Major spoilers for “Twin Peaks: The Return.”
When Showtime announced the gigantic cast list for “Twin Peaks: The Return,” comprised of more than 200 actors, it became a game to guess what kind of characters each would be playing and how they’d factor into the story. Of course, nobody could’ve predicted some of the placements — that Michael Cera would be a Brando impersonator or Amanda Seyfried would be a drug addict and also Shelly’s daughter.
Arguably most surprising, however, has been Matthew Lillard’s turn as a school principal-turned-murder suspect — and unwitting pawn in a supernatural conspiracy. Lillard’s Bill Hastings has only appeared in three parts so far — more than most of the new actors, to be fair. And each of his appearances has been filled with raw emotion, drama and, well, smoke. By conjuring up as much snot as a person could ever create, Lillard has turned Hastings into a memorable human character in a sea of Lynchian insanity.
TheWrap spoke with Lillard about working with David Lynch for the first time. During a phone interview the “Scream” and “Serial Mom” actor discussed how he dealt with the secrecy that shrouded the production and how he managed to evoke the feelings of a man free-falling into the depths of hysteria before the audience’s very eyes.
TheWrap: I know that the audition process has been secretive for a lot of the actors, but I’m curious as to what you knew going in.
Lillard: Literally nothing. The one thing you can say about this whole process is that we, as the actors, really feel like an element in his world. Once you say yes, your capacity to control anything is out the door. You don’t know the script. The only thing you know about your character is what you can deduce between the lines. you have no idea of anyone else’s character unless they’re in the scene with you. You have no idea where this story falls in the storyline — so you are quite literally a piece in the big David Lynch jigsaw puzzle, but you don’t know if you’re a corner or an edge piece. You don’t know what you are, so you just show up on set, hit your mark, say your line and do the best you can.
It’s kind of this beautiful experience because there’s nothing you can do besides what you’re given. You can’t worry about anything else. It kind of harkens back to the David Mamet of it all — to just show up, say your lines and make the right face.
How familiar were you with David Lynch‘s work before auditioning?
I’ve seen a bunch of movies. I now have many new Twitter followers because of [“Twin Peaks”] but I was never a Lynch sort of guy. I know there are people out there who love and adore him. I sort of love and adore the man and I enjoy his work a lot, but I was never a “Twin Peaks” fanatic.
Did you see “Twin Peaks” beforehand?
No, I’ve never watched the show.
You’ve never seen “Twin Peaks?”
When it broke out I was running around New York City… and I wasn’t stopping in my mid-20s to watch TV shows. I remember hearing about it and I remember they were putting together the show again, which I thought was an amazing moment for David Lynch, so I was interested to see what it was, but I didn’t grow up on it.
What’s been the weirdest surprise for you watching it?
Episode 8 Is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen on TV. I have no idea where that is or what that comes from. The one thing I can say in all of this is I don’t know where it’s going, I don’t know what it’s going to be. But in working with him, the brief time that I did, you sort of fall in love with the man that he is. He’s a creative genius and his energy is infectious — so in being around him and falling in love with him, you kind of put your faith in him. I don’t care where it goes, I just want to serve his vision.
Not to sound too Pollyanna about it, but when you get a guy who’s bleeding with energy and leading with joy and he’s very clear as to what he wants, that’s like the best to ever get offered as an actor.
I’m fascinated by Bill Hastings for a couple reasons. For one, he’s a conspiracy theorist. Do you know anything about that world on the internet?
No, not really. I have seen the Search for the Zone… but no that’s not my jam.
The second thing was how emotional and raw Bill Hastings is as he basically loses his mind on camera. How do you approach that?
A scene like that comes along and you’re super aware of the fact that if you go through that scene faking it, you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life. When that kind of moment comes up in your career, when you know that a bunch of people are going to be watching and there’s huge emotional stakes, that kind of emotional expectation is daunting. I think that if you do your job well, if you’re somebody who believes that there’s a craft to acting — that it’s more than just Twitter followers and having great abs — than you’re ready for that moment when it comes.
I watched it last night or two nights ago for the first time and it’s a crazy scene. It’s crazy. My eyes are swollen because I’ve been crying. The energy there is animalistic and it’s really weird. I was watching it, crying myself and laughing hysterically. It’s the weirdest experience I’ve ever had watching myself act.
How has the reaction been?
I’m a Twitter voyeur, so I like to read people and never really tweet. I only tweet when I’m drunk in an airport. I’ve had an on-again, off relationship with the people in the internet world. People think I’m a hack, people think I’m a has-been, all of those things. But the people that love “Twin Peaks” love that scene and have no problem finding me and seeking out my handle and saying these incredible things.
It’s funny, I thought I was in Episode 1 and Episode 2 and I thought, this scene’s going to be in Episode 3 or 4. I was away for the weekend picking up my kids at camp and all of a sudden, somebody texted me saying “dude, you’re incredible.” Then I went on my Twitter feed and it was like thousands — well not thousands — but tons of people had reached out saying, “congratulations you were fantastic.” It’s nice. It feels good. In this crazy business, you’re always trying to do good work and sometimes people think you suck and sometimes people think you’re good. I’ve been in this business for 20-plus years and this is a good moment.
So you didn’t know what episodes you were going to be in at all?
No idea. We were at the premiere and my wife’s asked, “are you in these these two episodes” and I was like, “no.” I literally thought I was towards the end of the whole thing, so I had no idea and there I was.
You have no idea what you’re doing and how it’s going to end up and where he’s going to put you. For a second there I was like “oh maybe they cut out my thing.” Oh, maybe it didn’t work, who knows. That’s sort of how on the outside you are.
So if I were to ask you if you know anything…
I don’t know anything. Literally in the scenes in Episode 9 Laura Dern is there and Miguel [Ferrer] — god bless his heart. They have that scene in that room. Now, I saw Laura Dern walking around. She wasn’t even in my take. They didn’t want the connection between us in that room.
So you weren’t even sure if you were going to be in the same vicinity as Laura Dern.
I didn’t know David Lynch was in my scene. So I was leaving and they were setting up that shot. I didn’t even know Laura Dern was in the show. I was leaving and I just saw Laura Dern walking around in this white wig.
Those cutaway lines are redacted in my script, so they were cut off.
So basically you only got your lines.
Not basically. That’s it! You only get your lines. You get the conversation. Other than that, that’s it. I literally have nothing.
I have to say, for whatever it’s worth, Showtime has given this auteur a complete blank canvas and they’ve given him free reign to do with it what he wants to do, to create the world he wants to create, the show he wants to make. Within that, you’re just serving his vision.
I think it’s a great thing for Hollywood in that so much of our business is being run by numbers, being run by the bottom dollar and money. Here, Showtime’s making a bet on art. And for my part, I hope to god that it pays off in spades. It could be really nice for people to start making things they love in the name of creative vision and art.
That’s my soapbox.