Confess Fletch and Twin Peaks’ Kyle MacLachlan Interview

(from left) Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides in Dune; as Horan in Confess, Fletch; as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks.

(from left) Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides in Dune; as Horan in Confess, Fletch; as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks.
Photo: Todd Gilchrist/ Universal Pictures; Miramax Pictures; CBS Television/ Paramount Home Video

In Confess, Fletch, Kyle MacLachlan plays Horan, a germophobe art dealer who dances to electronic music when he’s alone. That seems fitting for an actor who, since his debut in the 1984 adaptation of Dune, has always danced to a different tune. Frequently, that beat has been drummed out by director David Lynch, who first enlisted him for Dune, then brought him in to play a college student exploring the sinister edges of suburbia in Blue Velvet, and eventually cast him in Twin Peaks as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, a character whose virtuousness served as a bright light to expose the evil lurking below the surface of Lynch’s fictional Northwestern town.

The A.V. Club recently spoke to MacLachlan about his work in Confess, Fletch, his audition for Dune, his interest in playing characters with a heroic capacity (“maybe not necessarily a Marvel character,” he says), and how he collaborates with Lynch—without necessarily always knowing, or needing to know, exactly what “one of the great surreal filmmakers in the world” wants from him on screen.

The A.V. Club: When you’re in a whodunit like Confess, Fletch and you’re one of the potential suspects, do you lean into the mystery and play with those ideas, or do you not think at all about the genre that you’re working in?

Kyle MacLachlan: No, I like thinking about the genre. The character, I thought was interesting in that he was so very eccentric. All of the characters had these quirks that were laid on top of them. And so as an actor, you’re like, were these ideas just something that the writer thought, ‘that would be fun to do,’ or was it based on any kind of character development? And oftentimes in those secondary roles, you have to create the development yourself—you have to find the reasons. So I said, the challenge here is going to be to present him as an eccentric, electronic dance germaphobe, all of these things, but still make him real enough that by the end of the piece, when he has to make the turn, that you can believe it. So I said, okay, that’s fun—that’s a challenge as an actor. So there is an arc to the character.

AVC: How much say did you have in choosing the EDM music that your character was obsessed with?

KM: Well, I kind of like electronica anyway, but this was a little bit different. This was more what I would imagine if you went to a rave or something like that. That’s a dad term, I’m sure. But Greg [Mottola] provided me with six different options that I listened to and there was one or two that I thought were really, really good. The intention really was, why does he like EDM? And I’m like, could it be that he’s mentally very, very connected all the time, and so this is an opportunity for him to just really turn off, forget everything, have a good workout and not think. And I said, yeah, that I think justifies him being into EDM. So I said, I think we just need something that can really annoy the audience at the same time and also be sort of funny but still make sense. So those were all of the criteria.

(from left) Kristen Davis and Kyle MacLachlan in HBO’s Sex And The City.

(from left) Kristen Davis and Kyle MacLachlan in HBO’s Sex And The City.
Photo: HBO

AVC: Throughout your career, have people tapped you to try and subvert your good looks or your past roles? Recently I was watching an episode of Sex And The City and it reminded me of how successful that show was in leveraging your clean-cut handsomeness.

KM: I think that the more interesting roles, and I think of Trey as one of the more interesting, complex characters, the writers are smart, and then they’ll take a look and say, “he plays leading men, handsome kind of guys, but he’s also got these other elements.” And since the very beginning—and certainly since Blue Velvet—I think there’s been this identity, maybe, that those are the kind of things that I do, or can do. So it’s both been from people that have come to me with ideas in roles, and also even some things that I’m trying to generate on my own. I think that’s one of my strengths, so that’s where I pursue those.

AVC: What kinds of things did you learn by starting your career with Dune? Was it something like “being a guy in a Michael Bay-type movie is not a thing that I want to do?”

KM: The roles that came following Dune, I’m thinking Blue Velvet, I’m thinking the role in The Hidden, Oliver Stone’s The Doors, some of those were more in my wheelhouse. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t and I’m still not intrigued with the idea of playing a character that is, you know, maybe not necessarily a Marvel character, but someone who is in a heroic capacity. But maybe it’s just not going to be a straightforward action film. Maybe the heroism comes in the role of Cooper, who I happen to think is a heroic character with a lot of other texture—and that’s fine. I would probably be bored by the other, to be honest.

(from left) Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, and Kyle MacLachlan in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.

(from left) Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, and Kyle MacLachlan in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
Photo: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

AVC: You mentioned Blue Velvet. Obviously, the entire movie is exploring the subversive nature of suburbia. How much was that even on your radar when you started acting and how much did that film send you on that creative path?

KM: I don’t think that I was that conscious of it, to be honest. I was fresh out of school and just learning my chops, and suddenly I’m working with one of the great filmmakers, surreal filmmakers in the world. And I don’t pretend to understand much of what David does, but I do recognize that I’m his conduit through these worlds, and that’s a challenge—and also, I feel pretty good about that. There’s a confidence that I understand what’s necessary for me to do with David. And I think sometimes, and I think it happens in Hollywood a lot, there’s a template that you are stamped with when you’re identified with a certain something, and you can either choose to reinforce that template or try to recast the template. You want to melt it down and start again. But I just kept coming back to it.

Blue Velvet then led to a couple of other things, and then to Twin Peaks. And often that template is determined by popularity. Blue Velvet had a real strong following, and then of course Twin Peaks exploded. And so that becomes your identity as an actor. And I have worked in a number of different things that have been similar and other things that are not, but it does seem by and large that the stuff that resonates, that’s most successful, tends to be like the original Blue Velvet-type of character, who’s drawn to the dark side a little bit, a little more complex working against type, as you said.

AVC: You and David are obviously extraordinarily collaborative. Was there a moment for you where the two of you fell into lockstep as that sort of conduit, even without necessarily knowing what his intentions were?

KM: Well, no, actually. There’s still the large chunks of data that I don’t understand, and I don’t need to understand, honestly. His movies are experiential, really, and they ask a lot of questions, but there are not a lot of answers provided. But I do remember when I auditioned for the first time for Dune, and I was quite young—I was 22 or 23, and I’d never worked in front of a camera before. And there was this particular scene where I had to address the Fremen, and it’s in the movie and I exhort them along with the fighters and I needed to talk directly to camera for this particular audition, which is an unusual thing to do as an actor and kind of challenging. Anyway, so I started and I think I failed a couple of times and I was getting a little frustrated. And I remember David just came up to me and I said, David, I don’t really know if I can do this. I’m not sure. He wasn’t calling me “Kale” yet, but he said, “Kyle, I know you can do this. You got this. Just relax, breathe. Take your time.” And he just said all the right things that kind of chilled me down. He recognized immediately what I needed as an actor. And I went back and like in the movie, I did it perfectly, and we went from there. And whether or not he based his decision about using me on that moment, I don’t know. But I certainly felt like he understood what I was doing as an actor in that moment. And we just have a lovely shorthand together when we work.

(from left) Kyle MacLachlan, Michael J. Anderson, and Sheryl Lee in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

(from left) Kyle MacLachlan, Michael J. Anderson, and Sheryl Lee in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
Photo: CBS Television/ Paramount Home Video

AVC: As his longtime collaborator, do you have a sense that there is a defined meaning in his choices? And how does that free you or challenge you as an actor? 

KM: Oh, I think he knows exactly what he’s doing and what he wants to create, but I don’t think I always understand why. I think there are things in his films that are there just to put you in a frame of mind, and he’s sort of saying “stop thinking and just exist in this time now.” So I just pretty much give over control honestly to him. I know he’s got the road map, and I’m following it in my way, and then he’s supplementing when I have a question or he needs to direct. But oftentimes I find I’m pretty intuitive and I follow what he needs. The script is obviously incredibly helpful, but I follow what he needs just intuitively. It’s not a lot of discussion. There’s not a lot of intellectual going through stuff. It’s a feeling, it’s a mood, it’s an energy kind of thing.

AVC: You have such ownership of Agent Cooper. When you came back for The Return, were there stories you were interested in, or that you took an opportunity to ask David about, even if they didn’t get explored in the show?

KM: I think those are all great what ifs. It is no secret that I love the character of Cooper in all his forms—Dougie, Mr. C, however he’s interpreted. And as an actor, I still feel there’s a lot of material there to mine, a lot of places that he can go. And I was really pleased after the 25-year break, which we had, that the character had changed, but I hadn’t really been conscious of the fact that it had changed. It had simply changed because I’d gotten older and I’d changed. But the core of Cooper was still there. He’s just slightly different.

AVC: Was there a moment that taught you what Lynch was trying to explore with Cooper, starting way back in 1989 and bringing him into 2017 and portraying him in these three different, equally fascinating ways?

KM: I’m sure that there are explanations, but I would not be able to really imagine what David was thinking. You’re in for the ride, and you’re just intuitively on the journey with him.

CONFESS, FLETCH | Official Trailer | Paramount Movies

AVC: Is there a role or performance you’ve given that you feel remains underappreciated?

KM: I don’t know. I mean, I’ve enjoyed the journey. I’ve enjoyed the characters. Some, I think, work better than others. I guess that’s natural. Just thinking about some of the performances, most of them have been found. I mean, The Hidden is a wonderful little buddy cop buddy science fiction gem, kind of a mixed genre film. And the character that I play shares some of the traits of Dougie. That’s kind of a fun one. But I think that people find them, and they hopefully appreciate the work.

AVC: I think we all just wait for David to announce something that he’s doing. Have you gotten any better at anticipating or telegraphing when he may decide to return with another opportunity for you?

KM: Not in the least. I remain as much in the dark as everyone. And David is the sole decider of if he wants to pursue something, and then if he does, if he wants me to be involved or any of the number of actors he’s worked with, like Laura Dern, for example, or Naomi. He’s not the kind of person that says, hey, I’m working on this thing. It’s either he’s decided and it’s happening, or there’s just no information, no knowledge. But, you know, it’s a strange world. As Jeffrey Beaumont used to say, you never know what’s coming. Confess Fletch and Twin Peaks’ Kyle MacLachlan Interview

Andrew Schnitker

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