David Duchovny On Writing ‘The Reservoir,’ Conspiracies, The Knicks, And Still Being Mad At Michael Jordan’s ‘Bullshit Move’

The press release for The Reservoir, David Duchovny’s new Audible Original (which you can download now) namechecks the Alfred Hitchcock classic 1954 film Rear Window when teasing the actor turned author’s new work (with this plus his four previous books, he’s hardly a tourist in the literary world). It’s about “a middle-aged man living alone who grows increasingly obsessed with a woman whose apartment window he faces.” Duchovny, himself, mentions Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella Death In Venice as another inspiration for this story when we spoke via Zoom recently. But this short form fiction audio project is also heavily rooted in the now, or rather, the heart of a pandemic where a dying man slips into a world of conspiracy while, quite possibly, losing his mind.

As Duchovny explains it, the only possible setting for all of this was New York, where he himself spent much of this lost year of quarantine staring out the window of his apartment, a view that is woven into The Reservoir (and which is breathtaking… Zoom interviews are rad). But while COVID and conspiracy loom large in this fictional world, the latter wasn’t always a part of the plan. And then the world turned how it did over these last few months and, voila, inspiration.

We spoke at length with Duchovny about that, his evolving relationship with the spoken word side of writing, and the real-world conspiracies and “shitty story” that has taken hold of a surprising number of people. We also discuss how Californication, his and Tom Kapinos’ seven-seasons-long misanthropic sexcapade-laden love story, would hold up in the culture of 2021. And as is appropriate for the season with the NBA Playoffs underway, we got into a near fight about Knicks basketball.

Really enjoyed this story. I am not at all someone who likes audio projects — I blame my attention span — but this gripped me.

Well, thank you. It’s funny. I guess I have a tangled history with audiobooks because I haven’t really listened to them a lot in my life. I mean, maybe back in the aughts, when I was driving a lot. But with the four books that I’ve done as an audiobook, I almost had a chip on my shoulder when I was reading it, because I was like, “This is to be read. This is not to be listened to. I wrote this to be read.” And I think not until the last one, with Truly Like Lightning, did I really show up and try to figure out: “What’s the difference between reading on a page and listening to it?”

And with this one, I continued that in that I thought, “Well, this isn’t going to exist as a printed piece for a few years anyway,” because Amazon buys up the rights for a few years. So I thought, “Well, it’s going to exist as this thing, as this story that you hear in your ear. And what does that mean? What does that mean for the writing? What does that mean for the performing?” So I’m starting to open myself up a little bit more to the idea that it’s different and legitimate.

And this is something you’d go into again, trying to create specifically for this medium?

Yeah. In fact, I just was thinking this morning about almost a kid story that I had an idea for. And I was thinking maybe I’ll conceive of this from the start as something to be spoken. I think there’s only so much your brain can handle when it’s listening. It’s like listening to poetry. It’s tough to listen to a good poem, it’s tough to get it. And so I think that there has to be, if you’re thinking about doing it as an audible, you kind of have to keep your audience in mind.

How much of you is in this character, your feelings, even your experiences from the pandemic? Obviously, there’s a lot of things that aren’t.

Well, it’s all inspired by the view of my apartment, really. And I do take time-lapse photos of the sunrise. The picture on the Audible is a picture I took. That’s my actual view that I’ve been looking at, and like Ridley [the main character], I’ve been kind of obsessed with it for years and years. Not obsessed with it in the way he is, but just kind of taken with it and captivated by it. Aside from that, there’s really not a lot. I mean, I’m sure there’s some interior dialogue that I felt like expressing, maybe about pandemic stuff, life during the pandemic.

At first, when I started writing it, I didn’t actually know that I was going to go to the key to all conspiracies. That all came later. I knew I wanted to write something about distances in the pandemic, the weird congested distance that you can only get in New York City during this pandemic. I imagine there are other cities that are more congested, but not in my experience. I haven’t lived in Tokyo or Mexico City. It’s just, for me, there’s this strange psychic phenomenon, aside from all the real world’s heartache and disaster, that is, you’ve got to keep your distance in a city that kind of prides itself on stacking people on top of one another. “I’m not giving you any distance at all.” So I just started kind of toying with that. And then obviously coming out of the election, and the January 6th thing, and QAnon, it was all kind of on my mind. And in a way, I wanted to embrace the universal need for explanation. And I thought that the urgency of a man who’s dying or is sick gave me an entree into that kind of embrace of… kind of the big answer.

You have some connection to conspiracy theories with the X-Files and on to this. Personally, what’s your take on how conspiracies have sort of evolved in the culture, their importance in the culture, their prominence, and even in government now? I mean, I can imagine, but I’m curious.

It might be the profound question of our time, so I don’t want to be glib. I don’t know. I don’t have a short answer. I can only tell you, first of all, it has nothing to do with my experience on the X-Files, and I didn’t learn anything about it. I didn’t get into it.

Well no, the cultural phenomenon of it [I mean].

No, no, I know, I know. I’m just saying that didn’t lead me here. I think it really gets down to our fundamental human nature of wanting… It’s exactly what the story is about. I say it in the story, not in so many words because that would suck. But we need the story to make sense. We are the storytelling animal. We’re the animal that tells itself stories in order to make sense of the world. And I think we’ve been doing it since we’ve been painting on caves and since we’ve been able to speak. So there’s something gloriously natural in conspiracy. It’s the most natural thing to us, because the world doesn’t make sense. My personal belief, is that there is no story to be had. There’s no writer of this existence. That’s the essential push and pull and paradox within us: we have this need for story. And yet in my mind, if we are honest enough and enlightened enough, we know that it’s all bullshit. And so then the question becomes, tell the story that does the most good? Tell the story that not only makes you happiest, but makes other people happier, or is fairest, or has the best morality as far as you see it. I don’t know. I’m not talking about propaganda.

I guess the story itself, The Reservoir, is kind of about the need to have the answer and how human that is. And so I have an understanding of people who believe in QAnon and shit like that, because I get the need. I’m sorry that they think it’s true, but I get it. And I feel like the people who are using the story for political ends are the real villains, not so much the people who I see as consumers of a shitty story… of a badly told, unimaginative, silly, shitty sci-fi type story. So I’m like, “Let’s tell a better story that makes us better as people.”

When you say that it’s all bullshit, are you referring to the notion that we can’t really know some of these things?

I guess I’m referring to the fact that I don’t think there is an answer, but also what I’m saying is in terms of this particular bullshit, how silly and stupid the QAnon conspiracy is, how detached from reality, how harmful, and yet, surprisingly it trades in ancient memes of antisemitism, pedophilia, drinking blood — it’s nothing new. It’s straight out of handbooks that are resolved as the protocols of the Elders of Zion. So that’s a story we should stop telling ourselves. That’s what I’m saying.

Californication is something I just went back and revisited in preparation for this. A couple of the final episodes last night. The show is still so good, so sharp. You probably get asked this a lot, but I’m curious how you think Hank Moody would exist in 2021, just the character, but also the show?

It’s a tough one. It’s very tough because there’s a lot on the surface that would be attacked where we find ourselves culturally, and maybe for good reason. But for me, that was never the heart of the show, and it was almost like you were biting at the wrong bait if you were getting upset or keying in on that stuff, and I still would say that’s the case. I just don’t think anybody would chance it right now, and I don’t know that anybody would make it. But that’s not to say that I don’t believe in it or I’m not as proud of it as I ever was. It is interesting to see how time passes and we start to look at things differently, but I do believe that… Actually, not only its heart, but its politics and it’s sexual politics were actually in the right place if you can look beyond kind of the smoke and mirrors of the looseness of it, or of the… sometimes the childishness of it. I don’t know, but again, I’m the wrong guy to ask.

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To take it back to The Reservoir and to New York at the end here, but the one conspiracy that was mentioned in the story that feels more grounded is the idea that the Knicks might be a hoax. It’s not ancient, but there’s definitely a decades-long swirl where you can believe that this is all going to fall apart. Are you observant of that?

[Laughs] Well, I am a Knicks fan and I’ve kind of tuned out the last two or three years. But I have been kind of warily peeking around the corner at this team. I mean, I think they’re playing like a team, and they don’t really have a superstar unless Randall continues in this incarnation that he’s found. But they’re a good team. I don’t see them going that far, but they’re playing way better than I thought they would.

The city’s a little different, I think, when they’re playing well.

The city is totally different when the Knicks are playing well, it’s really weird. It’s different from if the Yankees or the Mets are winning or the Jets or the Giants. When the Knicks are winning… I think maybe because the Madison Square Garden is in the middle of the city, and so the entire middle of the city can get congested and excited during a run, which is kind of cool. I mean, I remember Linsanity, that’s the last time the city freaked out over the Knicks.

(Editor’s note: The Knicks won a playoff game for the first time in a long time last night in a packed, raucous Madison Square Garden.)

I was very much in the city during the ’90s run with the Starks and Ewing team and everything like that. And while I hated it because I’m a Bulls fan, you could feel the electricity.

Yeah. I was in the building when Starks dunked over Jordan. [Laughs]

He dunked over Horace Grant! Jordan was trailing, be honest. He dunked on Horace Grant.

I don’t know. All I remember is I think he changed hands and dunked left.

I don’t know, man.

You want to talk about bullshit moves? I’m sure you know, I’m sure you’ve looked at the tapes. I’m sure you’re right [about Starks], I’m sure he didn’t really dunk over Jordan. Otherwise, you wouldn’t say that. But the famous, “best move of all time” that they talk about with Jordan, where he switches hands at the rim [against the Lakers in 1991]… It’s a bullshit move! He’s at the rim with the ball. He can just dunk it. And then he does this thing where he flips it. It’s unmotivated. It’s a bullshit move. It’s not the Dr. J move where he actually had to go under the basket to score.

Okay, that’s fair. That is fair.

He’s not getting away from anybody. Retire that along with the shove-off and the shot over Byron Russell.

So the anti-Jordan thing is still alive and well with you?

Oh God, yeah. It was just re-inspired by The Last Dance. I got all upset all over again.

I had a doctor once that I went to and he had the Starks poster on the back of his door. And honestly, part of the reason I stopped going to him and switched up is because I couldn’t stand staring at that thing. And this is not long ago, this was like five years ago. “Just take it down, man. It’s been a long time.”

[Laughs] It’s like, “Why did he die?” “Well, he stopped seeing the doctor.” “Why did he stop seeing the doctor?” “Oh, it was the Starks poster.”

You can listen to the first few minutes of ‘The Reservoir’ below and download the Audible Original here.