SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not seen “Part 18,” Sept. 3 episode of “Twin Peaks: The Return.”
“Twin Peaks: The Return” afforded Kyle MacLachlan the opportunity to interpret not just one lead character but several: Dougie Jones, “Mr. C” (the evil, long-haired Cooper doppelgänger), and as the finale suggests, an entirely different man named Richard. It’s a strange turn of events, but that’s what happens when you’re the protagonist of an 18-hour sequel-odyssey from auteur David Lynch. As indicated in Sunday night’s finale, Cooper is a changed man from who he was when he drove into Twin Peaks talking into a recorder and looking for good coffee. The season-long performance is masterful work from MacLachlan, who finds a way to add unsettling flourishes to his much-beloved original performance.Variety spoke to MacLachlan about settling into different interpretations of the same character, watching the finale, and working with longtime collaborator Lynch.
In “Twin Peaks: The Return,” you play different versions of Dale Cooper and even some entirely new characters. What was that like?
Kyle MacLachlan: It made the return, for me, incredibly interesting as an actor — and challenging, as you can imagine. A little frightening. Particularly the Mr. C character. I’d never done anything like that. I felt pretty good that I could do it, but you never know until you actually put it on the scene and get in front of the camera. So the challenge was huge. But I also felt very — safe isn’t the word, but I felt like I had David’s watchful eye on me as I found these characters, formed these characters — that he was there to be a helpful guide, having written it. That he knew the right notes to strike. And if I wasn’t, that he would be there to help me find them.
So it was a process of discovering each of these guys and what made them tick, and what is it in each of their bodies, and I gotta say, it was fun. Once I kinda found my way in and got comfortable with the idea of each of the characters — particularly the Mr. C character — it was really freeing, to say the least, to play something like that. Something so different from me and what I’d ever done before.
[With Mr. C,] it was great to imagine, okay, Cooper’s in the black lodge, and this is his exact opposite. What would that look like? There would be no empathy. There would be no kindness. There would be no human-ness in him at all. Whether he’s killing someone or sipping coffee it’s the same. That was very challenging because I just shut down what I think is — I have sort of a natural desire to connect with someone. Most actors do. To shut that down was not easy, but needed to be done. It needed to be done.
Dougie was just a challenge on a whole other level. Seeing him for the very first time and what that looks like [the scene in the casino in Reno]. How do you navigate things when you don’t know how anything looks?
He’s so upbeat about it.
Right. And there’s humor in there. But finding it organically — and not trying to lay anything on, or wink at the audience, or any of that — that was challenging. And also, there was a natural sort of an innocence and love from inside that I think — people felt and put people off balance a little bit when they met him.
The thing about the Dougie character, watching him trying to navigate things physically — Cooper is so capable with any kind of object or situation, you know. He’s comfortable, he gets it, he grasps what he needs to do, and he’s able to make it organic and precise. And to see Dougie fumble with the most mundane, basic things — even trying to raise a thumb in a thumbs-up gesture was, you know, tragic-funny but tragic at the same time. Like oh my Lord, what? How far does he have to go to come back? Will he even be able to come back? Which we kept on the burner for a long time, obviously.
Did you feel that Richard, in the finale, was a distinct character of his own, or just Cooper with a different name?
He was… different. The way it was described to me, he’s just a little harder. So it was another variation, sort of a subtle variation obviously, compared to the other two, but a subtle variation of Cooper. And so that was that last hour, Watching him navigate that.
From the beginning of “Twin Peaks” to now, Cooper has gone through a lot. He’s almost a different person.
The ending is — I’m still — just having seen it, I’m still processing that, to be honest.
Was Sunday night the first time you saw it?
Yeah, every episode I’ve watched as it’s aired. I didn’t see anything beforehand. Which I enjoy doing, I look forward to it. Though I’m kinda like, ah yeah, what does that mean? I got nothing. I have no answers.
I feel like people will be coming up to you asking what year it is for many years to come.
I have a feeling you’re right. [Laughs.] Before it was “How’s Annie?” But now, I think you’re right. Oh my lord. Hopefully they don’t scream in my ear.
Did it surprise you, watching the finale?
You’re talking about the last sequence, right? I had a sense, filming that sequence. It’s always interesting to film with David, and then to watch it. Because his edits — he always changes things a little bit for the tempo, the rhythms he chooses to have. Although I will say that he shot very economically, very precisely. So oftentimes we would do a couple takes from a couple different angles and that was it. And he said that’s it, and we’d move on. He’s fully in control as a director, I think that’s absolutely in control. Precisely what he wanted. He’s pretty impressive.
I had a feeling that the final thing was going to be one of those, sort of, hair on the back-of-your-neck-goes-up moments, and people are going to like — if they’re in the middle of a bite of pie, the pie’s going to drop off the fork. It was just unexpected and what, and your mind sort of spins backwards, it was one of those kinds of moments. I felt like that was what was going to happen. And indeed, that was my experience. I was like whoa. Just like, whoa.
When you played Cooper in these scenes — do you have an interpretation you’re holding in your mind, or do you let that part of it be someone else’s problem?
I pretty much concentrate on the reality of the scene in the moment — what is happening, what I need to know. If there’s something that I feel like I need to know that I’m not getting from the script, I’ll ask David. But by and large, it’s there, and if it’s not there I can intuit what I think it is. And so far, that seems to be working. So much of it is also — it’s open to interpretation, and intentionally. So as long as I know what I’m doing, then I feel like it’s okay, because I don’t need to know everything. I just need to know I’m making sense of what I’m doing. Everything else will be what David decides it will be.