'Aquarius' Star David Duchovny: "Hodiak Is a Very Compromised Figure"

"This is not a show about the Manson murders. This is a show about the '60s," the star tells THR about his new NBC period drama.

[Warning: Spoilers ahead for the two-hour Aquarius series premiere.]

'The truth' is something David Duchvony has been searching for for most of his career. On the beloved sci-fi hit The X-Files, his character FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder always believed "the truth is out there." Although he's now playing a different authority figure in a different decade investigating a wildly different subject (goodbye aliens! Hello Charles Manson!), the quest is still the same.

"We're looking for truth. We’re looking to figure out how did we get here and a lot of the answers are in the '60s," Duchovny tells The Hollywood Reporter. "To me, Manson was like all of that just rolled into one symbolic human being who just happened to commit the murders of that decade."

Premiering Thursday on NBC, Aquarius picks up slightly before those infamous slayings. In the series, Duchovny plays Det. Sam Hodiak, who begins investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend's daughter, Emma (Emma Dumont), who runs off to be with an extremely charismatic and controlling wannabe musician named Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony). But Manson is hardly Hodiak's only problem. There's the aforementioned former love, who is now married to someone else. There's his estranged wife and their rebellious son who skips town after being drafted for the Vietnam War. And then there's his young new partner, Shafe (Grey Damon), who thankfully knows how to navigate the hippie scene, but won't shut up about these new Miranda Rights.

Duchovny spoke with THR about Hodiak's aversion to hippies, his first love and how a show about a future serial killer ended up on NBC.

Why this role? What spoke to you about this character?

What originally attracted me to the whole world was just it acknowledging Manson — not the man — but as a symbol that we come back to a lot in this country, which is kind of fascinating. Why? For me, it became a fork in the road in the '60s where, to the left was the hippie movement and [George] McGovern and Eugene McCarthy, and then to the right was [Ronald] Reagan and [Richard] Nixon and the road that we took. Manson stood in the middle of that and looked like a hippie, but was really a fascist underneath it and a killer.  On one hand, you've got Woodstock and on the other hand you have Altamont, so you have these two sides of a coin of where the '60s was going to lead. I feel like we keep coming back to the '60s as a country, even as a world, because there were a lot of democratic movements and revolutionary movements all around the world in that decade.

A big part of the premiere is when Sam teams up with a new partner, Shafe. Why? What does he see in Shafe that no one else at his precinct does?

What I liked about my character, too, was that he is not a man of the sixties. He was born in the teens. He came of age in the '30s and the '40s. He's a totally different guy from anybody I've ever played. He's more like my father. He's more of that generation. He's seeing all this shit happen, and it looks terrible to him. It looks like the end of his world. It looks to him like the end of the world. Then it became really fascinating to me to think that my character's eyes were going to be the eyes that you see this world through. He doesn’t have a sympathetic vision of like, 'Oh, hippies have got a message of peace and love — it's fantastic.' He's a very skeptical observer of the sixties.

In terms of Shafe, he's got a lot to learn about Shafe and through Shafe. I think what he sees in him is a guy who wants to be a good cop. It's basically just that set-up where you've got an older cop and a younger guy who looks like a hippie and might have those values, but Hodiak sees in him a guy who wants justice; who wants to do the right thing.

What can you say about the trajectory of their investigation into Manson? Obviously this is something based on real life, but it's something that has to sustain over the entire first season.

[Creator] John McNamara has six years of episodes in his head, and I don’t even know when the murders occur so this is not a show about the Manson murders. This is a show about the '60s. The Manson murders happen to be a defining moment of that time. … What I like about the show is Manson is not somebody that my character would [normally] spend any time investigating. I'm a homicide detective and this guy Manson is a pimp, he's a hustler, he's a con man, he's a check forger — not somebody that I would even think about trying to arrest or investigate, it's not my thing. In the beginning when Emma disappears, who is the daughter of the woman that I still love, who happens to be married to a man who happens to be running Nixon's campaign (laughs), I just think he's a nothing. In many ways, Manson is a nothing. He's just come to symbolize so much to us.

You touched on that relationship between Hodiak and Emma's mom, Grace. What can you say about that dynamic going forward?

Hodiak is a very compromised figure morally in many ways. He's a dirty cop. He's a cop that does things illegally in order to achieve what he thinks of as justice. He's a very 'the ends justify the means' sort of a guy. He's in love with Grace, and he always has been. As the season progresses, he's going to start to see her in a more clear light. When he first reconnects with her in the first episode, he still idealizes her. She's like his Daisy Buchanan. She's the one that got away. And as they spend more time together, he's going to see her clearly and either love her more or not love her more.

A big part of the '60s is the Vietnam War and the second episode ends with Hodiak's son going on the lam even though he's supposed to be fighting for his country. How will that affect Hodiak going forward, knowing that his son is running away from this?

Hodiak grew up in the teens, he fought in World War II, which is what people see in this country as the last really justifiable war where people came home heroes. There was black and white, and you had Hitler. The mindset of my character is "my country, right or wrong." Through loving his son, he's going to learn a lot more about Vietnam than he knows at the present. In the show, you have all these things that are circulating throughout in the sixties, which are Black Power, feminism, the anti-war movement, the serious drug intake happening, the music and its all swirling around, and — symbolically — this one guy, Charlie Manson.

A show with these kinds of subject matters doesn't necessarily seem a natural fit for network TV. What was your reaction when you read the material?

It seemed like a cable show. It had that amount of episodes [for] HBO or FX. I knew it couldn't be Showtime because I had just left there and it was too soon to go back, but I was thinking HBO or FX, and then NBC stepped up and said they wanted to do it. We all kind of took a step back and said, "Wow, that's a really interesting idea. They want to do the show that we want to do." There's going to be some concessions that have to be made because it's network, but can we still make the show that we want to make on NBC? Are they going to let us? [NBC Chief] Bob Greenblatt said, "Yes," and he wanted the show we wanted to do. We're making some concessions to language, some to violence, some to nudity but we made the same show that we wanted to make. I think NBC is really smart. It's all about networks competing with cable outfits; they have to do it in order to maintain viewership. This is the way it is. This is the new formula, and I'm really interested to see what happens with a show like this on a network.

Aquarius airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on NBC. The entire first season is also available on NBC.com, the NBC app and VOD.