Over the course of his career, David Duchovny has played an F.B.I. conspiracy theorist who chases extraterrestrials, an undercover suburban marketer who sleeps with the nymphomaniac posing as his daughter‚ and a former hand model who keeps his prized limb in a homemade hyperbaric chamber. His role as Goat Man in Christopher Neil’s drama Goats, adapted from the Mark Jude Poirer novel of the same name, however, may still be his most eccentric character to date. A marijuana-smoking, goat-raising misfit, Goat Man becomes an unlikely mentor to Graham Phillips’s teenage protagonist, Ellis—whose support system of grown-ups includes his New Age mother (Vera Farmiga) and his estranged father (Ty Burrell)—after Ellis leaves for boarding school. Currently in theaters in limited release, Goats gives Duchovny a welcome respite from his starring role as Hank Moody, a novelist plagued by his own charm and hedonistic impulses, in Showtime’s Californication.
Last week, Duchovny met with the Hollywood Blog in Los Angeles and told us about how he subverted the stoner stereotype in Goats, what he thinks of real-life Hank Moodys, and why he would love to revisit Fox Mulder.
Julie Miller: Within the first two minutes of Goats, your character is shown driving a car with goats in the back seat, appears nude from behind, and is introduced as the person who taught the protagonist how to do bong hits. Were you ready to sign onto the project after reading those few pages of the screenplay?
David Duchovny: You can’t get any better than that. Well, when I read the script, I thought he was such a fun character because he is kind of playing on a stereotype. He’s a stoner, like a Cheech and Chong type.
He has a little Lebowski to him.
Definitely, I forgot about that. He’s got a bit of the Dude in him. The Dude was also subverting that stereotype because the Dude comes through. And so does Goat Man to a certain extent. You don’t think that this guy is going to amount to anything aside from being a source of pot or fun, but he is actually a decent mentor to this kid and has a kind of complicated life. Unlike the Dude, he does have to worry about money. He actually lives in a realer world than the Dude.
Definitely, and also, a world with goats. How was it acting alongside them?
Didn’t mind. Didn’t mind at all. I love animals and I love working with them because they don’t lie. [It’s] good for an actor to work with something that doesn’t lie. They’re pretty neutral. They’re not friendly or unfriendly, just fairly uninterested in you and me. They’re not like dogs who want your attention. They could care less.
Goat Man and your character in Californication, Hank Moody, are more liberated, laid-back guys than a lot of the roles you’ve played in the past. Was that quality something you were consciously looking for at this phase of your career?
No, I think in comedies a lot of the time, the comedy comes from somebody doing something that they shouldn’t do, or wish fulfillment. In tragedy, that person gets punished. In comedy, that person continues on. But you could say that Mulder was breaking the rules. He was chasing aliens, which was pretty stupid when you think about it. But that show wasn’t a comedy, so he constantly gets punished for it. I guess if you consider drug use as amoral, then you could say that [Goat Man] is liberated. I don’t, particularly.
You’ve played Hank Moody for five seasons now. What are you still discovering about him and in what ways does he still surprise you?
I think it’s more of a matter of we keep rediscovering what the show is about because we can spin off into crazy tangents and have guest stars come in who take the focus for a little while. That can be fun and that can be funny, but then we come back to Hank and Karen and Becca. Whenever we do that, I always think, Oh, this is the show. We can’t do that all the time because that’s not really the show, but that’s the heart of it.
It’s refreshing to see a character like Hank Moody, who is an adult with a very adult set of problems, unlike the many male lead characters we see who are of the overgrown-boy-child stereotype.
Well, that’s the reason why I took the job in the first place. At the time, I wanted to do comedy. I was coming off of The X-Files, and I was looking for a comedic role but none were really coming my way, because that isn’t how people thought of me. Also, the prevailing comedic type was childish, like Gilligan. Maybe I could do it, but I think there are other people who could do it better and more believably. I was looking for a part where—if I can say—a leading man can be in a comedy. Where are those movies? Like Warren Beatty in Shampoo. Not that I’m Warren Beatty, I’m just saying. Then [the Californication] pilot came along and I thought O.K.
[Hank] is infantile, but he’s an adult with adult problems. It’s always funny when adults act like children. That’s like the staple of comedy. But he wasn’t a boy.
There have been so many envelope-pushing scenes. Was there one that you were most reluctant to film?
A lot. I’m way more prudish than Hank or [creator and executive producer] Tom Kapinos. [Laughs.] It’s mostly not [my scenes], though. It’s mostly Evan [Handler’s], I think because Tom knows that [I’d put up a fight]. I’m not there when they’re shooting those scenes, so I can kind of put it out of my head. Then when I watch the show, I think, Oh yeah, I’m glad I didn’t have to do that.
Sarah Silverman told me recently that because of the kind of material she performs, people feel inclined to come up to her on the street and tell her really off-color things that she doesn’t necessarily want to hear. Have you had similar experiences, with people wanting to share their own sexual exploits with “Hank Moody”?
I have a lot of people tell me that they are the real Hank Moody. I never say anything. But if they’re under 30, I think, “Oh, cool, that’s fun.” If they’re over 30, I think, “That’s too bad, bro. Maybe you should grow up a little bit.” If they’re a silver fox in their 60s and they say, “I am so Hank Moody,” I think, “Get help.” If they’re 70, though, and they say they’re Hank Moody, then my feelings go back to respect.
So there’s a sliding scale of pity and respect. I read that you were a poet growing up. Did you find that there were certain themes or subjects that you kept revisiting?
Well, I still write poetry, but I wouldn’t call myself a poet. I’d always go back to love and loss.
Yeah, although I never read anything Hank wrote. They did put out [the fictional novel that his character has written,] God Hates Us All, but Tom didn’t write it and I didn’t write it. I haven’t read it. That’s the difficulty in doing a show or a movie about any artist. Unless you’re doing a biopic where you have the art, like with Ray Charles or Jackson Pollock—when you have a fictional guy who is supposed to be a great artist, how do you show his art? Maybe we’re not capable of making that great of art. You might just have to cheat it and accept on good faith that the guy’s a great writer. It’s certainly not fun to watch anyone write. So there’s a lot of fudging we have to do with Hank’s artistic capabilities.
It’s been more than a decade since you filmed Return to Me. Are you ever going to return to the romantic-comedy genre?
I’d love to. Bonnie Hunt wrote and directed that. I think the loss is really that Bonnie Hunt should be—well, I don’t want to tell her what to do—but that’s a person who is really capable of doing a good romantic comedy other than a crap one.
What else excites you these days?
Writing and directing, if I can get my stuff together and get financing and make movies like this. I’m trying to raise cash and a cast to go out and shoot a small movie, which is, generally when I write, in that vein.
And there are also recent rumblings about another X-Files movie. Would you like to do another sequel? What’s your relationship like with Mulder these days?
I get an e-mail from him every now and then. I get a gift from him on my birthday. This year, it was just a call. [X-Files creator] Chris Carter and I are on great terms. And I am always pushing for more. The X-Files was such a big part of my professional life that to go back and revisit that would be nothing but fun for me. Probably at some point [we’ll have some sort of reunion]. I had a fear that I’d be typecast, but I don’t really have that fear anymore. Now it would just be a joy to go back. It’s just another business decision for [Twentieth Century] Fox, but I hope so.