In the new Cold War submarine thriller "Phantom," David Duchovny plays a special forces KGB agent whose mission aboard the sub captained by Ed Harris -- who's on his last command before retiring -- could start World War III.
Duchovny sat down with Moviefone to discuss tattoo confusion, his dislike of unitards, and forgetting the submarine-themed episode of "The X-Files" he shot back in the '90s.
Moviefone: I just saw Ed Harris in the hallway. I felt like I should salute.
David Duchovny: I feel the same way.
You punch Ed Harris in one scene. How many takes did you do of that?
I don't think I had to punch Ed too often. He got me back, he slams my head into the periscope and that was an actual hit.
I also got talking with naval expert Ken Sewell downstairs, who was the technical advisor on the film. He told me that one of the ideas you had for your character was to give him an eye patch.
Was I? I'm glad I didn't do that.
He said he'd told you, "No, as a commando you need depth perception." And he told me he came up with the idea for the wolf tattoo on your arm, which your co-star and producer Julian Adams showed me on his iPod.
It's a good tattoo. I believe one of the reasons that we wanted to take my shirt off was to show that damn tattoo. I liked it visually because it was so un-American. It was this Russian iconography with the wolf. It's the little things that turn us on as actors. But I thought the tattoo was my idea! I do believe that it was. Sorry, Ken Sewell. And I don't remember the eye patch. I think Ken Sewell was pulling your leg. It doesn't seem like an idea that I would have. But I'm really happy that we didn't do it, whatever it was.
Did you have any say in what your character wore?
No, wardrobe was authentic. I hated the fact that we're in this unitard. I understand that it's authentic, but we all kind of looked like goofballs. We looked like garage mechanics. But it's so dark in there, and you end up having to be so tight [with the camera framing], that you don't often see the full effect. So it's fun from here [indicates his waist] on up. But authenticity trumps whatever you want to do as an actor anyway, so it's nice to have it taken out of your hands.
How long were you in those unitards?
It was only a 20-day shoot, so 20 days in a unitard.
The alternate title: "20 Days in a Unitard."
[Laughs] That was the working title.
Ken was also saying...
What else was he saying? Ken is lying to you! What else? Go on.
He said he thought your character was like the commando John Clark in the Tom Clancy Jack Ryan novels. Had you read those books?
Are you a fan of any other submarine movies, like "The Hunt for Red October"?
There was actually a submarine episode of "The X-Files."
I'll remember if you remind me.
It's from 1998, when Mulder meets what he thinks is his long-lost sister Samantha, but she ends up being one of many clones and there's the alien bounty hunter. And the sub ends up in stuck in ice.
Yeah, I think I end up on the conning tower, but I don't go inside the sub ever. I remember Rob Bowman directed it. I can see the stage, I can see the conning tower, but I don't think I was ever in the sub set, if they showed it. God, we were just a television show, how were we going to shoot a sub? I know we were big and important and spent a lot of money, but I don't know that we ever got to shoot a submarine.
The movie is rated R, which I hadn't realized. Do you feel that the ratings board was too tough on it?
There's a couple of punches, but yeah, the whole ratings thing is ridiculous to me. Jesus, the violence and stuff that my kids see, cartoons and things like that, is crazy. It's Holocaust stuff. This is a knife. [His character slits a man's throat] They got their own agenda.
"Phantom" hits theaters Friday, March 1.
11. The Enemy Below
The action is divided between an American destroyer captained by Robert Mitchum and a German U-boat led by Curt Jurgens, whose character is disillusioned with the Nazi regime, drinks too much, and just wants to go home. Although they’re enemies, the tense cat-and-mouse between the two leads to a grudging respect of each other.
10. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
In this classic 19th-century Jules Verne tale, three castaways, (Kirk Douglas, Paul Lukas, and Peter Lorre) find themselves aboard Captain Nemo (James Mason)'s Nautilus in an era when submarines didn't even exist. Nemo first tries to kill them, but after they survive a submersion (outside the sub!) he lets them stay on. When a dying Nemo decides to take the entire crew with him to the bottom of the ocean, the castaways must fight to the death for their freedom.
9. The Hunt for Red October
When a typhoon-class Russian nuclear sub goes AWOL, the Americans scramble as they try to determine if its Captain Ramius (Sean Connery) intends a first strike against America or -- as lone voice of reason, CIA Analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) argues -- to defect to friendlier shores. The most nerve-wracking scenes are after Ryan boards the Red October, his hunch having proven correct -- but there's still a Russian loyalist aboard who's intent on sabotage or death.
8. The Bedford Incident
When you put an ambitious reporter (Sydney Poitier) aboard a sub with a controversially hawkish captain (Richard Widmark) of the USS Bedford, the sparks are going to fly. Set at the height of the Cold War, the tension mounts as the captain's pursuit of his prey, a soviet sub off the Greenland coast, becomes an all-consuming obsession. It's a dangerous course that leads to destruction that could have easily been avoided.
A group of American sailors are tasked with intercepting a German U-Boat and retrieving an all-important Enigma code machine to turn the tide of WWII. But when their boat is torpedoed, they must stay aboard the enemy sub. Everything is in German, their captive Nazi is plotting to kill them and -- in one of the most harrowing sequences -- a young sailor must make a risky swim through a flooded compartment to save the other men's lives.
6. Crimson Tide
One of the most tense films ever set aboard a submarine. Two radically different officers (a never-better Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman) are destined to clash in a Def Con 3 situation as they await orders after a Chechnyan rebel gets access to nuclear missile codes. An incomplete Emergency Alert Message leads to one relieving the other of duty, an eventual mutiny, and a near-sinking, as the enemy's torpedoes disable the ship. Add in low morale, a galley fire, and some tragic drownings and that is one boat we're glad we're not on.
This atmospheric thriller adds a supernatural element to the usual terrors of being submerged underwater: a ghost that's slowly and fatally taking its revenge on the living. Having a woman (Olivia Williams) aboard is also considered bad luck and this crew has it in spades. As she says, "a submarine isn't a good place to keep secrets" and all of them come out, for better or worse.
4. The Abyss
There is a submarine, but it's sunk at the beginning of the movie. It's the rescue effort aboard an experimental underwater oil platform where the most nerve-wracking events occur, thanks to a Navy SEAL (Michael Biehn) who is suffering from high-pressure nervous syndrome, making him paranoid and violent. His actions set in motion a disastrous chain of events.
3. Morning Departure
This little-known British postwar film conveys true claustrophobia as a routine exercise goes terribly wrong when the Trojan runs into a stray mine. The sub is stuck on the bottom of the ocean and running out of air. Out of a crew of 65, only 12 remain alive and only eight can escape via the hatch and conning tower. That leaves four men, including the captain whose wife begged him to leave the Navy (John Mills), to wait for a slow, doubtful rescue.
2. K-19: The Widowmaker
Based on a true (and long covered-up) incident about a deadly radiation leak on a Russian nuclear sub, this box-office disappointment marked a turn for future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow from mere entertainment to a more journalistic approach of real-life subjects. The doomed sailors are deliberately exposed to lethal levels of radiation wearing only plastic suits, which they are falsely told will protect them. Watching stars like Peter Sarsgaard succumb slowly to radiation poisoning is rough going.
1. Das Boot
The most realistic and grim entry in the submarine genre, this Oscar-nominated German subjects its viewers to claustrophobic, terrifying, and sometimes tedious life aboard a German U-boat. The tensions between the men, the actual battle scenes, and the bleak ending all make this film one of the most sobering you'll ever see.