At 16, FHM was not what you would call ‘a catch.’ Lanky, awkward, invariably wearing an aggressive Megadeth T-shirt and riddled with intense, localised acne around the mouth (to the extent that one concerned teacher asked if we were “snorting UHU at lunchtimes”). So girls, certainly, were not an option.

But how we lusted after them! The elite unit of Lolitas that were permanently stationed around the bench at the back of the English block. Laura Penton and her blossoming bust; Anna Claymoor with her breathtaking, netball-honed arse; their ginger mate who put it about with the football team.

When a 16-year-old girl knows she’s attractive, she can use that power to devastating effect. Which is exactly what Madeline Zima’s character, Mia, does in Californication. Mia uses her feminine wiles to bed David Duchovny, who doesn’t realise she’s 16. “I knew a lot of girls like her when I was 16,” she recalls, “and I was wilder than I am now by a long shot. So if I can’t relate my own experiences to her, I use people that I knew at that time who were that wild.”

Luckily, Zima is actually 23 – a long time since her first gig in a nappy advert in 1987. Yes, in the same year that Lethal Weapon came out, she was two years old. “That was also the first time I ever did nudity on TV!” laughs Zima. “It was the baby’s bare ass running into the towel – and once upon a time, that was my young ass.”

And 21 years later, after roles alongside Hulk Hogan in Mr. Nanny, and cameos in King Of The Hill and Grey’s Anatomy, Zima is still getting her ‘bare ass’ out for the cameras. Californication doesn’t shy away from nude scenes, something Zima’s perfectly happy with. “It’s a mental thing, it’s not the actual nudity that’s odd, it’s the fact that it’s being filmed,” says Zima casually. “Luckily I have the protection of feeling it’s my character doing this, so I don’t go, ‘Here I am, you know, humping…’”

On that note: there’s one nude scene where, er, you punch David Duchovny. While humping him. So how was that?
I had read the scene so I knew there was nudity. Honestly, once you’re naked it doesn’t feel that uncomfortable, it’s just taking the clothes off that’s embarrassing. It’s a sexually explicit programme, so when people come up to you, sometimes they’re nice, and sometimes they’re not so nice. Whenever people say, “I love your work!” that’s quite lovely, and when they buy you free shots at the bar, that’s even better. But some people say things that are rude and things you wouldn’t say to a stranger, so that’s not as cool.

What was your family’s reaction to it?
Well, my dad didn’t watch. And it was obviously a little bit disturbing to my sisters and my mom, but it made her laugh. So that’s a high compliment. It’s hard for me to watch sometimes. But my friends all thought it was an awesome moment.

Ever punched someone in real life?

We don’t mean in bed! Just generally…
Oh, okay. I’ve got into fights with my sisters, but I’ve never punched a guy, I’ve slapped guys before and I’ve certainly wanted to punch guys.

You have two sisters, who’re both actresses. Is there any sibling rivalry?
On the rare occasions that we go for the same roles, if there’s any rivalry it’s in the most jokey way. We’re not really jealous or competitive. If one of us doesn’t get a job, we’d be so happy if another one of us did. The next best thing to me getting the job is my sister getting it.

And your sister came to the shoot. Did you enjoy it? You looked like you had fun.
At certain times I did. Certain pictures were really, really fun; certain pictures were freezing! I had to keep getting in and out of the pool and it was really cold. I’m just a big wuss when it comes to cold temperatures; I need to be hot all the time. It was a fun shoot, a beautiful day. There was free food; if there’s free food around I’m happy!

Is that why you got into acting, because there’s always free food?
You don’t even know! I’m at the cast service table every five seconds, it’s like a running joke on set. If I’m not in my trailer, I’m out getting food!

Some people do showbiz for the money and fame, you do it for the free lunches…
I do… I’m filming My Own Love Song in New Orleans with Renée Zellweger and Forest Whitaker at the moment. I think I can eat more than them put together.

More than the Forest? Amazing. Is it true you felt up David Duchovny in your audition for Californication?
Yeah. I never pre-planned grabbing his leg or anything like that. I was just in the moment and doing what felt right, or what was close to crossing the boundaries, but not so much that they’d kick me out of the room.

Feeling up Mulder from the X Files – now there’s the dream of many a sci-fi fanboy. But you like the nerds, don’t you?
Nerdy guys are more challenging than pretty boys or jocks. They’re so into the thing they’re into and they’re so passionate. They’re so passionate about video games, they’re so passionate about Star Wars or whatever, and that’s a turn-on.

Good to know. We won’t take the ‘My other car’s a Millennium Falcon’ sticker off the Escort just yet. What was David Duchovny like to work with?
He’s awesome. He’s a really funny, brilliant guy. He really is so smart. He always likes to pull out big words. Like ‘perfunctory’.

You’re right. That is a big word.
I’m like, “Oh I think I know what that means!” I think he does it on purpose.

Is he as quick with the one-liners as his character Hank?
Yeah, even more so, he’ll write his own one-liners. A lot of the time they’ll think its super funny and leave it on the show. He’s very, very quick-witted.

Your audition for Californication clearly went well. What’s the worst audition you’ve ever had?
I bombed recently for something. It happens all the time. And if you’re not willing to fall on your face, you’re never going to be able to grow. So a lot of the time I’ll try something that’s so wrong, just to see. Like touching David Duchovny’s leg, because you never know until you try. I know that casting directors have straight up told my agent, “She can’t act, she should get out of this business.” Everyone has bad days.

Your character Mia is pretty upfront when it comes to courting. Are you more subtle?
I’m not good at relationships at all. I haven’t been able to make them last more than a very, very short time. Just recently, I thought this one guy was attractive, so my sisters had to go and give him my number because I was so shy and afraid to approach. I think one time in my life I’ve gone up to a guy and given him my number.

And what happened when you did approach him?
The car had just come and we were about to get in and leave, and I just said, “Here’s my number! Bye!” I didn’t even form a full sentence like, “Here, give me a call sometime, what do you want to do?” It was just an impulse.

Good work. You’ve been acting all your life, do you ever feel like you’ve missed out? Were you one of those weird home schooled kids?
I was home schooled and I’m proud of it! Everyday I would go online and do my required reading and I’d fill out the answers. It’s easy, I would get up, work, eat, do some more work, and then eat some more, and I’d get it done.

What about college? American college is amazing – unless TV and films have lied to us. You missed out on the parties…
Not really, because I don’t know anything else, I don’t look back and feel I’ve missed anything. In a weird way, I’ve seen a lot of things that other people don’t experience, like real-world experiences. I hung out in colleges when I was 19 or 20 all the time. I’d hang out and go and enjoy the parties and got drunk something ridiculous. Like college kids do.

So what’s your perfect night out?
Dancing in the streets! Hopefully a lot of laughter. It sounds corny but it’s true. You can have fun doing anything, like playing cards or watching a movie or whatever…

And, finally, if all the fame disappeared tomorrow, what would you do?
I would work very hard at getting better on the guitar and become a street musician. And make just enough money to feed myself and my dog.

We’d throw a couple quid your way…
Oh thanks.