Actor David Duchovny

Golden Globe-winning actor and Californication star reflects on entering the fourth season of the hit series and discusses his recent foray into stage acting.

What began as a lark on the way to a Ph.D. at Yale became David Duchovny's calling, and the Golden Globe-winning actor brings that intense intellect to his roles. The X-Files made him an international celebrity; but, before stardom, he had a recurring role on the series Twin Peaks and made guest appearances on The Larry Sanders Show. Crossing over to the big screen, Duchovny's film credits include House of D—his film directorial and writing debut—and The Joneses. He stars in Showtime's Californication, which begins its fourth season this month.


Tavis: Always pleased to welcome David Duchovny back to this program. The two-time Golden Globe winner is back with an all-new season of his hit Showtime series, “Californication.” The show airs Sunday nights at 9. Here now a scene from “Californication.”
Tavis: Ouch! Can you feel the love (laugh)?
David Duchovny: It’s a comedy (laugh).
Tavis: Yeah (laugh). It must be nice to be starting your fourth season and to have your biggest open of those four seasons. That’s pretty cool.
Duchovny: Yeah. It kind of snuck up on us. It’s been nice that the show’s grown on its own in a way, which I guess can happen in cable. There’s such a long time between seasons that I think people discover it on DVD or on reruns.
Tavis: I was about to ask and you may have just answered, what do you make of that, that nobody these days in television gets a chance to grow, to build, to move the parts around to make it work? You know how this business works. You’re the expert here. You don’t hit the first three or four weeks, you get yanked pretty quickly, yet here you are in season four, and you found your biggest audience to date.
Duchovny: Yeah, and it’s really too bad. I think it’s more the case in network where the numbers mean so much right away. But what’s unfortunate is that most television shows don’t know what they are right away. I mean, I think we’ve gotten better even from the first year.
“The X-Files,” as I recall, we didn’t know really what we were until the middle of the first year. You know, so if we’d been cancelled, you get cancelled before you mature into what it is you can actually be, which is too bad.
Tavis: If you know what this show is now, and I assume you do four years later, it is what for those who haven’t seen it as yet?
Duchovny: Oh, wow. Well, I always come back to – I guess it hearkens back to the adult comedies of the 70s movies that I love like “Shampoo” and even “Harold and Maude,” comedies that were made for an adult audience instead of comedies that try to reach the entire audience, which is kind of what you have to do today to drive the motor.
So we think that we’re making a comedy for adults. Sometimes we’re as childish as anybody. Then we think we’re making a sex farce, we think we’re making a comedy and we also think we’re making a drama about a family trying to make it.
Tavis: Is it just me or am I getting the sense at least that there are more comedies connected to sex for adults now than ever before?
Duchovny: Well, I think, in terms of features, I think with, you know, Judd Apatow’s work starting with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” even though that’s not really about sex, but that sensibility where sex is kind of the coin of the realm, speaking of it more than doing it, and then the hangover. You know, with that making such use, I think the R-rated comedy kind of came into its own in the last seven or eight years. So, yeah, I think you’re right.
Tavis: Were you, prior to this season, an EP on the show or is that new this season?
Duchovny: No, no. I started that way, yeah.
Tavis: You started from the beginning. I somehow missed that the last time you were on.
Duchovny: And I haven’t fired myself yet.
Tavis: (Laugh) That’s important.
Duchovny: I’m thinking about it.
Tavis: That’s important. Are you gonna direct some more episodes this season?
Duchovny: Yeah. Actually, I directed that episode that that clip is from. I always do one a year because I can’t really prep more than that. I’d love to do more. I love it and I love the actors that I get to work with on the show. So it’s one of my joys of doing the show is getting to direct it.
Tavis: To your point about directing now, because you don’t have time to prep for it because you’re, obviously, starring in it, obviously you can get better as an actor every season because you’re doing it every day. If you don’t have time to do the directing even though you love doing it, how do you get better at that part of it?
Duchovny: I don’t know how anybody gets better at anything aside from doing it. I mean, I don’t know. I think what happens for me, I hope that I get better as a director.
What happens is, unfortunately, there’s a long time in between the times that I get to do it, but I think there’s kind of a sedimentation that happens almost where you’re learning things even though you don’t know you’re learning. Then the next time you’re on set, the questions that used to just bamboozle you are now obvious answers and, all of a sudden, it happens that way. Not to say that things can’t go horrendously wrong because they do sometimes.
Tavis: I was teasing you – not teasing you. Teasing is the wrong word. I was asking you –
Duchovny: – you were teasing (laugh).
Tavis: I found it implausible. It didn’t make sense to me when I read in this new Neil LaBute play that you were in, that was your first time on the stage?
Duchovny: Yeah, ever.
Tavis: Not first time on Broadway?
Duchovny: No, no.
Tavis: But your first time on the stage as an actor?
Duchovny: Ever, ever.
Tavis: How did you get to this point in your career when you had never been on stage?
Duchovny: I’m just an imposter (laugh). I feel like I came to acting late in a way. I was about 26 or 27 and it was imperative that I make a living right away and it’s hard to make a living on stage, so I started in television and film.
In high school and college, I was an athlete. I never did theater, so it just never happened and I never had the time to get back to it. Now I’m living in New York and it all just kind of opened up that way. I guess I’ve said that the only public stage experience that I had was I played one of the Magi in the Christmas pageant when I was about ten.
Tavis: (Laugh) What did you make of this experience?
Duchovny: It was fascinating because –
Tavis: – fascinating is always a fascinating word. I’m not sure what that means. What is fascinating?
Duchovny: Well, mostly because of the audience, you know.
Tavis: Right.
Duchovny: I didn’t know. Obviously, I didn’t know what an audience is in that sense. An audience is part of the play. I’d heard that. I didn’t know what it meant. What it came to me to mean is Neil’s play is and was – it can be very funny. It’s also very dark.
So there are different ways it can go on different nights. Sometimes the audience laughs right away and you get the feeling, oh, that’s the show they want. They’re pushing it. We want a comedy, we want a comedy, and sometimes they don’t.
Neither play is better than the other, the comedy one or the not so funny one. They’re very different and they’re both very powerful, but I found that to be a fascinating give-and-take between us, an unconscious one almost where we’re all in the room together and we’re doing something together. You’re part of it too, and we’re just trying to put on a show.
Tavis: Unconscious in some ways, but clearly you’re aware that these few hundred, you know, 500 folk that are sitting out there watching you, everybody has his or her own feeling about this, I suspect. My show, it’s just you and me. A couple guys on camera, but there’s no audience. You know, Leno and Letterman do it a little bit differently.
What’s Duchovny’s choice now that he’s done both? Being on the set doing your lines or being in front of this live audience in the moment?
Duchovny: They’re so different that I wouldn’t choose. If feel like I’ve spent almost 20 years learning my craft as a film actor, television actor and a director of that medium that I love to be able to utilize those skills that I’ve paid dearly for. You know, you fail and you learn and you fail and you learn.
So I’m excited to do that when I finally feel like my apprenticeship is over and, you know, I get to do that. In terms of the audience, you know, I didn’t die. I was terrified the first time I –
Tavis: – you were. After all these years, you were still afraid.
Duchovny: Well, not only that, but this particular play begins with a 15-minute monolog, just me facing the audience, and it ends with a 15-minute monolog. So I thought of all the things that I could have picked. Well, it picked me, you know, but the first time, I was sitting there before the first preview offstage and I was just thinking, “You’re about to walk out onstage with a 15-minute thing” and I don’t know that I’m gonna remember. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I don’t know, and that was terrifying.
In fact, I found that to be one of my worst habits as stage actor was I would come off from doing the monolog and, if it didn’t go as well as I wanted it to, I would find myself in the next scene just thinking about it. It’s a philosophical and an emotional maturity that you get to just let it go, you know.
But there were nights where, the whole play, I would be thinking about the first monolog and like “Damn it.” It’s ridiculous because it’s always new. They don’t think that it was terrible, you hope.
Tavis: I empathize because I feel that way every other question on this show. Dumb question, wasn’t it?
Duchovny: I mean, you’re half kidding, right?
Tavis: (Laugh) Sometimes you’re half kidding. But sometimes you do that. You’re in the middle of a conversation and you’re like, “Why did I just ask that question?”
Duchovny: Well, really, all your going off of is instinct. You know, in this conversation or in any kind of a live performance, that’s all you’ve got and sometimes you hit and sometimes you miss, but sometimes the misses are better than the hits.
Tavis: Yeah, I agree with that. Let’s hope they are, at least. In all the times we’ve had a chance to talk, I have never asked you – I’m gonna ask for the first time. I’m sure your die-hard fans know this. Duchovny. Tell me about this last name.
Duchovny: Yeah. It’s Russian. It means spiritual. Whenever I run into an Eastern European who speaks the language, either Polish or Russian or Hungarian or whatever, it means spiritual in all those languages.
“Duch” means spirit and “ovny” is kind of the adjectival ending, so the word itself means spiritual. It’s my father’s name, obviously. He took the “H” out because he was tired of people saying Duchovny, but he never did it legally.
When my parents divorced, my mother, to my father, put the H back in. Not even her name, but she puts the H back in. So when I was 11, I started signing my name differently. I spent the first 11 years of my life spelling it D-U-C-O-V-N-Y, which is not a name. It’s like an Ellis Island name. Then after 11, I had to put the H back in. My brother never did, and my sister –
Tavis: – sometimes.
Duchovny: Depending on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, you know. So that’s the name. You know, as names that can mean things, I prefer spiritual to a lot of other things.
Tavis: I was about to ask, having said all that, whether or not you think it fits. Obviously, you think it does.
Duchovny: Well, I don’t know if it fits. I just –
Tavis: – you prefer it.
Duchovny: Well, let’s say that it fits, I mean, in a general sense. Yeah, I would hope that my concerns are in that area and not just in the physical world.
Tavis: The fourth season of “Californication” is on the air now on Showtime starring one David Duchovny – with or without an H.
Duchovny: It’s Duchovnia, actually. I don’t want to lay that on you.
Tavis: I’m glad you said that (laugh). Say that again.
Duchovny: Duchovnia.
Tavis: There you go. I got to work on that. I’ll have that down by the time you come back next time.
Duchovny: Sorry if I spit on you when I said it. That’s probably why my father changed it after all. He was starting to spit on people.
Tavis: (Laugh) Well, by the time you come back next time, I’ll have that down.
Duchovny: All right. Thanks for having me.
Tavis: For now, thanks, David. Good to have you on.
Duchovny: Thank you.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm