Written by Tara de Bach
Creator Tom Kapinos uses lead actor David Duchovny to very good effect on his latest foray into television, Showtime's newest original series Californication. The dysfunctional writer Hank Moody, played by Duchovny, is a tortured soul who alleviates his personal woes and writer's block with sex and booze in the hornet's nest known as Los Angeles. In the first episode, Hank, immediately establishes himself as cool, observant, amusable, semi-contrite, and unhappy -- even as he's getting a blow job in a church from a nun. Hank is a character that wins our admiration even though he's not exactly close to clamping down on his feral ways. While not conventionally moral, Hank is real -- and that is terribly attractive and a tremendous feat for any writer.
Originally from New York, Kapinos' first job in Los Angeles was reading scripts for CAA. “But I wasn't writing and I was miserable, so I sat down and wrote The Virgin Mary, a dark romantic comedy that's very similar in tone to Californication. At the time I had a little bit of heat, and I got a lot of TV attention because the script was dialogue-heavy.” So when the producers of Dawson's Creek read Kapinos' feature and offered him a job, he was ecstatic. “Of course, the producers didn't exactly take the show in the direction they told me they wanted to go -- dark and edgy -- but overall the show was really a guilty pleasure for me.”
Not only that, but it was also a lucrative four years for Kapinos and a great training ground as he ultimately he became the showrunner for the last two seasons. Yet when he finally came off of Dawson's, all anybody really wanted from Kapinos was more of the same -- another teen drama or a soft relationship show. “I did sell and write a bunch of those, but it seemed at the last minute things would hit the wall and not get made.” Ultimately, Kapinos decided to go back to what worked for him in the past, so he sat down and wrote Californication on spec.
So is this autobiographical? Are you Hank?
Photo: © 2007 Showtime
David Duchovny in Californication.
Just in the sense that I came out here, and I had some measure of success, and like Hank, I found myself not all that happy. I was happy in my personal life, but I was a little bit miserable professionally. Honestly, there's no real joy in running other people's TV shows. When you inherit a show that's already on the air you learn a lot, but there's not a great deal of satisfaction in it. And when I sat down to write, I sort of had writer's block because I didn't really know what to write.
How did you get rid of your writer's block?
What I did was I sat down and wrote a script about writer's block. It was purely an exercise. I sat down, and I said, “I'm not going to complain. I'm just going to write something I want to see.” I'm a huge Hal Ashby fan, and I thought to myself, “Where is that guy? Where is the Warren Beatty of today? The Jack Nicholsons?” You don't see that guy on TV or in movies anymore. I wanted to write something I didn't see.
Hank has a lot of sex in the pilot episode. What does that say about his character?
I wanted to create a world where sex is matter-of-fact. He's a good-looking guy, stuff happens to him, and he's casual about it because to him, it's not the be-all-end-all because really there are other things he'd rather be doing. It's a pleasant diversion for him.
Did you write Hank with David Duchovny in mind?
No, you know when I wrote it, I didn't think about anyone. I just wrote it as a writing sample, and I had fun with it. But when we got picked up, it was a short list, and of course, David was at the top for me. There are so few guys that can actually pull this off, that can be charming and funny and good-looking. Girls love him, and men don't begrudge him that. That's a tricky thing to pull off.
Do you think the success of a Hollywood-insider show like Entourage helped make Californication more marketable?
No. I never set out to do an “insider show.” If I had gone in and pitched this to Showtime they would have said, “Oh, that sounds very nice, but it's a show about a writer, who has writer's block, and he has sex. Who cares?” The only way this got through the system was because I wrote it on spec, and they responded to the writing and the character -- and they liked it in spite of those things. But if I had pitched it, I don't think I would have gotten anywhere.
Are the first three years of Hank's writer's block mapped out?
No. I don't work that way. I feel like people are lying when they say things like that. I knew where I was going with the season, but what's great about the show is it's purely character-driven. It's not about plot moves. It's a redemption story about a guy trying to make his way back to the best relationship he ever had. It's not about following soap opera-esque plot moves. Of course, there's a little but of that, but that doesn't drive the show.
Are you both writing and serving as the showrunner on Californication?
Yes, but I have to tell you it's a very different experience. On network television you start in June and basically know you're not going to get a break until the next April. Dawsons' was such a well-oiled machine by the time I took over as showrunner in the fifth season. The show was shot in North Carolina, and I essentially just oversaw the writers from here. Californication is so much more all-encompassing, dealing with everything on a daily basis, writing is just one facet of it. Yes, I work long 18-hour days, but we have 10 shows in the can, and two to go -- and you know the end is in sight.
Is Hank going to break through his writer's block by the end of the season?
Hank does in a way have a breakthrough, but that takes its own twists and turns.
Has this experience taught you any lessons that you'd like to share with other writers?
I would say the lesson I've learned from this is: don't be afraid to write what you want to write because that will be its own reward. I violated every rule: don't write something that's set in L.A., don't write with Hollywood as a backdrop, don't write about a writer, yet somehow it made it through the system. So if you have some crazy idea, just write it because that's what people will respond to. It's important to really just follow your bliss.