It’s equally remarkable that the methodical and unpredictable David Lynch directed all 18 episodes of this summer’s Twin Peaks revival and that Showtime let the esoteric auteur deliver a haunting, confounding, towering series that seemed close to unfiltered. Nightmarish surrealism blended with musical performances from the likes of Eddie Vedder and spiked with the sadness of deaths from several major castmembers.
In his amiably evasive fashion, Lynch discussed his renewed love for television, the Twin Peaks season’s ending, and more with The Hollywood Reporter.
After the premiere event in L.A., did you pay any attention at all to the reactions and responses to the 18 hours?
Yes. I would hear about how it was going as it went along, for sure.
What were you looking for in terms of how audiences were reacting to it?
I really loved the 18 hours myself, but you never know how things are gonna go over in the world. So I was curious of that, how it was going. That’s all.
Did anything surprise you or excite you about how actively engaged viewers were?
No. That was really, really good. I’ll tell you, it was a total blessing how it went in the world. Sometimes it doesn’t go that way. And this was really, really great.
There were episodes throughout the season, like the eighth hour, the nuclear bomb episode where I got to the end and I tried to imagine how Showtime executives must have responded when they saw that hour of television that you brought them. Were there any kind of reactions and feedback along the way from Showtime to what you were bringing them?
Well, in the beginning, I think, obviously, executives, they worry about how things are gonna go. But I’ve got to say, they were super good with me and I had complete freedom. So it was very good. David Nevins and Gary Levine and Robin Gurney at Showtime ended up being big fans. And it was really happy times working with them.
Did they ask you questions along the way?
Everybody, they’re human beings. So they’ve got questions like everybody else. And they loved seeing clues and trying to figure things out. And they were into it all along. They were really into it. Especially when it got all together with the sound and music mixed in. They really, really were fans.
After the original Twin Peaks run and after the Mulholland Drive pilot, I imagine that you had an ambivalent attitude toward television and how you fit within it. As it stands today, where do you see the match between your storytelling instincts and television?
I love a continuing story, number one. And I think the feature film is going through a troubled time right now. So television, cable television, is the new art house. And it’s so beautiful because you can tell a continuing story. The quality of the sound and picture is not as good as in the theater, but it’s getting better all the time. And if people see it on a big screen in their house with the lights down and good sound, or if they see it with headphones, it’s possible to really get into that world. So it’s a hopeful time, and cable television is getting better all the time, and it’s a beautiful place for these things.
People don’t always watch TV in perfect conditions. When you were working on capturing the darkness of the photography and the layered sound design, how many different screens and situations did you watch episodes in to make sure it was playing the way you wanted it to?
Oh you watch it all the time. And in the mix, I’m working with [sound and music supervisor] Big Dean Hurley and Ron Eng and we go through things. Every element of a film is important. So you keep working it until everything feels correct. And it’s a delicate thing sometimes. All the time it’s a delicate thing. Too loud or the wrong sound can throw you out. So it’s a grand experiment to get everything to feel correct. And it’s the same way when you start shooting. Every single thing, the way they look, the way they talk, what room they’re in, what the light is like, all the different elements that make this thing up, you just keep working on them until it feels correct and it’s really great fun work, but it’s sometimes high tension.
I was surprised when it was initially announced that you were directing all of the episodes. Were you always confident that you would have the time, have the ability, have the desire to do all of those 18 hours yourself?
And there was no period of doubt along the way?
No, no, no, no, no. It’s so beautiful.
How did you parse out your time and your energy and your enthusiasm to make sure you were able to do it all?
Once you sign on for that, you’re just chained to it. And there’s no let-up. If you’re sick, you can’t stay home. You just go. It’s a runaway train, but it’s a beautiful trip.
What parts, in particular, felt like a runaway train?
It’s every day. Picture it, when you get there in the morning, it’s like there’s a giant ravine. And as you’re working during the day, you’re building a glass bridge. It’s a delicate bridge and it’s made of glass. And once you’ve got everything done for that day and it feels correct, boom, the glass turns to steel and you can cross over. And then you’ve got to do it again the next day.
Then how does it feel when you finally have picture lock?
Well you see, picture lock is one thing. But then there’s sound. And nothing’s finished. All these things have got to come together for it to really be what you want. So it’s really not done until the very last bit of color correction.
And are you the kind of person who really would be able to just keep working and tweaking on this forever?
No. There’s a point where you say, “This is finished.” But it’s the high tension. You know the deadline is looming out there so you just keep working away. But then you’ve got enough time to say, “Yeah, this is now finished.”
The season is such a great showcase for Kyle MacLachlan in so many different ways. Did you know going in how much you wanted to show off his versatility?
It’s not a question of showing off. You get these ideas, and I knew Kyle could do it. But it’s these characters, they’ve got to be a certain way, and so you work together, all the different elements that make up each one of those characters. And then the actors have got to supply their talent and make it real, from a deep place, and Kyle sure did it.
How much did watching what he was doing steer how much we were seeing of certain characters? It seems like Dougie is the kind of character who could be really tough to watch if he weren’t being played so magically. How did you know that Kyle was giving you what you needed from that character?
You see it before your eyes. You can fine tune things or you can talk and adjust. But all the things, the wrong thing can break the reality of the character. So you work and you talk and you rehearse and you talk some more. And then, the actor, Kyle, he locks in on these things and away we go.
Deputy Director Cole [Lynch’s character] had a very big part this season. What are your strengths and weaknesses as an actor, do you think?
I always say you should talk to producer Sabrina Sutherland, because Cole gave her nothing but trouble. He’s horrible to work with. Demanding.
There’s this tremendous weight of the passage of time and almost of mortality itself that hangs over the season. Did you always realize that was what the feeling was going to be or did it grow in production and then postproduction with the passing of Catherine E. Coulson and Warren Frost and Miguel Ferrer?
Oh yeah. We were so lucky that we got Catherine. She passed away four days after she shot her scenes. And Miguel and now Harry Dean Stanton. It’s a sad, sad thing. I just loved working with Miguel. I loved working with everybody. But I guess it’s just a terrible thing to lose people. And everybody’s had that experience. But it’s just really fortunate that we got them in the show.
Does that put a different weight on you when you’re in the editing room and you want to make sure you honor these people?
You just look and say, “There’s Miguel alive and well and doing his thing.” And you know that he’s not here anymore. But in a way, it’s finishing things up the way you would with any scene, any character, but you have that in the back of your mind. And you just wish that it wasn’t so.
With that on your mind, how much room was there in the process to fall in love with new characters?
Plenty of room. Plenty of room. There were 237, I believe, actors in this, and all of them, I just loved working with them. And all of them did such great things. It was like the Magical Mystery Tour.
Does that seem insane to you when you’re in the process of having 237 actors in this epic work?
It’s a little bit insane. But you just go one day at a time. A person comes in and you have that day, and then they’re gone. But they’re in the film, and you wish that everybody could be around, and that you would have dinner with them in the evening, and you’d be one big family. But it’s like one family member at a time, sort of.
Was someone like Kyle, who had worked with you so many times, was he almost like a team captain, making sure that everybody was on the same page and doing the same things?
No. I’m a team captain. (Laughs.) Kyle was there a lot, and I think he was happier than I’d ever seen him. He just was so happy being these different characters. And it was kind of euphoric.
The structuring device of the roadhouse musical numbers, when did that come to you and how did you approach those almost episodic moments?
Because there’s the roadhouse, and you could have the possibility for different bands, and people started submitting things through my music agent, through Big Dean Hurley, and little by little by little starting hearing things that were so perfect. And all those bands were organized and shot in one day. So Dean, much to his credit, he had to organize all that. A band would go onstage with all the things they needed. They’d record, it would be shot with three cameras and all the different things they needed, and then off they’d go. Stage would be cleared. New band would come in, all the stuff they needed. It was just one long, beautiful day.
In your mind, how does a small town honky-tonk do such a spectacular job with booking talent?
It’s a magical thing. You talk to musicians and they play New York, Madison Square Garden, and then they get a call from Twin Peaks and they say, “I’m there.”
When did you know how you wanted to end these 18 episodes?
Well, when the script was done.
But it wasn’t one of those things where you said, “OK, we’re aiming to this line of dialogue, we’re aiming to this point”?
No. You build it. It’s like, I don’t know exactly. You can say the script is musical notes, pages and pages and pages of orchestrations. And you’re building it. But you can see the notes, how they’re supposed to go and where it goes soft and quiet and where it builds. And where it goes here and there, transitions. And it’s just all there in the music. You just have to translate it to cinema.
And do you view the ending as being a cliff hanger or do you view it as a broader, philosophical question that maybe doesn’t require answering?
I don’t really say things like that. But you know, I always say that there should be some room to dream.
What would be the impetus that would require you and Mark Frost to come back to this world? What would it take?
I don’t know. It’s too early to say that right now.
But it’s definitely not something that you rule out?
I’ve learned never say never.
Going back to the feelings you’re having about TV, have you started thinking in terms of long-form storytelling more often in your mind?
Yeah, it’s thrilling to me. Continuing story. It’s absolutely thrilling.
And do you think that TV is generally ready for the kind of stories you want to tell, or was Showtime a special case?
No, I think they’re generally ready. And I think it’s what’s happening. All these things go in waves. But right now, it’s a very friendly environment for a continuing story.
Does that make you want to dive in aggressively? Does it make you want to go, I want to catch this wave while it’s still cresting?
In some ways, yes. (Pauses.)
And in other ways?
A version of this story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.