Why David Duchovny Walked Away From His Biggest Role

David Duchovny walked away from The X-Files during a legal dispute with the studio regarding profits owed to him.

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

The X-Files

Usually when an actor walks away from a breakout role, whether it’s David Caruso on NYPD Blue or Denise Crosby, Tasha Yar of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it’s because they want to make a jump to movies. When David Duchovny left The X-Files following season 7, he explained to Entertainment Weekly, that his reasoning was entirely financial. It’s not that Duchovny, who had played Fox Mulder for seven years at that point, including starring in the 1998 feature film, was holding out for more money, he simply wanted was owed him.

David Duchovny complained, publicly and vocally, that he believed Twentieth Century Fox Film, the studio behind The X-Files, was not holding up to their end of the contract. By this point, Duchovny was set to receive profit-sharing for the landmark series, in his complex lawsuit filed against Fox, the actor set out to prove that the studio was not acting in good faith. Pursuing a real-life conspiracy, instead of what Agent Mulder was attempting to prove, the Californication star insisted that Fox was reducing the licensing cost for the franchise when dealing with its own subsidiaries, the cable channel FX and the book publisher HarperCollins.

“I’m not looking to win the lottery, I’ve fulfilled my contract and I want them to fulfill theirs.”

David Duchovny on why he sued Twentieth Century Fox

Licensing a show is how most productions end up being massively profitable, before streaming overtook broadcast television, the goal was to reach 100 episodes of a show for sale as a syndication package. In the current media market, licensing is still important, best exemplified by Warner Bros. Discovery removing shows from their own streaming service and selling them out to others, that way they can collect the license payments. David Duchovny, likely correct in his belief, thought that Fox was accepting a lower payment for The X-Files in order to keep the lucrative show in house instead of accepting licensing offers from other networks.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in The X-Files

The lawsuit was settled out of court in 2000 and David Duchovny was apparently pleased with the result, as the actor returned in The X-Files finale two years later. Duchovny stepped back into the shoes of Fox Mulder multiple times after, with a second feature film in X-Files: I Want To Believe and then a brief revival limited series, encompassing seasons 10 (in 2016) and 11(in 2018) of the show. Unfortunately for fans of the long-running sci-fi series, creator Chris Carter currently has no plans to return to the world of cigarette smoking men, grey aliens, and government conspiracies.

Following Disney’s acquisition of Fox, The House of Mouse now owns The X-Files, which means that once they need more content for their own streaming service, there is a chance, albeit small, of a return. The biggest hurdle to a return is with Gillian Anderson, the actress became a household name as Dana Scully, but has now decided to move on with her career. For his part, David Duchovny has said he’ll only return to The X-Files if Chris Carter has an amazing concept for a story that pushes Mulder in a different direction.

David Duchovny will next appear as part of the ensemble cast in You People, a buddy comedy also starring Eddie Murphy, Jonah Hill, Julia-Louis Dreyfuss, Mike Epps, Nia Long, and Rhea Perlman.