Jeff Gordinier
December 29, 1995 AT 12:00 PM EST

Halfway into a conversation with David Duchovny, the phone wigs out. His voice slips into a weird pocket of noise—a fuzzy, quivering sound somewhere between radio hiss and a violin. ”Eh, that’s just an X-Files thing,” Duchovny calmly demurs. ”It’s probably the FBI.”

Seconds later — poof — the sound vanishes. Right on cue.

Which is a perfect way to explain Duchovny’s quiet appeal. Every week on The X-Files, the charismatic 35-year-old plays Fox Mulder, an FBI agent who peers into a paranormal realm of circus freaks and giant worms, psychos and psychics. And every week, he manages to stay calm. In a world fraught with fear and confusion, Mulder is our rock, our paragon of control. ”People feel safe with Mulder,” Duchovny reasons, ”aside from the fact that he always loses his gun and gets his ass kicked.”

That too is vintage Duchovny—a guy whose steely facade hides the soul of a stand-up comedian. Ask about his latest X-Files adventure: ”I’m being upstaged by mechanical roaches.” Ask what it’s like to be surrounded by kooks: ”I don’t want to talk about my growing up.”

Ask whether he bonded with any particular circus freak on a memorably bizarre episode of The X-Files, and Duchovny says yes, he did click with a fella called the Enigma: ”He was one of the sweetest, most normal human beings you could talk to, for a guy who is tattooed with blue-and-white puzzle pieces all over his body and eats live crickets. We should all talk to the Enigma once in a while.” And why not? Duchovny is no stranger to metaphysical chitchat. Educated at Princeton and Yale, he started acting after a close encounter with a Ph.D. in literary criticism. It’s not a sphere famous for producing prime-time hunks, but hey, that hasn’t stopped Duchovny’s yoga-toned physique from becoming a topic of intense study across the country.

As for those armies of G-women who wouldn’t mind investigating his paranormal phenomena, Duchovny pleads ignorance. ”I’m not really exposed to it, to be honest with you,” he says. ”Occasionally, my assistant will bring a pair of underwear into my trailer, but it’s usually mine.” He doesn’t troll the Internet for an ego boost; he is afraid he’d find the opposite. ”Nietzsche says we remember what gives us pain,” he says. ”Somewhere between the underwear and the pain lies a steady course.”

Steady, indeed. It makes sense that Duchovny names cool-eyed compatriot Clint Eastwood as his Hollywood hero. ”I certainly wouldn’t want to be known as Mulder for the rest of my life. That would be horrific.” (There are plans for an X-Files movie in 1997, but Duchovny is already breaking away: He’ll first get $2 million to play a Mafia doctor in a drama called Playing God.) Like Eastwood, Duchovny is sharp enough to cast a cold eye on the only thing more bizarre than The X-Files: stardom. ”It would worry me if I began to feel that my celebrity was something important to me, but I hope that it isn’t. When I get disposed of, we’ll see how bad I feel. Maybe you’ll see me hangin’ around the Conan O’Brien show, trying to get another shot.” Now, that would be an enigma.

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