West Duchovny on Her Breakout Role in Netflix’s Painkiller

He’s right! Duchovny is very good—even if she doesn’t quite believe it herself yet. Now 24, the Los Angeles native has been working steadily for the last six years but has a habit of telling people she’s still “trying” to act, her imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head. I suspect that will all change shortly. In a spring-summer doubleheader, Duchovny took to the small screen this April in Hulu’s eight-part psychological thriller Saint X, a series based on Alexis Schaitkin’s novel of the same name, and this month, she is starring opposite Matthew Broderick and Uzo Aduba in the Netflix limited drama Painkiller

Painkiller centers on the origins of the opioid crisis in America, following its perpetrators (Purdue Pharma), its victims, and one investigator’s quest for the truth. Duchovny delivers a breakout performance playing Shannon Shaeffer, a recent college graduate and new recruit to the Purdue sales team. 

I should mention this isn’t the first time this story has been told on-screen—and it probably won’t be the last. Last year, Hulu released the Emmy-nominated miniseries Dopesick spotlighting the same origin story. The opioid crisis is still very much a prevalent issue facing Americans, and Painkiller effectively demonstrates this by sharing real stories of families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction at the beginning of each episode. It’s a reminder of the ongoing struggle and how dire the situation remains. “I’m psyched that this story is getting told as much as it is,” Duchovny says. “Let’s keep talking about it. Let’s keep doing it. Putting this on Netflix is huge because so many people open their Netflix at the end of the day, and if this can be a part, along with everything else, of educating people, then bring it on. Keep ’em coming.”  

Knowing how this very real story plays out, it’s easy to judge a character like Shannon out of the gate. Duchovny knows this, but the actress also found it easy to empathize with her. Shannon is a young woman fresh out of college, her gymnast dreams dashed due to injury. She’s trying to escape an unstable home environment when she is presented with this seemingly great opportunity to make money and help people.  

“She’s being told that she’s going to alleviate people’s pain and that the better she is at her job, the more people are out of pain,” Duchovny says. “It gets more complicated as the red flags start popping up.”

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