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David Duchovny: "Hank Moody Would Probably Hate Me"

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As an actor, David Duchovny already has a special place in many adults' hearts. Playing Fox Mulder in The X Files, he was one of the heroes of one of the biggest TV shows of the 90s. Then as a personally disastrous writer in Californication he won a new legion of, less alien-obsessed fans in the 2000s.

Now Duchovny is turning novelist. His first book, Holy Cow, is a madcap story of a bovine on a road trip to India. We sat down with Duchovny to talk animals, S&M and further adventures in alien-hunting.

Your new novel, Holy Cow, is about a cow travelling to India and a pig converting to Judaism, with a turkey along for the ride. What was the impetus behind it? 

I saw a need and I just had to fill it. [laughs] I’m kidding. Why anything new anywhere? I had an idea 10 years ago, for what I thought was an animated film. I was living in LA and I’m in showbusiness, so the first question I ask is, “Is it a movie?” I had a thought while driving one day: if I were a cow, I’d probably want to get to India – that would seem like the right move. I pitched it at Disney and Pixar and they passed – intelligently. I put it away until one day, about a year and a half ago, I woke up and I was beating myself up for not being the writer that I say I am. I had time off from acting, and thought, “Why don’t I try to write that story?” 

What would Hank Moody, your tortured novelist Californication character, make of an actor releasing a book?

You should ask [screenwriter] Tom Kapinos that. I imagine Hank would want the writing to be kept for the writers – he’s a bit of a snob. He’d probably hate me.

What’s your writing process like? Can you write anywhere?

No, I like to write early in the morning. I sit down between 5 and 6 if I can, and keep my ass in the chair until lunch. I don’t write late at night, I never have.

Have you read Fifty Shades Of Grey? 

I probably wouldn’t admit it if I had. Everyone who reads it tells me it’s a piece of sh*t, and the subject matter isn’t that interesting to me. 

What do you make of people criticising popular books? Is there an element of snobbery?

I think there’s a legitimate criticism of books that are sh*ttily written. Same with The Da Vinci Code – I did read that, and I want that time of my life back. Dakota [Johnson], the star of [the Fifty Shades film], had a small role in a movie called Goats with me. We didn’t work together, but I went to a screening of the movie and found her at the afterparty. I said, “You’re a movie star, keep going.” I saw her at the Golden Globes recently, and said: “Do you remember what I said? I was right!” 

You’re about to star in Aquarius, which sees you playing a Los Angeles cop trailing Charles Manson. Have you done much research? 

I was interested in Manson as a kid, so I knew a fair bit. There’s something, certainly in America, that won’t let this guy go. The late Sixties offered a very clear choice for the future, one leading towards a more democratic peace, love, rock’n’roll, hippy [place], and the other towards corporate Nixon, Vietnam. Obviously these are simplifications, but Charles Manson embodies both those things, because he’s really a greaser from the Fifties masquerading as a hippie – he was in his thirties already, he wasn’t a flower child. So to me, Manson is a very interesting person to keep coming back to. Especially before the murders, that’s a very interesting way to start the show, because Manson is basically a former pimp when we meet him, not a murderer. 

You’ve already brought two iconic TV characters to life. Do you feel pressure for this one?

No, the opposite. I feel like, gee, I’ve done two, what more do you want? 

Infamously, you were only meant to do The X-Files for a short period of time; did you learn to love it?

Well, I did leave – they did a year without me, but that was eight years into the run. I think we were going a little crazy, Chris [Carter, the show’s creator], Gillian [Anderson, his co-star] and I – it had been so much work, we’d got so famous so fast, and everything just changed. We were probably clinically insane by that point. But I’m proud of that show. I never look back and think, “Oh, that’s an embarrassment”, except for maybe the clothes and the hairstyles. If I had to be associated with any iconic show in the world, The X-Files would be in the top few of those.

You worked with Vince Gilligan on The X-Files. Any chance of a Better Call Saul cameo? 

I’m not really a fan of the cameo. If there was a role, a one-episode, where I could do something that I thought added, rather than just drew attention to myself… But I don’t think Vince is going to ask me – I don’t think he should. The show has to find its feet before it starts having, you know, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck on it.

There are rumours you’ll soon be slipping back into Fox Mulder’s suit. What can you tell us?

It’s like the stock market at this point. Last week I would have said definitely yes, yesterday I would have said no way, today I say maybe. In some ways, it’s harder to make a show come back than to do it for the first time, because you’re stuck for better or for worse – for better, I think – with the people who did it. But one of these days, very soon, I would think, we’re going to have a final answer.

There’s also the return of Twin Peaks. How keen are you to don the wig and make-up again?

More than I like to say. It’ll be fun. I was sad Twin Peaks kind of flamed out, because I thought I’d probably come back. So to wait 25 years to come back is OK – I’ve been patient. 

Finally, Moody vs Mulder: who would win in a fight?

It’s a tough call. Hank would fight dirty, but Fox has a gun…

Holy Cow is out now, £9.99 (Headline)

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