The Sun Sets On ‘Californication’: David Duchovny Discusses the Show’s Rock n’ Roll Connection (Q&A)

Patrick Wymore/SHOWTIME
Natascha McElhone as Karen and David Duchovny as Hank in Californication.

This Sunday night (June 29th at 9:30p ET/PT), after seven memorable seasons, Hank Moody and his very distinctive ‘Californication’ crew will say farewell. When the credits come up on that last episode of the popular Showtime series, it will also mark the end of one of the most authentically rock n’ roll shows to ever grace the screen according to Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones, an authority on the subject who has played Krull for the final two seasons. Jones credits ‘Californication’s musical supremacy to the show’s creator, Tom Kapinos.

“Tom has a good sense of the rock n’ roll world for sure, because he loves [it], he plays guitar himself, I think he reads everything about music and I think he just knows a lot more than most who write for TV shows,” Jones tells Billboard. “Hence it comes out cool and not cheeseball.”

Over the past seven seasons, ‘Californication’ has been more than just a home for great music for everyone from Tommy Stinson, Joseph Arthur, Lily Haydn and Darker My Love to the Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Elton John and Warren Zevon -- the show’s unofficial artist in residence whose “Keep Me In Your Heart” during the final episode of season two remains one of the series’ most enduring musical memories. It’s also been a home for great musicians; in addition to Jones, Marilyn Manson, Rick Springfield and RZA had recurring guest starring roles on the show.

“We’re Tom Kapinos’ rock n’ roll fantasy camp,” says the show’s star, David Duchovny.

As author Hank Moody, Kapinos’ rollicking and rocking alter ego, Duchovny has learned to play guitar, sung the Band’s “The Weight” on stage at L.A.’s Greek Theater and written a musical biography of fictional iconic producer Lew Ashby.

“Tom is a big music lover. I guess Moody is such a wish fulfillment fantasy for a writer like Tom. He’s a writer that has a rock n’ roll lifestyle,” Duchovny says.

That is because Moody is a rock star himself, according to Manson. “[Tom] told me that when he was coming up with the character of Hank Moody, he wanted to have a rock star, but it wouldn’t work if he was writing about a real rock star,” Manson says. “He was writing about himself, so he wanted to combine a writer who behaved like a rock star.”

As fans get ready to say goodbye to Moody and learn what happens to the rock star author, as well as the sublime ensemble that includes Natascha McElhone (Karen), Evan Handler (Runkle), Pamela Adlon (Marcy) and Madeline Martin (Becca), we spoke with Duchovny about the evolution of Hank, the ‘X-Files’ and his own lyrical prowess.

Billboard: What was the last concert you saw?

David Duchovny: I want to see Fleetwood Mac tonight, but I think I’m going to be working too late. I’ve never seen Fleetwood Mac and I’d like to see them. I’ve always thought [Lindsey Buckingham] is a really interesting, good guitarist.

He’s better now than ever just from years of practice, even though there is this idea that as a musician you wash up at a certain age.

I’ve thought about the same thing. As an actor, at least somebody like me, I think some actors are immediately who they are. I never felt that way. I felt it took me a while to get to a certain point, and now I feel like I’m getting too old to use all these things that I’ve learned. It’s kind of sad sometimes when you feel you’ve served this apprenticeship in a way, not to someone, but to yourself. And then our culture is so kind of youth oriented that the best practitioners, let’s just stick musically, it’s hard for them to find an outlet. I’m not saying Lindsey Buckingham doesn’t have an outlet, but the point is guys like that have been playing their whole lives have gotten better. The norm is that you work less and less or there is less and less interest in your work, which is too bad, because I think as people get older, their work gets more interesting.

Are there other actors that you admire how they’ve evolved?

That’s interesting. I think I’ve always admired the simpler kind of actors, like stripping away the more artifice that you can. Not that I don’t enjoy a big performance now and then, but just those people that seem to be interesting to watch when they are not doing anything at all. I wouldn’t want to name names, but that’s kind of where I’m drawn. And I remember when I was actually studying literature and talking about Hemingway or Beckett or these people that are constantly stripping down, taking away as much artifice as you can off something.

That’s why I’m a big fan of John Lennon’s songwriting.

I’ve come to appreciate it just from taking up the guitar. Of course, before I did it I thought these guys were all geniuses and I could never play any of these, then you play all these and you realize there are five or six chords. The genius comes in the melody and the production. You’ve only got this limited amount -- obviously you’ve got all musical notes to play with, the fact is that in R&B, rock and roll, whatever, you are coming back to very similar patterns. You’re using a very stripped-down vocabulary, and yet these people are making these new beautiful things.

How has Hank changed from season one to season seven?

The challenge, just like the technical challenge, in the beginning is just the sheer amount of words. He is very articulate and talks a lot, and a lot of the humor is verbal, so that was really something for me to try and get comfortable with. And now I feel that’s second nature here, so what I come back to is trying to communicate stuff non-verbally, trying to find the time with a scene, which has a lot of words, to exist and be non-verbal, so I try and come at it from both directions now.

When did you see that switch a bit?

Probably somewhere around the second or third season. And it’s been that way throughout my working career. I would say with the ‘X-Files’ starting, it took me two or three years just to get comfortable period on a set, just bare minimum, saying my lines and hitting my marks. Then that was no longer a challenge thank God, and then it becomes how do you make that technical speak human, emotional? How do you connect with it? And then here, as I said, it was just a matter of bringing everything together, bringing the words and the physicality, everything, together. And that’s been the great gift for me actually working on the show. I’m comfortable kind of doing anything now.

So how will that go into other parts? Like, how would Hank Moody infuse Fox Mulder?

You always have to be careful from role to role, but yeah, there’s very little subtext on this show. That’s what’s funny about it -- everybody speaks their mind, that’s kind of the joke of the show. And something like the ‘X-Files,’ or most non comic pieces, people actually don’t say what they’re thinking.

But the way the show is so frank is unusual, even for comedies.

I think so. Even though sometimes I want to apologize, Tom doesn’t apologize, which I think is probably a stronger point of view. It can make enemies, but in the end, it is frank, it is brutal and it is unapologetic, which I think is unique. Most comedies … try to tell you that these people are really nice and have good hearts and please don’t hate us because of the stuff we did the previous 90 minutes, cause we’re gonna get married.

What are some of the comedies you appreciate then?

I appreciate Judd [Apatow’s] stuff. And, to me, there’s a direct line from [Garry] Shandling to Judd and I really appreciate Garry’s brand of humor and also that it was always his goal and mantra that the comedy comes out of character, and it doesn’t come out of jokes and one liners. I appreciate that kind of humor, and then somebody like Sasha Baron Cohen, I appreciate his balls. That is another unapologetic dude.

There is something very refreshing for people who are able to say whatever they want.

Like Larry David in ‘Curb [Your Enthusiasm]’ -- even though it’s maybe not as raunchy as we are, when I started doing this show I saw those kindred spirits. I always thought of Hank as a person that doesn’t care about alienating anybody, much the same way that Larry David’s character says what he says.

What is interesting though is you don’t get the sense Hank alienates people the way Larry David does. I love ‘Curb,’ but I have never thought I’d want to hang out with Larry David.

That is kind of the trick; people get angry at Hank, but they still kind of like him. I’m not sure how we’ve been able to pull that off, but we did.

So how has this season been different for you?

There are new dynamics and the balance and the heart of the show, for me, has been the sentimental side of actual human relations between Hank and Karen, Hank and Becca, even Hank and Charlie. There is love there. Without that, I think this show just kind of floats away into its other parts, and in this season there’s a new kind of love that is happening. For me, that is an interesting thing to do for the characters, to bring in a completely new dynamic.

How is your guitar playing coming along?

I keep on telling Tom, because I’ve started to write songs of course -- like anyone who’s played for a month starts to write songs -- to put a song on the show, but he is being very resistant. I don’t blame him, but my lyrics are far better than my music. It’s an excuse for me to get some poems out there.

Who are some of the poetic influences?

I think the earliest people that I was drawn to, like John Berryman, that first person confessional mode was interesting. Lyricists -- obviously Lennon is a beautiful lyricist, Dylan is unique, the way you start playing songs, and there is so much available to you now on the Internet, you can get any song you want. Even my buddy that I play with in New York is a big country fan. I’ve always scoffed at country, but he’s shown me some really great songs. And he was telling me Keith Richards loves George Jones, so I was like, “Okay, I’ll listen to him.”

Will people ever hear these songs or at least see the poetry?

Right now they’re strictly for me. There’s auto-tune for me, which is helpful. And my good friend Keaton Simons, who’s a really great musician himself, has been kind enough to help me record a couple. And when the show is over I am gonna maybe go in and record a few more with him. But they’re just kind of for me because I can’t believe that I actually wrote these things that may or may not suck. It was always… not a fantasy, but I felt like I wish I had been a musician or played an instrument in my lifetime.


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