It was a very long 25 years since Kyle MacLachlan had played FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper. And when “Twin Peaks: The Return” started filming for Showtime last year, he still didn’t get to play him for as many scenes as audiences might have thought. Creators David Lynch and Mark Frost elected instead to have him play Cooper, insurance agent Dougie Jones, and an evil Cooper doppelgänger. We interviewed MacLachlan recently, so watch that exclusive 20-minute video above or read the complete transcript below.
MacLachlan twice competed at the Emmys as Best Drama Actor for the original run of “Twin Peaks” (1990 and 1991), and won the Golden Globe for Best TV Drama Actor in 1991. He contended at SAG three times as part of the ensemble for “Desperate Housewives” (2007, 2008, and 2009).
Gold Derby (Chris Beachum): Hey Kyle, when you decided to do “Twin Peaks” again, a couple years now making that decision, how much did David Lynch and Mark Frost tell you about the direction they wanted to take and the fact that you’d be playing several people along the way?
Kyle MacLachlan: Well, David hinted at it during our initial conversations about it but it wasn’t until I read through the entire script, which is about 500+ pages that I got a real grasp of what he was asking me to do and it was both thrilling and exciting and also a little overwhelming, because it’s me (laughs). So it’s gonna have to work or not based on what I’m able to bring, but David felt absolutely confident that I was the guy and I could do it, so that went a long way in giving me the confidence.
Gold Derby (Zach Laws): You’re so well-known for playing Agent Cooper in “Twin Peaks.” I wonder if part of the appeal in doing this was that you would be able to play all these different characters, Dougie Jones, Evil Cooper, and that Dale Cooper was going to be kind of towards the end?
KM: I mean, to be honest, it was exciting. In a way I felt we were picking up where we left off from the original series with the inhabitation of the character of Cooper by this evil entity of BOB. So there was a connection to the past but these two new roles definitely pointed toward the future and they were asking me as an actor to do things that I had never really done before. I mean, there are shades of Dougie in a role that I did years ago in a movie called “The Hidden,” but just shades. And the Mr. C character, or doppelgänger character, was a complete new adventure for me. So as an actor, of course, those were absolutely thrilling prospects and I also felt having David Lynch as the director, the overseer of this as well, that I would be very well taken care of in terms of my journey and that he would be looking out for me and making sure I was staying within the brackets of these characters.
GD (Chris): After you shot everything and the premiere was about to happen in May, what was your level of anticipation? What kind of mood would you say you were in wanting people to see this thing over the next three months?
KM: I was very excited. Some trepidation of course, because I had not seen a frame of the footage, apart form a little bit of video playback, which I actually didn’t wanna spend a whole lot of time with. I like to not have that in my brain. So I was very excited. David was really positive about it. He, in very subtle ways, was telling me not to worry and the performances, all three or four, were all just terrific and he was incredibly pleased and at the end of the day that’s really… if he was happy with them and he felt like they were where he needed them to be then I relaxed a bit and felt good about that.
GD (Zach): Well your working relationship with Mr. Lynch stretches back over 30 years. In fact you began your career in film with him with “Dune” and “Blue Velvet” so I’m curious, what is that working relationship like between the two of you?
KM: You’re right, there’s been… 1983, so it goes back quite a ways. From the very day working with David we had a connection there that, of course, at the time that I started I didn’t know was so rare and David was my first feature director, but as I’ve gone through time I realized it really is a special bond and a special connection that we have, particularly in the world of “Twin Peaks.” And not only that, I get to actually work with David in the environment of “Twin Peaks” as the character of Gordon Cole, which made for a very challenging couple of scenes, particularly when I was playing the doppelgänger Mr. C character because I had to absolutely disassociate myself with any kind of connection with David whatsoever and that was hard. I found that to be some of the more difficult stuff for me to do.
GD (Chris): How would you say he’s changed over these three decades and how have you changed in terms of as an actor and as a director?
KM: There’s a natural evolving with age, I think. David has always been an extraordinary director and an incredible visionary, I think, and that’s just deepened. It’s not like he’s gotten better, it’s just somehow deepened and the confidence with which he directed all of “Twin Peaks” these last hours felt new to me. He just was in such firm control of his vision, how he wanted to tell the story, and if there was ever a moment when he was not quite certain he took a moment and it was in his head and he was able to relay it to us very easily. I feel like I’ve evolved as well. I think I’ve become a little smarter about the world of film, with the camera, what it can do, how much or how little I need to do, and how much work the camera can actually do. Coming from the stage initially you pretty much have to bring everything and with a camera, I’ve learned over the years it really is down to just thoughts and feelings in your head and also learned that the audience will bring a lot of their own material, if you will, to the performance so it’s not like you have to dot every “i” and cross every “t.”
GD (Zach): Well certainly I think watching this return to “Twin Peaks” you really see the evolution of David Lynch as a filmmaker. It’s so drastically different in many ways from the original in its style and in tone and even with new characters and things like that, new storytelling techniques. Can you talk a little bit about that? Were you guys at all nervous about fans’ expectations and making such a drastic shift from the original?
KM: I don’t think so. It was gonna be a story that David was going to tell and he was, I don’t think, particularly concerned about how it would be received. I think he was going to tell the “Twin Peaks” that he wanted to tell. He certainly had the support from the folks at Showtime which was really nice, made all of our jobs way easier that they were allowing him to really do what he wanted to do and needed to do to make “Twin Peaks” what it is. So we knew that there would be disappointment, I think, for those fans who were hoping for a nostalgic return for “Twin Peaks” and some summation of some of the cliffhangers and relationships and that kind of thing, and there was a little bit of outcry against that, but I say for the most part I would say a majority of people just were absolutely compelled and carried along by the new story, the directions where David took them and I think pretty much just exploded everyone’s expectations, went wildly beyond them and created something I think as profound as the original.
GD (Chris): I’m gonna give you a moment here for me, but I wanna know maybe a moment or a scene that you shot that you just absolutely loved or maybe one that you went, “Oh I can’t wait until people see this.” For me one of the ones, I texted Zach right after it happened, when you get out of the hospital bed and you say, “I am the FBI.” That brought the whole season together for me, but anyway, was there a particular one for you that you just either loved or couldn’t wait for the fans to see?
KM: Well I did love that one, in fact. That one in particular was very special and I wanted it, so funny thinking about that, I wanted to make sure, we did that a few times, that it was sincere, powerful, it had not the tongue-in-cheek necessarily but you could feel the giant sigh of relief from the fans around the world when Dale Cooper basically said he was back. I think I made sure I was framed in the doorway too because you always want that when you do that. The other one that I really was looking forward to seeing was the whole sequence with Mr. C where he goes and does the arm-wrestling sequence. I know that how it was gonna play out was interesting, how much comedy, how much drama, and I realized that it came across quite serious but the thing that I found interesting was the reaction to the fans after that, that suddenly people began saying, “I was actually rooting for the evil doppelgänger to win the arm-wrestling contest,” which I thought was fantastic, that this despicable character had become into hearts of people to the point where they were actually rooting for him to win this arm-wrestling contest and there was a great satisfaction when that happened.
GD (Zach): One of the fascinating things about the series, going back to what we were talking about before was that, it’s so much about the passage of time and about what 25 years can do to your life, how much it can change your life and it was really fascinating seeing people like Big Ed and Bobby Briggs and James Hurley really looking older and looking as if a lot had happened to them. Can you talk a bit about that and what it was like getting back together will all of these people after so much time?
KM: Yeah, it was a stark reminder that we’re all mortal, I think in a lot of ways, that time marches on, and that we are all on our own journey. I think we all felt that. At the same time, there was just this wonderful kind of childlike embrace of each other as we saw, I walk into the makeup trailer the first day and there was Harry Goaz sitting in the trailer, a little older, a little wiser probably. They were working on trying to get his hair to do exactly the same thing it did 25 years before, which they were able to do, and we just had a wonderful reunion and it was like that during the course of the shooting. Every time that I would meet up with someone, whether it was Sheryl Lee or Kimmy [Robertson], it was all about the connection and remembering each other and kind of a wonderful, joyful reunion. And then we all said, “Great, okay now let’s go back to work, let’s find the characters again,” and to a person they slipped back into exactly what they’d done before to the point that you felt, I think, as a fan, that while time had passed, we were certainly dealing with the same character situations, you could believe the environments and the relationships that had happened along the way and it made complete sense so I think there was a nice… homage maybe isn’t the right word but a nice recognition maybe from David and Mark that fans wanted to reconnect with these characters and to believe that they were in a place where they had been left and I think for the most part they were able to do that.
GD (Chris): You know, as I watched it since you did the production, several of your “Twin Peaks” family members have passed away whether it’s Miguel Ferrer or Catherine Coulson or Warren Frost or Harry Dean Stanton, Brent Briscoe. When you see something like that, does it feel like a loss in the family?
KM: Oh, without question, yeah. Without question it’s a complete loss in the family. It was a thing where because Cooper didn’t make an appearance until quite late in the game, his association with Albert, with Miguel Ferrer, was not as strong and I really missed that. I missed that dynamic with the Cooper-Albert relationship and I was jealous that David as Gordon Cole was able to spend so much time with him, because he’s just a pleasure to work with and I felt the dynamic between those two characters was such an interesting match of personalities that somehow worked. And I miss Miguel and I miss him in life too, he was a friend in life as well. It’s bittersweet because you see them they live on, of course, in the show and they’re there but they’re not with us in real life, so there’s a sadness there that’s palpable.
GD (Zach): I wanted to talk to you about the last episode, the last two episodes really. I remember watching it on the night in the first hour thinking to myself, “Did I get these mixed up or something?” ‘Cause it’s interesting the way he plays with you in making you think it’s gonna go one way and then switches it up in that last hour. I wonder, when you first read it what were your thoughts and what does the ending mean to you?
KM: It was definitely a different tone. For the longest time I felt like as we were approaching, ‘cause we shot that sort of towards the end of the filming anyway, apart from the very, very final scene at the house, which was shot very early on up in Seattle, so I remember thinking, “Oh, it’s Cooper now and now he’s going back and he’s decided to see if he can pull Laura back/.” And then we got into the filming of it and I said, “I don’t think it’s exactly Cooper.” So it was more a feeling and David of course said, “It’s a little different,” and that was about as far as he went, there’s just something slightly different. And I think it was in the script, particularly in the scene in the diner where Cooper has an edge to him, a hardness. Not a Mr. C edge, but it’s maybe kind of in that palate somewhere and the way he handles that gun and the efficiency with which he goes through things, that there’s a slight hardness to him so I thought, “This is a little different.” And we just let it be at that and I just said “This is another… we’ve turned a corner almost and we’re starting another journey now leading who knows where,” but we all wanna know, “What year is this?” (Laughs.) And that was the kind of ending that I felt, even in filming it, reading it, but certainly in filming it that it was gonna have a similar impact to the pilot. I don’t know if you recall back in the pilot where there’s a moment where a gloved hand reaches in to pick up the half-gold heart from the little mound of dirt and you hear Grace screaming and it cuts back and the hair on the back of your neck just goes up and I said, “This is gonna be exactly the same way,” and there’s gonna be a lot of questions and people are gonna be like “What did I just see?” (Laughs.) And we knew that that was how we were gonna end it so we said, “That’s how it goes, we’re following David’s lead.”
GD (Chris): Wanted to ask one other cast question. When you heard that Laura Dern, somebody that you’ve known forever, was not only joining the “Twin Peaks” universe but was gonna play the person we’ve always wondered about, what does Diane look like? What was your first reaction when they told you that?
KM: It was… you know that feeling when something just sort of fits perfectly in your world somehow, everything sort of coincides and lines up and it’s like the perfect thing? That’s what it felt like when they said that Laura was playing Diane, I said, “Oh my gosh, that’s perfect. That’s perfect.” Now, that was not who I envisioned when I was actually doing the show 25 years ago as Diane. I didn’t really have anything specific to be honest, I was more recording my thoughts and my ideas and moving forward but when they said it was going to be Laura I was thrilled. It was also, based upon what I read, there was a chance to work with her again which we hadn’t done since “Blue Velvet,” so I was very much looking forward to that. She’s an extraordinary actress, she’s a wonderful, wonderful person and she’s intuitive. David Lynch works with her a lot for all those reasons and many, many more but I was really excited to be able to do more work with her.
GD (Zach): Speaking of “Blue Velvet” I did wanna ask you about that ‘cause it’s my favorite movie. That was your second film, and it created such a seismic reaction when it came out. It was so unlike anything else that had been done before or since. Can you talk a little bit about doing that film and the reactions to it?
KM: Yeah, you’re right. I think it was sort of a slow-moving earthquake because it took a while, as I remember, for people to really understand it, by people I mean critics actually, for a large part, it was very polarizing. And it wasn’t really until Pauline Kael started to write about it that I think she sort of proposed another way of going on this journey and looking at this film. It was a slow-moving… sort of, it was polarizing people. People obviously they really loved it or they didn’t know what it was but they wanted to come back to it because it haunted them, and those are the reactions that I get for the most part. There are so many quotable lines in “Blue Velvet” that come back at me all the time. So it has a resonance in the culture certainly, a very strong one, because like you say, it’s not really like any other film that’s out there. It’s maybe one of David’s masterpieces, I would say. I gotta say that I think this recent “Twin Peaks” is really something pretty extraordinary, but “Blue Velvet” is also that way, I think. I remember the filming being actually quite fun, to be honest. It was quite light-hearted. We were filming in Wilmington, it was Laura Dern and myself, Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper, the late Dennis Hopper, along with Brad Dourif and Jack Nance and some of the regulars. And we just had a great time. There were some scenes that were really difficult, there were a couple days that were tricky, particularly between Isabella and Dennis, but Dennis was such a pro and Isabella was so willing to really go as far as she needed to go to create this character. It was just… I think one of the most extraordinary performances, one of the most brave performances I’ve ever seen and I remember as the actor, as the character, kinda being carried along. I didn’t have to do a whole lot when Dennis Hopper was screaming in my face, that’s natural fear that you’re seeing right there. And when Isabella as the chanteuse is singing or enticing me into some interesting situations, she’s very compelling so there wasn’t a whole lot of acting that had to go on there either, so it was just about being in the moment, really.
GD (Chris): One final question, Screen Actors Guild voters are about to start marking their ballots and Golden Globe voters, the Hollywood Foreign Press. They were very kind to you and the show back in ’91. You won, Piper Laurie won, the show won for Drama Series. Do you recall who you beat out for Drama Actor? I’ve got the list right in front of me. It’s quite impressive.
KM: No, I don’t (laughs).
GD (Chris): Carroll O’Connor, Peter Falk, James Earl Jones and Scott Bakula, so that was an impressive group.
KM: Not so shabby. Not bad company to be in either, wow.
GD (Chris): What would that mean for you, David, the show, if a lot of these awards groups start embracing it in the next few months?
KM: It’s extraordinary to be recognized by people in the industry if that were to happen if they were to single us out as something special. It’s incredible competition but to have that validation, I think, it’s a nice feeling. I think that the work that we did in the show is exceptional. I think David Lynch has never been better, to be honest. He’s extraordinary as an artist but man, this was something that he was able to pull off so many months of filming every day, long hours, and just so specific in his work and in his choices and in his storytelling that it would be a wonderful thing to be recognized. It’s a complex world, “Twin Peaks” is, and you’re either in it or somehow it doesn’t resonate, but we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes.
GD (Chris): Well you pulled off something extraordinary here which is to come back 25 years later and produce something that’s not only just as good but also has its own tone, its own unique flavor to it. That’s almost impossible to do.
KM: It was something that I think was David’s intention all along. I think he and Mark in the writing of the new direction felt like this was a time for them to own “Twin Peaks,” particularly David, to own “Twin Peaks” and to really tell the story that he always wanted to tell and I think he was able to do it in just an extraordinary fashion and I always say this, I say, thank goodness for Showtime for allowing him to take that journey with really hands-off. And so he was able to do all the things that he needed to do.
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