On the eve of the Showtime series' final season, the actor, who plays troubled writer Hank Moody, tells TIME about letting his rear end call the shots in his career, the legacy of Californication, and his upcoming new NBC series Aquarius
After seven season, Showtime’s Californication is coming to its end. The series, created by Tom Kapinos, has followed troubled writer Hank Moody as he attempts to navigate family and career while continually womanizing, drinking and engaging in general debauchery. The character of Hank, played by David Duchovny, will hopefully find a satisfying — although perhaps not altogether happy — end during the final season, which premieres April 13.
Duchovny is already moving on to his next project, a series for NBC called Aquarius, on which he’ll play a police detective on the trail of serial killer Charles Manson. That project begins shooting in July, but meanwhile, Duchovny has been reflecting on the end of Californication and what the show has meant to popular culture. TIME spoke with the actor about saying goodbye to Hank, what it means to be a writer and why his ass makes all his career decisions.
TIME: Californication is ending! This is so sad.
We’re all sad. We loved each other. It wasn’t a just a job I loved going to every day. I know it sounds like bulls–t when an actor says, “It was like a family!” But it’s not exactly like a family, because usually you want to get away from your family. It was great. It was really a pleasure for the full seven years.
How long ago did the final season wrap?
We wrapped in August. It’s been over for a while. This is normally the time when we’d be gearing up to go again, so I think this is when we’re realizing it. We’ve all been in denial, like, “Oh, we’re just faking it. We’re actually going to do another year.” But now we’re realizing that we’re not.
What was the last day on set like for you?
I was alone. I got to say my goodbyes onset to different actors as we were moving through the last episodes. On the last day. I was alone on that promontory by LAX where we like to shoot, where we watch the planes take off and land. It was just me and the Porsche. I had to say goodbye to the Porsche! That was very difficult. When we cut and the First AD said, “That’s a series wrap for David,” Tom Kapinos, the writer and creator, was there. We kind of just walked off into the sunset and he was crying. I have a picture of it [that] somebody snapped as we started to walk away from the car. I’m glad I have that moment in a photo.
How does the conclusion of this series compare with the experience of ending of The X-Files?
With The X-Files, it was the first time that anything like that had happened to me. It was a phenomenon. It was life-changing. Life-transforming. I went from being somebody who nobody knew to somebody known worldwide. There were all these things that had happened because of the show. By the time we were finishing, I was really ready and eager to move and show that I could do other things, that I wasn’t just going to do this thing. So there wasn’t as much gratitude as I might have had, and looking back I wish I’d had that. I wanted to get out of there. I think we all did. And now, being older, I just try to appreciate things in the moment and be grateful in the moment. I think I was more present for the ending of this one.
When you were first approached to do Californication, what was it about the show and the character that compelled you?
After The X-Files, I didn’t want to do another television show because the schedule is so demanding and all-consuming. What happened with the advent of cable, which I hadn’t foreseen when I was leaving The X-Files and said, “I’ll never do another television show,” was that you could do 12 [episodes]. You could have a life and do other things you wanted to do in your career or your family. It didn’t have to be your sole creative identity or place, so that opened me up to even looking at scripts for television. That was the first step. And then I wanted to do a comedy. And this wasn’t the sort of man-child comedy that I saw most places. To me, it was more like comedies from the ‘70s where men acted immaturely, which is always funny, but not like 10-year-old boys. I was despairing that I was ever going to get a chance to do the sort of comedy I could drive, and then this came along, and I thought it was cinematic in that way. I thought, “Well, I’ll just do this and see if I’m full of shit about thinking I can do a comedy.” And lo and behold, it ran for seven years.
Do you think that Hank Moody, as a character, has changed over these seven years?
Well, the problem with serialized television is that you can’t change, or people get really mad. If people do something different, the fans go, “Oh God, how dare you change! We invested in you, and now you’ve changed.” The nature of it is, actually, to not change, but to keep making the same mistakes that people love to see. So, I don’t think that he changed. I think his focus changed. To me the show was always about this guy getting his family right. This guy’s focus was always his love for Karen and his daughter and wanting to do the right thing, and then getting torn away from that for whatever reasons — immaturity, lack of focus, weakness, drugs. It was always a matter of a guy not changing, but remembering who he really was.
Hank is a pretty flawed character. What do you think is his redeeming value?
He’s honest and he’s sincere. His sincerity is not maudlin. He’s a guy that says, “Look, life is difficult and we’re making choices here, and some of them are the wrong ones. Yet we can’t not make those choices.” What makes him attractive is that he is honest and he’s trying.
Do you have a favorite Hank Moody moment?
They all just popped into my mind when you asked that question, so this one might not even be my favorite. But the first thing that came to my mind is in the first season, when I vomit on the Scientologist, and then she vomits. That was Paula Marshall, and it was her idea. She said, “I should vomit too!” I was like, “Yes! You should vomit too.” One vomit: Funny. Two vomits: Hilarious. And three vomits? Not funny at all. What an interesting calculus.
Over the years, have you had real writers come up to you and say, “This is just not how writers behave”?
It’s more like, this is how writers wish the world worked! Tom Kapinos would eagerly tell you that this whole show has been the wish fulfillment of a writer, which is that the world is a place where writing is valued and writers are attractive to women and well-paid and don’t even ever really have to write.
It was really interesting last season when Hank tells his daughter that writing is sitting down and actually writing but the rest is just posturing. That seemed reflective of the show itself.
Yeah, and as a writer myself, I would say that is true. It’s maybe a cliché, but the hardest part of writing is putting your ass in a chair. Once you start, things are going to happen. But nothing is going to happen unless you sit down.
Do you actively write a lot these days?
I’ve never been good at sitting down! But I did write a short novel that will come out next year. And I’ve been writing a bunch of songs and lyrics. I have been writing. [The novel] will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, probably next spring.
So is this the chicken or the egg: You played a writer and then you wrote a novel, or you were a writer who happened to play one on TV?
Well, we all know the chicken came first. Didn’t they figure that out? But I’ve always been a writer. I was a writer before. I always considered myself a writer, even though I didn’t sit down enough.
Do you have a sense of what Californication’s legacy will be?
I think the show’s legacy might be surprising — I hope it is. The bright lights and the big city aspect of this show has always been sex and nudity, and I think once that comes into play, it’s all people react to, either negatively or positively. That becomes the issue, pro or against. People tend to get blinded to the fact that we were doing a funny show about a family. Which is what I think the show is, really. If it were to attain a legacy, I’d be happy if it was, “That show that was really funny about a family and felt really true.”
Now that you’re going to do a NBC series, will it be weird to be leaving all that sex and nudity behind?
No, it’s the job of an actor. I’d certainly done sex and nudity in films before. And the amount of my nudity and sex in Californication, if you were to go back and look, is a lot less than you might imagine. It was happening a lot more around me than to me. And I’d always say, “If I’m going to show my ass, I’m going to show it in the first episode while I’m still in shape.” That was always the stipulation. If you ever want to see my ass, you look at the first episodes.
For someone who said they wanted to do movies after The X-Files, how is it that you are about to do your third TV series?
Yeah, well, you know, that’s just the nature of the business. Movies have become smaller and smaller, and they’re hard to get. They’re hard to do. The big blockbusters are not necessarily that interesting to me. I’m not saying I’m getting offers and turning them down, but to me, the best work is happening on television, mostly on cable. And now, the networks are trying to compete in terms of content. Obviously they have limitations of language and violence and sex, but I think something like Aquarius is bringing a cable sensibility to a network.
Do you have to get in shape for your role on Aquarius even, with no nudity?
Not that I know of! That’s the good news. I have to consult my ass on my roles now. My ass turned down all the cable shows.