you know what they mean, but they clearly do have a grander connection and meaning to him. As we get older the idea of unplugging from the world tends to dissipate. As an adult have you ever disappeared and just gone totally off the grid, on a trek?
DD: No, but I think it’s a good idea. I guess earlier today with Graham (Phillips) I was telling him that he should go wander the world before he can’t, before it’s irresponsible to do that. I wish that I had done that. But I was anxious to start to my life, whatever that is. As if that’s not your life — we have this weird prejudice against not doing, as if it’s not worth doing, or not worthwhile. That’s the snickering against a character like (Goatman) that you get — “Oh, he doesn’t do anything.” Maybe, maybe not.
ShockYa: There’s a documentary out now called “Craigslist Joe” where a guy tries to live off Craiglist for a month.
DD: This is going to sound very weird, but… I’ve heard of Craigslist, but what is it? Do people buy things off it?
ShockYa: It’s sort of like digital age classified ads.
DD: So why would that be hard?
ShockYa: Well, he takes just $200, a toothbrush, the clothes on his back, and then a cell phone and his laptop, so he’s looking for rideshares to different places and trying to find a place to crash every night.
DD: Is it good?
ShockYa: It’s an honest and meaningful experience for this guy, and so you connect to that.
DD: There was another documentary where a guy did something like that, right, “Nowhere Man”? And there was one where the guy tried to live biblically. I hope he didn’t have to stone anybody.
ShockYa: “Goats” also subverts expectations a bit about Graham’s character’s relationship to weed. So what are your feelings about marijuana legalization?
DD: I’m all for legalization. I think people are going to smoke pot anyway, and the idea that people are in jail for smoking pot and dealing pot is reprehensible to me personally. I think you could make a lot of money as a government by treating them like cigarettes and getting your taxes off of them and building roads and taking care of the people that need to be taken care of. I think it’s a great idea. I don’t think it would lead to any more use. Everybody I know, if they want to, has smoked pot. The fact that it’s illegal doesn’t stop anybody I know, so why not allow everybody to benefit from it? It would be billion of dollars of tax revenue.
ShockYa: Trying to explain Venice Beach and the medicinal marijuana card to friends and family back East is its own exercise in hilarity.
DD: I guess it’s kind of a scam, right? But I think those people would buy it on the street anyway even if they didn’t have a card.
ShockYa: Was this the longest hair you’ve had since Denise Bryson for “Twin Peaks”?
DD: (laughs) With Rapture I had extensions about just as long. It’s fun to be able to look differently, and as an actor to have a mask — or to be called upon to transform physically in a way. It can lead to very different kind of physicalizations and intonations that you wouldn’t normally think of: “You fuckers ate my weed!” I love how he talks to them like people. Calling goats “you fuckers” just makes me laugh.
ShockYa: You also showcase quite a skill for goat bleating. What’s your secret?
DD: I’ve been doing it since high school. It’s a go-to move that we had at high school collegiate in New York City, it was a sound of derision and teenage sarcasm. Whenever anybody failed or said something stupid they would be greeted with that bleating. And we didn’t associate it with goats. We just associated it with stupidity. And I’ve been doing it forever. I did it for my family. They love it, they can’t figure out how to do it. I’m the only one who can do it. When I got this script — it’s not the reason I did it, but I read it and said, “Oh my God, I’m gonna be able to make the noise.”
ShockYa: Goats can be ornery creatures. Did you have any particularly memorable moments on set?
DD: There’s a scene where I’m mailing a letter and they started eating my letters, and I don’t think they were supposed to. I said to the goat trainer, “Why are they eating that?” And he said, “Well, the glue is sweet, on the envelope.” But they do (eat anything), basically. I remember once petting the goats in the Central Park Petting Zoo, and I guess I had a tape recorder or something in my pocket and a little battery fell out, and he just ate that like that [snaps fingers]. Like a little Double A — how do you digest that?
ShockYa: You have a big reputation as a prankster on set. One of my favorite stories is from Seann William Scott, who told me how you put I believe it was mashed potatoes in his jacket pockets. Was there any pranking on “Goats”?
DD: (laughs) I think it was actually cold cuts. No, I don’t think so. The goats were enough of a wildcard. But I liked Graham (Phillips) a lot. I should have (pranked him), but I think I was just being professional. There’s something about Seann William Scott that just makes you want to put cold cuts in his pants, I don’t know what it is. I would do it again today in a moment.
Written by: Brent Simon