Duchovny working on directing debut ‘D’

GOOD MORNING: Wednesday night, while many New Yorkers were in Miami with their beloved Yankees — in body or in spirit — New York-born David Duchovny was seated in a camera crane shooting into the second floor of the Armory on Lexington between 26th and 27th. He’s making his feature film directing debut with “The House of D,” which he also wrote and in which he co-stars. And he’s under budget, he proudly told me. The budget: $7 million. But that’s because he and many of his cast member friends are working for the minimum the guild will allow. That includes Robin Williams, Frank Langella and Duchovny’s wife, Tea Leoni. “And she asked to play the part,” he said. “I wasn’t going to impose on her — she’s a very gifted actress.” (She has a moving death scene with young Anton Yelchin, who plays her 14-year-old son.) Duchovny’s wife in the pic is played by Magali Amadei. Duchovny claims, “I’d work for no money at all — if it was allowed.” He wrote the script (his first) in six days — “It came out in torrents. I hope it happens again!” CAA shepherded the deal and Richard Lewis, Bob Yari and Jane Rosenthal produce. Filming winds with three days in Paris. They’ll seek distribution on completion of editing…. Duchovny has no pic plans set to follow — but busy Tea immediately heads to Jim Brooks’ “Spanglish.”

HOWCUM NICOLE KIDMAN smokes (incessantly) in “The Human Stain”? I asked director Robert Benton on his stop in L.A. for the pic’s preem Tuesday p.m. at the ArcLight in Hollywood. Benton explained, “She (Nicole) told me she’d spent a lot of time in shelters talking to battered women. They leaned on them (cigarettes) as a crutch. And it helped define her character as self-destructing.” He assured me she stopped smoking as soon as the film was completed. Benton reminds that the film, based on Philip Roth’s novel, “is not just one of racial passing — but shows that everyone in this country has the right to change his own identity. I grew up in a very little town in Texas — but after two weeks in New York I’d learned to lose that accent.” He says the film’s been shown by Miramax to black audiences for reaction. I spoke to Ward Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute and a member of the Board of Regents of the U. of California. He said he asked to see the film. He said the pic belongs in the category of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” etc. “Why does the government classify its citizens by race? One out of nine children are born to interracial parents. The film represents an opportunity for people to break out of that insidious racial prison in which you’re confined to being just black or white.” … Benton now is preparing John O’Hara’s “Appointment in Samarra” as well as Scott Rudin’s production of “Nobody’s Fool” — with a younger cast than “Human Stain,” which boasts Hopkins, Kidman, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris. But Benton also tips his hat to the remarkable performances by Wentworth Miller and Jacinda Barrett, who play the young leads in “Stain.” They were all on hand Tuesday with Benton to toast Hopkins and casting director Deborah Aquila plus Lakeshore’s Tom Rosenberg and Miramax’s Bob Osher.

AS THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY of the assassination of John F. Kennedy approaches (Nov. 22), Tallfellow’s readying the publication of “You’ll Never Be Young Again: Remembering the Last Days of John F. Kennedy” by Chuck Fries and Irv Wilson with Spencer Green. On Sunday, Fries hosts an invitational booksigning at his home; several of the contributors will read their portions of the book. They include Stacy Keach, Allan Burns, Connie Stevens and Joan Van Ark. The book’s long list of contributors range from Jack Valenti, who was with Kennedy on the last night he was alive, to Jerry Lewis … I thought I’d ask “Mary Poppins” stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke their reaction to news (Variety‘s Matt Wolf) that Cameron Mackintosh and Disney’s Thomas Schumacher are readying a musical legit “Mary Poppins” to bow on London’s boards in 2004. The 1964 pic produced by Walt Disney won Julie an Oscar for her first film. She allowed, ” ‘Mary Poppins’ brought a lot of joy to many people — including myself — on the screen and I’m sure it’ll do the same on the stage.” Van Dyke says, “It’s a great idea.” He was asked to be in legiter “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” a hit in London — he starred in the 1968 film — but declined both the London and proposed N.Y. production. “I’m past the age of going onstage eight times a week. (He’ll be 78 Dec. 13). I’m not doing anything.” Meanwhile, Julie has been crisscrossing the country with her book “Julie Andrews Collection” — an imprint for HarperCollins, talking about taking “The Boy Friend” to B’way following its successful bow under her direction at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, and in makeup and wardrobe rehearsals for the start of Disney’s “Princess Diaries II” for director Garry Marshall. Her “Eloise at Christmas” airs Nov. 22 on ABC… I also talked to Dick Sherman, who with brother Bob wrote those incredible tunes for “Mary Poppins.” He says those songs will be in the legiter and they’ve been in constant, warm conversations with Mackintosh and Thomas Schumacher and that Bob has moved to London from his L.A. home. P.S.: They have some revealing tales to tell about the confabs with author Pamela Travers and the travails to get the film made — by Americans. They say the fact it’s now to be a musical “is like a dream come true” … Tripod presents a Songwriters Salon — 12 of the top songwriters — playing their own tunes — Sunday at the home of Ruth and Joe Sinay. They include Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Stephen Bishop, Tom Kelley and Billy Steinberg, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Richard Marx, Amanda McBroom, David Pomeranz, Bruce Roberts and Richard Sherman — yes he of “Chim Chim Chiree and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Tripod benefits hearing-impaired children.

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