On Showtime’s CALIFORNICATION, now in its fourth season on Sunday nights, David Duchovny stars as writer Hank Moody, who has an on-again, off-again relationship with his wife (Natascha McElhone), a strained bond with his teenaged daughter (Madelein Martin) and a continual urge to perform the title activity.
This year, actress Carla Gugino joined the cast as Abby Rhodes, who starts out representing Hank professionally and becomes involved with him personally. Gugino talks to us about playing Abby, as well as the long list of feature films she’s in that are coming out this year including this weekend’s SUCKER PUNCH.
ASSIGNMENT X: Were you familiar with CALIFORNICATION before you joined the cast?
CARLA GUGINO: You know, I’m one of those people who – my TV never seems to work. I always end up watching shows in DVDs seasons later, and with this particular show, I had known how good it was, several of my very closest friends, it’s their favorite show on the air, but it wasn’t until series creator] Tom [Kapinos] had asked me to do this role that I sat down and I watched everything, and I then became completely addicted to it, but I hadn’t been able to watch it before.
AX: Seeing that your CALIFORNICATION character is named Abby Rhodes, are you a Beatles fan?
GUGINO: I am, I’m a big Beatles fan. I’m a big music fan and it turns out he is, too, and so, I said, “Will anybody ever know that her full name is Abby Rhodes?” And they would occasionally get in a “Ms. Rhodes,” so it’s good.
AX: Does Abby Rhodes bring a new dynamic to CALIFORNICATION?
GUGINO: For sure. It’s interesting, because I think David [Duchovny] spoke to this earlier in an interview we were doing about the fact that I think oftentimes these sorts of dalliances or liaisons, trysts that he has, or just one-night stands, he’s not really that present in them. They’re sort of a way of medicating or a way of escape or they’re a way of just maybe wanting to have fun, whatever it is. And I think that [Abby] is definitely a character who is pretty accountable, she’s got a bit of weight to her, and she’s very smart. And there’s also an interesting kindred spirit in both of them, probably in more ways than they’d like to admit, so when what transpires between them [happens], I think Hank is a bit more connected to it as a potential relationship than he had been before.
AX: Do we know enough about Abby to know if her relationship with Hank is outside of her comfort zone or if this is the sort of thing she gets into on a regular basis?
GUGINO: It’s definitely outside of her comfort zone, because I think she is actually someone who loves her profession and you get insight into this, but she is a woman who I think is very happy being single, very happy being autonomous, being able to have men come and go, and be really good at what she does, and I think this certainly takes her to a place where she gets in a little deeper than I think she has in a long time.
AX: A lot of your roles are very physical. Do you do a lot of exercise in real life?
GUGINO: I do Pilates, I swim, I hike, I lift weights sometimes – I’m definitely a very physical person, so I do it all.
AX: Does all of that help you when you do kick-ass roles, like the lead in KAREN SISCO?
GUGINO: For sure. And it’s funny, because I find when I’m doing different roles, even without knowing it, I gravitate toward what that person might be doing. Like when I was doing KAREN SISCO, I was doing gun training and all sorts of other stuff, which then [gives] you a very different kind of build. I just did Eugene O’Neill’s DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS on Broadway, and that was a much different time. It takes place in the late 1800s and so I didn’t want to be doing too much at the gym. It just didn’t feel quite right for her.
AX: You did the first three SPY KIDS movies. Were you unavailable to do the fourth?
GUGINO: Well, first of all, I don’t think the story really needed me.It sort of goes in another direction. The [original kids [Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara] are in it, Jessica Alba’s in it, Jeremy Piven does a role in it – some wonderful people. I think it’ll be very good. [SPY KIDS filmmaker] Robert Rodriguez is my dearest friend and we’ve done four movies together and we’ll do hopefully more, but when they were shooting that, I was doing MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS with Jim Carrey in New York.
AX: Did you work with actual penguins?
GUGINO: We did.
AX: What are penguins like as costars?
GUGINO: They prefer to act at thirty-eight degrees, which is not so much fun, but they are lovely, and you can’t be sad around a penguin. They’re not bright, I mean, they’re sort of the chicken of the sea, and I say that with love for chicken and penguins. They’re not trainable, necessarily, but they’re fantastic. They had penguin wranglers and then the penguins would all come in and they walk like penguins do and you’re like, “That’s how they really walk!” And then I did a lot of acting to no penguins, but they were supposedly penguins, which is also interesting, where you do things like, “Oh, my gosh, over there.”
AX: How does working with Jim Carrey compare to working with penguins?
GUGINO: Jim Carrey is much more facile as an actor than the penguins are. He’s highly trainable and wonderful to work with and very funny.
AX: What other projects have you got coming up?
GUGINO: Sure, I have a movie called EVERY DAY with Liev Schreiber and Helen Hunt and Brian Dennehy that was done by Richard Levine who was a producer and writer for a very long time on NIP/TUCK, and then March 11, interestingly enough, I have a film called ELEKTRA LUXX, which a sequel to a movie I did called WOMEN IN TROUBLE, where I play a porn star called Elektra Luxx, as well as a movie that’s going to be the first feature-length film ever to premiere on YouTube with their involvement called GIRL WALKS INTO A BAR, which is really cool and a very interesting experiment, so please see it. It’s a really, really good movie – Zach Quinto and Rosario Dawson and Josh Hartnett and Emmanuelle Chriqui and Danny DeVito and a bunch of great people are in it. It’s just under ninety minutes, one night, ten bars in Los Angeles and the interconnecting stories.
And then SUCKER PUNCH, which is the second movie I did with Zack Snyder, where I play a Polish character. And then the movie I did in Big Sur, called I MELT WITH YOU that Mark Pellington directed, with Thomas Jane and Jeremy Piven.
AX: You seem to work in all genres, in projects directed at very different age groups. Is that a mixture you consciously try to maintain?
GUGINO: You know, I think it’s that I really love all genres and I think there should be entertainment for everybody, so I have a harder time with the PG-13/R-rating situation, because so often I think that movies try to get a PG-13 because they will have a bigger audience that way, but perhaps subject matter-wise, they were more conducive to an R. So if it’s an R, I would like more people to come to it who are adults, to support [it]. So for me, it’s probably just an instinctual thing. I find that when you’re exploring adult issues and adult themes and adult questions and conundrums, it’s really important to do it in a venue and a medium where you can actually express those things and take those kind of risks that you don’t necessarily want your daughter or son to be watching. And then I love a good family movie. It’s what we set out to do with SPY KIDS and it certainly was Robert Rodriguez’s idea, that was, “Let’s make a movie that is so cool, that is cool enough, that even though it is for kids and the kids are the heroes of the movie, that the entire family can come and actually have a really good time.” And there are a couple of things that go over the kids’ heads and a couple of things that are just great for the whole family, and then the kids can also feel really entertained and triumphant.
AX: Do you like working in cable television these days?
GUGINO: It’s not that I think I’m done with network – I think that there are great network shows being done. For me personally, because I am a gypsy by nature and I really do like the idea of being able to play many different people and go to many different places, I really do love the fact that a season of a cable show is almost like doing a movie, and then you have time to do other things. In addition to the fact that, for me, I am a perfectionist and I still want to have the way in which to make a show as good as it can be, and I think that it’s possible but very difficult in network television, just because of the sheer amount of [episodes] you’re actually making each season. That’s a very subjective, personal feeling. And I also think cable right now is where we’re getting to see in this country probably the closest to European films, which have always been [important] for me, with the Juliette Binoches and the Charlotte Ramplings and the Catherine Deneuves of the world. These are all people that I sort of aspire to follow in their footsteps, so in terms of just human, adult subject matter, I think cable is where we’re able to explore it the best at the moment.