Kyle MacLachlan calls his UW actor training ‘essential’
An interview with actor Kyle MacLachlan (“Twin Peaks,” “Sex and the City,” “Portlandia”), who was the subject of a SIFF tribute this week. He spoke about his screen and TV roles and his University of Washington training.
Seattle Times movie critic
Before Kyle MacLachlan attained instant fame in “Dune,” before he continued his association with director David Lynch in “Blue Velvet” and “Twin Peaks,” before “Sex and the City” and “Desperate Housewives” and “Portlandia” ... there was the University of Washington.
MacLachlan, in town earlier this week for a tribute at the Seattle International Film Festival (where he was presented with the SIFF Award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting), is a Yakima native and a graduate of the UW’s Professional Actor Training Program. In an interview during his visit, he spoke fondly of the program’s faculty (specifically Robert Hobbs, Craig Turner and Nancy Lane).
“Thirty years later, I’m still feeling the vibrations of what they taught,” said MacLachlan, who’s now based in New York. “They really molded me and broke and changed and set in motion a way of thinking and working that still resonates now, at 54.”
To a sellout audience at the Uptown on Monday night, he remembered being a broke student eating French fries at the College Inn, attending midnight screenings of Lynch’s “Eraserhead” at the Neptune, and getting the call telling him of his “Dune” casting at his small U District apartment, on Brooklyn Avenue Northeast.
In MacLachlan’s honor, the festival screened perhaps his most iconic role: the 1990 pilot episode of “Twin Peaks” in which MacLachlan plays FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, a quirky fellow with a fondness for coffee “as black as midnight on a moonless night” and good cherry pie. MacLachlan remembered filming that first scene, on a mountain road near North Bend as Cooper drives to Twin Peaks.
“The car was hooked up to a tow rig, so we were riding up the mountain somewhere,” he recalled. “We had a certain amount of distance that we had to shoot it by or we would run out of road.” He memorized “about a page and a half” of dialogue (dictated to a secretary, on a small tape recorder), about pie and trees and hotel rooms — and, by the scene’s end, we knew Dale Cooper.
“That was a character I really enjoyed,” he said. “Whereas Jeffrey in ‘Blue Velvet’ was more a character at the mercy of the elements around him, caught up in this rushing river, Cooper came in and kind of took control of the story, about a half-hour in. He really sort of set the tone, calmed things down. ... It was a powerful role, but he didn’t abuse that. He had a fascination, not unlike Jeffrey, for what was happening around him, but he was not at the mercy of that.”
The “Twin Peaks” pilot was filmed at various locations in the Northwest, many around North Bend and Snoqualmie, but the rest of the two seasons was filmed entirely in California. Rumors continue to fly about a possible third season. MacLachlan, asked about it Monday night, said he didn’t know anything about it but that it would be “a lot of fun.”
“There’s a lot of fascination with [‘Twin Peaks’], and a whole new crop of fans who weren’t even born when we shot the original,” he said, noting that it doesn’t seem to be a Northwest phenomenon but a worldwide one. MacLachlan ascribes the show’s appeal to its characters, created by Lynch and Mark Frost — “They were so specific and eccentric and unusual, not homogenized at all. Everyone had a hidden agenda.”
These days, MacLachlan’s keeping busy with family life, a winemaking business (with Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla), and more television work. He’ll be shooting a new season of “Portlandia” this summer (he plays the city’s oddball mayor), and in early fall will begin work on a new NBC series, “Believe,” produced by J.J. Abrams. The series is, MacLachlan said, about a little girl with telekinetic powers — “an action/chase/adventure kind of thing, but along the way there’s some startling moments of real emotion.” He’s playing “the character that wants to get to her and perhaps use her in some way — sort of a bad guy, but it’s not completely clear yet.”
Though he hopes to do more independent films and perhaps more stage work, MacLachlan says he enjoys the challenges of working in television. “You have to move quickly, you have to make decisions fast, you have to know your camera, know your angle, know the words, make it all work in two, three, four takes ideally. ... That’s the thing about television, you really have to come in prepared. Again, my training at UW was essential — it was all about being prepared.”
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org