'Twin Peaks' Star Kyle MacLachlan Reflects on Agent Cooper's Past and Looks Toward His Future

In an interview with THR, the actor relives some of his favorite memories from the original 'Twin Peaks' run and offers a tease or two about what's ahead.
Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME
Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper on 'Twin Peaks'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers through the first two seasons of Twin Peaks.]

During a recent appearance on The Tonight Show, host Jimmy Fallon asked Kyle MacLachlan what the actor could reveal about the upcoming Twin Peaks revival. His answer, of course, was virtually nothing, except for one tongue-in-cheek tease: "It was damn good coffee."

It's no wonder MacLachlan can't say much, given Twin Peaks creators David Lynch and Mark Frost's insistence on keeping the Showtime series' story under tight wraps. Few characters are shrouded in more uncertainty than MacLachlan's Agent Dale Cooper, with the possible exception of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), who seemingly exploded in the final episode of the series. (Fenn is one of the more than 200 actors aboard the revival; it's a good bet she survived the blast, but then again, who knows?! This is Twin Peaks, where dead does not always mean dead.) In the season two finale, Cooper entered the dark spiritual realm known as the Black Lodge, where he became the newest vessel for Killer BOB (played by the late Frank Silva), the denim-wearing demon responsible for killing Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and condemning her father Leland (Ray Wise) in the process.

What version of Agent Cooper will we see in the new Twin Peaks, set 25 years after that devastating cliffhanger? Will it be the soulful optimist who loves few things more than a damn good coffee paired with a slice of cherry pie? Or will it be a BOB in Coop's clothing, bursting through the Douglas firs to terrorize this eccentric Pacific Northwest town over the past two decades and change?

Of course, MacLachlan won't say one way or the other. He's much happier to weigh in on the process of filming the new Twin Peaks, reuniting with Lynch once again after several years apart, and what it was like to live through some of the most iconic moments of the series: the Red Room and the bananas BOB twist included. Here's what he told The Hollywood Reporter about all of that and more.

How are you feeling, now that the world is days away from putting eyes on the new Twin Peaks?

It's funny, isn't it? It feels exactly that way: a long time coming. But it feels like we're all coming into focus now, and everyone is turning our way. It's very exciting. There's been a lot of activity. 

How often were you thinking about Agent Cooper in the years since you last played the character?

You know, off and on through the time that it was not on. It's a character who really stayed with me. He's one of the greatest characters that I have ever played, certainly. I always thought in the back of my mind that we could actually return there at some point in time if the stars aligned. It's not that I was sitting around hoping it would happen, but I felt it would be kind of fun were it to happen. It was always a "what if." Were it to happen, it would be really fun to revisit. It wasn't something where I was thinking, "We have to get this done." It was more, "Well, let's see what happens. Let's see if a story develops with David and Mark."

There are several reasons why Agent Cooper has endured as a character, including the fact that he's such a soulful and optimistic force in what's often a bleak world. Do you view him that way?

Definitely. I'm kind of that way in life. I tend to be more optimistic than the other way. The glass is always half full, I think, at least in most things — maybe not my golf game. (Laughs.) But! As far as the show and that character, he's intuitive and he's obviously empathic. He has a great love of the people around him, and a great love for them. I think he considers himself a fortress against whatever the dark side might be — the world of BOB and all of that — and I think he takes that role very seriously. To be able to step back into the suit and continue on this journey has been really fun and rewarding.

Was there any hesitation in putting that suit back on, returning to this world? Did any part of you wonder if it was a door you should be opening again?

No, not at all. When I spoke with David about it, and he told me what was happening, we didn't talk much about the journey itself, just that he and Mark were working on this. I was excited about the prospect, because he said, "I'm going to be directing every episode." And I felt, "Wow." If you're going to return to Twin Peaks, there's no better way to do it than to have the creator also be the director of every frame. That, to me, was very exciting. But no, no trepidation at all. Just excitement, and curiosity, certainly, about what the story was going to be, and the journey that Cooper was going to be taking.

You and Lynch have worked together on a variety of projects, and there are few better people to weigh in on what it's like to work on a Lynch film set. Can you describe the experience? 

He's unlike anything else. The environment he creates for us is so supportive. There's a lot of humor involved. There's tremendous focus. There's a clarity of vision. If for some reason he's not sure about something, he sits and thinks about it until he's sure. There's no forward steps without knowing where we're going. But that's not to say he's not open to happy accidents, as well. That's one of the catchphrases about David's process: If there's something that happens that's unexpected or accidental, as opposed to rejecting it outright, oftentimes he welcomes it in. He counts it as life. Those things can be very revealing and important. There's room for that in the creative process. It's a real pleasure working with him, whether you're talking to an old-timer like me or people who have just come on for the first time. To a person, they'll say that it was one of the best working experiences they have ever had.

The revival is shrouded in secrecy. We know nothing about the story, except that it takes place 25 years after the original series' cancellation. What's your view on all of the secrecy, the fact that the details of the plot are being held so close to the chest?

I think it's terrific. I'm excited about the idea. I'm actually thrilled about the idea, that we've been able to keep it under wraps, which was the idea from the very, very beginning. When I had my first reading of the script, I read it at the studio in a room by myself. Of course, I didn't tell them I took photographs of every page … (Laughs). No, I didn't do that. They let me read it all the way through, and then I had to pass the script back. The pages were then distributed out, and I was one of the ones who had most of the script, which I needed. Most people just received what was pertinent to them. Again, it was an effort to keep things contained, and also to help us. That way, if anyone asks us about the story, we could say, "I don't really know!" As opposed to feeling an obligation to say something, or maybe you would feel compelled out of your own sense of whatever to say it's about this or this. There were no opportunities for that. I love that people are going to be embarking on this fresh. For something that's so well known, it's going to be a whole new journey. I think that's wonderful.

If you can't discuss the plot, what can you say about what we're embarking on from an emotional and spiritual standpoint?

The only thing I can say is that the journey continues. I have said it's almost as if Twin Peaks never stopped. The world of Twin Peaks, the environment and the town and the people, have all continued to live on, and now we're dipping back into that world and taking a further journey with them. We'll catch up on what's happened after these 25 years. Beyond that, I can't say much, other than it's David's vision. I feel like it's going to be something that's as unexpected and compelling as the original was when it was first broadcast — in a different way, of course. But it has that same kind of power and magic going forward. I, like you and many people, am curious to see how the audience is going to respond.

Lynch has talked about viewing the new Twin Peaks as an 18-hour movie, versus an eight-episode television series. Do you agree with the distinction?

It was definitely a different structure. Instead of traditional episodes that were handed out one by one, this came as a very long feature. He's made a point of calling them "hours" or "parts." In his mind, he's directed an 18-hour movie that was fractured into 18 installments. It's different in the telling of the story; maybe not different in the playing, because the scripts were already broken into scenes, anyway. You're concentrating on smaller pieces. But when you go to assemble it? I'm sure the editors were looking at it and going, "What are we going to do?!" The assemblage, I'm sure, was very different.

Since we can't discuss the details of Twin Peaks' future, let's look back on Twin Peaks' past. Specifically, what do you remember about filming the iconic Red Room scene from episode three?

The reading was one thing. When you actually get into the environment, it's completely different. David was having us do some unusual things, like walking backwards. I didn't do too much backwards stuff, thank god, but Mike Anderson (The Man From Another Place) and Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer) had to do some backward talking. We all know how that can translate when it's run forward: It's oddly disturbing and surprisingly effective for such a simple technique. I knew going in that it was going to be a little bit strange, and I was also wondering, "Is this going to work?" That's the thing: You can shoot it backwards, but at that time, you weren't able to run it forwards to see what you could expect. They could play the audio back so you could see how close you were to matching, to see if people could understand what you were saying — which is why they provided the subtitles as well, I think. You knew something odd was being created, but you didn't know the impact yet.

It ended up being quite iconic.

Oh, yeah. Super frightening. And unexpected, too. I think a lot of people sat up on their couches and exclaimed: "What am I watching here?" (Laughs.) "This doesn't seem like any TV that I've seen before!" And that was the idea.

A personal favorite moment is when Cooper throws rocks at bottles in order to narrow down suspects in the Laura Palmer case...

Yeah, me too. (Laughs.) It was such a great day. We were outside, drinking coffee, having fun, and I was just there throwing rocks at bottles. There are few things as satisfying as throwing rocks at a bottle, with the expectation being that if it hits, it's going to explode. It was really perfect, actually. David had no problem just rolling. We were burning film in those days. We were burning through thousand-foot mags, as I kept throwing rocks. He was shooting from behind me so he could see the whole thing. I missed a ton. And I said, "David, are you sure you don't want to cut?" And he goes, "Nope, we'll keep rolling." I threw a bunch, and I finally nicked a bottle or something. It took a while. There were a few very close ones. But what he was capturing, and I didn't realize this, is that everyone was watching me, and each time I threw a rock there would be a [collective gasp from the crew]. You think it's going to happen! You never really get tired of watching, because you think, "This could be the rock that breaks the bottle!" I realized later that that's what he was going for. He was going for that moment of expectation that would hopefully be fulfilled. It just took me a very long time before I made it happen. (Laughs.) And then he gave everyone else a chance to throw rocks. We didn't film that, but everyone had their chance. It was such a fun day.

Season two of the series is something of a mixed bag, with a very strong start in those first nine episodes, before losing its way in the middle of the season, when Lynch became less involved. What was your experience of shooting that season?

I think we all felt the pressure to resolve the mystery. Not internally, but from outside. The studio was saying, "We need to figure out who killed Laura Palmer. People are crazy about this." I think it was episode nine where they have that final sequence [with Wise as Leland Palmer], which I thought was beautiful. Everything leading up to that was pretty amazing. It was a culmination of the big mystery. There's a variety of thoughts about what happened later. I personally thought the "Who killed Laura Palmer?" mystery was such a strong engine for the show onto which we laid all these eccentric and unusual characters and this incredibly unusual environment, that to come up with something equally compelling? It just didn't happen. It was a great potential for a story, it just somehow didn't capture the audience in the same way as, "Who killed Laura Palmer?" We were going forward and doing the best we could. It was an interesting enough storyline, but it wasn't interesting enough, you know what I mean? That's where we lost people. Once you give people the resolution to that, it's kind of done. I think we all realized that we revealed it all … maybe not too soon, necessarily, but maybe there was another way to keep it going where that question wasn't answered. (Pauses.) Anyway. That's me looking back! Hindsight and all. But the end of it all, the last episode of that season, it ended with what I thought was, "Okay! Now the engine's revved up again. We have a very interesting question of, 'What's going to happen now?'" Unfortunately, it was too late. Which is why it's so beautiful that we get to return after all of this time and pick the story up and move forward and hopefully have some answers.

It's one of the most brutal cliffhangers in television history. As we were speaking about before, Cooper is such an optimistic man, so to see you doing almost a Killer BOB impression … it's such a foreign way of looking at that character.

I was excited by it. I was already thinking, "This is a journey that's going to be very interesting." I don't know if we knew at that time that we had been canceled yet. But I remember thinking, "Wow, I am ready to go!" And of course it was nipped in the bud. But I was so excited about the idea of being able to explore, as an actor, what that might look like.

Did you work with Frank Silva at all to incorporate BOB's mannerisms into your performance?

No, not really. I watched what he did. When we were trying to do the mime thing towards the mirror — because he was on the other side — we worked on that in sequence. Apart from that? Not really. It was just trying to capture that moment, and whatever it was going to turn into. I didn't know what it would turn into.

What do you remember about working with Silva, who passed away a few years after the series ended? He was so memorably terrifying as Killer BOB.

He was a lovely guy. Quiet, and kind of funny, and very humble. He was nothing like the character he played. I find that this is more often the case than not, that the guys who play the villains are the nicest and sweetest guys you can possibly imagine. And that was Frank. He was such a sweetheart. 

As we look forward, knowing that there's so little you can say about it, do you have an out-of-context way of describing the new Twin Peaks? A word or two that might not make sense right now, but maybe will make sense once we finish watching the season?

Oh, man! (Laughs.) I could probably come up with one, or two, but I would be worried that speculation would start, and then David would call me and say, "Okay, what did you do?" (Laughs.) I don't want to get in trouble! But there will be some interesting reveals, I think. Unexpected, too. Which is fun. I'll tell you what has been fun: It's been very fun to read and follow along with people's ideas and thoughts, and what they think they know, and watching that and smiling and going, "Ah, they have no idea what's coming." That's very fun. 

Do you view this as the end, or as a new beginning?

It's a good question. I don't know. David has said: "Everything is Twin Peaks." It leads me to believe that there are other stories to tell. I think it's just a question of whether David and Mark want to tell them. I don't know. But I'm happy. Revisiting the character, working on this character again, was really such a thrill. And working with David again. It had been a long time since we had the director-actor relationship. That was spectacular. Hopefully it's not the last time. I hope there's more that we can do together, whether it's Twin Peaks or not. 

Keep checking in for more on the new Twin Peaks, including recaps and interviews with the cast.

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