If there is one actor in Hollywood today that can pull off the mannerisms, neurosis and paunch of the network television writer, it's David Duchovny. In a career that stretches back to an uncredited 1982 gig on "St. Elsewhere," he has appeared in more than 10 TV series, including " Twin Peaks" and "The X-Files."
So when Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence and director of "Freaks and Geeks" and "Orange County," called with an offer to play a bearded, overweight hack on the big screen, the actor said yes -- with one qualification.
"I said I'd grow the beard and wear a fat pad," Duchovny told ABC's Joel Siegel, a concession Kasdan made for his star, who wasn't keen to gain a large amount of weight for such a small amount of indie movie money.
Kasdan's film "The TV Set" is the story of Mike Klein, a middle-aged writer with a pregnant wife and the script for what he believes could be an intelligent, successful sitcom. He also has a brother who committed suicide -- the inspiration and basis for his tragicomic pilot. But when treacherous executives led by Sigourney Weaver swoop in and starts asking questions like "Can the brother be in jail instead?" Mike has to make a decision.
"This movie is a little bit about how there's no shame in feeding your family," Duchovny said. "Everyone in the movie is trying to make the best television show they can, which is the show that lasts the longest, and pays the bills the longest."
Duchovny's bills are likely accounted for some time into the 22nd century, a reward for time served on the "The X-Files," the supernatural drama that ran nine years and lives on today in syndication.
The actor's move from Yale, where he studied English as a grad student, to Hollywood was considerably less bankable. Duchovny admits that he had no inclination to act before his late 20s. And even then, it was more of a practical decision than an act of passion.
"How can I write and be around girls?" he remembered asking himself. "So I thought that I'll write plays, because sometimes there are girls in plays."
Duchovny delivers the story with a deadpan grin, and it's hard not to smile back. His logic is impregnable.
The final step, from playwright to one of the players, came soon thereafter.
"I thought I should try acting," Duchovny said, "because if you're going to write words for people to say then you should know what it's like to say them in front of people."
If he first got his chops during those "schizophrenic" days commuting between New Haven and acting classes in New York, it was Duchovny's experience on "The X-Files" that taught him to be a professional; a surprising result, considering his manager originally presented the project as "something to think about," "a payday" and "a job that'll pay for the year."
"It's about supernatural stuff, it's about aliens, there's no way anyone's going to be interested in that for too long," Duchovny remembered his presumably rich, but not quite prophetic manager telling him about the script.
"You're basically turning out half a movie every eight days," the actor says of life on the set of an hourlong, weekly drama.
It wasn't the best gig for a guy who values his spare time, but Duchovny needed the work. He read the script, liked his character, and decided to sign on. Within weeks, he had shot the pilot.
That was 14 years ago. Today, Duchovny is free to pursue the projects he finds appealing. Lately, that's meant playing lonely, depressive writers struggling, Faulkner- and Fitzgerald-like, to make it in Hollywood.
His next project, a comedy series called "Californication" will start its run in August on the Showtime cable network. It's a series about a writer who goes West with a book called 'God Hates Us all', and ends up presiding over a movie called 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love', starring Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Duchovny explained.
"Cable now is really the place where you can do what were independent films like five or six years ago," Duchovny said. "Independent cinema is in a real tough spot now, because everyone wants a hit. Cable TV, Showtime, HBO, and these kind of outfits are less held under the strictures of commerce. They're subscription based, so they're really driven by critical acclaim only."
If his assessment holds, then Duchovny's "Californication" should be a critical success. His performance in "The TV Set" has been particularly well-received, even as the film itself has received uneven reviews. Still, none of the complaints have been about the lead actor, who's quietly distinguished himself as one of the industry's classiest professionals.
Catch the complete interview on ABC News Now's Popcorn with Joel Siegel