Gregory Pace/Corbis Sygma
April 13, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

David Duchovny’s lovesick contractor in this week’s No. 1 romantic comedy ”Return to Me” is nothing like his morose, perpetually single Mulder on ”The X-Files.” In picking the part, he might have been following fellow TV actor Jenna Elfman’s rules for succeeding on the big screen. The ”Dharma and Greg” star, who acts opposite Ben Stiller and Edward Norton in Norton’s directing debut, ”Keeping the Faith” (opening Friday), hereby shares those guidelines with EW Online. (And if the words ”Krippendorf’s Tribe” make you doubt her theory, let’s just say it sometimes takes years for genius to be recognized — besides, we think she’s on to something.)

She says: Don’t take the lead role. Elfman thinks signing for the top-billed part is the No. 1 mistake a TV celeb can make. ”I haven’t run out to star in my own film, or do a movie opposite a monkey or a baseball team,” she says. We say: If only Matt LeBlanc had heeded this advice before taking on the 1996 bomb ”Ed.” And while we’re at it, LeBlanc isn’t the only ”Friend” to attempt to carry a film: Jennifer Aniston’s ”Picture Perfect”; David Schwimmer’s ”The Pallbearer”; and Matthew Perry’s ”Fools Rush In” all tanked, earning about $75 million… combined.

She says: Shed your TV character’s personality. Elfman has accomplished this by playing a humorless small-town gal in ”EDtv” and now a corporate exec in ”Faith.” ”This seems like a no-brainer to me,” she says. ”Duh. If I don’t, I’ll always be labeled as Dharma.” We say: Note to the ”Friends” cast (except for Lisa Kudrow, who transformed herself from the lovably dopey Phoebe into the uptight Lucia in ”The Opposite of Sex”) — please use a highlighter on this rule.

She says: Don’t do a film with other TV stars. ”I will never be in one of those movies starring this TV person and that TV person,” Elfman says. ”Could anything be a worse idea?” We say: For proof, check out Neve Campbell’s disastrous 1999 romantic comedy ”Three to Tango,” costarring Matthew Perry and ”The Practice”’s Dylan McDermott. That fiasco cost Warner Bros. $20 million to make and earned back barely half. The one terrifying exception to this rule? The ”Scream” trilogy, featuring Campbell and Courteney Cox Arquette.

She says: Don’t expect to be as successful as you are on TV. ”You can’t think, ‘Millions of people love my show, and they’ll all turn out for my movie,”’ says Elfman. We say: They won’t. Just ask (to name four) ”Cheers” dropout Shelley Long, ”NYPD Blue”’s David Caruso and Jimmy Smits, and ”ER”’s Noah Wyle. Remember Wyle’s dramatic turn in 1997’s ”Myth of the Fingerprints?” Neither do we.

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