The show's co-creator on the talking tree, Cooper's doppelgänger, and more
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The return of Twin Peaks on Showtime (Sundays, 9 p.m.) is finally here, 26 years after the influential cult classic left us hanging with many maddening cliffhangers. You might be thrilled, you’re probably mystified, and you’re certainly perplexed. What’s up with the talking tree? Where did Laura Palmer fly off too? Will Agent Cooper ever come back with mind and personality intact? Co-creator David Lynch, notoriously tight-lipped and spoiler-phobic, was true to form when we met up with him the morning after the premiere for coffee and a brief chat before he departed for Cannes Film Festival. “The story is the thing,” he said when asked about why he’d rather not explain or frame things for viewers. “When it’s finished, that’s it. Nothing should be added to it. All the rest is baloney.” Still, the director, 71, indulged our curiosity about what we’ve seen and teased the journey to come. He even drew us a picture. [Note: This conversation includes questions about Parts 3 and 4, which are currently available on Showtime’s digital platforms. They air on the flagship network on May 28.]
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s Monday. Parts 1 and 2 have premiered, and the reviews are coming in. Parts 3 and 4 are now available to some Showtime subscribers. And here you are, doing your favorite thing in the world, talking to the press. How are you feeling?
DAVID LYNCH: I’m feeling good, I am. I’m kind of insulated from things because I don’t hear so much feedback, so I’m just in regular living mode.
Is that a choice? To stay insulated?
Would you like people to tell you how things are being received, or would you rather shut that out?
Well, for sure I’d like to hear good news. But you have to face everything, and so it’s good to kind of go along with your life.
What were you doing last night while we were all watching the premiere? Were you watching, too?
A whole bunch of cast and crew went to a bar in the valley, and they had a big screening. So I pictured them there. I was at home working on a table in my woodshop.
What kind of table?
Okay, I’m building a table — well if you have a pen, I can draw it for you.
I have a pencil.
Yeah, that would be perfect! [He begins drawing] Here is a place for glasses, remote controls, and pens. And here’s a circle with Kleenex coming out. Here’s a larger circle for a wine bottle. This is a door on special hinges that holds cigarettes and lighter. And over on this side is a large door, so this part right here is a place for Parmesan crackers and trail mix and wine glasses and different things. I’m going to have electricity wired into the table — I’m going to have a lamp — so I have a switch right here. And then down here is a drawer that has a place for a yellow pad. If I have an idea, I can take out the yellow pad and write it down with the pens. And it’s on these red wheels. So it’s a side table that holds all the things that I use.
Is this for your painting studio?
No, it’s for a place where I sit. I can watch TV from that place, or I can meditate from that place, or I can think in that place.
So you were building a table last night.
My experience of the show, after four parts, is similar to the subplot in Part 1, where the young lovers grow a monstrous entity inside a giant glass box, then get killed by it. It’s fascinating watching it slowly take shape and form, and occasionally, it bursts through the glass and blows my mind away.
Well, that’s good!
Were you trying to give the audience an allegory for TV-watching or how to watch the show?
No. But that’s an interesting way to think about it.
Do you think in terms of allegory or meta?
Not really. Ideas just come, you think about them, and you figure out their meaning. Then, how they fit into the whole is another thing completely. It’s not finished until it’s finished, and you don’t really know until further down the road how one thing relates to another. It’s just like a magical thing. I also always say the whole thing exists in another room as a complete puzzle, all the parts are together, and someone from that other room is sort of a rascal and randomly flips parts over into this room. And then you to have to put the puzzle together, but one is from the end of the story, one is from the middle, and a couple from the beginning, and you won’t know until it’s more formed what it could be.
RELATED: Hear A Breakdown of the First Two Episodes, Below
How many of those puzzle pieces were found during the writing process with Mark Frost, and how many did you get while shooting?
At least 80 percent in the writing, and then you discover others along the way. That’s always the way it is.
Agent Cooper’s story isn’t just about trying to escape from the Black Lodge. It’s also about a guy returning to a world he once knew and reconnecting with it. Does that story resonate with you, in terms of returning to television?
Sure. But as you’ll also see, it’s also about coming into the world as a new life, learning your likes and dislikes, and doing the best you can to find your way.
Part 1 also suggests the story of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) might be far from over. Will she live again and get justice? Maybe revenge?
Hmm. Let’s see what happens.
You decided to tell a story that doesn’t just take place in Twin Peaks but in different parts of the country. Why did you like the idea of expanding the scope of the series?
It’s not whether you like something. Ideas take you to places. There were just things going on in places other than Twin Peaks. Sometimes you get a need to travel from Los Angeles to New York for a meeting. So there you go.
It seems, though, that the world you’re presenting outside of Twin Peaks is a place gone bad due to the roaming spirit of this evil Cooper. What are we calling this character, by the way? I’m calling him Dirty Cooper.
I just call him Cooper’s doppelgänger. You’re allowed to call him whatever you want.
But are you telling a story about, say, the spiritual condition of America? Do you think of the world as mean and cold?
Mark might have a different perspective, but I don’t think about the world in that way. And regardless, in terms of Twin Peaks, I don’t think in terms of, “This is what’s happening in the world, let’s put it in.” It’s just about the ideas that come. That said, I also say that ideas are conjured by our world many times. Some come, and you have no idea how they appear, and they have nothing to do with the present-day world. Other ideas are conjured by the present and the way it is. So it does have an influence.
You have this ability to depict and convey a feeling of evil with sound and images in ways that are deeply disturbing, scary, and memorable. Where do you find inspiration for your representations of evil?
Again, I can’t really tell you. It just comes from the idea. An idea comes from reading a script, and an image appears in the mind, and a sound appears in the mind. All that matters is that finding a way to translate what appears in the mind into cinema. You have picture, sound, and mood, and you try to get that as good as you can when you film it.
One of the images of evil I’m speaking about was the man in the jail cell who seemed caked in mud or burnt to a crisp and contorted in agony. He seemed to be attending the misery of accused murderer Bill. We saw him turn to vapor and his head floated away. Was there a specific inspiration for that?
That’s an example of what I’m talking about. An image came; it was all about translating. And by the way, about that guy, you just keep watching.
I’d love to know about the editing process. The way these parts are constructed — are you following what you wrote, or did you restructure the stories in editing?
A little bit of both. Mostly we’re just following the script because we worked so hard to get it that way. Then, in the editing process, you are open to discovering new things. When you’re hands-on, it’s a magical thing. You’re in there with the stuff, and you can see possibilities for a new addition or a new way. It’s an ongoing process. I always say it’s not done until it’s done. Ideas came from the script, but ideas can keep coming into post-production.
Did you do any reshoots?
We never did any reshoots.
So the additions or changes are along the lines of special effects or playing a scene in a different place?
Given how much of the story that’s happening right now is taking place in other cities, I was curious to know if these scenes set in Twin Peaks are meant to serve more as a bass line, or at least, an indication or promise to the audience that eventually, we’ll be getting here.
No. It’s not like an anchor like that. Twin Peaks a place that is, um, super important to what’s going on. [Laughs]
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 app on your favorite mobile and streaming devices.
Are you currently editing the final episodes?
Oh, no, it’s all done. If it wasn’t all done, well, what if you wanted to go back and change something? What if you get an idea and you go, “Oh, we have to set that up earlier?” You have to finish the whole before you can go and put anything out.
There’s a very strange new character in the Black Lodge, a talking tree, an evolution of The Man From Another Place, also known as the Arm (Michael J. Anderson, who did not return for the new series).
Yes. Necessity is the mother of invention.
The head on top — is it a talking brain, pituitary gland, or neuron?
It’s just a head.
It looks like a brain to me.
It’s just a head.
Well, you got a great performance out of the tree.
At the end of Part 1, the detective with the flickering flashlight opens the trunk of a car and finds some kind of severed body part. What was that? A tongue? A kidney? No comment?
To me, it’s a piece of meat.
We also got just a ridiculous amount of vomit coming out of Dirty Cooper in Part 3.
It’s not pretty, is it?
What does the vomit of a Black Lodge demon smell like?
Well, smell isn’t one of the senses cinema gives us, so you have to imagine it. All I’ll say is that it doesn’t smell good.
There are scenes in the first four parts involving tender moments with the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) and Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) that are even more poignant knowing the actors have since passed away.
I fell in love with Albert on this trip through Twin Peaks, and I just loved working with Miguel. This relationship between my character, Gordon Cole, and Albert is so important to the story. Now knowing that he’s gone, I’m even more grateful we did this and it was captured on film. It’s just really sad he’s gone. And I’ve known Catherine since 1971, and I see her on the screen, and it’s… well, it just doesn’t seem right that she’s not here.
Gordon comes on strong in Part 4. He steals the show for me.
Well, the actor who portrays Gordon is awfully good. But talk to Sabrina about him. He’s a pain the ass! [Executive producer Sabrina Sutherland, in another room, yells: “He’s really high maintenance!”]
Part 4 sees the return of Denise, a transgender woman and law enforcement agent played by David Duchovny. In a fitting move, she’s gotten a promotion.
I never directed David in the original Twin Peaks, so it was a thrill for me. Cole used to be Denise’s boss, but things have changed.
There’s a moment when Cole says that back when Denise was transitioning, he told her colleagues who couldn’t deal with it to—
“Change their hearts or die.” That’s right. People are people, and we are the way we are. We’re all supposed to get along, and diversity should be appreciated fully in the light of unity. That’s peace on earth, and there should be room for everyone.
Part 4 also establishes that apparently, Cole has had some dubious history with younger female agents. How did he get that reputation?
Oh, you don’t want to know.