It’s 2017, and TWIN PEAKS is returning to television May 21 with 18 brand-new episodes on Showtime. I must be living in an alternate reality … unrelated to the Trump presidency.
The early ’90s TV phenomenon declared its own far-future return during its second episode when the little dancing man in the red room declared, “That gum you like is going to come back in style,” and then more directly in the season-two finale when the spirit of Laura Palmer told Agent Cooper, “I’ll see you again in 25 years.” The fact that TWIN PEAKS is actually happening a quarter of a century later is mind blowing.
Before TWIN PEAKS, I was a huge admirer of David Lynch’s film work — namely BLUE VELVET, WILD AT HEART and ERASERHEAD, bolstered by his eccentric takes on the more-or-less mainstream projects THE ELEPHANT MAN and DUNE. Like many fans of the series Lynch co-created with Mark Frost, I immediately connected with the unconventional storytelling approach to what was — on the surface — a pretty conventional murder mystery. It was unlike anything else that was on television. Like picking at the skin of a hangnail, TWIN PEAKS peeled away at the dermal layers of intrigue, strange public behavior and uncomfortable aggression to ultimately uncover malevolent, supernatural evil in a small-town setting. The series had its share of bumps in the road in terms of quality writing, especially with the much-maligned second season, but it was still the most original procedural I had seen on the small screen up until that point, and since.
Being a fan of the PEAKS had its perks when I first started working in the film industry in the early ’90s. For the first four years of my career, I worked on movies, TV shows, commercials and music videos, running around with a walkie-talkie and a headset shouting “Rolling!” and Cut!” and wrangling stars and extras as an assistant director and production assistant. Thus, I had a few opportunities to work with a handful of TWIN PEAKS actors on various projects, sometimes more than once. That included Sheryl Lee, James Marshall, Heather Graham, and Grace Zabriskie. All were very personable and a pleasure to work with, and simply being in their presence was a real thrill for an enthusiastic pop-culture kid fresh from film school.
On a particular Generation X indie comedy called DON’T DO IT I became pretty chummy with Sheryl Lee — evident by the goofy set Polaroid posted below. She did yoga and would often start her day standing on her head to get the blood flowing, which she invited me to do. Naturally, I took her up on the offer. Sheryl was a philosophical soul, and often times while waiting for the next camera set-up we’d kill time with long conversations about life, the universe, and everything. She even shared details of a few interesting premonitions she had had in her dreams that came to pass. I think Sheryl Lee is a bit psychic. Seriously.
And, of course, we talked TWIN PEAKS. But not too much. I tried to play it cool and hide the fact that I was a fan, yet every now and then ask her what it was like to work on the show. She told me that her role as Laura Palmer’s cousin Maddie was not originally planned as a character in the series, but Lynch enjoyed Lee’s performance so much in the videos he shot showing Laura Palmer before she died that he wanted to find a way to incorporate the actress into the show any way he could. The most amusing takeaway I had from our conversations about her positive Lynchian experience was her primary memory of filming the TWIN PEAKS theatrical prequel, FIRE WALK WITH ME: “All I remember was lots and lots of screaming,” she declared.
Due to my enduring fandom for the show, any contact over the years with the TWIN PEAKS cast anywhere has remained a surreal treat. I once ran into Michael Horse shopping at Gelson’s supermarket. I’ve seen Russ Tamblyn out and about in Hollywood. Just a couple years ago, I met Kimmy Robertson at Comic-Con. I even danced with Sherilyn Fenn at a friend’s party in the ’90s (talk about a bucket-list moment!). I’ve had some Twitter interactions with Kyle MacLachlan and Madchen Amick. And I interviewed Ray Wise, aka “The Man Who Killed Laura Palmer,” for Famous Monsters back in 2014 to coincide with the release of the impressive TWIN PEAKS Blu-ray box set.
Ray is a great interview. He is very enthusiastic about the show’s legacy and quick to point out Lynch’s influence on today’s television landscape. Our interview took place prior to the announcement that TWIN PEAKS would return to television for a whole new season, but he was pretty jazzed to have been able to revisit his character for a new, special feature on the Blu-ray that was directed by Lynch.
Looking back at that interview with Wise for Famous Monsters, there are some germane observations that fit nicely with the fact that the show is now back 25 years later — on cable rather than network television. His remarks perhaps provide some unexpected insight into the return of the show and of his character:
FM. You got an opportunity to go to The Bigfoot Lodge (in Atwater Village, CA) — or back to Twin Peaks, so to speak — with David Lynch and co-stars Sheryl Lee and Grace Zabriskie (who played Laura Palmer and her mother Sarah, respectively) and not only get to recap your memories of the show, but you also got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to inhabit your character again. How surreal was that?
RW. It was amazing. David just pulled that script out on us the morning we arrived at The Bigfoot Lodge, and we knew we were going to be making extra material for the Blu-ray, but we had no idea, really, what it would be. … David handed us those pages and he said, “Hey, we’re going to interview your characters 25 years later.” And he said, “I know Leland is dead, but that’s no problem.”
FM. Lynch is like, “In my world, that’s the norm.”
RW. (laughs) Yeah. And so, we looked at these pages of new material, and fortunately I have a pretty good memory — it’s almost like photographic, I can learn stuff pretty fast — and I looked at it and I thought, “Wow!” And then we started shooting it and it was almost like 25 years had never happened. It was almost like the next day, and we just fell back into our characters so easily that it was pretty surreal.
FM. From the moment the camera is trained on you for this new sequence, your eyes are welled up. You sold it to me instantly. I felt that emotion.
RW. It was a powerful moment, and it was real, and I’m just happy that it happened and that the camera was able to pick it up.
FM. Your character has an opportunity to reflect, explain himself, and even be a bit contrite in terms of what happened during the events of the show.
RW. Yeah, he’s trying to redeem himself a little bit. He’s had a lot of time in the netherworld to think of all that happened and what he had done (laughs). When Leland died in the arms of [Agent] Cooper, the whole thing of what he had done was shocking to him, and overwhelming at that moment, and given 25 years to think about it, he was able to express himself a little better and be able to explain a little more how he felt, and the contrition that he felt.
FM. I’m sure there was also some closure for you as an actor, because you’ve said in the past that you were having so much fun making TWIN PEAKS that you were a bit surprised and disappointed to find out that you were the one who killed Laura Palmer.
RW. Absolutely. I didn’t want it to be me. No way did I want it to be me. I wanted it to be anybody else but me. Please take Richard Beymer — [who played] Ben Horne — or somebody else! Let Harry Truman (played by Michael Ontkean) be the one (laughs). I had my own little daughter back at that time, she was a couple years old, and the whole idea of being the murderer of my daughter’s character was kind of an anathema to me. I didn’t want it to be me. Plus, I didn’t want to leave town, and I knew that if I was the killer, I would either have to go to prison, or I would have to die; I certainly couldn’t hang around. So yeah, I was really disappointed when I heard that it was me. But then David explained the way I would be going out, and it was a glorious scene, so I couldn’t complain about that.
FM. Compared to these days, with shows like GAME OF THRONES or THE WALKING DEAD, you should consider yourself lucky that you made it a whole season!
RW. (laughs) I made it, like, 16 episodes, then came back for the 30th — dead! So that’s pretty darn good these days, yeah. And let’s face it, if TWIN PEAKS were to be done today, we’d probably be on HBO or Showtime. We certainly wouldn’t be on one of the major networks. How that ever happened, I don’t know how. ABC, which was owned by Capital Cities at the time, they made a deal with David Lynch and Mark Frost and gave them complete autonomy. I don’t think it has ever been done before or since.
Maybe Ray already knew something that the rest of us did not.
Incidentally, if you’re in Los Angeles and want to get a taste of your own personal TWIN PEAKS experience, I highly recommend grabbing food and a cocktail or two at Clifton’s Cafeteria. The refurbished classic dining spot (a favorite hangout of timeless buddies Forrest J Ackerman and Ray Bradbury) is full of wood-finished tables, chairs, stools, and bars, with taxidermy decor and a sprawling redwood tree at the center of the multi-level structure with a fireplace in the middle of it. There’s also a speak-easy style entrance to a massive, hidden Tiki bar called Pacific Seas on the top level and forest decor with a mysterious castle on the first level where all the food is served. If Showtime doesn’t throw their TWIN PEAKS premiere party at Clifton’s, somebody’s not doing their job properly.
Counting down the days ’til the May 21 premiere, I’ll leave you all with my favorite quote from the entire series (and there are many great quotes!). They’re words to live by:
“Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen. Could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee.” – Agent Dale Cooper