is doing two things never done before on broadcast TV: releasing an entire season of television
simultaneously and making David Duchovny
play a real cop. Much has been made about the Peacock’s decision to distribute the full first season of John McNamara’s period cop drama the day after its traditional broadcast debut, but some may be surprised to hear Duchovny doesn’t think of his past characters as cops. Yes, even that
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“Aquarius” marks the actor’s first role on broadcast television since playing FBI Agent Fox Mulder on “The X-Files” — a role he’ll be reprising for a new season in 2016 — but he’s not straying far from cable. “Aquarius” is a hard-edged network drama, and Duchovny (as well as series creator John McNamara) said there’s more than what you’ll see on NBC. An “NC-17” cut has been created, even if it may not be available domestically.
Speaking to Indiewire at the end of April — the day news broke about the revolutionary distribution plan for “Aquarius” — Duchovny reflected on his past characters, from “The X-Files” to “Twin Peaks,” and how they all lead to Detective Hodiak. The former “Californication” star also discussed the transition from cable to broadcast, where his new show was intended to air, and why the ’60s are such a pivotal turning point for our country.
How and when did you hear “Aquarius” Season 1 was going to be released all at once?
I heard it a few days ago. Because I’m of a different generation, I really don’t know what it means, but I’m told that it’s a good thing and an exciting thing, and it means that NBC is really supportive of the show. So that’s all good. I do know that my daughter, who’s 16, doesn’t watch television. She watches the computer. I still watch television. But I can see that this is the new way, and I think it’s probably a good idea.
It’s definitely exciting, and it’s nice to be able to choose when you get to watch it.
Well, also, I think for our show it’s actually a really smart idea, because we may not have the breakneck pace that people are used to in shows coming out. If you do a show and you’re expecting people to come back next week, you’ve really got to get a lot done in that first week. But if you do a show and you say, “Hey, you can watch all of them,” you don’t have to force as much to make people come back next week because they’ll find it themselves. They’ve got them all at their fingertips. I think for our show, maybe the pacing is a little different from your normal network fare, so I think it’s probably a good idea.
I’m a fan of “Californication,” and I was curious if there was any kind of difficulty in transition for you going from cable back to broadcast — whether it was the language that was used or shooting style or anything like that?
Well, the language is a loss. I like being able to have access to the full flower of the English language. Curses are really just a wonderful part of any language — in many ways the most vibrant part of a language; of any language. So it’s unfortunate that we can’t use words that we love on the network. When I was first approached to do the show it wasn’t attached to NBC, it was just a free-floating pilot and the idea was that if I was attached they would go set it up somewhere. We all assumed that we’d set it up at HBO or AMC or FX or something like that, and when NBC stepped forward and said they wanted to do it, that was a real surprise. We had to take a step back and think about are we going to be able to do the show that we want to do on a network, and the answer was really “yes.” There were very few concessions that we made to make the show that we wanted. One of them was language a little bit, sure, but “So what?” in the end.
John McNamara [the series creator] said they’ve created two different cuts of the show, where one’s going to be for NBC and NBC.com, and there’ll be another for iTunes—
Right, there’s the cut and there’s the fucking cut.
Right. [laughs] Did you know about that before? When did you hear about it and did that free up your performance at all?
No, that kind of happened while we were shooting. John started saying he was going to make two cuts, and mostly I think it had to do more with nudity because of the Manson stuff, not stuff that I was involved in. There were some scenes where pivotal lines were [altered]. I remember this scene where I’m yelling at Claire Holt’s character and I say, “It’s not a fucking fairytale,” and it was just the right line, and we had to do it both ways obviously. “It’s not a fairytale.” But normally it wasn’t written out that way. The scripts were not written with that language, so there’s not a lot of added language. I mean, there’s some, but my focus — and I told John when we were doing it — my focus is on making the NBC show the best that we could make it. I don’t want to have to be thinking about this other one. This other one will be whatever you make it, you know? If you want to throw some curses in there that’s fine, but I really want to make this show that we’re doing. That’s my primary focus, standing here on set.
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I guess that leads me to the next question, which is why this show? What was it about it that made you say, “I want to be a cop again.”
You know, I guess I never really think of Mulder as a cop, first of all. Or Denise Bryson from “Twin Peaks” as a cop. Mulder’s a very bad cop. He never solved any case ever. That’s a different kind of procedural — “X-Files” is its own special kind of procedural — so this is really the first procedural I’ve done with a cop that’s really a cop. I like the character of Hodiak because he was a lot less articulate than Moody [and] even than Mulder, and I like that he was more a person of action and less words.
I liked [“Aquarius”] because I felt like, as a country and even as a world, we always come back to the ’60s often, more than any other decade. We go back to other decades, but almost like deliberately for fashion or for music or whatever. The ’60s, we always come back for ideological [reasons], especially in America, and I thought Manson is really like the turning point of the ’60s. Manson was held up at the time as what’s going to happen if all you people keep doing drugs and fucking each other. You’re going to end up murdering senselessly, cutting babies out of pregnant women. Not the case really, but Manson killed the ’60s because he looked like a hippie but he wasn’t, and he came to represent the promise of the ’60s — the freedom, the love, the revolutions — [and] he was held up as, “This is where it’s going.”
So in a way, we were veering left in the ’60s as a nation on the political spectrum, and then we run into Manson and we veer right; we veer into Reagan almost immediately. Reagan, Bush. So in many ways the ’60s is like this pivotal point in our history and Manson is like a symbolic pivotal point in the ’60s. So I started to think about it that way, and I thought, “Well, that’s a very interesting show,” and like any period show it’s not just the period. You look at what’s happened now with policing, there’s a lot of black power stuff in our show, all the issues are still present. It’s not part of the past.
When you first received the scripts, did you think about how an audience may not be as accepting of police officers as heroes?
Well, certainly I’m playing a police officer who is not heroic in that way. I’m not a dirty cop. I’m not on the take, but I’m a guy that— I’m not into the Miranda rights. It’s a new thing when we start. It’s in the first episode. I don’t think it’s a good idea — I would like to keep my foot on your neck until you confess. That’s really where he’s coming from. Now that’s a different kind of hero. It’s like Dirty Harry or whatever. It’s a different template for a cop. It’s a touchy subject now, it always is, but it’s more touchy today as we speak. I see that as part of the period. I see that as part of the way this guy gets his job done.
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Your character and Manson’s aren’t in a lot of scenes together at the onset. Did you ever wish that you’d have more interaction with Manson in the show?
Oh no, I liked the fact that there were two worlds — kind of like an asteroid and a planet in orbit and you know they’re going to hit. John McNamara has really got a long vision of what the show is, so we would assume that this show is going to have the Manson murders in it. But not this year, and I don’t even know if it’s next year. So it’s really not about that. It’s not about the murders, it’s about these characters and it’s about the country.
One of the things that I noticed — similarities between your last two characters on TV — was that both Hodiak and Moody are very much protectors of women, people who really want to save women.
It’s funny that you say that about Moody, because Moody always gets shit about being this…
I know, but that’s what he was always fighting against! He was always trying to convince people, “Hey, I’m trying to do the right thing,” and that was always kind of a quest of the show. And now it seems like Hodiak’s quest, the first thing he’s got to do is save this girl from Manson, and he’s also trying to save his son, but he’s always working [the beat].
He wants to save his ex-girlfriend too, yeah. Yeah, he’s a knight. I saw Moody kind of in that way too, and obviously I’m in the minority, but that was certainly the character’s self-perception. He thought of himself as a gentleman and as somebody that really did love and respect women, and I would think Hodiak is the same. I mean obviously in a more traditional sense, but…
Is that something you think you’re drawn to? Something in the script that you see and you can really identify with?
If I do, it’s unconscious. I mean, it’s possible. I’m sure that I’m drawn to things for reasons that I don’t know a lot. I like characters that have their own moral schema. Their moral world doesn’t look exactly like what is the quote-unquote moral order of the society that they live in, and yet I feel like somebody like Moody or somebody like Hodiak is actually a very ethical person. I like that. It’s almost like he doesn’t have a knee-jerk response, a moral response. Depends, but he’s unpredictably moral.
Watch the premiere episode above and all episodes of “Aquarius” right now at NBC.com.
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