David Duchovny’s Hank Moody, the protagonist of Showtime’s hit series Californication, may be a writer by nature, but there is arguably no bigger rock star on episodic TV than the wild-living author. He’s been shot at by RZA, propositioned by more women than Gene Simmons and woken up in jail, in the hospital and on the streets, all while chasing his on-again, off-again true love Karen (Natascha McElhone).
On the show’s upcoming sixth season, which premieres January 13th, creator Tom Kapinos embraces Moody’s rock star nature, having the character write a rock opera and run in circles that include Marilyn Manson (playing himself in two episodes) and Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones (who plays a bodyguard).
Duchovny spoke with Rolling Stone recently about the new season, his dreams of having a Beatle on the show, why Moody is a true romantic and the rock star he patterned Moody after.
With Hank writing a rock opera, this year has more of a music vibe than any season since the second.
Oh, sure. Even though with RZA Hank was kind of in the rap world, he was kind of an interloper. But this is more of a rock & roll year, and that’s where Hank lives. One of the fun things for me is I started to teach myself guitar last year, and Tom Kapinos knows that I was learning, so he threaded through the year little bits where Hank had to play guitar so I had to keep getting better and taking lessons.
What was the first song you learned on guitar?
I think “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.”
And now you get to bring this skill to the stage in the season finale, where Hank joins others onstage at L.A.‘s Greek Theater.
You were there, so you saw we got up there and we played, but I wouldn’t call it a skill. I made sure my amp was turned way down. If in Spinal Tap it goes to 11, my amp goes to negative one.
Will we ever see you in a musical?
I may be learning guitar, but I’ll never be able to sing. So I would say no, there are some things that God has prohibited from the beginning.
Tell us about the musical guest stars on this season.
I really enjoyed meeting Steve. He was on for a lot of the year, so he was kind of a fixture, and he was great. And Manson is a really bright guy, really interesting guy, and I guess he’s a huge fan of the show and signed into hotels as Hank Moody. Somehow that came to the attention of Tom Kapinos, and they started talking, and he ended up doing a few episodes with us.
If you could have one musician guest star on the show in the future, who would it be?
There are so many. I’d wanna say Keith Richards, but he’s kind of like Pirates of the Caribbean now. McCartney – I gotta have a Beatle.
You could go Paul or Ringo.
Yeah, I’ll take them both.
Is there a rock star that Hank is modeled after?
When we were beginning the show I got into Warren Zevon at the time. Lyrically and in terms of consciousness and attitude, I thought Zevon was really close to what I wanted Hank to be, and Zevon wrote a lot about California and really understood Hank’s love-hate with California. So Zevon’s always been my musical touchstone for Hank’s rock & roll alter ego.
What three Zevon songs would you recommend to people as an introduction to his music?
“Desperados Under the Eaves,” “Mohammed’s Radio” and “Genius.” I think every list has to have “Desperados Under the Eaves.”
We talked about the musical guest stars. In general, you’re in a great situation on the show, where you have this remarkable core cast of the five of you and every year you get to bring in new talented people to work with. How much fun is that for you as an actor?
I’ve really loved getting to know and also working with the five people you’re talking about for the past six years. I love working with Natascha, Evan [Handler], Pam [Adlon] and Maddie [Martin]. But every year Hank ends up in a new situation, and there are new guest stars and every year I’ve enjoyed our guest stars in a different way, going back to Peter Gallagher and Kathleen Turner and then RZA and then this past year Tim Minchin, who I didn’t know at all before the show, but just an amazing performer. And Maggie [Grace] was great. So every year it’s a gift to be able to reinvent the five of us in relation to the new people coming in.
One of the keys to this season is the relationship between you and Madeline Martin, who plays your daughter Becca. It becomes almost more like peers. When you see someone develop the way she has as an actor, I imagine it‘s both very rewarding personally and fun for you, because it allows you to add a whole new dynamic to Hank‘s personality.
We can change guest stars every year but we can’t really change our characters. That’s always kind of the dissolution of a bond between an audience and a show, when all of a sudden, because the writers get tired or the actors get bored, we’re gonna give them a French accent this year or send him deep undercover to go bust the drug mob this year. We always try and remain the core people that we’ve established that we love. Having said that, only Maddie can change, because Maddie is changing as a person, and Becca changes as a person because she is growing up, and that’s a natural and honest change. Then it’s a great gift to me playing Hank, who has to change how he deals with his daughter, and I, David, have to change how I act with Maddie in that way. And that’s a great challenge to come to every year.
The show has really turned out to be as much about a father/daughter relationship as a love story.
Yeah, well, it’s both those things, and they’re both sentimental. The sentimentality of the show is it believes in true love in a way, even though the nuts and bolts and the comedy of the show is what gets in the way of true love. But the true love between Hank and Karen is for real, and then there’s the relationship between Hank and Becca, which is a different kind of true love between a father and a daughter. You wouldn’t think of Hank as being a guy with family values, and yet I would put him forward as a guy who really does have family values in a sense that’s stronger than a lot of what passes for family values on television or in movies.
You say the comedy is what gets in the way, and it seems like this season the show has gone to crazy extremes, with Evan‘s character Charlie pretending to be gay to book a client, for example. Do you feel like this season is more extreme than in past years?
I always feel like we’re pretty extreme. I’m often quite shocked myself when I get a script, and it feels that the last couple of years Charlie, Evan’s character, has really gone off the deep end in terms of the craziness. I’ve really enjoyed what Evan’s done, and I think he’s such a great actor and so great in this part. You’ve got to keep trying new things. I’m amazed that Tom Kapinos continued to not only keep it funny, but try to keep it real at the same time. It’s a difficult balancing act that he’s doing, because the show does get extreme, it does get absurd. And yet the heart of the show, which is what we just talked about, you can’t go too far, or else you’ll destroy that heart. So I think he’s really tiptoed a balance, or whatever the metaphor is, on those two things.
How have you seen Hank evolve since season one, and where would you like to see him end up?
I’ve always wanted to know when we were ending the show, because I’ve always wanted it to end with Hank back home where I feel he belongs, with Karen and Becca nearby, however old she might be. So I guess his development would be more like doubling back to the beginning. In terms of how it’s been working out in the show, what I found interesting is in the first year or two, or three, maybe, Hank is really the loose cannon and the guy who goes into a situation and creates chaos, and the comedy of it ensues from the chaos. But what’s been interesting over the last couple or two or three years is that Hank has kind of matured into the voice of reason, and those around him have become as crazy as Hank was in the beginning, like Charlie and Marcy and even Karen sometimes, or the guest stars that come in. And Hank has to be the most mature voice, which, to me, is very funny, when Hank is the guy that’s trying to be the most logical or mature.