On the Set of Californication

Posted on 25. Sep, 2009 by Administrator in Film/TV

words by Elizabeth Johnson, Photos by Robert Todd Williamson

Meet Hank Moody: Crashing and burning through a California-style mid life something or other, sometimes I suffer from writer’s block, sometimes I suffer from an emotional-concussion, sometimes I’m this close to having it all. I fuck up a lot and I’m prone to repeat patterns over and over again. I’m also prone to drink and smoke and won’t say no to any drug or woman put in front of me. I romanticize my former life in New York with long term on again, off again partner, and baby mama, Karen, and along the way, I dispense my bittersweet brand of wisdom through my writing and relationships with my teenaged daughter, Becca, and best pals, Charlie and Marcy Runkle, as well as the many women and assholes I encounter in this Cali-journey. Self absorption and self loathing, yes, but self analysis be damned, this is Californication, and I’m Hank Moody, no therapy is necessary.

David Duchovny

Some important Back Story: Last season I was in over my head (and also doing a ton of damage control on a bunch of other people in over their heads), yet despite this, I finally managed to finish a novel I’m actually really proud of for the first time in a long time. Too bad, my baby mama’s fiancé’s 16-year-old daughter, Mia, who I accidentally bedded (she really did seem older and she seduced me in a bookstore) hijacked it, entitled it, “Fucking and Punching” (inside joke) and ran off with her writing career, leaving me holding the statutory rape bag. I bounced back, kept the intimate details of this relationship with Mia a secret to most everyone involved, and just when you think Karen and Becca and I might have a shot of moving back to our original NewYorkafornicated life, Karen takes off on her own, leaving me and Becca and Becca’s first real boyfriend standing in my Venice Beach digs parking lot. I knew she had to go find herself, and well, I needed to be alone again and do what I do best, be Hank Moody. This next season finds me playing professor to a bevy of don’t stand so close to me students; I’m a single parent, and I have an orgy of new people to play with, OW!

Venice Beach:  It’s a balmy day down at the beach as the paparazzi and twittering fans eagerly watch the intense scene being played out in an alleyway, steps from the ocean. Karen (Natascha McElhone) is hysterical and running after Hank, Becca (Madeleine Martin) runs after them both. That’s all I can say. And you know what, I have no idea what precedes this but I’m captivated and left to my own imagination and anticipation for the new season. And it’s nice to be down at the beach on a warm summer day. Cut. We head over to base camp for lunch and it’s steak and lobster and Yorkshire pudding. Welcome to the world of Californication .

I walk past the food and sit down with creator and writer, Tom Kapinos whose name I first heard back in Dawson’s Creek days. I ask him if he’d had David Duchovny in mind when he created the show. “No, when I wrote the script and when Showtime picked it up, I didn’t have anybody in mind, I wrote it as a screenplay originally. He was just one of the first people we ended up offering it him and I was a huge fan of his. I knew he was hilarious and had a twisted sense of humor. It was one of those coincidences where the material seamlessly fit with the actor.”

David Duchovny and Madeleine Martin

Was Hank based on any characters from your life along the way?

“Two things I was at a stage in my life where a lot of guys I knew had wild 20-something years and were starting to get married and settle down, and I was too. It was fun for me to envision this guy who was so the opposite of that, who wasn’t going to go so gently into the night, so that was a lot of fun for me. And like I said, I wrote it as a movie originally—I was sort of bummed out by the fact that there didn’t seem to be any real men in the movies anymore, I was thinking about movies from the 70’s. I grew up with anti-establishment comedies, and I felt like there wasn’t a lot of that anymore, so I wanted to create the guy who was the perfect romantic anti-hero.”

How did you feel about this season? “To be honest, doing this season was harder than the first or the second. There’s something about the third season, because you can do anything your first season and people if they love the show, they‘re going to hold that as the holy grail, and the second season, people just want to sort of shit on it and say it isn’t as good as the first. The third one is kind of a weird place, because hopefully we go for a couple more years, so you’re sort of in the middle. I don’t have a master plan. I know where the ultimate end of the series is, but I don’t really know year to year what we’re doing. I write myself into a corner and then the next year is all about trying to get out of that and say what do we do next?”

Do you feel the characters are growing up more this season? “I don’t know if these characters ever grow up and I feel like that’s a reflection of real life. I don’t know that people really grow up and change. Maybe they start to figure out what behavior works for them, but I think that is true to life -  men and women repeating patterns, it’s real, it’s the truth.” Food for thought and speaking of food, I see Natascha McElhone is quietly finishing her lunch; sitting amongst the group, she strikes me as that kind of bigger than life beauty, her calmness is refreshing in the emotional chaos that is Californication.

Natascha McElhone

Last time we saw Karen, she was driving away on her own heading back to New York to take on a new job and jump start her life. How does that play out this season? “Hank and I have a lot of sessions on the phone for the first four episodes, and then I come back to L.A..” Do you have a new love interest this season? “Oh, no (laughs), it’s always my one and only. I think I should actually make relationships up just to keep up with Hank.” Does Karen have any profound personal revelations? EXTREME LAUGHTER: “No, clearly not. I think Karen’s trouble is she goes round and round on a hamster reel, and it’s the same sight every time, she just can’t get off of it.” What is it about Karen and Hank that keeps them going – are they best friends at the end of the day? “I don’t think they are best friends at all, I think it is just chemistry – I think she can’t leave him alone and he can’t leave her alone.”

The rest of the day takes place at the studio they shoot at in Culver City.

Madeleine Martin

I meet up with Becca (Madeleine Martin) in her trailer where she’s going through some wardrobe choices with her mom and stylist. I immediately wonder if these wardrobe choices include her usual Goth gear. Last season, Becca was jamming with her band, bonding with dad, and experiencing her first love with a dark and charming kid named Damien.

What’s it like this season for Becca? “It’s pretty different for Becca, she’s not Goth anymore; clothing-wise, anyway, she’s mainstream.” Why is she not Goth anymore? “She’s acting out a lot this season, and she’s trying to be different and her new best friend, Chelsea, sort of influences her.” Acting out, how does that go down with dear old dad? “We’re fighting a lot this season. Becca’s acting out because she knows she’s a product of a one night stand, and she thinks Hank doesn’t want her around. She’s also feeling insecure about Karen, since she took off to NY for a job.” Are you as open with your dad in real life as you are with Hank? “No I wouldn’t say half the things I say to Hank to my dad. But they do have a great relationship, just different than mine. They are sort of both immature in a way. I think of David as my goofy older brother sort of.” Gotcha, any new boyfriends this season? “I hope so, then I get to meet some more teenage boys.”

Evan Handler and Pamela Adlon

I head over to the bedroom set where they are getting ready to shoot a scene with The Disgruntled Runkles, Charlie (Evan Handler) and Marcy (Pamela Adlon). Word is they engage in a War of the Roses battle (an homage to Kathleen Turner who joins the cast this season). I ask Evan if Charlie is anything like uber agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven, Entourage). He considers for a second and then smiles, “I’m the anti-Ari Gold.” Fair enough. So, Evan, over the last two seasons, you’ve sure had your fair share of shenanigans: you get busted for excessive masturbation in the office, you engage in some bad behavior with your young, hot assistant, oh and you have a threesome with her and Marcy, you take on a new role as porn manager and consultant on Vagina Town, then you leave Marcy for your hot new porn star discovery, and move to the Valley with her and start selling cars. What’s up with you this season, will you be quite so busy? Laughs, “Hmmmm. Well, I can say that season one does find Charlie inappropriately involved with an underling, yes, and this season the tables are turned as my new boss (Kathleen Turner) tries to be inappropriate with me. I can also say that I break down and cry a lot this season. This season is more of the same fun; maybe a little crazier, the hijinx is getting a little crazier!” Do you identify with Hank Moody? “My life has probably been more of a Hank Moody life than Charlie Runkle, but that’s not the part I would play on TV, but I certainly identify with the man caught twixt and between who, you know, he doesn’t know whether to search for permanence or embrace the temporary.” His partner in crime Marcy (Pamela Adlon) joins us, and I have to ask her about their chemistry, because it’s off the charts funny. “That’s what everybody says that it’s coming off great. I’m just grateful that he’s so great and he’s such a professional.” Evan Handler winks and leaves us to dish on Charlie and Pam’s War of the Roses situation.

So Pam, Marcy is at a crossroads and it really feels like Marcy and Charlie could split, and you never really felt that before. Are you going to become like Hank and Karen where you don’t really split but you kind of do, and are we going to see the relationship unfold, or do you go your separate ways? “All of the above,” she laughs, “you’ve covered it from every angle.” And how do you feel about the new season? “It just all fell into place and we were able to come together, the scripts are always outstanding and you can’t believe it because when you get to the table and finish the reading, you just like want to lay on the floor and smoke a cigarette, because you’re spent and you’re like okay this is not a half hour show, this is a full length feature, every single episode.” Peter Gallagher who joins the cast as the Dean where Hank is teaching, chimes in, “I had the time of my life, and it was reaffirming to work on this set, it was the closest thing to working with Altman – I had so much fun, it was sick.”

Kathleen Turner

Kathleen Turner is not on set, but low and behold, she calls me on my cell and in her rich and delicious voice, fills me in on her character who is as saucy as you can imagine. “I get to say cunt quite a bit, which was shocking to me because if my daughter weren’t 21, I would have lost all moral authority with her, and I was turned onto a whole new sexual education in the process. Here I am 65-years old, and I didn’t know a lot of this shit.” I ask her to fill me in on her character. “Oh she caught my mind and my imagination, she is essentially a nympho sociopath agent.” Well done! She sums up the series, sincerely, when I ask her what else attracted her to the show. “Somehow, the writers always bring it back to something valuable that touches you – a kernel of truth that makes sense of all the mayhem leading up to it.”

The Californication day winds down as the sun sets and the cast and crew share some pizza together. You can tell they’ve all had quite a ride this season and now the circus is shooting down, or the circuscation. I’m standing in the parking lot getting ready to leave when I see Hank Moody himself David Duchovny. Who better to end the On the Set with? What were the highlights for you this season? “Highlights would have to be directing the opener and thereby getting to break in the new characters played by Kathleen Turner and Peter Gallagher, getting to create that with them. I also got to work with one of my oldest friends, Jason Beghe, who does an unforgettable turn in the first episode.” What’s it like for Hank this season, will he have any wake up calls? “Hank is such a smart guy, it’s hard to believe he needs to wake up – I think what happens is that those that love him finally get fed up and then he has to make some tough decisions, tough but funny as is our style.” Did you have any Hank Moody type characters you looked up to as a kid? “I never looked up to any Moody types as a kid, my heroes were all athletes and journalists and at that time we were not so interested in their personal lives. My father was a writer and I looked up to him, that he wanted to live the life of the mind. That’s maybe what resonated for me first with the show—that here was this very funny character who was going to live, speak, and think the way he pleased no matter what the consequences.  He doesn’t care what music or movies or TV are popular, he makes up his own mind and lives in a world of his own making—truly a unique character to play in film or TV these days.”

And that’s a wrap until September 27.

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