David Duchovny seems calm and easy on the set of his hard-edged new Showtime series with the suggestive title.
But there’s a glimpse of a disheveled bed inside Duchovny’s spacious trailer, his off-camera refuge on the studio lot. It’s a testament to his long hours as principal star of “Californication” and one of its executive producers.
Beds, in fact, are an essential prop on “Californication,” a comedy-drama set in Los Angeles and rated MA for explicit language and nudity.
But “it’s not a thinly veiled show that’s supposed to titillate you,” said Duchovny, best known for his role as dour, alien-obsessed FBI Agent Fox Mulder on the classic cult series “The X-Files.”
On “Californication,” premiering Aug. 13 (10:30 p.m. EDT), the lanky actor plays dysfunctional writer Hank Moody, who drowns his angst over writer’s block and his split with his gorgeous girlfriend, Karen (Natascha McElhone), in bouts of drinking and casual sex.
“It was a character I thought would be challenging to play because he wasn’t necessarily likable on the page,” Duchovny said of Hank.
When Duchovny first read series creator Tom Kapinos’ script for the show’s pilot, “it wasn’t really about a guy who indiscriminately gets into fights, boozes, who has sex with multiple women,” he said. “It was actually about a guy who’s doing that because he really wants to be with his family.”
Hank and Karen’s precocious 12-year-old daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin), also sparks conflict.
The show’s title is a play on the term Oregonians once coined for the unwelcome migration of Californians to their state, Kapinos said. He shares executive producer duties with Duchovny and Scott Winant.
Back as a leading man
“Californication” marks Duchovny’s return to television as a leading man after roles in feature films including “House of D,” which he wrote and directed, and “Trust the Man.” He also played oddball cameo roles in the Ben Stiller movie “Zoolander” and on TV series including “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Sex and the City” and “Life With Bonnie.”
“Californication” also reunites Duchovny with Showtime, where he previously played Jake Winters on the cable network’s sex-fantasy series, “Red Shoe Diaries.”
Even for an actor who specializes in quirky characters, Duchovny has picked a doozy with wayward Hank Moody.
Doing Hank’s sex scenes doesn’t trouble Duchovny, he said. “I’ve done enough of those scenes to know what they are, and to know what to expect. I’m just taking my shirt off, big deal. I can just act it.”
But Duchovny does feel for the actresses who play Hank’s sex partners. “For me, as an executive producer, I would go into those scenes wondering how to best service those scenes comedically, and how to make sure that the woman is comfortable. As chivalric as it might sound, and as tooting-my-own-horn as it might sound, a woman coming onto a set for one day and having to take her clothes off and simulate coitus with me or anybody is a difficult situation. And care should be taken.”
‘Actually a very moral person’
Duchovny finds much to relate to in Hank.
“He doesn’t have a conventionally moral way of looking at the universe, and yet ultimately we will find that he actually is a very moral person, that he’s one of these guys who tell the truth always, to his own detriment. To me, that’s a moral way of living,” he said.
Hank’s trenchant truth-telling gives Duchovny a chance to indulge his own deadpan brand of humor. There’s also occasion for physical shtick.
On this particular day on the set, Duchovny plays a scene in which kitchen-klutzy Hank grabs a burning-hot cheese casserole barehanded. As the oven smokes, Duchovny flaps his palms in pain.
“I like physical humor,” Duchovny said. “As I’ve gotten more comfortable as a performer, I’m able to access whatever my particular sense of humor is, more freely. I feel that much more relaxed.”
Although Duchovny directed episodes of “The X-Files,” he will not direct any of “Californication’s” scheduled 12 episodes, he said. “All the directors that we’ve had so far are very comfortable with me,” he added. “I just say what’s on my mind. And everyone’s pretty cool with that.”
Duchovny’s new “X-Files” movie should start shooting later this year, he said, directed by “X-Files” creator Chris Carter.
“I’ve had no compunction about being tied to that character,” Duchovny said of his Agent Mulder alter ego. “I doubt I’ll ever again play a part as popular as he was.”