Monday, 27 May 2024

Kyle MacLachlan

The esoteric star of Twin Peaks prepares for the comeback of the century

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Never has a television show commanded as much devotion as ‘Twin Peaks’, which reached instant cult status the moment its first episode aired on 8 April 1990. Kyle MacLachlan, the inscrutable actor at its centre, has a dedicated band of followers all his own, who were presumably heartbroken when the show was taken off air after only two seasons. But rejoice! In the final episode, ill-fated character Laura Palmer announced that she would see Special Agent Dale Cooper, as played by MacLachlan, in 25 years. Right on time, director David Lynch revealed this year that ‘Twin Peaks’ is back in production and MacLachlan is set to reprise his role. Beloved for his character’s catchphrase, “Now, that’s a damn fine cup of coffee,” Kyle also enjoys a damn fine glass of his very own wine, which he produces on his vineyard in Washington state.

From Fantastic Man n° 22 — 2015
Text by ALEX NEEDHAM
Photography by INEZ & VINOODH
Styling by JOE MCKENNA

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Has Special Agent Dale Cooper spent the last quarter century possessed by an evil spirit? It’s the question that’s been on every ‘Twin Peaks’ fan’s lips since April of last year, when director David Lynch broke the news that after a 25-year hiatus, his TV series would return for a third season.

Surely, in pop-cultural terms, this is a comeback more significant than those of Kate Bush, ‘Star Wars’ and Harper Lee combined. No one TV show has ever been as strange and seductive as ‘Twin Peaks’, from the gelatinous and beautiful theme music composed by Angelo Badalamenti to the stunning images of ominously dripping Douglas fir trees of the Pacific Northwest and the corrupt glamour of doomed heroine Laura Palmer. ‘Twin Peaks’ was a singular moment in television, often copied but never matched, a subversive and visually ravishing blend of soap opera, horror and surrealist fever dream. It introduced to TV the concept of plot as a Borgesian series of Chinese boxes, each containing a mystery more puzzling than the last.

When ‘Twin Peaks’ first materialised in America’s living rooms on 8 April 1990, it was utterly alien. David Lynch had just directed ‘Dune’ and ‘Blue Velvet’ and was one of the most acclaimed film directors in the world. But when the two-hour pilot episode was screened by ABC up against the commercial juggernaut ‘Cheers’, media commentators predicted disaster. However, the ‘Twin Peaks’ debut was a smash, watched by 29 per cent of the viewing public.

In 1991, the 30th and final episode featured Laura Palmer telling the show’s hero, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan, “I’ll see you again in 25 years.” It concluded with Cooper smashing his head against a mirror and screaming, “Where’s Annie?” after becoming possessed by the demonic spirit Bob.

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Kyle MacLachlan looks every bit the leading man.

Despite its popular appeal, ‘Twin Peaks’ was a show that never compromised its strangeness, and MacLachlan, as Cooper, was at its very heart throughout. Yet while everything else in Lynch’s universe was infamously warped, Cooper, whose love of “a damn fine cup of coffee” spawned an international catchphrase, embodied solidity and goodness.

When the man playing him strides into the restaurant Lure Fishbar on a sticky afternoon in New York, he’s dressed down in jeans and a T-shirt, and he greets me with a wave. He changes our table from a noisy one by the bar to a brown leather banquette in a less raucous corner spot and ponders the wine list, settling on “a really dry Chardonnay.” I ask him about the evil spirit right away.

“I cannot answer that question,” says MacLachlan theatrically. “I don’t care how many glasses of wine you ply me with. I won’t reveal it – I won’t break! And anyway, to be honest, I just don’t know.” He has only read a little bit of material from the new show, he says. “Obviously I can’t talk about it, but it’s very exciting, very interesting.” The week after we meet, he’ll see Lynch for some standard make-up and hair tests and a wardrobe process that will last a couple of weeks. Filming will commence in the autumn.

“I learned very early with David not to question too much and to just trust and to go forward,” says MacLachlan. “When I was younger, particularly with the first projects I did with him, ‘Dune’ and ‘Blue Velvet’, I was asking, asking – questions, questions, questions – and I know I bored him many times. As I got a little older, I learned the answers were already there. I just had to let them be.”

Throughout our interview, the actor takes it on himself to speak into my dictaphone. “We are now sampling the Chardonnay.” “Alex is now checking through his notes.” Now 56 years old, MacLachlan, when he’s not acting, produces wine on vineyards near where he grew up in Yakima, Washington, and has been known to maintain a website about his two dogs, Mookie and Sam. He and his wife have in the past embarked on a project of filming the animals – a Jack Russell terrier and a Yorkie/chihuahua mix – and creating voiceovers in which they seemed to talk. “We always said, ‘Let’s try and do a little moral tale. A little story.’” Kyle MacLachlan has always been an unlikely leading man.

Though he was involved in the dramatic arts as a youngster – he worked alongside his mother in a community theatre in an old apple warehouse, though he says his role was “pretty peripheral” – he was ambivalent about acting during his student years. “I tried to separate myself from it at first,” he says, “but I found that I felt really comfortable on the stage, so I didn’t fight it.” He dropped out of the University of Washington in Seattle, only returning after learning that his other plan – working in a lumberyard – was not for him either. Even today, he doesn’t seem particularly ambitious, and if he has a killer instinct, he keeps it well hidden. He came to Lynch’s attention through what he describes as “a completely random act of the unknown,” when he met a casting agent, Elisabeth Leustig, who auditioned him for Lynch’s 1984 feature, ‘Dune’, and recommended him to the director. “They brought me to LA and I met and I read,” he says. “Then they took me to Mexico City and I met and I read, and within a few weeks, the deal was done. I was Paul.”

He went into the role with no experience of screen acting at all. “When you look at the movie you can see that it’s pretty obvious I didn’t know anything,” he laughs. “But that was the start, and it was David. David responded to me. They were looking for someone who could transition from a callow youth and who you could believe would actually be able to ride giant sand worms into battle and lead all these troops, and he felt like I could do that. I also had this quality of a prince or nobility, he felt.”

At the box office, ‘Dune’ was a flop, but, like the vast majority of both Lynch’s and MacLachlan’s projects, it has, with time, claimed cult status. Regardless of the fate of ‘Dune’, though, Lynch’s faith in MacLachlan (he’s described him as being able to play “naive and innocent and obsessive” and says he’s one of the few actors who can “think on screen”) didn’t waver, and he put the actor in the lead role on his next project, ‘Blue Velvet’, “He’d given me the script when we were filming ‘Dune’ because he said he was already thinking of me for the role of Jeffrey,” says MacLachlan. “I remember reading the script and thinking, ‘My God, this is very powerful, really challenging, very erotic, very discomforting,’ but at the same time feeling that this was something that David was really going to excel at.”

Of course, he was right – ‘Blue Velvet’ is a classic. Surely few scenes have seared themselves into cinema history quite like the one in which MacLachlan hides in a wardrobe watching Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini having sadomasochistic sex, with Hopper’s depraved character, Frank, calling her “Mommy” and sucking on an oxygen mask. Just watching it is a seismic experience – acting in it must have been something else, especially opposite Hopper as one of the most terrifying cinematic villains of all time.

“He was a total pussycat!” MacLachlan says. “We had a great time. A lot of laughs on that film.” He remembers sitting in his trailer brewing coffee for Hopper and Harry Dean Stanton, who would play cards together. Kyle watched ‘Blue Velvet’ last year for the first time since he made it and was amazed. “I thought, ‘Well, this is a really good film,’” he says. “Isabella was asked to do some pretty difficult things, and she committed a hundred per cent – I was really moved by the power of that.”

FANTASTIC MAN - Always credible, KYLE MacLACHLAN's middle name is MERRITT.

Lynch and MacLachlan’s last collaboration was on the 1992 ‘Twin Peaks’ spinoff film, ‘Fire Walk with Me’. Accused by London ‘Evening Standard’ critic Alexander Walker of exuding “a contempt for viewers,” the film earned Lynch boos at the Cannes film festival but has been reappraised as a brilliant reframing of the show’s landscape, perfectly poised between incomprehension, sleaze and bone-rattling horror. In 2000, the actor told ‘The Observer’ that he and Lynch had fallen out on the set of ‘Fire Walk with Me’. Tensions, he said, had arisen after he “felt abandoned” on the set of ‘Twin Peaks’ season two, when Lynch and co-writer Mark Frost stopped working directly on the show and farmed episodes out to other writers and directors.

As a result of their conflict, MacLachlan says, the director substituted Chris Isaak in some scenes in which he would have appeared. Today, in the restaurant, by staggering coincidence, Isaak’s signature tune, ‘Wicked Game’, comes on the restaurant stereo. MacLachlan says that he and Lynch have remained friends over the years. The pair live near one another in Los Angeles, though for the past six years MacLachlan has spent most of his time in New York. “Before now, we’d get together and hang out and talk occasionally, and I would go, ‘Do you ever think about going back?’ and he would say, ‘Not really.’”

Then, about 18 months ago, Lynch contacted MacLachlan and said he needed to talk. “It was in a way that was intense, and I was like, ‘I think this might have to do with ‘Twin Peaks’.’’ And so we got together, and he said, ‘I’m thinking about returning – are you interested?’ I said, ‘I’ve never not been interested.’ From then, the ball was rolling.”

Of all the roles MacLachlan has played over the years, Dale Cooper is his favourite. “He has great compassion for the world, he understands why people do what they do, and he realises that he’s one of the people that stands in the way of tremendous evil and is able to meet it head-on,” he says. “He’s got a quirky sense of humour that I really appreciate and an almost boyish passion for unusual tastes and smells and sights, whether it’s trees or coffee or pie. He embraces it completely, which I love.”

In 1995, MacLachlan appeared in Paul Verhoeven’s notorious stripper movie, ‘Showgirls’, a flop so severe that it has been said by some to have stunted the actor’s later film career. In it, MacLachlan and Elizabeth Berkley thrash frenziedly in a swimming pool into the annals of cinematic camp. “Oh gosh – that terrified me,” he says. “Paul Verhoeven and his cinematographer, Jost Vacano, were like, ‘We’re going to get in the pool, we’re going to experiment a little bit.’ They came out in those little Speedos, because they’re European, and they were not in the best of shape, and I’m American, so I had my long swimsuit on, and Elizabeth’s got a bikini on, and we were like, ‘Ooookay.’ After a while you just get used to seeing people naked. You don’t think anything of it.” Twenty years later, ‘Showgirls’ has been reappraised and embraced as high kitsch; this year James Walcott described it in ‘Vanity Fair’ as a great Las Vegas film. “Paul’s at home going, ‘They finally understand my film,’” says MacLachlan, putting on his best Dutch accent. “Well, okay. Things change!”

The actor is not among the film’s newfound fans. He didn’t like it then, and he doesn’t like it now. “I don’t think I’ll ever recover from my first screening of it, where I watched it and said, ‘I can’t go and talk about this film. I just can’t go out and promote it,’ which was not the right thing to say. But I just thought it was a travesty.”

By this point, MacLachlan had also made ‘The Doors’ with Oliver Stone (he played the band’s keyboard player, Ray Manzarek) and ‘The Trial’, a haunting version of Kafka’s novel with a screenplay by Harold Pinter, in which MacLachlan took the lead role of the persecuted Josef K. Filmed in Prague, it led to a lunch with Pinter and Václav Havel, then president of the Czech Republic. “Harold was quite a powerful, opinionated presence, and Václav was quiet, and he smoked. I was smoking at the time, so I had a Marlboro Light from Václav Havel.”

He turned down the lead in Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Sex, Lies, and Videotape’ and spent a period gallivanting around the world with supermodel Linda Evangelista, whom he had met in 1992 at a Steven Meisel shoot for Barneys department store in New York. He lured her from her then-husband, Gerald Marie, the head of Elite models in France, and soon the glamorous pair were a fixture at parties and fashion shows and in magazines, snapped by the top photographers of the day. They even did a Donna Karan campaign together. “God, we had a ball,” MacLachlan told the ‘Evening Standard’ years later. The pair split up in 1998.

The flighty clothes horse of the ’90s who once said he lost Evangelista because he wouldn’t convert their long engagement into marriage seems very different to Kyle today – a devoted husband to Desiree and father to seven-year-old Callum, whom they send to a Quaker school. MacLachlan speaks at length about his winemaking and the important opportunity it gives him to be close to his family. “My production is quite small. I make about 400 cases of Cabernet blend called Pursued By Bear, taken from the stage direction from ‘The Winter’s Tale’, and a Syrah. The first year was the year Callum was born, so I called it Baby Bear. I love it; I love the journey, and it brings me back to my roots – I was born in Eastern Washington, and that’s where we make the wine. When I return home now – or what I call home – to make the wine, and I step off the plane or get out of the car, whatever season it is, fall, spring, I immediately recognise the smell, the temperature of the air, the sound. It’s quite still in Eastern Washington. There’s a lot of meat farming and orchards, but it’s quite barren and desolate and kind of beautiful in its own way. The colours of the sky, the purples and blues at night and in the early dawn, are really magical.”

Career-wise, he is content with the way things have gone, he says. ‘Dune’ was supposed to make him a star. “And then it didn’t have the reception that was expected, and then ‘Blue Velvet’ was such a small film, and again challenging. I became more of a character actor quite early on and embraced that. Not for lack of trying to be the hero, but it was just not meant to be, which I am quite comfortable with right now and kind of thankful for.”

Huge stardom, he suggests, might have messed up his life. “I think when I started I would have not been prepared emotionally, maybe mentally, for what that experience might have been. And I’m grateful that I was on the periphery – always considered a good actor but never the huge star. I think that could have been fraught with a lot of other issues. I may have lost my way, just as a person. I had a really straightforward, simple upbringing and a pretty good moral compass, but I don’t know.” He describes a childhood in which he was close to his brothers – none of the boys fit in, playing golf when the other kids were playing football and basketball, and wearing their hair short when other kids had theirs long – and in which family life was an idyll.* “Our vacations were in the station wagon going to visit our grandparents. We’d be swimming in the pool all summer.”

It fits beautifully with his recurring role as the solid character in works that examine the slimy underbelly below the gleaming carapace of American life: the innocent abroad in a crepuscular, disturbing world.

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MacLachlan’s ability to embody a flawed but good-hearted hero – not to mention his Scottish heritage and fearlessness in the face of weird sex scenes – served him well in his second big TV role, as Trey MacDougal in ‘Sex and the City’, whom he played from 2000 to 2002. “I remember the first meeting where I met the writers, Michael Patrick King and Jenny Bicks, and they’d only said that I was going to be the love interest for Charlotte; I was going to be an Upper East Side heart surgeon. And I was like, ‘This is going to be great. I’ll finally get to play the youngish romantic leading guy that I’d always thought I’d play. And then they said, ‘Oh, by the way, he has erection difficulties and mother issues.’ In some ways those issues were sort of fun to play, and in other ways they were ‘I’m not sure I really want to do what you’re asking me to do, but okay, I will try.’”

‘Sex and the City’ led to ‘Desperate Housewives’ and a variety of roles in other TV shows, including ‘The Good Wife’, ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ He particularly enjoys playing the mayor in the absurdist sketch show ‘Portlandia’, which he is due to film the week after we meet. “When they send me what they’re planning for the next season and I read something like ‘He’s a goat farmer living off the grid,’ it makes me laugh and giggle and I get all excited about the idea that I can do something so completely insane. I’m all for ‘Portlandia’. I love that show.”

Most recently, MacLachlan was the voice of the father in Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’. He was concerned when he overheard his son – who hasn’t seen the whole film – imparting this information to a friend. “I don’t mind that he said it; it’s what’s behind it.” He frowns. “Maybe he was bragging a bit. I understand, it’s okay – but remember, this is just my job; it doesn’t make me better than anybody else.”

He orders more wine, and the conversation’s centre of gravity turns back to ‘Twin Peaks’. Is he nervous about how it will be received? Will season three be as lo-fi, complicated, mad and elusive as Lynch’s last feature film, ‘Inland Empire’? And will the quality of its characterisation stand up to the likes of ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad’? MacLachlan isn’t expressing anything beyond confidence that, simply by virtue of the fact that Lynch is directing, it will be interesting. “As the first ‘Twin Peaks’ was something new for television, I imagine this is also going to be something new for television,” he says. Whatever happens, fans can be sure that when MacLachlan appraises his coffee again, it will be a damn fine moment indeed.

CONTRIBUTIONS

Photographic assistance by Jodokus Driessen and Joe Hume. Digital operation by Brian Anderson. Styling assistance by Carlos Nazario and Gerry Okane. Hair by Christiaan. Make-up by Aaron De Mey at Art Partner. Hair assistance by Taku Sugawara. Make-up assistance by Tayler Treadwell. Manicure by Deborah Lippmann at The Magnet Agency. Creative movement director Stephen Galloway at theCollectiveShift. Retouching by StereoHorse.