David Lynch discovered Kyle MacLachlan when the actor was in his early twenties, with no TV or movie credits to his name. Lynch took a gamble and cast MacLachlan in his sci-fi flop Dune (1984), taking the actor with him to his next project, the controversial 1987 arthouse smash Blue Velvet. Though MacLachlan went on to work with other directors, the actor has remained synonymous with Lynch, largely due to the cult ’90s show Twin Peaks, in which MacLachlan played quirky FBI agent Dale Cooper. When the series returned last May, fans expected to see the cute Coop of yesteryear. What they got instead was several Coopers for the price of one.
There were lots of rumors about the return of Twin Peaks after the second series ended. Had there been a lot of false starts over those 25 years, and when did you realize that David was serious about doing this again?
You know, there weren’t that many false starts, in fact. David and I are pretty close. I spend most of my time in New York, and whenever I would come to LA, we’d get together and I would always bring it up, casually. And he’d say, “No, I’ve got no plans.” It wasn’t until around 24 or so years after we finished that he reached out to me and said that he and Mark [Frost] had been noodling some ideas around and that before they went any further, he wanted to know if I was interested in reprising the role of Dale Cooper. I said, “Absolutely.” So there was certainly interest on my part before that time, but nothing that ended up going forward.
So, for you, the door was always open?
Yeah. I was always interested. But it completely depended on David and his process, you know?
When did things start getting moving again? It seemed to come together pretty quickly.
It certainly was forward-moving, but it took a while. From what I understand, the process of David and Mark working together and putting together the ideas—the writing—took about a year. Then it needed to be set up, and that took a while as well. One of the big hurdles, I think, was simply ownership of Twin Peaks. I don’t know all the ins and outs of that, but there were many people that had been involved and had a portion of the show. So everything needed to be collated, and brought back, and kind of organized into one.
Did you ever read the whole script? Or did it come piecemeal as you were shooting?
Well, David had [already written] some of the scenes, which he shared with me prior to me reading the entire script. He let me read portions of it at his home, by myself. And he just left me alone to really absorb it and to get my head around the direction that he and Mark were going in. And then I actually sat down and read the entire script in one fell swoop a little bit later, when they had completed it. Although, even then, it was still not everything: David held back certain portions from me and revealed them as we got closer to filming.
What kinds of things?
Some surprising transitions, some unexpected transitions. And certainly the ending.
Although he’s introduced early on, we don’t really see Agent Cooper as himself for a long time. We start off with his evil doppelganger, Mr. C. How did you create that character?
Well, there was a layering process to find his physicality, to find his look and all the little bits that go into him, like the wardrobe and the costume. I worked with David closely on that. We discarded a lot of ideas and tried to keep it as simple as possible: we just tried to imagine a guy who’s run amok in the world with the kind of powers that he has, what that might look like, and how it might translate just in terms of speech, movement, look, all those things. So that took some time. And also, it helped to know Mr. C’s through-line. That’s one of the benefits of having read all 18 episodes. I had a beginning, middle, and end, like you would for a film. In traditional episodic television, you get the script and you kind of have an idea of what the writers are thinking. They give you a rough outline of direction. But sometimes that changes, so you can be working towards one goal and then suddenly you realize that, no, that’s actually not what they had intended at all. So it was helpful to have everything.
How did you decide on Mr. C’s look?
Well, David brings together a fantastic group of really talented, creative people to work in the different areas of the film crew. So we had a wonderful costumer, and makeup people, and hair people. We had options. We just kind of came in and there would be three or four things. We’d look at them together and narrow it down that way. So it was really a process. And we had some time, which was a luxury, to be able to try some things and then discard or keep portions of. The little hair braid was something that just kind of happened and seemed right and not right at the same time, like the length of Mr. C’s hair. It seemed a little bit off, a little bit awkward, almost as if the character was putting on something that he had seen but wasn’t actually that conscious of. It felt sort of appropriate-slash-inappropriate.
Did you ever worry that people might not accept you in such a badass role?
[Laughs] There was definitely some concern, for sure. I’d done some things in the past that were in the vein of that character. I’d done some smaller films, a long time ago. But David had tremendous faith in me, and I saw it as a terrific opportunity to work in a way that was not expected of me. And with that also comes the responsibility of knowing that if I don’t deliver at the top level, then it’s going to affect the entire series: if people don’t buy this guy as a real threat and a danger, then why make the show? So I felt the pressure of that as well. But I also had confidence, I guess, in the fact that David had confidence in me. So I was like, “All right, together we’re going to find this.” I saw it as a terrific opportunity. Not just to play Mr. C, but also then to have the opportunity, within the same world, to bring out these other characters that were so unusual as well.
When Cooper does come into the real world, he’s in the body of Dougie Jones. It’s a very funny, almost silent performance, but it’s very sustained and you never broke character. Did you enjoy it, or was it frustrating?
In many ways, Dougie was more challenging than the Mr. C character, simply because of the stillness. The inability to communicate and express his inner life in the traditional way was challenging, and frustrating in some ways. It took a lot of courage to just not do anything. Because as an actor, it’s all about exposing and exploring and revealing. And this guy, Dougie… there’s a full life happening inside him, but it comes out and is manifested in just the smallest of emotions and expressions. So it was a real exercise in simplicity. I used certain references. I looked at Peter Sellers in Being There as kind of a reference; Jeff Bridges in Starman was another. But, ultimately, Dougie was singular, his own interesting, strange person.
When Agent Cooper finally comes back, he’s a slightly different Cooper to the one we’ve been expecting. He’s changed a lot in the Red Room.
Definitely. The original Cooper, let’s say, comes back for, like, an hour I guess, in Episode 16, when he kind of takes care of evil Cooper and resolves everything. But that [character] has been tempered with time—I’m older now, and the character just has a slightly different feel to it, as you would naturally expect. Then, once Laura Dern and I have passed through into a different place, which is in Episode 18, he’s definitely even sharper. He’s got an edge to him that’s there in the hunt for Laura Palmer as her new entity, as Carrie.
David didn’t really go into great detail. He just said, “Oh, he’s just a little different.” So I had to find what that might be. And people that really follow along and recognize the character were able to feel that.
You mentioned Laura Dern. When did you realize that she was going be playing Diane?
Oh, it was sort of late in the process. Certainly, before we began filming. David held that as a secret. When I learned that it was going to be her, I was really thrilled. We hadn’t worked together in so many years. I thought she was a great choice, and I immediately was very excited about the opportunity of working with her.
Did you ever discuss Blue Velvet? Was it something that was brought up as a touchstone? Or is it just something that’s common to all of you?
You mean within the world of Twin Peaks? Yeah, it was already there. I think that kind of chemistry, and certainly, respect and appreciation for each other as actors and as people is great to have because it carries over into the work environment and makes things hum along a little better.
In fact, we did a screening the other night for the Television Academy. It was David and myself and Laura on the panel, and when the three of us are together, there’s just a terrific chemistry. And we love each other very much. It’s kind of boring to talk about. But we really have a great fondness for each other and have a lot of fun together.
In passing, you mentioned Cooper being older—he’s been away for 25 years. It’s a very interesting aspect of the series, and David doesn’t shy away from that. Some characters have aged well, some of them haven’t. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s a good question. I don’t think there was any other choice but to embrace it, obviously. There’s no way around it, and I think we were all affected by that. And certainly the loss of some of the actors along the way was very hard to come to terms with, because they live on, obviously, and they’re there, and you have them in your memory. But then they’re not there. They’re not there in your world and they’re no longer there in the world of Twin Peaks. I do think the way David handled the return of Catherine [Coulson, The Log Lady] was really beautiful and elegant. She’s there and she’s present. I think it was his way of saying to her that he loved her.
The second series of Twin Peaks was very scrappy, and what’s particularly good about the new show is that David gave it focus. It’s about Cooper and Laura Palmer, and David did a fantastic job of keeping that for the finale. Even though we didn’t know it, that was always where he was taking us.
I felt that as well. I think it’s the advantage, again, of going back to having a beginning and an end. Obviously, on episodic television, you don’t know quite where it’s going to go. But this was very focused and very intense. And it’s a luxury, I think, as an actor, to be able to have that blueprint there and know that you’re going towards that, but then along the way I had all of these other experiences.
Certainly, I loved working with Naomi Watts, of course, as Janey-E, the Dougie character’s wife, and the whole thing that Mr. C is up to.
There’s a long, slow journey until we finally get to the end. And you realize it’s been about good versus evil. It’s been about Cooper trying to save Laura Palmer. It really just boils down to good versus evil, and in this particular case, we were at an impasse. So the cycle is not complete yet. That was kind of my feeling.
How did you feel about Episode 8? Was that among the scripts you were given? It doesn’t seem like something that could be scripted.
You know, it reminded me of the original Twin Peaks, I guess [laughs]. You had the pilot episode, but then you had Episode 2, I think, and suddenly you’re in the Red Room for the first time, and things are going backward. You kind of feel like you’ve dropped through the floorboards a little bit, and I think this was a similar sensation. I remember feeling like, “Oh my gosh. OK. Here we go. We’ve just drifted out of reality into something else, into the abstract.”
David’s visuals are so extraordinary, and the feelings that he brings up in people if they’re open to it, are so complex and disturbing, I just kind of smiled. Part of me was thinking, “I wonder what the general public is thinking of all this right now.” People that are watching this are definitely going, “What the hell is going on?” I had a lot of fun thinking about what was happening.
Surprisingly, it seemed that the people who were staying with the show really understood what it was getting at—the origins of Killer Bob. As the public face of the show, do you ever get asked about these things?
I do. And I usually take the line, which is similar to what David says, that it’s really your experience—it’s the audience’s experience—that matters. David is simply not one to speak about the meanings of things and the whys and the wherefores. He presents what he wants to present in his creativity. And he isn’t really interested in whether you, as an audience, like it or don’t like it. It’s what he needs to do and it’s what he’s created. And he just invites you to go on the journey with him, or not. I’m sure he would like more people to go on the journey, but I don’t think it’s the reason he does it, you know?
But I feel that a lot of what was written about the show was very on point. It was exciting to see how much thought had gone into the writings and the explorations that people had made. People are passionate about the show, obviously, and they express that in a lot of different ways: fan art, drawings, poetry, music. It causes this sort of outpouring of creativity from people. David inspires that, and I think that that’s the hallmark of a true artist. He just causes you to put pen to paper and want to explore his ideas.
The characters are very real to David. Is this genuinely how he sees them? Or is this just part of his process, in terms of creating the world?
The world of Twin Peaks to David is alive, I think, and his characters live on in this world. He loves this world. And I think he’s so excited that people have returned to it in such a pure way. I think it’s very real.
Do you think you’ll ever return as Agent Cooper? David won’t be drawn on it, but even if it turns out that Laura Palmer is now laid to rest, the world of Blue Rose can continue. Would you come back to it again?
I think those kinds of things are certainly possible. I think we’re all just waiting on David to have the spark of an idea to go forward. It’d be a great journey. I would drop everything to do that.