For nine years, eight “X-Files” seasons and a big-screen finale to be accurate, David Duchovny played the literally and emotionally buttoned-down and celibate paranormal true believer Fox Mulder in tie and trench coat with ever-ready flashlight. His imagination, the notion that his sister had been abducted by aliens, was the wildest thing about him.
Now, he’s returned in Showtime’s “Californication” as novelist Hank Moody, a man of limited moods, mostly lodged in a funk with severe writer’s block, who spends much of his time unbuttoned (literally and emotionally), horizontal, and trashed with an endless parade of topless women and drained bottles.
Showtime has renewed the show, which executive producer Tom Kapinos says he created as an antidote to the teen-angst festival “Dawson’s Creek,” his previous big project. “Californication’s” first-season finale will be shown at 10:30 p.m. EDT Monday.
While Moody and Mulder appear diametrically opposed, Duchovny sees parallels. “What makes them both a joy to play as an actor is that neither of them give a damn about what anyone else thinks,” said Duchovny, 47, by phone from California, taking a break from promoting the movie “Things We Lost in the Fire,” in which his character, Halle Berry’s dead husband, is seen only in flashback.
“Hank is given to brutal honesty, who doesn’t really suffer fools and (barnyard expletive deleted that flies fine on American cable and numerous European networks, which love “Californication,” but not in family newspapers) gladly. Hank is happy to attack (that word again) just about every time he sees it,” Duchovny said. He’s also one of the show’s executive producers and “runs the set while Tom is madly writing.”
Hank, a dissolute rake in the Nicholson tradition, is not the most pleasant character for television, a venue that tends to flatten out rough edges and make everyone likable.
Cable, though, is another matter. It’s where imperfect people thrive, becoming an actors’ playground for meaty roles.
“It’s home now to the most interesting characters that you get to develop over so many episodes,” said Duchovny, who already did a brief, brilliant, Emmy-nominated turn as a lovelorn version of himself improbably in love with Garry Shandling on HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show.”
Kapinos didn’t write the script, originally developed as a feature film, with Duchovny in mind, but he “was at the top for me” of a short list of possible actors, Kapinos told the Writers Guild of America Web site. “There are so few guys that can actually pull this off, that can be charming and funny and good-looking. Girls love him, and men don’t begrudge him that. That’s a tricky thing to pull off.”
Duchovny, a Princeton graduate and only-a-dissertation away from a graduate degree in English literature from Yale, wondered if he could play such a louche character.
“He’s a loser with power, an angry, ineffectual man who refuses to lay down. I read the script and thought it was really funny and raunchy and dark. We got the character but what’s the show? I was on the fence. I didn’t understand what the show would be about,” Duchovny recalled.
“Tom Kapinos told me, `It’s about what if you get it right the first time and you screw up? You met the right person first. Do you let go or try to get her back?’ So what we have is a raunchy, dark, funny show with this romantic heart. And that won me over. I love those tensions in opposition.”
Moody is in love with his former girlfriend (Natascha McElhone), the mother of his 12-year-old daughter (the fetching Madeleine Martin). His former mate is now engaged to an invertebrate of a millionaire (Damian Young, making a career out of these characters having played Lisa Kudrow’s drip of a husband in HBO’s “The Comeback”).
That tangled skein leaves Moody in a curious position. “He’s a lothario who wants nothing more than to be monogamous with the one woman who won’t have sex with him,” Duchovny said.
The series attracted him because of the 12-week shooting commitment and cable’s freedom. “I had told myself that I would never get into that kind of schedule of 10 months and 14-hour days. That part of my life is over. I have a family and they don’t deserve more of that,” he said, referring to his two children and his gifted wife of 10 years, actress Tea Leoni.
“I had come to dismiss television, then I started to conceive of these as possible cable years,” said Duchovny, who directed three episodes of “The X-Files” (and wrote eight) and the poorly received 2004 feature “House of D.” “I can do an entire season in the time that it takes to make one movie.”
The show has attracted several noted directors and writers, including Bart Freundlich (“The Myth of Fingerprints”), Scott Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), and film noir specialist John Dahl (“Rounders,” “The Last Seduction”). The cast includes wonderful character actors including Evan Handler (“Sex and the City”), the scene-stealing Pamela Adlon (who voices Bobby on “King of the Hill”), and Rachel Miner as a Suicide Girl of a secretary.
In December, while on hiatus, Duchovny is scheduled to return to Canada to start the second, still-unnamed “X-Files” movie, directed by series creator Chris Carter and costarring Gillian Anderson. In spring, he’ll be back to start with “Californication’s” second season, possibly directing the first episode.
Perhaps Moody’s writing will improve over the break. At one point the novelist is described as “a poor man’s Jay McInerney.” While much of the season’s scripts have been inspired, snippets of Moody’s fiction are a parody of hard-boiled ennui, “Naked Came the Stranger” put through a blender with a heavy helping of Bulwer-Lytton. One inside joke is that Moody’s great novel, “God Hates Us All,” was fashioned into cinematic sausage, the blockbuster “A Crazy Little Thing Called Love” starring “Tom and Katie,” Katie Holmes having made her breakthrough on Kapinos’ “Dawson’s Creek.” Another is that Hank’s love is named Karen Van Der Beek, the same last name as “Creek’s star,” James.
On Monday’s finale, hope is tendered to Duchovny’s reckless roue of a character, though it might limit his comic stumbling and carnal gymnastics. But then again, no.
Duchovny looks forward to returning to the part. “Hank has no money and no power. People can relate to and love a character that has no power and yet acts with human dignity as if he has some,” he said.