Mulder versus Manson
David Duchovny’s new dawn in Aquarius
IF he didn’t already have a devoted female following, David Duchovny is doing a convincing sales pitch of himself as intellectual catnip, as he makes an argument against the lazy exploitation of women on television.
He’s talking to TV Guide about his latest series, Aquarius, which he says grappled with its treatment of some heavy sexual themes – not to mention violence – taking inspiration, as it does, from the murderous life and deaths story of Charles Manson.
Originally commissioned for broadcast television, with all the nudity and language of a cable program, Channel Seven’s new crime drama was a brave experiment for a mainstream US network to take on.
As free-to-air networks around the world fight to keep audiences from migrating to more risqué, niche dramas on streaming services, NBC took a chance on this series, not only because of its confronting storylines but in offering it to viewers as a fullseason download (made available here on Foxtel and Seven’s joint venture Presto).
While that may all be technical white noise to most TV fans, the cable model allows productions to push the envelope in terms of plot and performances. And it’s a new age Duchovny was excited to embrace.
“I just felt it was strong and a really great series, so very different from anything else on network TV here in the States that I couldn’t be prouder of it,” Duchovny says.
Playing homicide detective Sam Hodiak, who goes undercover to expose Manson and his “family” cult two years before his infamous Helter Skelter killings, the Californication star says “the show that we are making is exactly the same show” he was pitched before the scripts found a network home.
Initially worried the broadcast rules might compromise the series, he says the production was “forced to be even better within those strictures because you can’t just rely on cursing or showing a naked body … you really have to tell the story”.
While his own character is “pretty well suited up, I was thinking more about the fast and loose use of female naked bodies which is what a lot of television shows do … not that my own personal naked body is a draw here.” Sorry, ladies.
Critics may have chipped the show’s writers over the liberties taken on the factual detail surrounding the Manson murders, Duchovny says the cast and crew had a lot of fun teasing out the contemporary issues which still resonate from this 1960s story.
“I think it’s obvious when we look back superficially the clothes, the hair and the music that a lot of new stuff was going on,” he says.
“But for me, what’s interesting about the ’60s was that we have, in our show, we have all these different movements … the hippies, Black Power, Chicano power in LA, gay rights, anti-Vietnam, anti-war movement. You have this really potent brew of social activity, of forward-looking social activity and it all comes to a screeching halt in many ways and Manson is held up at the end of the ’60s, by the media, as the cautionary tale of what’s going to happen if the kids keep getting to do what the kids want to do, which is listen to their music, take their drugs and have their sex.”
On a less serious note, the 55-yearold recalls the wide-eyed responses from his younger cast mates such as Grey Damon (who stars opposite as Brian Shafe, a long-haired, vice squad rookie assigned to help Hodiak infiltrate the Manson cult).
In one scene, which Duchovny admits mirrored his dynamic with Damon off camera, Hodiak mocks the cocky Shafe, saying: “You kids … you think you invented everything.”
“It was actually funny watching somebody [Damon] have to research the ’60s,” Duchovny says.
“I was like, ‘I don’t have to research it, I lived it’. He was like, ‘Man, this is cool, look at all this cool stuff that was happening’, and I was like, ‘What? You didn’t know that?’ and they don’t. But maybe now they will.”
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