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[Warning: This story contains spoilers through the first eight installments of Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return.]
Before embarking on Showtime’s new Twin Peaks, fans were ready to sip on some damn fine coffee once again. They were ready to return to the Black Lodge and the dark mythology surrounding Dale Cooper’s last known whereabouts. Indeed, they were ready for more Cooper, full stop.
They were not ready for Dougie Jones.
Eight hours into David Lynch’s return to the world of Twin Peaks, Kyle MacLachlan’s eternally optimistic federal agent remains at arm’s length. Sure, he’s returned to the mortal realm after spending the last two decades and change stuck inside the Black Lodge, while an evil doppelgänger (also played by MacLachlan) was running around causing carnage in the real world. But that Agent Cooper you liked has not yet come back in style. Instead, he’s inhabiting the life of yet another lookalike named Dougie Jones, wandering through casinos, corporate culture and domesticity with childlike wonder. He is showing signs of the old Cooper, slowly but surely — albeit a little too slowly for some viewers’ tastes.
For his part, MacLachlan knew that Dougie would be a difficult pill for fans to swallow. “Many people wanted the nostalgic return to Twin Peaks that they remembered,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And that’s not what we’re representing here.” Instead, the new Twin Peaks is representing the duality between two extremes: darkness and light, largely through MacLachlan’s own opposing roles as Cooper’s doppelgänger and Dougie Jones.
Read on for the actor’s take on the new Twin Peaks and its “challenging” nature, what went into playing two different versions of Cooper and more as the season approaches the halfway point of its 18-hour run.
Twin Peaks was shrouded in so much secrecy before its return. Now that the cork has been popped, at least to some extent, what has been your reaction to the reaction?
It’s really fun to see. I think we all knew it was going to be a challenging journey for the audience, simply because it is 18 parts of one giant piece, and it’s sequential, so people really have to stay with it. And also that David’s storytelling is filled with imagery and different perspectives and characters and things that may initially be confusing to people, but ultimately everything will come back together and make sense. It will be clear. But it’s challenging, you know? The other part of that is there has been a real, complete love from a large part of the audience for this new direction of Twin Peaks. No one has ever seen anything like this on television before. That’s some of the excitement, I think.
You can apply that idea just to Part 8 on its own, an episode that’s so hard to define, but makes sense within its own context.
There’s definitely a cohesion there. It’s just things you haven’t necessarily seen before. In some ways, I think of it as moving art. David is first a painter. What he’s created is this moving canvas. He pretty much tells you how long you’re going to be looking at a scene, and he dictates that by the editing. While you’re looking at that scene, he’s also infusing it with music and sound, into the visual element. He’s the maestro at giving you this experience. You just have to go along for the ride, if you’re up for it.
You have so much on your plate in this show, even more than we could have imagined coming into the series. Before the series started, what aspects of your performance were you most curious to see how people would react?
I’ve never had the opportunity to play these extreme characters. The evil dopelgänger is of course a remorseless killing machine, basically just going around consuming. It’s what he wants. He moves through the world in that way. That was challenging and exciting to play, to get into that character, to find his look and his feel and his energy and his drive. I was also very fortunate to have David as the director, so we could work together to move this character through this story. The other character of Dougie is not too dissimilar to a character I played in The Hidden years ago. It’s just a further degree of someone who is new to the world and is discovering it as he goes along. There’s a veil that he’s not able to get through. I watched Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Jeff Bridges in Starman, Peter Sellers in Being There; that was a big influence. Those were influences in terms of how to tackle this character. It provided a lot of opportunity for comedy, too. We were mining that. The comedy of timing and exasperation for those around us — particularly Naomi [Watts, who plays Dougie’s wife, Janey-E Jones]. She carries the lion’s share of the load.
These two extreme characters really embody the tonal dissonance that’s at play in the new Twin Peaks. There are monstrous moments of haunting imagery, shots of New York City skyscrapers, or even the actual town of Twin Peaks — often without music, which makes this familiar world look almost like a graveyard at times. On the other side, you have Dougie, with “Take Five” playing in the background as he discovers coffee for the first time — a moment of joy and whimsy. Was this something you felt while you were filming the project, this tug-of-war and push-and-pull between light and dark, not just in terms of the content of the story and the characters, but tonally as well?
That’s definitely there. It was in the script and I recognized it. The genius of David Lynch is that he builds all of that in as he edits and lays in the music and the sound. But even in the process of filming, there are certain lengths of time for a take, and extra pieces he wants, and timing. It’s all rhythmic with David. I’ve worked with him enough to know it’s really important he feels that what he’s getting on the day is going to fit with what’s going on in his head. I certainly felt those very things. Tonal dissonance is a really nice way of describing it.
How did you react when you first learned that Agent Cooper had been trapped inside the Black Lodge for all of these years since the original finale? Was it as heartbreaking for you as it was for the audience?
I knew that the audience was excited, just based on social media, for the return of the Cooper that they remembered. I couldn’t say anything about that — that there was a process that had to happen before the ship could right itself, let’s say. I also like to say we’re basically … my take on it is that the world is out of balance, and we’re trying to take it back into balance now. We have 18 hours to do that. But I knew it would be difficult for people. Many people wanted the nostalgic return to the Twin Peaks that they remembered. And that’s not what we’re representing here. There are a lot of new stories going forward.
It’s certainly not something you’re getting easily. You have to work for those moments, like when you see Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) gazing upon Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) again for the first time in years.
Exactly right. And you see Kimmy Robertson and Harry Goaz together again as Lucy and Andy. There are reminders. But there are also reminders of just the passage of time. Shooting it was one thing, but seeing it, I was just reminded that it’s been 25, 26, 27 years. We’ve all gotten older. You just acknowledge the fact that we’re all mortal and time moves on. I also say, a lot of the time, Twin Peaks has continued on in its way. Now we’re revisiting Twin Peaks after all this time, but the town itself never stopped. All the action and activity there never stopped.
Speaking of the passage of time, one of the biggest questions heading into the new version of the series was how would it handle the fact that some of the castmembers who played essential characters had passed away since the original run. We have our answer now: archival footage being used in compelling ways, like Frank Silva appearing as Killer BOB in ethereal spheres, or Major Briggs’ (Don Davis) disembodied head floating through space. It’s powerful to behold as a viewer. What is it like for you, as someone who worked with these actors, watching them live on through this work and remain such an important part of the narrative?
I think it’s beautiful. As actors, this is how we stay around. To see even Catherine Coulson, who was able to work as the Log Lady [shortly before she passed away in 2015]. It’s bittersweet. There’s a sadness there. I think it’s intentional, and a recognition again that we are mortal. We have had some real tragedies with the show. Losing Miguel [Ferrer, who plays Agent Rosenfield] and losing Catherine … it’s not easy. It was challenging to David. But he has done an amazing job remembering, appropriately, I think, and with impact. The characters are still making an impact. As an actor, that’s what you want.
There are a lot of new faces as well, and the most prominent one as it relates to your world is the arrival of one of the most iconic characters in Twin Peaks lore, who we had never seen in the flesh until this series: Diane, played by Laura Dern.
That was fantastic. I remember hearing about it for the first time. I had a big smile on my face, and I said, “Of course. It’s perfect.” Because I didn’t even know about it until it was announced. That was brilliant. That was also one of the secrets that I had to hold onto, knowing people were for the most part going to be stunned and excited and happy and all, “Oh, my lord!”
Before, we would only see Cooper speaking to Diane through a recorder. Now, she gets to speak back, and she swears like a sailor. It’s almost hard to imagine this Diane being so simpatico with the Cooper of old. What were your thoughts about Diane during the original run of the show, and how did they match up with the reality of the character?
I deliberately left it sort of without any definition. In other words, when I was speaking, I wouldn’t think of a certain person sitting at a desk somewhere back in Langley taking all of this down for whatever reason. I thought it was more about Cooper expressing his thoughts in a soothing way. It was a way for him as a character to make sense of what was happening around him and focus himself down. It was less about the person and what that relationship was or wasn’t, and more about me working through my stuff as the character. It’s gotten much richer now, knowing Diane is being played by Laura Dern, of course, and also to see her personality, which I wasn’t thinking about when I was working 25 years ago. It’s really funny. It’s kind of reminiscent of Albert, Miguel Ferrer’s character. She’s a little bit on the rougher side.
What was it like becoming the bad Cooper for the first time, seeing yourself in the wig and the leather jacket?
It was really helpful. That character was developed over a period of time where we would find one part of it, and then another part of it, and then another part, and finally we put it all together. I’m really pleased with what’s happened with the character. He’s a real, pure definition of evil. It’s really what I wanted. It was a layering of things. When I saw him and I walked out, I was still not sure. But the beauty of working with David Lynch is if David sees it and feels it and is right with it, then I’m right with it. His confidence in what he saw gave me confidence to go with what I had.
How about Dougie, and stepping into his plus-sized neon green suit? Was that helpful to get your head around Dougie?
(Laughs.) The idea that he went from that one character who we saw briefly, to someone who resembles Cooper a little bit more … I knew it was going to be tricky. But I knew it wasn’t up to me. It’s going to be up to the people around me to make that work. The character of Jade [Nafessa Williams], the character of Janey-E and the people at work — they were all going to have to look at him and go, “Why has he changed? What’s happening here?” As an audience, we have to go with that. I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge. But it’s also a reflection on Dougie from before. He probably wasn’t that memorable, either. People probably didn’t look at him too closely: “Oh, it’s you. You look a little different. Did you change your hair or something?”
Never mind losing 20 pounds in a night.
Exactly. (Laughs.) “What? Did you go on a diet?” I can only imagine people weren’t paying that close of attention to him from the beginning. That’s how I justified it.
How was shooting the casino scene, and the “HELLO-OH-OH” of it all?
We were working outside of Los Angeles at a casino, and I remember playing the reality of what was happening with the character. I didn’t think too much about it. It felt organic and real and kind of awkward and slightly inappropriate. That was all perfect. The little things, like when you sit down, and the process of learning from watching people. I would watch, and then I would repeat, and then something would happen, and I would react to that. I would then go onto the next thing and the same thing would happen again and again. Trying to keep that as believable as possible was really the goal.
I spoke with Robert Broski recently about playing the Woodsman, and he was an incredibly nice man. You’re a very nice man yourself. By your own account, Frank Silva was “a lovely guy.” What is it about good people that make such compelling monsters?
Well, from my experience, it’s a new place to go. The nice thing is, it’s not who I am. I guess it’s a part of what I could be, but it’s not how I choose to live. It’s fun to be able to explore, in a controlled environment, what that feels like, I think. I’m able to put him on in the morning and then I can take him off in the evening when we’re done filming. I’ll tell you one thing it does: It makes you think about the people who can’t. The people who are closer to this than not. That’s a horrible place to be as a person.
Almost two weeks have passed since Part 8 aired. The feeling of watching it for the first time won’t wash away anytime soon. What was your reaction to that installment, an hour that all on its own stands out immediately as one of David Lynch’s seminal works?
I think this whole journey is going to be that. I think Part 8 was the culmination. It was an extraordinary sequence. It was certainly challenging to the audience, but just an amazing piece of work to sit there and absorb. It almost makes me feel that this is not a show you can necessarily binge-watch. I felt that after I watched the first two hours: “I need some time to process this and think about what just happened, because this is much more complex than just a show you would watch and forget.” It’s very challenging and stimulating, I think. In a way, it was probably great that there’s been enough time for people to really think about what they saw and process it and figure it out. It’s very complex.
That’s an interesting perspective, because you have said that you sat down and read the entire script for the new Twin Peaks in a single sitting, a couple of breaks notwithstanding. How does that experience measure against seeing what David had in mind with the finished product?
It’s one of the most fun things about being an actor. You read the script. You visualize everything as you go through. Then you film those pieces, which is different again. Then they edit it, and we see it, and now it’s a third film. So it’s a process of three, I think, and it changes each time. It continues to evolve. Because it’s David, it continues to get richer and more interesting. Certain imagery he uses over and over again, variations of that imagery … I’m coming to the show now just as an audience member, because I haven’t seen any of the [upcoming] sequences yet. I’m experiencing this the same as the audience. It’s a gift.
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