When The X-Files ended in 2002, David Duchovny wanted to choose a role that was 180 degrees away from FBI Agent Fox Mulder, the beloved character he'd played on Fox's sci-fi drama for nine seasons. "When I finished X-Files, I probably thought, I don't want to do that anymore," he admitted to BuzzFeed News during a party for his upcoming NBC series Aquarius at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles this week.
Duchovny found a role that could combat the typecasting that followed the show's global success on Showtime's Californication — a boundary-pushing comedy where he played Hank Moody, a writer battling sex, drug, and alcohol addiction. "I don't think it's necessarily smart, but it worked out," he said of intentionally choosing a part that couldn't have been further from his alien-obsessed lawman. "I don't think you should be reacting to what you've done. I think there are more interesting and better criteria to choose projects from."
Now, Duchovny's in a place where he can use more interesting criteria to choose his roles (see Aquarius), but he's also not afraid to return to the show people know him best for. "Because of Californication being such a different role and being seen in a whole other light as an actor, it kind of liberated me from feeling any kind of fears of being typecast," Duchovny said.
The actor is stepping back into Mulder's shoes for the recently announced X-Files reboot, a six-episode limited series that he described as a six-hour movie. "I'll always be remembered for The X-Files, probably more than anything else — that's just the way it is," he said. "But I'm not afraid of people just seeing me that way anymore, so I was happy to go back."
And the latest new project to meet Duchovny's more carefully thought out criteria is Aquarius, NBC's '60s-set mystery exploring the legend of serial killer Charles Manson. The network television landscape has changed significantly since Duchovny signed off The X-Files. The appointment viewing that made that show a Friday-night obsession has become obsolete in today's time-shifting, binge-watching world, leaving traditional networks scrambling for innovative ways to lure their evaporating audiences back. NBC has made the boldest play thus far, announcing that all 13 episodes of Aquarius will be released online following the May 28 series premiere.
It's an unprecedented move for a new network series and one Duchovny is excited yet confounded by. "I'm told it's a vote of confidence," the actor said. "But, to be honest with you, I don't really understand all these things. I have a 16-year-old daughter, and I've never seen her watch television. She watches everything on her computer, and that's so totally foreign to me. The whole world is very foreign to me. I'm happy about it but I don't, honestly, know what it means."
But Duchovny is more than happy to take this leap of faith and serve as the network's guinea pig, because NBC has lived up to its word since greenlighting Aquarius. "I assumed it would air on HBO or AMC or FX," he said of signing on the project before a network had committed. "That was always our thinking, because it's obviously a cable show. And then when we put it out there to bidders, NBC jumped up and said they wanted to do it and we all kind of stepped back and went, 'Oh, OK.' Networks have been saying they wanted to do cable-type shows, but could we make the show we wanted to make on a network? A lot of these networks say they want to do programming like this, but then they don't."
Save for a few minor concessions related to language, nudity, and violence, Duchovny feels NBC has delivered on every promise. "Hopefully we'll succeed, and they'll keep trying to make programming that can compete with cable," he said.
"I think it's a great time to be somebody who wants to either act or produce or write or direct in television, because it's so wide open," Duchovny said. "There's so many different places to take your work, there's so much product that's in demand, and there are so many people that are wanting to hire people to do their work. People say it's the golden age of television, but it's really the golden age of wanting to make television. … To do something great, I think you need that freedom, and there's a greater chance of finding that on television."
And that's all Duchovny really wants for himself. "I've always just tried to be a part of entertaining and good projects, but I'm really flying by the seat of my pants," he said.