‘He calls me Dale’ – reviving his role as the voguish lead of surrealist soap opera epic Twin Peaks, Kyle MacLachlan reflects on his magnetic bond with David Lynch
“Some of your friends are here,” said the Man From Another Place, his cadence warped by a reversal of time. Agent Dale Cooper was seated in the Red Room, a purgatorial waiting area between two netherworld lodges, one good, one evil. The spirit of Laura Palmer appeared. “I’ll see you in 25 years,” she said. Then her irises rolled white and she let out a bloodcurdling scream.
It’s been a little over 25 years since David Lynch’s Twin Peaks met its untimely death, having aired between April of 1990 and June of 1991 on network television. Rapturously received by critics, declining ratings in its second season led to a cutthroat cancellation from ABC that left fans reeling. In the years since, interest in the series has only grown, through VHS and DVD releases, the advent of streaming, and a wildfire word-of-mouth, helping the property achieve a rare mythic status that extends beyond nostalgia and cult adoration. Some call Twin Peaks the greatest television show of all time.
Set in the fictitious north-western town of Twin Peaks, Washington, and telling the story of a curious FBI agent who arrives to investigate the death of a local teenager, the show managed to achieve the impossible, avoiding a descent into the cultural rear-view by transcending genre and trends. To watch the series now is to realise that the unfolding drama and the players on its stage don’t exist in a time capsule, but in a parallel universe where ordinary laws of existence don’t necessarily apply. Back then, creators Mark Frost and David Lynch set the ground rules for what is now (fittingly) referred to as “peak television”, the current era of auteur programming that has taken a more cinematic, experimental and creative brush to the medium. That they were 20 years ahead of their time should come as no surprise to fans of Lynch, whose intuition has proven critically valid time and again.
Now, just as Laura Palmer’s ghost foretold (give or take a year), the show is back, premiering this May on Showtime and Sky Atlantic for UK viewers. But the road to reviving Twin Peaks was a perilous one filled with rumours, false starts and second-guesses. Questions abound: how do you pick up a storyline after 25 years? What of the pressure to live up to the original? Sex, real estate, drugs, prostitution and murder: Twin Peaks had everything. What can we expect this time around? As Agent Dale Cooper, Kyle MacLachlan grounded the radically glamorous ensemble cast – as well as Lynch’s heady explorations into dream states and alternate realities – with idiosyncratic humour and a buttoned-up sense of curiosity that made him one of television’s most iconic characters.
Meeting MacLachlan – a Washington native himself – to discuss Twin Peaks 2·0 in New York, he orders the same cup of black coffee he drinks on the show. Since the revamp was announced, speculation has been deafening over certain plot points and who from the newly revealed cast of over 200 actors (Monica Bellucci, Amanda Seyfried, Trent Reznor and Laura Dern among them) will be playing prominent roles, and who will be cameos. However, all MacLachlan will let slip is that Lynch is intent on keeping a lid on any spoilers. “I can only really hint at things, but I can’t say,” he says. “I can hear David’s voice in my head… ‘Dale!’ He calls me Dale. But I’m really pleased that it’s not just a revisiting. It’s going forward.”
Tell me about the first time you met David Lynch.
Kyle MacLachlan: I’d been out of school for about a year and working at a theatre in Seattle, doing a play. A casting associate came through town looking to audition actors for this movie, based on the book Dune. I kind of thought it was a joke, initially, because Dune was my favourite book of all time. I had never auditioned for a film or for television at all. I read for her in the hotel room where she was staying, she put me on tape with a bunch of other people, took the tape to LA and showed David. He responded to my audition and I flew down to LA. They picked me up at the airport and drove me straight to Universal, to one of the little bungalows way in the back. I had no idea where I was going, or what was going on. I sat in a little office, waiting for David to come back from his lunch at Bob’s Big Boy. He drove in – he had a Packard Hawk car – and we sat and talked for about 30 minutes about everything except the movie. We talked about where we grew up, we talked about the (Pacific) Northwest, red wine, and we talked about forests. At the end of it, he handed me the script and said, ‘There are a few scenes in here I want you to learn, and you’ll come back in four or five days and we’ll do a screen test.’ I got back in the car, went back to the airport and flew home! That was it. It was the most unusual meeting I’d ever had. So things started out great.
An unusual meeting led to an unusual movie and then you realised, the unusual is usual.
KM: Yeah! That first meeting was just extraordinary. Suddenly I was uprooted from Seattle… I didn’t even go to LA, I just went straight to Mexico City where we shot Dune and lived there for seven months, filmed, and loved it. I created a family with everybody working on the movie, the cast and the crew, and I thought, ‘I like this.’
Would you say Blue Velvet changed everything?
KM: It did. Dune was a great experience and I met a lot of wonderful people. But the reception to the movie was not great. It provided me with a little bit of a profile in LA and an agent, so I was already on the way, but I didn’t have any movie cred. Then we did Blue Velvet a little bit later and that was critically acclaimed, so that helped out. It did skew me in a certain direction, though.
Widely regarded as one of the seminal films of the 1980s, Blue Velvet featured MacLachlan as the amateur sleuth Jeffrey Beaumont, who goes in search of the source behind a severed ear, only to become wrapped up in a psychosexual melodrama. Blending elements of mystery, horror and comedy with shades of dark surrealism and Americana, the film established an aesthetic paradise that would come to be called ‘Lynchian’. In MacLachlan, Lynch found an ideal leading man. Beaumont’s wide-eyed curiosity would go on to inform the character of Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks. In the show, Cooper exhibited traits uncommon to a typical FBI agent, relying on dreams and games of chance to lead him closer to Laura Palmer’s killer. Many such character traits, including his love of coffee and knowledge of Zen Buddhism, are attributable to Lynch himself, long a proponent of transcendental meditation.
Do you feel like David Lynch has a tendency to cast you as a stylised representation of himself? The characters you play seem to have the same curiosities that he has.
KM: I think there’s definitely a validity to that. It’s really about the world he creates, which is obviously very specific and very of him. Then he likes to put people he knows into that world to really enjoy the experience. Whether it’s in Twin Peaks or in Blue Velvet with Jeffrey Beaumont and Sandy (Laura Dern), there’s a dynamic of moving through this very frightening world. He took it even further in Twin Peaks by composing himself into that world, because he loves these environments and wants to live and breathe and move around in them with the characters he creates. I think every character is an extension of him, to a degree. The dynamic between Cooper and Gordon (Cole, Lynch’s character in the show) is an interesting counterpoint to the Kyle and David dynamic in the regular world, you know? Because he’s my boss in Twin Peaks and he’s kind of my boss in the regular world, and we’re able to have a very fun relationship. There’s a lot of humour and just a genuine love for what the other person does. Formal isn’t the right word, and awkward isn’t the right word… It’s ritualised. There are certain protocols that you follow.
How did it feel getting back into character as Dale Cooper? Was it easy to locate him again?
KM: It was – and I fit into the suit, which is always helpful. But it’s been 25 years. He’s had some miles and is a little different, but with the same straight-arrow, highly observant boyishness. He still has that so it was easy to bring it to the character. There are a lot of things that happened in the world that I can’t talk about, that are going to be different. When you see it you’ll have a better grasp. I’m interested to see how people will respond.
“He (David Lynch) has made a show that he wants to see, not necessarily what he thinks the audience will enjoy, with traditional exposition, setups, and all of that. He throws all of that out the window” – Kyle MacLachlan
Did you expect the character of Dale Cooper to follow you for this long in your career?
KM: Not at the time. You (never) know, and it’s interesting to see how people have held on to him. Social media is a great way to see that, with all of the fan art. There are a lot of new-generation fans who have found him and responded to him. It’s surprising. It didn’t really happen with evil Cliff Vandercave in The Flintstones movie in quite the same way.
The original series had multiple directors, but David directed every episode of the new one. What was that like?
KM: Part of the fun of it was that it felt like we were making an independent film. The shots and setups were sort of created on the fly. But he wrote it with Mark (Frost), he knew everything he wanted and what interested him, obviously. I think that’s ultimately the mark of a great auteur. He’s made a (show) that he wants to see, not necessarily what he thinks the audience will enjoy, with traditional exposition, setups, and all of that. He throws all of that out the window. It was very non-traditional, which made it fun.
What was it like to reunite with the cast and crew from the show?
KM: That was fun, because we’d come back and go to make-up together and there would be Harry Goaz, who played Detective Andy (Brennan), sitting right there. And I’d be like, ‘Harry, I haven’t seen you in 100 years. How’s it going, man?’ It’s been 25 years, so everybody looks older, obviously. It was fun to catch up, seeing people like Sheryl Lee and Mädchen (Amick) again. You get everybody’s stories, some more tragic than others, but it was pretty cool to catch up and reunite. That was really nice. We’re missing a lot of people, too. (Several members of the original cast were unable to return due to health issues, and a few passed away either shortly before or after filming, including David Bowie, Miguel Ferrer, Warren Frost and ‘Log Lady’ Catherine Coulson.)
What do you feel is so special about Twin Peaks that, even in declining health, so many actors came back to reprise their roles?
KM: I think everyone would have a different answer. For some people, it’s just the chance to work with David again, because he’s such a joy. It’s always fantastic to be a part of something that’s going to stand the test of time. I think the greatest joy about being an actor is the space between ‘action’ and ‘cut’. That little creative moment – there’s a lot that has to happen just to experience that little bit of joy, and I think ultimately those actors are reacting to that: having that experience and those feelings again. It’s the hunger for that, (which is) why you go through all the shit to get to that (point), and the fact that David makes it so much fun.
“It’s been 25 years - (Agent Cooper) has had some miles, but with the same straight-arrow, highly observant boyishness. (Plus) I fit into the suit, which is always helpful” – Kyle MacLachlan
Does knowing how beloved the series is add any pressure to the experience of bringing it back, or do you just assume that even if people hate it they’ll like it in 20 years?
KM: (laughs) I fall back on the fact that David never compromises and he just isn’t interested in telling the story unless it’s how he sees it. You know? So he creates and then people either respond or they don’t. There’s something kind of calming in it. ‘That’s how we’re gonna do it.’ He’s not looking to elicit a certain response from the audience or create an expectation or outdo anybody else’s work, it’s just the story as he sees it.
It’s intuitive. And it’s mirrored in the character of Agent Cooper and the way he approaches an investigation.
KM: He’s trying to gather information from the universe. He guides them to this place. He’s such a wonderful character, maybe the best that I’ve had the good fortune to play. Which is why to return to it is so exciting.
Following the production of Twin Peaks, MacLachlan found himself somewhat typecast as suave, devilish characters, like Cliff Vandercave in the live-action version of The Flintstones, and the sleazy Zack Carey in Paul Verhoeven’s dazzling cherry-bomb of sexual excess, Showgirls – a role MacLachlan attributes largely to landing him in “actor jail”. In the early 2000s, he would go on to act in a succession of critically acclaimed independent films, before returning to television in both Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives. Though he has logged recurring roles in several television series, most notably Portlandia as the city’s mayor, Twin Peaks marks his first leading television role in over a decade.
You’ve been in a few movies that weren’t exactly critically acclaimed but which have evolved into classics over time.
KM: Like The Flintstones. (laughs)
That one is overdue for a reappraisal… The production design is incredible.
KM: That’s the great thing about it. That, and Elizabeth Taylor.
When a film you’re involved in bombs like Showgirls, is it strange to see it emerge as a classic that people still talk about?
KM: It has held on… (laughs) But Paul Verhoeven is a very good director. The movie was pretty much a disaster, but, like you said, it’s found a life. It’s certainly not how the filmmakers intended to do it, but I guess good directors make movies that stay around, not always for the best reasons, but they are looked at.
“It’s always fantastic to be a part of something that’s going to stand the test of time. It’s the hunger for that, (which is) why you go through all the shit to get to that (point)” – Kyle MacLachlan
Even after Twin Peaks ended, the mythology carried over into the prequel film, books and even an audiobook. Was it inevitable that we would all return there eventually?
KM: I didn’t know if the story was there, actually. I knew that if they found another path or segment of the journey that made sense, it could easily go forward. But the possibility it would continue was pretty remote. Mark and David had to find time and the kernel of an idea that would make sense to carry it forward. The ownership of the show was quite fragmented and had moved from company to company. They had to track down all of the owners and consolidate it into one cohesive thing, so they could go where they wanted with it. Showtime made the most sense because ultimately it ended up with CBS and that connected to Showtime. So, it took a while to fall into place and it had a lot working against it. But then there was that drumbeat on social media, people had come to revisit it, and then the catalyst was when Mark and David said, ‘We have a story.’ David called me and said they were well into writing it and he wanted to reconfirm that I’d be interested in doing it, because I’d always said so in passing.
What was it like to wrap this season?
KM: I was sad. I’d spent the entire time filming in a state of gratitude. I was thrilled for the opportunity to work with David, first of all, because we hadn’t worked together in a long time. But it was crazy being Cooper again, and getting to revisit this character. Going to work with people you really like is a great thing. There were long hours and it was hard work but I just didn’t care. I’d get in and see David first thing in the morning and we’d have a handshake and say, ‘This is going to be a great day.’ It’s the kind of gratitude that comes with age and experience, recognising an opportunity and not taking it for granted. The older you get the more you realise how lucky you are.
Will there be another season?
KM: At this point, I don’t know. But we’ve gotten this far! (laughs) Anything is possible.
Grooming Jessica Ortiz at The Wall Group using Ole Henriksen, photography assistant Ethan Marcopoulos, styling assistants Kelly Harris, Jeremy Anderegg, executive talent consultant Greg Krelenstein at Starworks Group