My phone rings, and I pick it up. The man on the other end says, "Hi. This is David Duchovny." And it really is, which is odd, because usually when you interview a celebrity, a publicist calls first to connect. When I point this out, he quips: "I can dial my own phone. I learned it just the other day." Show-off.

Of course, it's not his tech savvy so much as his deadpan sense of humor that's on display here. You know the one. In the late '90s, he was more prominent than Y2K scares, thanks to The X-Files, the campy alienfest that entranced us for nine years due in great part to its star's sarcastic persona and brooding good looks. He even inspired a minor hit song titled — yep — "David Duchovny."

And then ... nothing. Well, nothing of that magnitude — a few not-so-memorable films and a voice-over gig as a puppy in some Pedigree commercials.

But now, at 47, he returns to the tube with a genius new Showtime series, Californication. He stars as a literary novelist named Hank Moody whose magnum opus, God Hates Us All, is adapted into the popcorn-nosher Crazy Little Thing Called Love, launching him into midlife-crisis battles with the shiny, happy people of California. It's the freshest, funniest thing to hit cable in a while. And we're not too disappointed that the lead spends roughly 19 of the show's 30 minutes shirtless and/or pantless.

"I had a discussion with Tom Kapinos, the writer, and I said, 'I think I'm gonna get in a little better shape for this.' And he said, 'No, you're a writer. You've gotta be kind of fat and dissipated.' And I thought, Yeah, you say that, but when you see it, you won't like it."

Duchovny played a similarly disenchanted writer in last spring's indie film The TV Set. Do his choices reveal that this Princeton grad — who spends a lot of his time writing screenplays — is fed up with his own work? He laughs. "No. No, I'm not frustrated in my writing at all." He pauses. "I mean, of course I am — every writer is frustrated — but not to the level that I would seek out parts to vent that."

So that's what he's been up to: writing, avoiding X-Files obsessors, and raising two kids with his wife and fellow comedian, Téa Leoni. "At home, I actually will say to her, 'Now, that made me laugh,'" he says drolly. "I point it out because I'm not an easy laugh."

So what misconceptions do people still have of him? "That I'm aloof. But, you know, I'm not, because I don't care," he says. "Isn't that funny? That was supposed to be funny."

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