Kyle MacLachlan on suiting up as Agent Cooper again: Twin Peaks revival is a 'journey into the unknown'
“It was my first television experience," the actor tells EW, "and you don’t really know what you have until it’s gone, or until you've experienced more of life."
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Diane, it's 10:13 a.m. on a drizzly Los Angeles morning in late February and Kyle MacLachlan of Twin Peaks fame is sitting at my breakfast table at the Chateau Marmont and speaking into my tape recorder. That's right: I'm hangin' with Agent Cooper, drinking damn good coffee. (And hot, too!) Dressed in a sweater and jeans, MacLachlan, 58, is explaining his affection for the quirky detective with the slick sable hair and white knight soul, a regard that has deepened over the course a long career and much seasoning. "It's a character that'll be etched on my tombstone — the one most people will remember, I mean," he says with a laugh. "And you know, it's nice to have to have one of those."
To be clear, MacLachlan has no plans to shed the mortal coil anytime soon. He can't say the same thing about his signature creation, mostly because he can't say much at all about Showtime's hush-hush, 18-hour revival of Twin Peaks, written by series creators Mark Frost and David Lynch and helmed entirely by Lynch, premiering on May 21. But when last seen 26 years ago, in the cliffhanger finale of the original series, Agent Cooper was truly corporally challenged and spiritually distressed. His soul was trapped in a red-curtained, demon-populated underworld known as The Black Lodge. (Think: a pop-up jazz lounge for grim hipsters. IN HELL.) Meanwhile, Cooper's shadow-self doppelganger — imbued with the snarling spirit of denim-clad, serial-killing incubus known as BOB — roamed free in the show's misty mountain lumber town. "Evil gained a beachhead in Twin Peaks," says MacLachlan of the moment. Has evil gained any more ground in the decades since? TBD.
One thing he can say with certainty: "I'm getting my own action figure." You can buy the Funko POP! Twin Peaks Agent Cooper — wearing a trench coat, holding a coffee cup in one hand, giving a thumb's up with another — beginning April 28. "I have three action figures now. Paul Atreides from Dune. Evil Cliff Vandercave from The Flintstones. And now Twin Peaks. Top that, Tom Cruise!"
More seriously: "I love Agent Cooper," says MacLachlan. "It was my first television experience, and you don't really know what you have until it's gone, or until you've experienced more of life. In the middle of it, I took it a little bit for granted. I didn't have any other reference, and so only years later now do I realize what a struggle it is to not just have a hit show, but to make a show that has the kind of impact that Twin Peaks had. It happens once in a lifetime. So there's now a sense of respect and gratitude, and to be able to revisit the character and the show and work with David with that mindset, it's just a pleasure."
MacLachlan came to Twin Peaks through his relationship with Lynch, the director who launched his career. A native of Yakima, Washington, MacLachlan was just out of college and doing Tartuffe at The Empty Space Theater in Seattle when Lynch cast him in the aforementioned part of desert planet messiah Paul Atreides in his 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. "I was a sci-fi nerd, so I knew the book very, very well," says MacLachlan. There was no audition, just a conversation, per Lynch's casting process. They bonded over common interests, senses of humor, and growing up geeky and arty in the Pacific Northwest heritage. (Lynch was born in Montana and spent some of his formative years in Washington and Idaho.)
Watch the cast discuss the show's odd universe and the upcoming revival in the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) special EW Reunites: Twin Peaks here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.
"The friendship went from there," says MacLachlan.
In Dune, MacLachlan rode monstrous worms, wrestled with a near-naked Sting, and spoke killing words into a kind of weaponized Bluetooth device. ("MUAAAAAAAAAAA'DIB!") Unfortunately, the movie kicked up the wrong kind of sand for its star. It was a costly flop, though the experience taught Lynch a lesson in creative control that would inform everything he did after, beginning with his next collaboration with MacLachlan. In Blue Velvet (1986), a Americana-skewering small town dream-noir, the actor starred as Jeffrey Beaumont, a too-curious college kid whose romance with mystery leads him into darkness and exposes his own. "David gave me the script while we were making Dune," recalls MacLachlan. "It got my pulse going, it got my heart racing: There were some frightening, funny, and highly-charged scenes, not to mention some pretty graphic stuff. He said, ‘I want you to do Jeffrey.' I was humbled by that, because the material was so powerful. That was a pressure situation, inside and out. We had to get it done in a certain amount of time, with a certain budget, and the material was just intense. But out of that kind of pressure situation, sometimes great work comes." The film is considered a masterpiece.
Shooting the Twin Peaks pilot in 1989 — playing a character that could be seen as Jeffrey Beaumont all grown up — was a similar experience. MacLachlan recalls a tight, focused production marked by creative freedom. But he was certain it would never go to series; the tone was too subversive, the comedy too absurd, and the characters too unconventional for broadcast TV. He figured the work would wind up airing as a movie-of-the-week. Instead, ABC picked up the show, and Twin Peaks became an instant sensation when it premiered in the spring of 1990. "When ABC decided to pick up a few episodes, and presented us with five-year contracts, to boot, we were all kind of kind of floored."