He dressed like a G-man.
When he arrived for his interview with Variety, David Lynch wore a black suit, a white shirt, a black tie, and wingtips. His hair was styled the same way as always, but what had once been jet black was now mostly white. The only pop of color on Lynch was incongruous; it emerged when he sat down for the interview. As he gestured while talking, a yellow plastic watch peeked out from the sleeve of his white shirt. It was the only item that didn’t make him look like his “Twin Peaks” character, FBI official Gordon Cole.
Lynch was as affable an interviewee as I’ve ever come across, but his answers were concise: His art may rely on the creation of a mysterious atmosphere, but in talking about his return to the world of “Twin Peaks,” he couldn’t have been more unequivocal and direct. When he disagreed with the premise of a question, which was not an uncommon occurrence, he did so in the friendliest possible way. The single longest answer — and it was an impassioned one, at that — revolved around his thoughts on the state of non-tentpole cinema.
The director is nothing if not attentive; he actually closed his eyes at several points in order to focus as completely as he could on his answers. At times, he would knead his hands together as he spoke, eyes closed, focused inward. That intensity seemed appropriate, given that he spoke about how his work is often inspired by images that float up from the deepest parts of his subconscious. Lynch doesn’t take credit for the existence of the strange moods and disjunctive tableaus that fill his work; he says he just channels what he sees, and puts that out into the world.
One more unequivocal thing: Lynch hates the idea of spoiling the experience of watching one of his creations. So in the conversation below, which was excerpted in this feature story on the drama’s return, there are no details about individual episodes of the “Twin Peaks” return, which arrived May 21 on Showtime.
When you’re on the set, are you a director who wants to have a very exact rendition of what you’ve envisioned?
Down to line readings?
Yeah, it has to be very specific, or it has to be something that works just as well. If it doesn’t work in the line of things, then you have to talk and adjust things.
Are you looking for the actors to collaborate with you and bring you an idea that they think might execute your vision?
Not really. You know, it’s mostly — they tune into pretty much to what it is, and if they don’t, it’s pretty quick to explain the thing. Then there’s some that are good and some that are great line readings. You just keep working until it feels correct to you.
Kyle MacLachlan has said that you have such a close working relationship that you often don’t even need to speak. Is that something that develops over time?
Yeah, I think so, but I think I’ve known a lot of people as long as Kyle. We’re real close and sort of on the same page. So if I have any kind of doubt, he’ll pick up on that and think about it and he’ll know why. He’ll play back in his head something and say, “Well, off we go again.” We don’t have to say anything.
Because he’s so in tune with what you’re going for?
Yeah, the character is a certain way and Kyle knows what that way is, so he knows if he veered off at any time.
When you were envisioning this return to “Twin Peaks” — actually, I’ll back up a bit. In a more general way, is it images that come to you?
No, an idea holds everything, really, if you analyze it. It comes in a burst. An idea comes in, and if you stop and think about it, it has sound, it has image, it has a mood, and it even has an indication of wardrobe, and knowing a character, or the way they speak, the words they say. A whole bunch of things can come in an instant.
When you began to consider returning to “Twin Peaks,” did you receive flashes of those things, and then it was a matter of finding ways to join them together?
Yeah. I work with Mark Frost, so we talk and we get ideas. We kick around those ideas, and they get more and more specific, and something starts talking to you, and they know the way they want to be, and then there it is.
When you say “they know,” you’re saying the characters know?
No, the ideas. You pick up on the way they want to be. That’s what I always say, it’s like fish. You don’t make the fish, you catch the fish. It’s like, that idea existed before you caught it, so in some strange way, we human beings, we don’t really do anything. We just translate ideas. The ideas come along and you just translate them.
And transmit them to other people.
Yeah. You may build a thing, and then eventually it gets finished, and you show it.
What were lessons learned from the first two seasons of “Twin Peaks” that you wanted to carry forward into this new experience with it?
For me, I wanted to be involved with all the writing and I wanted to direct all of them. Not that other directors didn’t do a fine job. But, it’s passing through different people, it’s just natural that they would end up with [something] different than what I would do. That’s what I learned.
In a perfect world, would you have loved to have directed all of the first two seasons?
Showtime first announced this project in October 2014, and now here we are in 2017, so it’s been a very…
Long time. And we were writing before that [he and Frost began collaborating again in 2012].
When you sat down with Mark again and decided to do this, what was it that made you think, “Yeah, we definitely need to do that.” You had an accumulation of ideas?
No pile of fish that you’d caught?
No. It was 25 years later, which was [a time frame mentioned] in the original thing, and that’s one thing. Another is a love for the world and the people in the world. Then, as soon as you start to focus on that, that’s when ideas start coming.
The experience of working with ABC, do you look back fondly on that?
Sure. I mean, I didn’t really know that side of it. I just remember loving the pilot. The pilot to me is the thing. That sets the mood and the characters and the feel of “Twin Peaks.”
I can actually remember the quality of the light in the room the day “Twin Peaks” premiered, because it’s so imprinted on me. Watching it again, that atmosphere in the pilot is still so effective and mysterious. I understand that the ideas come to you and you want to transmit them, but are you also trying to access an emotional state in yourself, or reproduce that in the viewer?
No, it comes with the idea and … emotion is a tricky thing. A bunch of elements that need to come together to conjure that feeling and have it go over into other people. I guess, like Mel Brooks said, “If you don’t laugh while you’re writing the thing, the audience isn’t going to laugh.” If you don’t cry or feel it while you’re doing it, it’s probably not going to translate.
At times, “Twin Peaks” is also a very funny show.
It’s a bunch of things. That’s the thing. It’s like life, actually — you could be crying in the morning and laughing in the afternoon. It’s the way it is.
Were you surprised when it came out how popular it was?
Yeah. You know, TV executives, I guess they worry, so they have some tests they do on shows, especially a pilot. Apparently in those days, it took place in Philadelphia, and there was a room full of regular people. On a scale from one to 100, it did a 52. It didn’t do terribly, but they didn’t have really any idea. Something happened between that test screening and the air date. Something went in the air.
Showtime Gary Levine, who was at ABC then, talked about how it was held for mid-season — people in the media got to see it and some of the buzz started that way. The interest built over time, and people began to hear about before it came out.
People hear about lots of things.
But there were fewer things to hear about 27 years ago. There was a lot less TV being made.
Why was it important to revisit that “25 years later” time frame?
Well, I had a thing happen to me [during the making of the] pilot. A pilot is open-ended. But in case the pilot flops, they ask you to do a closed ending — they call it the European version. Partway through shooting the pilot, people would say, “Remember David, you have to do a closed ending.” I had zero interest in doing that and no time to do it anyway. No ideas. Mark was not having any ideas.
In the editing process, one evening about 6:30 p.m., I think — it was very nice weather. Warm, and it was a nice sun, low in the sky. Me and [editors] Duwayne Dunham and Brian Berdan went out into the parking lot from the editing room, and we were talking about something. I leaned up against the roof of a car, like this [he folds his arms out in front of him, as if resting on a car roof]. The roof was so warm, but not too warm. It was just a really good feeling, and into my head came the red room in Cooper’s dream. That opened up a portal in the world of “Twin Peaks.” A super important opening, and it led to [the idea that it] took place 25 years later — that dream.
Were you worried about what network the new season would end up at and how it would be received?
No. You see the thing is, there are plenty of things to worry about, but it’s so enjoyable. If nothing happens, it’s still okay. This whole trip has been enjoyable.
You and Mark did ended up settling on Showtime. Why was that?
Well, a lot of reasons, but the long and the short of it is now I’m really happy to work with Showtime and [CEO] David Nevins and [president of programming] Gary Levine and [executive] Robin Gurney and all the people there.
So you brought Showtime the entire script in one 400-page binder. What was it like talking about that with them, getting their feedback?
I think, if you asked 100 people to read something, you’d get 100 different things. Like they say, never turn down a good idea, but never take a bad idea. You stay true to the ideas and you can’t veer off from those things.
I talked to David and Gary from Showtime about the problems that occurred in April 2015, when you said you were going to step away from “Twin Peaks.”
What did they say?
David Nevins said that, once it was explained to him what you wanted, he thought you were making a reasonable and rational request to potentially be able to expand what you were doing. But it wasn’t fitting the normal pattern of what business affairs was used to. That’s where he thought the hitch happened.
Basically, that’s it.
And as soon as he could, he and Gary went over to your house and you all drank coffee.
Gary brought treats for me. Some cookies.
So in the main, what’s your relationship been like with Showtime?
When you went into production and were shooting it, what were some of the most exciting parts of it?
Every day was exciting. Every day. It’s supposed to be that way. It’s like, this is a day you work with this character, and they do this, and it’s this is part of the story, so it should be exciting. It should be a really great feeling when you get it. Each day you try to get it. I always say, in the morning, you have a glass bridge that you’re supposed to cross. It’s so delicate, you wonder if it will break apart. As you go, it turns to steel. When you get [what you want], it’s a steel bridge. Getting it the way you want it to be, that’s a beautiful high, and it’s a high for everybody. It’s difficult to go home and go right to sleep. And it’s murder to get up in the morning.
Did you feel like you had a bit more freedom with Showtime? Although I know you’ve said that ABC didn’t really place too many limits on you in terms of Standards & Practices.
No, we pretty much did what we wanted to do. [We did] what the story wanted. You don’t think, “Oh, I can do this now.” The story tells you what’s going to happen.
Would you do another season?
I don’t know. You never say no. You don’t know what will happen. It depends on a lot of things.
When I think about Agent Cooper, I see him as an optimistic man. He seems like someone who is excited to meet the challenges of life. How much of who he is is reflective of who you are?
Well, I believe in intuition. I believe in optimism, and energy, and a kind of a Boy Scout attitude, and Cooper’s got all those things. I think a real good detective has those things. He’s got more intuition than more detectives, though.
Was he an Eagle Scout, though, like you?
Was Cooper an Eagle Scout? I never thought about it. I don’t know.
Well, that could be season four, then — a prequel. In the main, do you watch much TV?
I watch some news. I watch the Velocity Channel. It’s about cars. That’s my new love, this Velocity Channel and the different shows where they customize cars and restore cars. It’s pretty great. These car guys are real artists, some of them. Some of these cars are so beautiful.
Do you watch any scripted TV?
I loved “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men.”
Are you still going to make feature films?
Feature films are suffering a kind of bad time right now, in my opinion, because the feature films that play in theaters are blockbusters. That seems to fill the theaters, but the art-house cinema is gone.
If I made a feature film, it might play in L.A. and New York, a couple of other places, for a week in a little part of a cineplex, and then it would go who knows where. I built [“Twin Peaks”] to be on the big screen. It will be on a smaller screen, but it’s built for the big screen. You want a feature film to play on a big screen with big sound, and utilize all the best technology to make a world.
It’s really tough after all that work to not get it in the theater. So I say that cable television is a new art house, and it’s good that it’s here.
“Twin Peaks” airs on Showtime Sundays at 9 p.m.