David Duchovny knows how to choose a good role and make it great. NBC’s period crime drama Aquarius, he’s found another one as LAPD detective Sam Hodiak. In the ‘60s we revisit Charles Manson and his infamous misdeeds as leader of the “Manson Family” quasi-commune.
Over a five-week period in 1969, he and his “family” committed nine murders at four different locations. Now 81, he’s still imprisoned at Corcoran State Prison in California, but his story lives large in the hearts of Angelenos and on the small screen.
David, 55, is a vastly talented and complex creative who’s not only a highly successful film and television actor, but also an author, singer and musician and animal rights activist. You may know him best for his role as FBI agent Fox Mulder from the popular sci-fi series, The X-Files, for which he earned a Golden Globe Award. He also played Hank Moody in Californication, which earned him a second Golden Globe.
He’s written two books and in 2015, released his first album, Hell or Highwater, an indie folk alternative rock collection. Speaking of writing,John McNamara is writer-showrunner on Aquarius and David also works behind the camera.
On June 22, he launched the “Lick My Face” campaign in support of Target Zero, a nonprofit that mentors shelter and animal welfare leaders city by city with proven best practices to get to no-kill, ideally in three years or less. “Lick. Give. Save a Life.” Encourage your pet to lick your face and then donate a dollar for each lick you receive. Hint: All natural peanut butter works great.
David talks about this critical issue and about the joy of work.
You’re back as Sam Hodiak. How does Season 2 feel out of the gate?
In serialized TV you get to grow the character over a span of so many years. Changes happen, and storylines bring out different aspects of the character. I look forward to the second year and third year, etc. The guys I play always change and grow and I get to add on and augment. That’s one big difference between TV and movies and I do like it.
Were you surprised that your character’s full name is Samson Benedictus Hodiak? We don’t hear about it much as viewers.
John McNamara told me the full name and I said, “It seems fine as long as no one ever knows that.” On the show this season I get email taunting me from a possible serial killer. I also received a medal from the police commissioner [and that had my name on it].
The newspaper Newsday said that viewers have liked your character’s “malleable ethics, smooth patter, buck-the-system style and mysterious past.” Tell us how you would describe him.
Well, that’s pretty accurate. He’s a cop who does not necessarily abide by all the rules, a righteous man who believes he knows the difference between right and wrong, between the good guys and the bad guys. He enforces with his instincts, not always waiting for the amount of evidence someone in that position should wait for.
You’re executive-producing the series. Between those duties and your acting, that’s a lot of Aquarius on your mind. Tell us about the EP role as you see it.
I’m not in the writers’ room. I respect John and he’s assembled a great writers’ room. I respect them and the way they do their jobs. When a script comes my way, and if I have enough lead time, I might make a couple of notes. And I liaise with John. I think of my job as being on the set on time, making sure it’s a creative and nice place to work where people respect each other.
I’m the only person on the set every day. I feel my job is to run things the way I like to work. We don’t come to BS around, and we’re not curing cancer.
You were young when the Manson murders occurred. Knowing what you know about them now, how “true” is the series to the real story?
We call it historical fiction. I don’t know where facts end and fiction begins in this case.
It demands that the storyline be most interesting. As to what it meant to the public at large at the time, what that terror and those unfortunate murders meant to America’s concept of itself, that is something different.
All the Utopian and socialized movements happening at the time didn’t come to a screeching halt. America became more reactionary in the face of Manson. He didn’t cause it all. He was held up as a symbol of what would happen if hippies take over. He wasn’t a hippie but he dressed like one. I see him as a pathetic-but-dangerous con man. He was a hippie persona and he conned those young kids. He was a poster child for hippies, but nothing could be further from the truth.
What message should viewers take away from the show? Perhaps, put another way, what is its mission?
In this human drama, my character is a guy fighting to maintain order and save the world that no longer exists, having been transformed by hippies and later Manson. I see something similar happening today, for we have two stark choices [in politics]. One is reactionary and the other more left wing. And Bernie Sanders represents the hippie dream. At this cycle in American history, we seem to bring these choices to ourselves. We can react with fear or with openness.
Life takes unexpected turns. You studied English literature at Princeton, then Yale. But you chose acting instead. Any regrets about not staying the course in academics?
I do have alternate life fantasies. And I’ve written two novels in the last couple of years. The first was Holy Cow: A Modern Day Dairy Tale, and the second, which came out in April, is called Bucky (Expletive) Dent.
(The first book, for children, stars Elsie Bovary, a cow and a pretty happy one, according to its summary on Amazon. About the second, The Washington Post said “Bucky” had hit a “home run.”)
You’re a pescatarian, meaning you’re vegetarian while still including seafood in your diet. You’re also active in animal rights issues, and definitely a friend of the planet.
I’ve been vegetarian since college, when I read John Robbins’ Diet for a New America. It was the Fast Food Nation of its day and it exposed the disconnect between what we eat and how it got there. It turned me around. It talks about the pain and suffering that animals endure and about the environment. There are better, more healthful and more moral ways of consuming food.
What do you eat now on a given day?
I start with fruit and coffee. When I meet the kids, they eat what they eat. I let them make up their own minds.
And about fitness: What’s your routine?
I hit the gym and do cross-training. I also play basketball, do Pilates and swim.
How do you stay your mental emotional course? Any tips to achieving balance in your high-pressure world?
I read a lot, and read the paper every day. I don’t meditate enough, but I do think about meditation. And I do some yoga.
You’ve done a remarkable and wonderful thing with “Lick My Face.” How can we do something about the tragedy of 1.2 million companion dogs and 1.4 million cats being killed each year in the United States?
I believe it’s a smart idea to try to develop a chemical way to spay and neuter, an effort that looks to the root or beyond the root. It’s hard to make people understand this problem and how to deal with it. With “Lick My Face,” the program is smart in that it works locally. It’s difficult to make a charity work globally.
Watch Aquarius Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET.