Exit Interview: David Duchovny on the End of 'Californication'

"I always wanted Hank Moody to die," the actor says of his character. "That would have been my way of ending it"

David Duchovny Hank Moody Californication
Jordan Althaus/SHOWTIME
David Duchovny as Hank Moody on 'Californication'
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The sun set on Californication last night, after seven years of drug orgies and actual orgies. And finally, David Duchovny's character – the Bukowskian author Hank Moody, who took part in hilarious Dionysian fetes that would've made even Fellini wince – has gotten the bittersweet ending he deserved.

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From his evolution as a well-intentioned screw-up, unwittingly entwined in an affair with a 16-year-old as he tried to win over his baby-mama Karen in Season One, to (spoiler) navigating a relationship with the adult son he never knew he had in the final go-around, Moody endured the sorts of things that might crush most men. But thanks to wickedly funny plots, conceived by creator and former Dawson's Creek writer Tom Kapinos, Moody has emerged from those life situations – as well as any number of oversexed incidents, involving everything from "accidental cunnilingus" to "fucking and punching," with a "mangina" thrown in for good measure – with a quasi–happy ending, no nudity necessary.

"The T&A on the show seemed to be the thing people hung their hat on, but I went to work trying to do really good comedy," Duchovny says, looking back. "It's too bad [the nudity distracted viewers], because I think that people may have missed a really good show underneath all that mountain of T&A."

Before the actor moves on to his starring role in Aquarius, a drama in which he'll play a hard-nosed cop on the hunt for Charles Manson, Rolling Stone caught up with the actor and conducted an exit interview to find out just how he left Hank Moody...and how Hank Moody left him.

Why did you want to play Hank Moody in the first place?
After The X-Files, I wanted to do a comedy. But people weren't looking at me that way because that show was perceived as dark and kind of brutal, even though it always had funny moments. At the time that I wanted to do a comedy, it seemed like most were underdog comedies, like ones with Ben Stiller, Steve Carell and Will Ferrell. I wouldn't find myself believable in a world that Ben might do or Carell might do.

What attracted me to Californication was its hyper-articulate sense of verbal humor and adult situations. And when I say "adult situations," I don't mean sex; I just mean adults trying to solve their problems rather than childish men trying to work through their problems [laughs]. Hank is not the 40-year-old virgin.

Certainly not, but he is a bit of a screw-up. Is that what you found appealing about the role?
He wasn't always a screw-up. He's the wildest character in only the first season. Charlie [Runkle, played by Evan Handler] certainly went off a deep end and Pam [Adlon's] character went crazy. There were all these people out-Hanking Hank, and he eventually became the voice of reason. I always liked the fact that he was a romantic and sentimental person, as well as being brutally honest. He didn't lie, except about [the 16-year-old] Mia.

Speaking of Mia, how many times did she punch you for the first season's "fucking and punching" scene? 
That was in the pilot and it's been so long I don't remember. I don't think it was that many times. I can't remember thinking, "Wow, this is going to be an iconic moment," but then it became that.

Similarly, I'm always surprised when people say, "motherfucker!" to me on the street. I didn't know that they were going to like that so much.

Whose idea was it for Hank to say "motherfucker" in a falsetto like that in the first place? 
That's me. I can't remember why we did that the first time, but it just made us laugh. Then I just started saying it all the time [laughs]. 

What is your favorite turn-of-phrase to come from the show?
"Retarded man-child." Hank is a character who's very articulate and clever [laughs].

Karen always rejected Hank's marriage proposals. Should he have given up?
Well it is crazy, but he's fighting the good fight, and I think he believes that. He believes it's the best configuration of that family, to be with Karen and his daughter. He doesn't give up because to give up would be a lie. 

Is Hank a good father?
Yeah, I like the way he was a dad. He was very honest and very protective, a combination of very permissive and modern and old school. It's an interesting, inconsistent combination of traits for a father. 

But in the final season he bought his son a prostitute.
[Laughs] Yeah, but that's a little different because he's a new dad, more like an older brother to Levon [played by Oliver Cooper].

You have two Ivy League degrees in English Literature. Is Hank Moody a good writer? 
It seems like Hank Moody writes a lot like Tom Kapinos, so I would say, yeah, he's a good writer.

Hank always found himself in scenes where he was performing "accidental cunnilingus" or some other unbelievable situation. Looking back, what was the wildest scene you filmed?
There were a couple that I refused to film. Just even talking about them would be as bad as filming them. But the most outrageous was when I "relieved" myself on the hood of a car, as revenge on Hank's rival for Karen's affection. There was fake feces and everything, and we were like 10-year-olds that day. 

At what point did you get used to seeing Evan Handler naked? 
[Laughs] Well, you know Evan lost a lot of weight one year, and he showed up in really good shape. To me there's early Handler and late Handler, and I love 'em both. One of the phrases Tom wrote that I loved was when Hank told Charlie that when he's naked, "You look like a big, sexy baby." I love that line [laughs].

Rob Lowe's performance as the out-of-control actor Eddie Nero made for one of the series' most memorable guest appearances. Was he easy to work with?
Sure, Rob and I became friends doing the show. I got to direct him when he established the character.

Was it hard to get him to talk gleefully about taking a man in his mouth over and over again?
[Laughs] It wasn't. It's like, if you're going to sign on to do that part, you know what you're getting into. You can't say, "Hey, too far. Too far." I think at one point I said, "You realize that if you were ever thinking of running for any kind of political office, you can't now, because all your opponents would run any one of these clips and you're done."

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Now that it's done, how do you feel about the end of Californication
It was hard to end, but it felt like a good, long run. It went longer than I ever thought we were going to get.

How did you handle the last day on set?
The final days of any season are anticlimactic, because it always ends with driving shots. My final day was just me in the car again. It was bittersweet, like most endings. 

Were you happy with the way the series ended? 
I always wanted Hank to die. That would have been my way of ending it. 

Why would you have ended it with Hank's death?
Everything had to catch up with him. You can't drink and smoke like that and get away with it for too long. I wanted it to be complete. I wanted Hank to get married to Karen right before he died. That was my idea. Tom [Kapinos] and I would talk about, but it was never actually an option that was discussed with any kind of reality.

The series ultimately ended with some uncertainty about Hank and Karen's future together. Were you happy with that?
Tom and I always agreed that the happy ending of the show would be Hank and Karen together, and that's really what the show was about: that couple and their daughter. They were going to end up together; we always agreed on that. But with everything that happened on the past couple of seasons, you couldn't just force this blissfully happy ending onto the couple at the end.

Somebody wrote a guidebook last year called Becoming Hank Moody. What advice would you give someone who wanted to live the Hank Moody lifestyle?
I'd say, "Don't!" [Laughs] I don't think it would make for a very easy life. That's why I wanted him to die. I wanted that to be the lesson.

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