David Duchovny makes his film writing and directing debut with a bittersweet, nostalgic comedy inspired by his own experiences growing up. Alan Silverman has a look at House Of D.
American artist Tom Warshaw lives in Paris with his French wife and young son; but as the boy approaches 13, expatriate Tom finds he has to face - and reveal - details of his own 13th year growing up in New York.
The story he tells is set 30 years ago in Manhattan's Greenwich Village: the everyday adventures of young Thomas accompanied by his neighbor and best friend Pappas, a mentally-retarded janitor coping with the depression of his recently widowed mother and the loss of his own father, finding first love and getting a stiff dose of 'street' wisdom called down from a window high up in the House Of D - the Women's House of Detention, a hulking prison and landmark in the heart of Greenwich Village when David Duchovny was growing up there in the 1970s. He admits that some events depicted in his debut film actually happened to him, but Duchovny insists House Of D is not autobiographical.
"There is a lot that is absolutely from my childhood: not so much scenes, but environments," he explains. "I knew what a stickball game should look like; I know what riding that bike around feels like; I know what it's like to live in an apartment where you only have one bathroom, so while you're taking a shower your mother comes in."
"I love the reaction in the audience because it's always split," he adds, "half gasps because they've been watching Oprah and 'it's so wrong!' and half laughs because they know you're living in a small apartment. It's not child abuse, it's living in Manhattan. "
Russian-born Anton Yelchin plays the character Tommy as a boy; Duchovny plays adult Tommy in the prologue and epilog that bookend the film. Playing Tommy's mother is Tea Leoni, who is married to the writer-director in real life.
"I didn't want to play her because I didn't want to be 'the wife in the film debut,'" she admits. "I could see the headlines: 'Duchovny, great shot at it, but the jerk picked his wife and she ruined it.' But then I read [the script] and I found that role to be irresistible. It's perfectly written."
"You know, I order her around the house, so it's pretty much the same," Duchovny says. " No, it's probably the reverse of our relationship at home."
Duchovny says he welcomed her presence on the project.
"She only had about six days of shooting on the movie and it was the first six days, so it was very comforting for me to have her on set because I could go to her and ask 'is this working?' It was the first time I was seeing people speak the words, so it was nerve-wracking for me as well," he explains. "I had had these character - the mother and the son - in my head and now they were speaking. There were all these questions that jump out at you when you first start to shoot a film, so it was nice to have her there."
Also, there is Oscar-winner Robin Williams in the key role of mentally-challenged Pappas.
"His look is very specific and his intellectual ability is probably around 10 or 11 emotionally the same," Williams explains. "For him, Thomas is like an older brother or a friend that he treats like an older brother. He is like my mentor. He is the brains and I'm the brawn in the partnership, pumping the bike around for him."
I thought the character was interesting and I loved the piece," he adds. " I thought it was such a sweet, bittersweet piece about New York and that time period and Anton's character. It's a sweet, small movie, but it has a soul and I'm glad we did it."
House Of D also features Zelda Williams - Robin's 15-year-old daughter - as the schoolmate sweetheart; and singer Erykah Badu plays the unseen prisoner giving young Thomas her insights into life and love from the window of her cell in the Women's House of Detention.
House Of D was shot on location in New York City.