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Twin Peaks: Kyle MacLachlan on creating doppelgängers and Dirty Cooper

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Subscribe to A Twin Peaks Podcast: A Podcast About Twin Peaks – on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts – to unwrap the mysteries in EW’s after-show every Monday during the Showtime revival.

In the original Twin Peaks, Kyle MacLachlan was Agent Cooper, one of the great heroes in TV history. On the new Twin Peaks, the star plays multiple Coopers, but none of them are yet the Agent Cooper we know. He’s Cooper’s disembodied spirit. He’s Cooper’s evil doppelgänger, driven by a ruthless desire to survive. He’s Cooper’s evil doppelgänger’s dim-witted, adulterous, everyman double (now deceased). He’s a reincarnated Cooper but sapped of mind, memory, and much personality (though blessed with incredible gambling luck). It’s like co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost have teamed with their actor to turn Agent Cooper into an art project: the loss of heroic goodness and the flourishing of anti-hero on TV.

That’s just my theory. MacLachlan himself is just having fun. The actor, 58, says the new Twin Peaks presented him with a challenge that was nerve-wracking and thrilling, and he delighted in the creativity of making it work for his longtime friend, Lynch, who directed him in Dune and Blue Velvet. He tells us we haven’t really seen anything yet from Twin Peaks, although, of course, he’s sworn to keep the details secret. “It’s David Lynch,” he says, “and he’s taking you to a place that he wants to go. It’s in his mind, we’re going on this journey with him, so buckle up, here we go!”

We caught up with MacLachlan for coffee and a brief chat about creating his multiple Coopers before he left for France to bring Twin Peaks to the Cannes Film Festival. 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Are you pleased with the response so far to the show?
KYLE MACLACHLAN:
I am. I thought the reviews were acknowledging that they were seeing something unusual and very difficult to judge because it’s a small portion of what is clearly a longer journey. At the end, there will be a lot of things written, I can imagine, about the experience, whether it was fulfilling or not. But right now, it seems like the reaction we’re getting is, if this is your cup of tea, it’s a pretty great journey to take.

Did you watch the premiere when it aired?
I didn’t. I had seen the first two when they were screened at the Hollywood premiere, and the impact on me was pretty profound. So I’m sitting in that before I go back and revisit it again because I know my second time through, I’ll become very critical. I think that’s part of the process. Unlike so many other things on television – and this is not a criticism, it’s just the way it is – this is something that you really need to sit with, I think. It resonates and it continues to resonate if you let it.

What did you make of Cooper’s dark doppelgänger when you first encountered him in the script or when David and Mark told you about him?
I felt challenged, immediately. When we met initially, David said, “We’re doing Twin Peaks, I need Cooper, are you in?” And I said yes — that’s a no-brainer — and then he said, “Well, there will be a few other things, too,” and he didn’t go into great detail about the “other things” that I would be doing that I can remember. But when I read it, I went, “Oh, wow, okay.” I was nervous, but I was — and am — also incredibly humbled that David would give me this opportunity to play a character that is so unlike me and anything I’ve done, that he believes in my ability enough to trust me to do it. Because he’s got no choice! He’s got me! I’m Cooper! But that he has the trust that it would work meant a lot. I still didn’t know if it would work until I saw it the other night. I mean, I remember the filming of it, I remember feeling pretty good about it, but to actually see it, and see if it was successful, I was really pleased.

How did you construct the look and tone of this Dirty Cooper?
I remember in the early stages, I said to David, initially out of my own insecurity, that I thought one thing that would help would be black contacts for the eyes. I had seen it done before, used to make it feel like there was an entity in there, behind the eyes. I ran it by him. I half expected him to say no, we don’t need that, but he said that might be good. So we tried a variety of contacts, from very dark to not so much and different styles. I kept asking David, “Is this taking you out of the process, is it taking you out of the journey of this character?” And he said no, it’s working great. It looks like there’s a darkness there, but you’re not completely sure. Everything about him is dark. My skin is mottled, my hair is greasy and kind of long. You know how Javier Bardem did it in No Country for Old Men, where he had that very specific look, where he was almost angelic, but in a demonic kind of way? We wanted something that was like that, but not too over the top. No long scraggily hair, for example. This is kind of coiffed in an awkward way. That was an important part of the look, as well. We found all these elements separately and it worked. It was a great process. I don’t usually get to do that.

And obviously, we’re supposed to be getting a hint of demon BOB in there, right?
Oh, yeah. Yeah.

How about the wardrobe, the shirt and jacket?
That was David. We tried a few different ones before we found the one we really liked. We went through some jewelry options that were all discarded and rightfully so. Simple is always better. It’s always about finding the character without cluttering the character. In my mind, you want to put in just enough salt. You want to come up from underneath him and stop just when you find him and not go any further. Knowing when to stop is really important.

You also lower your voice, and while we get intensity, even interest in the game of staying alive and in the world, you don’t play his evil with much joy for it.
Yes, I thought there should be gravity there, there should be stillness there. Rhythmically, he should be different, different on so many levels. I tend to be a little more animated in real life and when I work, and Cooper is certainly animated in life and my work. This guy doesn’t have any of that. He is there to be served.

How do you conceptualize a character like this in your head? Do you think of him as a human being? A demon? An idea?
He’s a shark. There’s no remorse, there’s no happiness, there’s that quality when the shark is feeding and relishing it, the frenzy — the inhaling of someone’s soul — that’s him. He, for me, was real, insofar as being a living thing. But it was more about playing his force, his energy, his will. Those were the things that I hung onto, as opposed to making him real. He goes to places I haven’t been much as an actor. There was a thing I did several years ago called Where the Day Takes You (1992), where I was a drug dealer. This character is kind of in that direction, but it was a long, long time ago, so this was a new place for me to go. Thank god it did. I remember thinking, if I’m going to go someplace new, who better to take me there as a director than David? Because I know I am going to be completely protected and cared for. And that’s great for me as an actor I don’t have to self-monitor.

I have a visceral reaction to scenes where characters throw up, so part 3 was something of a treat. Your Coopers threw up a lot in that hour. That must have been fun to do.
It was vile. Vile. Yeah, that was not the most comfortable sequence there. I was sort of overwhelmed by the amount! That’s all I can really say about that. It was vile and it was a lot.

What was it made of?
I know cream corn was part of it. But after that, I’m not sure what they used.

 You also got to play another version of Cooper, Dougie Jones.
That was a fun little departure,. It was all about trying to capture in a few little moments, the awkwardness of that and the reality, of that guy, and the fun of it. He’s s screw-up, a lovable screw up. That was fun. It was very brief, just a day, maybe two days of filming.

The first two episodes and part of the third, Agent Cooper exists in these otherworldly, metaphysical spaces — high concept, very personal scenarios of David’s design. What’s it like as an actor to navigate those scenes when you’re performing them? And how much of those sets are built-out and how much of it do you have to imagine?
Some practical, some descriptive, but either way, always, I’m checking with David to get as much info as I can on the environment. What am I falling through? What is the texture? What could I possibly see? How overwhelmed or underwhelmed am I by the experience? That’s always a key concern for me. Always I’m trying to find the regulator, so I’m in the right state of mind for that moment.

What advice did he give you on how to move through the sequence that opens part 3, when Cooper finds himself in that space with the woman with sealed-up eyes?
What I have found in those situations is that most of the time the audience will do most of the work for you. So while David will tell me things like, “Look off the edge and watch her fall,” I don’t have to reflect back your reaction, to do the shock or the GASP!, because the audience will do that for you. What I’m doing as Cooper is to be in the moment with my wits about me, taking in everything, recognizing that I’m on an unusual, strange journey. I took the position that Cooper knows that this is going to be crazy, that something weird is going to happen, and he just needs to go with it. He’s going to need to have to use his wits to find his way through, the best way he can, but ultimately, he’s going in the right direction. That’s what I held onto. We filmed that sequence in all sorts of bits across time and I can’t wait to see how they all flow together.

What was it like to act with talking trees in the Red Room scenes?
I had no idea. It was an X on the curtain. The first time I saw the trees was when I saw it on screen at the premiere.

Was there a description in the script?
No. it was just a voice. I don’t think there was even any dialogue. Yeah, that was odd.

Watch the cast discuss the show’s odd universe and the revival in the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) special EW Reunites: Twin Peaks here, or download the app on your favorite mobile and streaming devices.

Agent Cooper is back on Earth, but he’s not yet the Cooper we know. Can you describe a bit how you make sense of this Cooper?
This is a guy that is a child — not even a child, a baby, who has the focus and the capability of a baby. So if something is interesting to him, all his focus and attention is on that object for as long as it’s there or until something else gets his attention. Everything is new for this character. Just the exercise of it was fun, and finding the funny quirky moments, too. And to play with tempo — how long can you play something out? And that plays into one of the things that David is so brilliant at, which is rhythm. Rhythm and tempo. So it was just great playing in that space and style that he does.

There’s that moment in part 4 when Cooper takes the drink of coffee, and I thought maybe, in that moment, his mind would come rushing back.
Yeah, I thought that too. It’s going to be interesting to see how that tension plays out and how the audience responds to it. I was thinking about this and how people are responding to it right now — there is just so much more to come! Each time, each part, there’s going to be such new stuff. And people will go back and start to put the pieces together, they’ll start assembling this story. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before on TV.

New episodes of Twin Peaks air Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime.

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