The former Fox Mulder returns to TV with Showtime's racy ''Californication''

By Whitney Pastorek
Updated August 03, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

David Duchovny would like to get one thing straight: The onetime X-Files star is not now, nor has he ever been, stuck in a ”Mulder box.”

”I’m sure De Niro gets f—in’ Taxi Driver all the time,” the 46-year-old actor protests. ”He’s done five iconic roles, but he walks down the street and some a–hole goes ‘You talkin’ to me?’ I’m not sure they say ‘Bobby De Niro, you ever gonna get out of that Taxi Driver box?”’

We can’t speak for Bobby. But we can report that during a recent press conference for Showtime’s new Californication, the dark comedy that marks Duchovny’s return to TV, it didn’t take long for him to be asked about the upcoming X-Files movie sequel. And when he revealed a script was imminent, reporters dutifully seized the opportunity to reopen that Mulder — er, Pandora’s — box. Today, slouched on a couch in his Californication trailer, Duchovny uses every bit of his Ivy League-educated brain to avoid discussing the pigeonholing risks involved in another spooky turn as the FBI agent. ”People love the show, they love the character — I wouldn’t want to change any of that,” he says, wearily. All right, we’ll come back to this later.

On Californication, Duchovny plays Hank Moody, a novelist grappling with a midlife crisis by having scads of sex; as a result, the first episode features more breasts than a chicken farm. Duchovny finds that detail completely uninteresting, preferring instead to discuss the show’s themes of family and self-hatred, comparing it to the sexual satire of 1975’s Shampoo. ”T— and ass, not important to me,” he says. ”Kind of beside the point.” For Californication creator Tom Kapinos, the point was to create ”the perfect romantic antihero.” He cast Duchovny in part due to his cameos on The Larry Sanders Show back in the ’90s — Duchovny played himself, with a massive crush on the host — which Kapinos calls “one of the most delightfully twisted turns in television history.”

Duchovny does twisted as well as anyone, from his role as a transvestite on Twin Peaks to a 2003 guest spot as Carrie’s mental-facility-committed ex on Sex and the City. But romantic comedies like 2000’s Return to Me and 2004’s Connie and Carla have revealed an equally strong sentimental side. So what’s the priority? Duchovny sighs. ”I can’t reconcile the two. That’s just…parts of me on different days. Fundamentally, I think I value sincerity. It’s a lot harder to make a great piece of sincere art at this point in the world than anything else.” He ought to know: In 2004, Duchovny wrote and directed House of D, a coming-of-age movie that fulfilled a goal — and earned him a sound beating from critics. ”It’s no fun to make a movie that nobody goes to see,” Duchovny admits. ”But that’s all that is. It doesn’t make me wonder about what I’m doing.” He’s since finished several more screenplays — including one titled Bucky F—ing Dent, a father-son story set against the 1978 baseball season — and is developing another comedy for Showtime. And this October, he’ll star in a drug-addiction tearjerker called Things We Lost in the Fire alongside Oscar winners Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro. Not bad for a guy who started acting as a distraction from post-grad work.

His most important project, though, is his personal life. He and wife Téa Leoni have two children: Kyd, 5, and Madelaine, 8. And while Dad’s passed on projects here and there in favor of family time — ”If you’d said I could do them in my backyard between the hours of 8 and 12, I might have” — Californication is conveniently shot in Venice, Calif., about 20 minutes from home. Since it’s summer vacation, Duchovny’s trailer is dotted with signs of child life: a hula hoop here, a Nerf basketball net there. And while piles of books and scripts nearly drown the coffee table, two crayoned self-portraits sit proudly atop his desk.

But you X-Files fans couldn’t care less, right? You’re sitting there clutching this magazine and screaming, What’s the deal with this sequel? Well, it’s been a week since that fateful press conference, and a script has yet to arrive. For the record, though, Duchovny says that it’s out there. He can’t reveal anything of the plot — ”not and feel that I was telling the truth” — but he does seem ready to revisit the world of the paranormal. In 2000, after seven years of flashlit FBI investigations left him exhausted and desperately in need of other creative outlets, Duchovny took a step back, appearing only sporadically in the final two seasons. He admits he should have been more grateful for the show at the time. ”In the end, nobody cares if an actor works hard — you’re overpaid, you’re overpublicized, you’re over…everything. I probably complained at some point then, but I don’t think I ever would again.”

Unless you ask him whether he feels stuck in the ”Mulder box.” In which case, you’re on your own.