Editor’s note: This story originally ran on June 13 as Emmy nomination-round voting began. After David Lynch’s Twin Peaks bowed on ABC in April 1990, it became a cultural phenomenon, producing two Emmys and 18 nominations. All these years later, Lynch is back in the running with three nominations for Showtime’s follow-up series Twin Peaks: The Return.
“And last night, I had another Monica Bellucci dream…” In Episode 14 of Twin Peaks: The Return, FBI man Gordon Cole (played by series creator David Lynch himself) describes a dream he’s just had. He was in a café in Paris. Agent Cooper was there, but Cole couldn’t see his face, and then Monica Bellucci appeared, wearing a fitted leather maxi coat, flanked by two friends, one male, one female. The dream was not inspired by one of Lynch’s own, he says, though the location of the café does have personal significance to him—it’s right along the street from 49 Rue du Montparnasse, Paris, where Idem, his favorite European printing studio, is based—and the beautiful Italian film star is, he concedes, very much “the type of girl that you would dream about.”
PART ONE: We Are Like the Dreamer
In the dream, sitting al fresco as Cole sipped milky coffee, Bellucci had something profound to say to him—“the ancient phrase”, as Cole later calls it. “‘We are like the dreamer who dreams,’ she said, ‘and then lives inside the dream.’”
Cole dramatically repeats this statement to his colleagues Albert Rosenfield (the late Miguel Ferrer) and Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell), the latter a newcomer to the Blue Rose Task Force, named after the murder of a woman by her own lookalike in 1970, which investigates abnormal or impossible occurrences.
It’s a surreal, powerful and cryptic moment in a series that has never offered moments of any other kind. It sounds like bait—the kind of tease that many other directors would slip into their work to intrigue and engage you before finally inviting you to debate its real meaning. But David Lynch is not that kind of director. In the course of a long, digressive conversation, he gives little or nothing away about the Showtime series, stonewalling direct questions and being expansive about only the most mundane of facts. Of Gordon Cole’s dream, he simply says: “That’s the way life is, when you think about it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream.”
He pauses. “And then she asks, ‘But who is the dreamer?’” His comment hangs heavy in the air, as if Lynch has finally—accidentally?—decided to give something away. Is it a clue to help decipher this mad, wonderful series, or just something for us to dwell on?
“Something to dwell on,” says Lynch. And that’s the end of that.
PART TWO: Brings Back Some Memories
When it was announced that Twin Peaks would be returning to TV screens in 2017, there was a lot of celebration from devoted fans of the cult mystery show. Over the course of two seasons in 1990-91, the original ABC series had seduced America, and indeed the world, with its peculiar retro aesthetic. Twin Peaks itself was a fictional lumber town in Washington State with a population of 51,201—originally 5,120 until nervous executives added an extra digit to make it less of a rural backwater—where daily life seemed frozen in the early ’60s, before the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam and Watergate tainted the national consciousness. Girls wore sweaters and friendship rings, boys wore baseball jackets and styled their hair into buzzcuts and quiffs, and their parents conducted their affairs in private. It should have been a happy place, a kind of innocent, all-American Brigadoon, until the savage killing of prom queen Laura Palmer brought the FBI to town.
Enter Special Agent Dale Cooper, played with infectious, goofball charm by Kyle MacLachlan, and his Dictaphone, through which he communicated with a mysterious woman (or was it actually just the Dictaphone?) named Diane. Cooper, with his taste for “damn fine coffee” and cherry pie, came to typify the show, and it’s tempting to wonder how many viewers arranged themed parties last year for the series opener, serving the kind of down-home food you might find at the Double R Diner and dressing as their favorite character. Perhaps Audrey Horne, the teenage femme fatale who went undercover at the seedy One-Eyed Jack’s casino, or bad boy James Hurley, the secret lover of the victim.
If any did, one can only wonder how they felt as the first two hours unfolded, with Cooper still where Lynch left him 25 years ago, trapped in the purgatory of the Red Room. Meanwhile, his bad self, Mr. C, is at large in the outside world, and a young man charged with watching an empty box in a New York high-rise is beaten to a bloody pulp by unseen forces. It closed with just a handful of familiar characters listening to Lynchian electro-pop at the Roadhouse, aka The Bang Bang Bar, older now, and with a sense of time lost and wasted.
But over the next 16 hours, something extraordinary evolved. In direct contrast to the less celebrated, chaotic second series of Twin Peaks, this new Showtime show actually started out big, messy and sprawling and then gradually parsed itself down, episode by episode, to a gripping two-hander finale that laid bare the very motor of the story: Agent Cooper and his fascination—or was it a doomed, morbid love—for the enigmatic Laura Palmer, the girl who just couldn’t save herself from herself. Was this deliberate—a lesson learned from the last time?
Lynch, who turned 72 this year, listens patiently as the idea is put to him—and promptly shuts it down. “Ideas came,” he begins, in his trademark idiosyncratic drawl. “I guess you could just say… ” He stops. “I always say ideas dictate everything. Ideas came, and this is what the ideas presented. Just focusing on Twin Peaks, these things came out for us, and there they were.”
Still, Lynch does accept the fact that the original ABC series had lost its way, with more ridiculous characters, baffling new subplots and a pressure to unmask Laura Palmer’s killer, something he never wanted to do. “For me,” he explains, “the pilot—the original pilot—is Twin Peaks, and this one here is Twin Peaks.” Why not Season 2? “Well, what happens in television, I think, is, there are different directors, different writers, and it’s just the way things go. It drifts away. This hopefully brought it back into a true world of Twin Peaks.”
Even so, after the disorientating first episode, Lynch took his time reintroducing the signature elements (coffee, cherry pie, even Diane), scrapping the opening waterfall altogether and withholding key characters until the final stretch. Why would he want to do that—to weed out the people he didn’t want to watch the show? Again, Lynch rebuts the question. “No, no,” he insists. “Again, it’s the ideas. The ideas present a kind of flow of how it’s going to unfold, and the ideas tell you each scene and each character. And you just follow the ideas.”
PART THREE: The Past Dictates The Future
To make the return journey to Twin Peaks, Washington, it helped that almost the entire cast wanted to get back on board again. Kyle MacLachlan couldn’t wait, and behind him came the majority of the Twin Peaks sheriff’s office—Andy, Lucy, Deputy Sheriff Tommy “Hawk” Hill—followed by some familiar faces from the town. A few were missing—Michael Ontkean, who played Sheriff Harry S. Truman and has since retired from acting, was sensitively replaced by Robert Forster as his brother Frank—and some had even passed away (we’ll come back to that later), but most of the major players were ready to come back.
“I called all the regulars,” Lynch recalls, “or most everyone, and I had a chat. These people are like family, so it was so beautiful calling them and talking to them again and getting together like for a family reunion. The regular casting process went from there, with all the new people. And, as you know, there was about 235 cast in this film. I would’ve liked to work with all of the originals–like you say, some of them had passed away–but I’d say 99 percent were there ready, willing and able to go to work.”
What kind of conversations did he have with them? He shrugs. “I didn’t ever talk about the story or anything, just their willingness to get back in the world. They all know their characters, they know the world, and they love the world like me. It was so beautiful. I’m telling you—it was a lovefest.”
As well as bringing back old characters, Lynch drafted in some new additions, perhaps the most inspired being the casting of Lynch regular Laura Dern to play the previously unseen Diane—the woman behind the Dictaphone (“It was time for her to come in,” notes Lynch). Reuniting Dern with MacLachlan for the first time since Blue Velvet, it was a move that gave an unexpected chemistry to their backstory as sometime lovers. “It made perfect sense,” says Lynch, “because they’re sort of so perfect like that. Sandy and Jeffrey from Blue Velvet—it makes sense that it’s Diane and Special Agent Dale Cooper. When you pick somebody… ”
He hesitates for a second. “Like I always say, most of filmmaking is common sense, so you try to get the right person for the part. So, the right person is somebody that feels correct as you run them through scene by scene, and there they are. Other people, like I also always say, could be great, great actors, but they don’t make it through the scenes.”
To help him find the right people, Lynch depends on longtime associate Johanna Ray, his on-off casting director for the last 30 years. “The way Johanna and I have been working is this: she’s read the script, and I’ve talked with her about it, and she shows me pictures—still photos—of the actors. Then she picks maybe 10 photos, and I look at them. You can tell a lot but not everything from those photos. Then she interviews the people on video, and I see these people talking and see what they look like as they talk, and that’s what usually seals the deal. You do see things in people and, you know, you might be seeing something that they may not be known for, but you know it’s in them.”
As a process, it recalls the sinister producer from Mulholland Drive, the one who pushes a ten-by-eight headshot of a budding young starlet on Adam Kesher, the director of the film being made within the film, saying, more than a little menacingly, “This is the girl.” Has Lynch ever said that—“This is the girl”? The question makes him laugh. “Every time there’s the right one, I say, ‘This is the girl.’ And if it’s a man, I say, ‘This is the man.’”
Surprisingly, the new characters are as wittily original and inventive as anything he’s shown us before, from the weedy Wild One clone Wally Brando (Michael Cera), to the adorable gangster’s moll Candie (Amy Shiels) and the cryptic but clearly psychotic Richard Horne (Eamon Farren), son of Audrey. Of the new intake, does he have any particular favorites? Lynch is shocked by the question. “No, no, no,” he protests. “I can’t do that, but I can say I love them all. It’s incredible. We were so lucky. There’s just one after another, banging on all eight cylinders. But if it’s a 12-cylinder, they’re banging on all 12. It’s incredible.”
How precisely does he script? Does he insist on his cast reading the line as it is written, or does he encourage a bit of experimentation? “No,” is the short answer. “I don’t believe in… what do you call it? Improvisation. You follow the script to the letter, but at the same time, you’re always on guard for new things. So, on the day, when everybody comes there, and they’re dressed properly, and the set is right, and everything is just exactly right, sometimes things can take off in other directions. But mostly, it’s a matter of following the script.”
Despite the cast of hundreds, the success of Twin Peaks came down to one man and one man only: Kyle MacLachlan. Over the course of the series, he delivers not one or two variations on a theme but three and possibly four; MacLachlan appears first in the Red Room as the spaced-out, captive Agent Cooper, then as Cooper’s evil alter-ego Mr. C, then as the catatonic Dougie, a Vegas gambler whose body Agent Cooper inhabits. In Episode 16 he returns as the more familiar Dale Cooper before morphing again for the show’s spine-chilling denouement.
“I’ve known Kyle since 1982, I think,” says Lynch. “Kyle is like my brother. It’s just so easy to work with him. He had, I think he said, never had that kind of challenge before: to overcome so many characters and find those things. But it was in the script. There was a little bit of trial and error in the beginning, in rehearsing, but Kyle found those guys, each one, and they’re all so different. It was very, very beautiful what came out of Kyle.”
Although he’s in good shape for a man in his fifties, like the rest of the characters, Dale Cooper is showing his age. The passing of time is a recurrent theme throughout the show; Shelly Johnson and Bobby Briggs have been married and divorced; Dr. Jacoby now runs a cranky InfoWars-style internet show; and Sarah Palmer, Laura’s mother, is an alcoholic. Similarly, the once shrill Gordon Cole, having found a better hearing aid, has mellowed into a calming, avuncular presence (“And he’s gotten a lot more handsome, too,” quips Lynch).
PART FOUR: Let’s Rock
Lynch wrote the show, as he did the first series, with frequent collaborator Mark Frost, who, one supposes, is tasked with keeping some of Lynch’s more outrageous ideas in check. They talked by Skype; Frost lives in Ojai, which is a two-hour drive from Lynch’s LA home and made traditional script meetings inconvenient. It is far from the relationship you’d imagine; Lynch has never phoned him to tell Frost about a crazy dream he’s just had. “I’d tell him the next day, probably,” says Lynch, very soberly. He wouldn’t ring him in the night? “No.”
It was Frost who came up with the idea that Dougie lived in Las Vegas, with his wife Janey-E (Naomi Watts), one of several locations outside of Twin Peaks. “When Mark and I first got together,” says Lynch, “Mark had an idea that Dougie would show up in an abandoned house there, and that sort of started the thing rolling.” The decision to shoot in Vegas, as well as locations in California doubling as New York and South Dakota, ultimately gave the new series a sense of modernity that was missing in its previous incarnations. Was it deliberate? “It was, in a way, because Twin Peaks, the town, is a certain way, so it seems a little different than most places in the world. Obviously, the Red Room is the Red Room. But this story took place in many places, and they’re more present-day feel.”
Should we be reading anything in particular into that? “Well, everybody has their own kind of take on things. A lot of people see things and they see politics from start to finish. It’s all in the mind’s eye—different viewers get so many different things.”
Even so, the series does deal with politics, albeit obliquely (“very obliquely,” Lynch corrects), with some seeing the collapse of the once-mighty Horne family as representing the destruction of American capitalism. (“See, that’s what I’m talking about!”) Nevertheless, there are a lot more real-world flourishes, like the angry speech Janey-E gives to her husband’s greedy loan sharks, in which she refuses to pay them the extortionate amount they are asking for. “We drive cheap, terrible cars,” she yells. “We are the 99 percent!!!” Which is somewhat unusual for a Twin Peaks character.
“Right,” says Lynch. “But, you know, I always say, in a film, there are concrete things and there are abstract things, and a story I like brings out both those things.”
As regards the “abstract things”, nothing in the previous two series could prepare viewers for the now-infamous Episode 8, aka “Gotta Light”. The hour-long episode features a bizarre and intense performance from Nine Inch Nails even before things start getting weird, revealing, in a cryptic black-and-white nightmare, how the atomic bomb brought Killer Bob to Earth from a parallel dimension. Lynch famously doesn’t like to interpret his own work, but was he curious to know what people were saying about it? “With this latest one?” he asks. “A little bit. But, what I love is people’s freedom to interpret it as they wish. That’s what I love. It’s… you could say, unique, and you never know how things are going to go. It’s an important episode, for sure.”
Was he surprised people seemed to ‘get’ it? “I guess, generally speaking, it has been known in the history of television that people underestimate the intelligence of the audience.”
Since the series has aired, does he get questions from people in the street or people he meets? “No. I don’t like to go out, and I don’t ever hear so much.”
That’s true: David Lynch isn’t exactly a party person. Instead, he likes to meditate. How long for varies. With transcendental meditation, it’s 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon. When he’s shooting, he meditates before he goes to work, and then at lunch, when everyone else is eating. “It’s money in the bank,” he beams. “I’m trying to get people to understand what transcending every day can do for the human being. To walk away from suffering and bring profound happiness. Meditation’s such a beautiful, important thing for the human being.”
PART FIVE: There’s Fire Where You Are
The overwhelmingly positive critical reception afforded the return of Twin Peaks must have been a relief for the director. Indeed, shortly after the original series was shelved, Lynch swiftly tried to revive the story at the cinema in 1992 with the insanely divisive Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, a prequel of sorts that ended with Laura Palmer’s murder. It brought Lynch the worst reviews of his career—even more barbed than those he received for his failed 1984 sci-fi epic Dune—including one from former fan Quentin Tarantino, who caught it at the Cannes Film Festival while he was there with Reservoir Dogs. Said Tarantino, “After I saw Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me at Cannes, David Lynch had disappeared so far up his own ass that I have no desire to see another David Lynch movie until I hear something different. And you know, I loved him. I loved him.”
Over the years, however, Fire Walk With Me has been somewhat rehabilitated, and Lynch himself has no regrets. Not one. “I love the film,” he enthuses. “I love the film. With Dune, I sold out on that early on, because I didn’t have final cut, and it was a commercial failure, so I died two times with that. With Fire Walk With Me, it didn’t go over well at the time, but I loved it so I only died once, for the commercial failure and the reviews and things. But, over time, it’s changed. So now, people have revisited that film, and they feel differently about it. When a thing comes out, the feeling in the world—you could call it the collective consciousness—is a certain way, and so it dictates how the thing’s going to go. Then the collective consciousness changes and people come around. Look at Van Gogh: the guy could not sell one painting and now nobody can afford them.”
Is he surprised that so many people supported him on this journey? “Yeah,” he says, “it’s a big surprise. A big surprise. I mean, if you did something that you like and then you find that others like that too, it’s a beautiful thing, but it’s also somewhat surprising, especially if it’s a little off the beaten path.”
When we speak, Lynch is still high from the experience, which has revived his passion for filmmaking. “I’ve learned how much I love it,” he enthuses. “I’ve learned that filmmaking is a magical, magical, magical medium.” In the meantime, though, he’s busy painting, building toward a show he’s going to have in LA in September. His favorite artists are Francis Bacon, whose electrifying paintings look like X-rays of souls in torment; Edward Hopper, who captured the poetic loneliness of urban America; and Edward Kienholz, the confrontational installation artist whose effect on Lynch cannot be understated. “I look for what I appreciate, what moves me,” says Lynch. “What I think is great, there again, it’s just the eye of the beholder. A lot of people that I like, other people don’t like. It’s just the way it is in the world.”
Lynch’s own art looks little or nothing like any of his key influences. “My paintings are crude, child-like, ridiculous, bad paintings,” he laughs. “And I love them. I want to get into that world. I haven’t ever really found my way, so I’m struggling with that right now. I’ve got to get in there and find it.”
Does he have any movie projects or more TV projects lined up? “I don’t. I have a box of ideas, and I’m working with producer Sabrina Sutherland, kind of trying to go through and see if there’s any gold in those boxes.”
Has he finished forever with the world of Twin Peaks?
“Well, for right now, you could say I don’t want to talk about that,” he says flatly.
Could Agent Cooper return to solve another Blue Rose mystery?
“If I don’t want to talk about it, I can’t even answer that.”
Lynch falls silent. It feels strange that he seems to be in limbo again, and it’s hard to believe it’s been 12 years since his last cinematic endeavor, his trippy 2006 feature Inland Empire. “Right, I know, it’s the way it is,” he says ruefully. “Feature films have fallen on hard times these days. And it’s sad, but it’s the reality. I always say now, cable television is the new arthouse. People have freedom and can make a continuing story. It’s pretty beautiful, but it’s not the big screen, so there’s a little bit of sorrow in the picture and a little bit of sorrow in the sound.”
Looking back, there’s quite a lot of sorrow in the off-screen drama too: almost every episode of Twin Peaks: The Return is dedicated to a recently departed or long-gone cast or crew member. Lynch sighs. “Harry Dean Stanton is gone now, Miguel Ferrer is gone now. Brent Briscoe who played Dave Macklay in this series is gone. Warren Frost, who played Dr. Hayward, is gone. Marvin Rosand, who played Toad, the cook at the Double R Diner is gone. Catherine Coulson, The Log Lady is gone. Just before we started shooting, David Bowie went. Jack Nance is gone—Pete Martell. Just on and on and on. I’m forgetting probably some people. Frank Silva—Killer Bob—is gone. It’s so sad to think about this.
“On the other hand,” he continues, a little more brightly, “I’m so lucky, everybody’s so lucky that they were there for this. 25 years later, so many people were there and we had a great time going down the road. I think if you asked anybody they would say that. It’s just a great, great thing that happened.”
Did he keep anything from the production, any souvenirs or keepsakes?
“Memories,” he says, suddenly cheerful. “I got a pocketful.”