“Somebody called me — I didn’t even have an agent — and said, ‘David Lynch wants to meet you right now.'”
That’s how Laura Harring describes going from being the first Latina Miss USA winner to international acclaim as one of the two stars of David Lynch’s 2001 neo-film noir, Mulholland Drive.
Harring shared her recollections of making the film on The Hollywood Reporter‘s nostalgic podcast “It Happened in Hollywood.” She describes working in theater for no pay when the fateful call came from Lynch’s casting office, summoning her “right now.”
Lynch had stumbled upon Harring’s headshot and decided the dark-haired beauty was meant to play the lead in Drive, then intended to be his follow-up series to Twin Peaks for ABC.
“I was so excited that David Lynch wanted to meet me and it was so bizarro that he wanted to meet me ‘right now’ that I rear-ended the guy in front of me,” Harring says.
She came away from the fender bender unscathed, but the similarities to her character Rita’s arc — the story opens with a limo accident that results in amnesia — gave her “goosebumps” when she later saw the script.
“I knew it was a masterpiece,” she says of her first impression. “I starting crying and feeling so grateful … Everything was so perfect, meticulous.”
Harring eventually met Lynch at his office, in a surreal meeting that could easily have been a scene in Mulholland Drive. “He had his chair way back and all he said was, ‘Good … good … good,'” she says. “In his mind, the way he functions is he’s either seeing you in the movie or not. It’s very definite.”
Instinct drives much of Lynch’s methodology, she says, but he isn’t afraid to get practical to achieve his vision. “He directs so much with his energy, his hands and his voice,” Harring explains. “He puts you in his world with similes and metaphors. It’s very easy to follow what he’s looking for. He says in the bullhorn: ‘Walk like a kitty cat, Laura.’ My whole posture changed and I had that aloof look.”
ABC ended up passing on the series, leading Lynch to inform Harring and co-star Naomi Watts that the project was “dead in the water.” But months later, Lynch secured additional funding and Harring was summoned once again to his office for some big news.
“He said, ‘Mulholland Drive is going to be an international feature film. But there’s going to be nudity, Laura.’ And then he gives me his hand to shake on it,” she recalls. An additional 18 pages of footage was then shot to turn the TV pilot into a movie, including a same-sex love scene between Harring and Watts’ characters.
“I’m not going to lie: I felt very vulnerable,” Harring says of filming the sequence. “I was in my dressing room and was on the verge of tears. It’s hard. There are a lot of people there … [Naomi and I] were friends. It was pretty awkward. [David] came up to us and said, ‘Now don’t be afraid to touch each other’s breasts now.’ That was the last take, and that was the one he used.”
To tap into the darker material in the film, Harring pulled from her own life — and specifically a near-death experience at age 12 when she was hit in the skull by a stray bullet while going to the movies with her family in San Antonio, Texas.
“It felt like a slingshot. It really felt like a rock hit me. My mother put a sweater on me and she’s pushing down. A building alarm went off in my head. Then I could hear the blood gushing into the sweater,” she recalls. “It’s very intense when you’re close to death. Because everything slows down, dreamy and slow.”
“I’m well-equipped to do traumatic movies,” she adds.