“Got a light?”
Those three simple words will forevermore carry haunting new meaning for anyone who watched the eighth installment of Twin Peaks: The Return, quite easily the most extreme episode of the entire David Lynch and Mark Frost series, original run included. The phrase belongs to the Woodsman, the charcoal-covered Abraham Lincoln look-alike who spent the latter section of the episode terrorizing a small New Mexico town by crushing skulls with his bare hands and reciting petrifying poetry over a radio broadcast.
“This is the water, and this is the well. Drink full, and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within,” the murderous monster repeated over and over and over again, groaning the verses on a veritable loop until they were good and ingrained in the hearts and minds of Twin Peaks viewers everywhere.
In his one appearance to date, the Woodsman was a man of few words — terrifying words to be sure, but still just a few. The man who plays him boasts a significantly larger vocabulary: Robert Broski, a veteran of the construction industry who only became an actor within the last ten years. Before Twin Peaks, Broski was best known for another iconic role: the aforementioned President Lincoln, a part he’s played in film, television, as well as in classrooms and at events across America.
Through his work as the legendary president, Broski is well accustomed to yielding a wide range of reactions when he meets strangers on the street, tears of joy included. Now, after his work as the single scariest character on Twin Peaks, he’s steeling himself for tears of another variety. Read on for what Broski told The Hollywood Reporter about his journey toward Lincoln and Lynch, and how he feels about becoming such a singular force of nightmare fuel.
First and foremost, thank you for the nightmares this week.
Oh, you’re welcome!
Do you feel comfortable knowing that you’ve been haunting people’s dreams all week long?
Isn’t that a great feeling? Come on! I think any gentleman would like to have that feeling, that he can strike terror into that many people!
It’s a powerful feeling, I’m sure.
So, who are you? Who is the man beneath the charcoal?
Oh my gosh. Well, let’s see. I’ve been married for 42 years. I raised four children doing construction. After they were raised and out of the house, I started thinking, “I want to do something relaxing.” Believe it or not, I opened up a newspaper and I saw one of those ads that asked: “Do you want to be in the movies?” And I said to myself, “Well, yes! I do!” I guess you can say the rest has been history. I submitted for that, and haven’t looked back since.
Where did that advertisement lead you, directly?
Directly, it led me to a background agency, which I don’t believe is still in business now. I can’t remember who in the heck it was. That started my trip down the road of doing background work and meeting so many enjoyable people. Everybody was just fantastic. I started pursuing it more and more as I had more and more free time. I grabbed an agent here and an agent there and started doing more principal work.
How long ago was this, when you changed careers and started pursuing acting?
Isn’t it crazy? Only about eight or nine years ago. Probably only nine years ago.
You have done a lot of work as Abraham Lincoln. You certainly look the part. Is that something that’s been with you for a long time, comparisons to Honest Abe?
Isn’t it funny? No! Not at all! One friend of mine used to joke about it, and I would laugh a little, but what do I do about it? I didn’t know what to do about it. Part of my beginning career in movies and TV was submitting for a role for Mr. Lincoln. I had never grown the beard before, because it’s kind of a crappy beard. It’s a Lincoln beard! But it’s a crappy beard, and I didn’t have it yet. But they liked my long, thin face and I had about a month and a half to grow the beard. So I said, “Let’s grow the beard and see what in the heck it looks like.” So I grew the beard, I looked in the mirror, and I said, “Oh my gosh. This is my destiny.” (Laughs.) It changed my life! My family thought I was weird and so did everybody else. “He’s a construction guy! What the heck is this all about?” So, yes, it’s changed my life. Changed my life for the better. I feel honored and blessed to present Mr. Lincoln, and also to take on some of these quirky roles now and then, too.
After this week’s Twin Peaks, people were describing you as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator. Is that a fair description?
I would say a “presenter,” not necessarily an impersonator. I present him. I just happen to have been blessed with being old and ugly and looking just like him. What I get out of it and enjoy about it is that I’m presenting Mr. Lincoln and everything he’s stood for: his honesty, his integrity, his desire to do the right thing for the country. I present that to whoever wants to listen, if it’s a school classroom or an auditorium filled with college kids, or a social event, or a live presentation maybe at a park or a parade or in a small stadium somewhere. Wherever it happens to be. If that happens to be TV or the movies, then there’s that.
Were you always into history, or did you have to do some research to become Mr. Lincoln?
No, I was not a history buff at all. I now own over 300 books! Like Mr. Lincoln, I like to read. I like to have a book in my hand. I like to underline certain things here and there. I’m constantly reading, because there are a lot of historians out there.
How do people react when they see you in character as President Lincoln?
I’ve had people step back and almost trip when I walk around the corner and they see me. I’ve had people dance in front of me, cry in front of me and laugh hysterically. I get all kinds of reactions when I step out in my top hat.
And what have the reactions been like since your Twin Peaks debut?
Shock. (Laughs.) I guess you could say that. I kind of get the impression that people don’t want to meet up with me after dark anymore.
Has anyone been bold enough to ask you for a light?
(Laughs.) Well, I’ve already started seeing things where they will caption [an image of me] with “Lincoln: Got a light?” That’s okay. Nothing wrong with that!
How did you become a part of Twin Peaks?
It started off as a mystery. We didn’t know what it was. I saw the call sheet, and it asked for a Woodsman. It was rather vague. It sounded interesting. They wanted it with a little bit of a quirky twist, but to also use your own imagination. They wanted to see what the heck we could come up with. It definitely caught my eye, and I’m a character-y looking guy, so I thought I would give this thing a go. For some reason, they liked my looks, and how I got the actual featured Woodsman, I guess, is probably because I looked like I had traveled a long distance on my feet and I was just a skinny and weary looking guy. So they must have said, “Hey, let’s have this guy scare the crap out of everybody!”
Were you a fan of Twin Peaks before this?
Oh, sure. I happen to be over 60 years old, and I remember the original. You bet’cha. I wouldn’t turn the lights out when I was watching it. It was totally different than anything else that was on the air. It left you hanging, it left you thinking. It didn’t wrap you up at the end of the show with big smiles and everybody laughing and everybody applauding. No. It kept you coming back week after week, because you wanted to know if this was going to end, and what are these new ideas they’re throwing at you? It kept you glued to your seat. Doesn’t matter if you were eating popcorn or not. You were glued there.
What was it like to work with David Lynch?
Fantastic. Oh my gosh. What a wonderment, really. If you think about it, we were shooting scenes in these new and amazing ways. It was neat, because he would give us a vague idea of what it was, but he would let us do the scene the way we saw it. And then he would say, “Well, how about this? Walk this way, or move this way, or do this, or do that.” And sometimes it was like, “What the heck does this guy have in mind?” (Laughs.) But we trusted him, because in the end, we knew it was all going to be for the good of the whole show — not necessarily just our one little episode, or just a couple of scenes.
Publicly, David Lynch often comes across as someone who speaks in riddles — very enigmatic. Was that your experience with him on set?
No, not at all. Oh my gosh, he looked you straight in the eyes, and you felt like friends, every time he went up to you. Sure, he took everything seriously. But we even had time to talk about my wife and the illnesses she went through in her life. You felt very comfortable with him. You always had an idea of where he was coming from. You might not know where he was going, but you always knew where he was coming from. Very easy to follow.
What went through your mind when you saw yourself as the Woodsman in a mirror for the first time?
“How am I going to play this person?” Sure, it was shocking to me, too, when I looked in the mirror. But how am I going to play this person? Zombies are a dime a dozen. It appeared this person was going to be a little more intelligent and a little more determined in his pursuit. Hopefully that’s what I brought to the scene: that he was more intelligent and he had an agenda in his pursuit. He was aiming for what he was aiming for.
Can you describe your viewing experience when you watched the episode for the first time? Where were you, and who was with you?
My wife and I were there. My children, since they’re grown and they have their own families, were watching at their own houses. I could picture their eyeballs getting wider and wider as they were watching it. (Laughs.) I love how [Lynch] tied in the scenes of the lives of the people who were listening to the station. That was all shot somewhere else. We had no idea that was going on. I had only seen it from my own eyeballs, so just watching it from outside of my head, the viewers’ side, gave you an idea of doom, an idea of no hope. You could definitely feel that.
The whole series has been very memorable for those following along, but Part 8 was an especially unforgettable hour of television, let alone an unforgettable hour of Twin Peaks. How does it feel to have played such a central part in this nuclear hellfire exploration of light and darkness?
Oh, it’s a crack-up. I mean, this is memorable. It’s obviously going to be with me for the rest of my life. For the rest of my life, I think people are going to come up to me and ask: “Got a light?” That’s going to be the new “where’s the beef,” from thirty years ago. (Laughs.) I laugh about it every time I hear it.
What’s next for you?
I have a commercial coming out, and I’m in the middle of filming a feature film called Trip to the Moon, which is kind of a steampunk Lincoln. I have a couple of those things in the works. And also I have a few live things coming up. When school starts again, I’ll be back in the classrooms.
You were in a short movie called Linclone. What is Linclone?
Isn’t that something? It was a short for a film festival to see if it could get picked up and turned into a movie. That was fantastic. It’s kind of a Frankenstein-ish Abraham Lincoln. And you know what? I think Mr. Lincoln himself would do something like that, because he was a jokester. He would tell some off-colored jokes now and then.
I read somewhere that he was a vampire hunter as well.
Yeah, there you go. And have you seen any vampires lately? No! (Laughs.) I’ve pretty near taken care of all of them, haven’t I?
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