This story about Kyle MacLachlan first appeared in the Miniseries/Movies issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
Anybody who watched TV in the early 1990s remembers Agent Dale Cooper. A quirky but buttoned-down FBI agent with a taste for damn fine coffee and apple pie, he led an investigation into the murder of high schooler Laura Palmer in the town of Twin Peaks, Washington, population 51,201.
Strange things happened to Agent Cooper and everyone around him in David Lynch’s groundbreaking series “Twin Peaks,” which ran for two seasons and later gave birth to the 1992 film “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” and, last year, a much-delayed third season that ran for 18 hour-long episodes on Showtime.
Even more than his starring role in Lynch’s movie “Blue Velvet,” Agent Cooper is the character most closely linked with Kyle MacLachlan over the course of the actor’s 34-year career. So when Lynch announced that he would bring back “Twin Peaks” for an additional season, the chance to spend more time with MacLachlan’s iconic G-man was a real draw not just for fans of the series, but for the actor himself.
“When I initially heard that David was interested in returning to ‘Twin Peaks,’ I was obviously excited to get back to work and to return to the character,” said MacLachlan. “But then we had to wait for 16 hours before he actually emerged.”
Such are the ways of Lynch, who delayed the arrival of the Cooper we know and love until almost the end of the series. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t give MacLachlan lots of stuff to do before that: The actor also plays Mr. C, Cooper’s evil doppelgänger; Douglas “Dougie” Jones, a second, manufactured doppelgänger and a man-child of sorts vaguely reminiscent of the Peter Sellers character in “Being There”; and various versions of Cooper possessed by the evil spirit BOB and trapped, dazed, in the mysterious Black Lodge.
“At first I imagined that David was going to be doing something along the lines of what he did before,” said MacLachlan, who had remained close friends with Lynch after their early work on 1984’s “Dune,” 1986’s “Blue Velvet” and the original “Twin Peaks.”
“But very early on, he gave me some scenes to read at his house, and I couldn’t believe the premises. I was really excited and challenged by what I was being asked to do — because these are characters that I had never done before, and if I don’t deliver at the level that David is expecting, it’s not going to work. But at the same time I had confidence in working under David’s vision.”
That confidence, he explained, had been developed over the years with Lynch. “When we first started working together on ‘Dune,’ I used to go to David all the time with questions about the script,” he said. “I was a big fan of the book, so I was at his office door every day saying, ‘Can we put this back in? What about this?’ He was very tolerant with me, and when we worked together again on ‘Blue Velvet’ I still had questions and thoughts.
“But over the years I just kind of relaxed. There are still times when I need to know things as an actor, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining nor do I spend a lot of time asking. I know things are there because David wants them to be. He’s the leader and we are all just in line.”
For the new “Twin Peaks,” MacLachlan thinks that Lynch’s point of reference was closer to the aggressively confounding movie “Fire Walk With Me” than the original series, which grew stranger over its two seasons but was based on a murder-mystery storyline and an eccentric but lovable cast of characters.
“It was a different tone, maintaining some of the heartwarming moments from the original television show but certainly not dwelling on them,” he said. “In those first few scenes that David gave me to read, I recognized that this was not a nostalgic return to ‘Twin Peaks.’ I realized that David and [co-creator] Mark [Frost] didn’t feel the least bit compelled to revisit what we knew from before.”
Of the new characters MacLachlan played, Mr. C was in many ways the most sinister and compelling. An implacable bad guy prone to dispassionate murders, the Cooper doppelgänger also had a tinge of rock star to him.
“One of David’s favorite directions is, ‘A little more Elvis,'” said MacLachlan. “Mr. C definitely has a little bit of that vibe — it’s Johnny Cash, it’s Elvis, it’s that kind of dark knight.
“David and I slowly cobbled together the look of that guy, recognizing that as much as he exists in our world, he’s also an otherworldly entity of some kind. As an actor, that’s my playground, and we both had a lot of fun with that character.”
Dougie, though, was tougher, because he was almost entirely passive. “The tool I have to work with, my body, was almost nonexistent,” he said. “Things had to be communicated in the most nuanced and quiet way. I really trusted David, because I had to say to him, ‘Are you sure you’re seeing it? Is it there?’ It was a real lesson in less is more, and you also have to rely on the actors around you.”
But there was one scene, MacLachlan said, where the actors around him caused real problems. It came when Mr. C was in jail and was visited by Agent Cooper’s longtime assistant Diane Evans and by FBI director Gordon Cole. The problem was that Evans was being played by MacLachlan’s “Blue Velvet” co-star Laura Dern, and Cole by Lynch himself.
“They are two of my closest friends,” he said. “I’m so used to the dynamic that exists when we’re not working that to do something in that environment with those people was disconcerting.
“One of the elements of Mr. C is that there is no connection — he is a force, and that’s it. There is no common ground with anybody else, because he dominates the space. Those are such different emotions than I was used to feeling with those people that it was challenging to maintain.”
Still, he said, he never lost the “I can’t believe I’m back doing this” feeling during the marathon 10-month shoot. “I thought that every day going to work,” he said. “I did not take a single moment for granted. I relished everything, and that includes getting up at 4 a.m., getting my coffee and driving to work.”
And when MacLachlan looks back over a career that has also included such films as “The Doors,” “Showgirls” and “Inside Out” and the TV shows “Portlandia,” “Believe” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” he can’t help but recognize how key Lynch has been to his success. “David has been incredibly significant for me,” he said. “And it’s something that over time I have come to appreciate more and more.
“In some ways, I think I was the very model of a callow, self-absorbed young actor when I was first starting out. And thankfully that has melted away, and I have tremendous appreciation for what David and I have done together and what David has done for me.”
So will he and Lynch get together again for another series of adventures for Agent Cooper and his various doppelgängers? “I have no sense of that at all,” MacLachlan said.
“David is notoriously quiet about what he sees coming, what he wants to do next. I’ve spoken to him about it a bit, but he absolutely won’t say anything.”
Read more of TheWrap Emmy magazine’s Miniseries/Movies issue here.