West Duchovny started mourning the loss of the part in “Painkiller” from the moment she got the audition.
“I just didn’t think that with what I had done prior I had enough to show for myself, because I had nothing to show for,” Duchovny says.
Despite that, she knew she had to go out for the role of Shannon.
“I cried when I auditioned,” she says. “[I felt like], ‘this is the perfect thing and I have never felt this way about any character and I’m not gonna get it.’ Yeah. That’s how my brain runs.”
She did a tape and was expecting to then be put through several callbacks, but soon received a call that the show’s director Peter Berg wanted to have lunch.
“I literally peed my pants on the phone,” she says.
“Painkiller,” out on Netflix on Aug. 10, tells the origin story of OxyContin and how it took hold in the United States. The show is based both on the New Yorker article “‘The Family That Built an Empire of Pain” by Patrick Radden Keefe and Barry Meier’s book “Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic” (both writers consulted on the show).
The Netflix series is directed by “Friday Night Lights” director Peter Berg and stars Matthew Broderick as Richard Sackler and Uzo Aduba as a prosecutor investigating the family’s role in the opioid crisis, among others. It’s very much a break-out for Duchovny, who is the daughter of David Duchovny and Téa Leoni, in the role of Shannon, a young woman in need of work who signs on to be a salesperson peddling a shiny new drug called OxyContin that her bosses at Purdue Pharma say is a cure-all.
“I think what I liked about her was there were a lot of these parallels between her entering the world of pharmaceuticals and me showing up to set on this huge project. That sort of imposter syndrome and that fear, but also that desire to be great, and to do the best that you can do,” Duchovny says.
Duchovny grew up initially in California until her family decided to move to New York when she was 10.
“Which I was very upset about at the time,” she says. “Now I’m very grateful for it.”
Despite the fact that both of her parents are very successful actors, for most of her life she was confident she wasn’t able to follow in their footsteps.
“I didn’t really care about it. It was my parents’ thing,” she says. ‘People were asking me about it a lot, and that made me be like, ‘why are you asking me this? That’s not my life,’” she says now with a laugh.
She’d gotten into college to be pre-med and was set to start down that path when, in the time between when she committed to college and arrived on campus, she decided to do a play “just for fun.”
“And it was just like, ‘oh no,’” she recalls. “I had never felt that way about anything. I never loved anything I had tried so effortlessly. I felt like I had been pushing myself to love school and love academics. But [acting] felt like the first thing that I wanted to commit to really getting to know and doing.”
Her parents were equally shocked by her revelation.
“When they saw the play they were complimentary, but like, they’re my parents,” she says. “But they were surprised just because it came out of nowhere. Really did. My dad had less strong feelings about it than my mom. My mom definitely was trepidatious. She grew up in the industry; that was very difficult for women. That we are now talking about more and changing, slowly but surely. And you know, I’m her daughter, and she was scared for me to enter that world.”
Having talked it through, though, now both parents are fully on board.
“Now I’ll call her if I want advice — they’re both super supportive now. I think it just took them a little bit to take me seriously,” she says. “Because it felt so random. But [I told them], ‘No, guys, this is what I need to do.’”
Duchovny’s interests are in playing young women of all different forms, who are navigating feelings she identifies with.
“You’re coming of age, and that’s complicated. And I think I like just having a character who really accurately represents the complexities of what it means to be a young woman in various scenarios in the world,” she says. “The commonality is just this cacophony of fear and motivation and desire and self-consciousness. All the things. It’s fun for me to explore like, ‘OK, if we’re all feeling this all the time, how does it manifest? How does it come out for one person to the other?’”
Interview was conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike.