David Lynch Interview: on ‘Twin Peaks’ and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
In 1990, American TV viewers were introduced to the bucolic town of Twin Peaks, Washington—and to creator David Lynch’s creepy-campy propensity for distorting the mundane. In its short two-season run, the neonoir series netted a pile of awards, earned a cult following, and reset expectations for what a TV show could be, from the cinematography and music to the pervasive sense of dread. (The Killing, Top of the Lake, and Bates Motel all float on an undercurrent of Lynchian sordidness.) On May 21—a quarter century after it went off the air—Twin Peaks returns, on Showtime, with Lynch directing and Kyle MacLachlan reprising his role as coffee-slurping, pie-noshing FBI special agent Dale Cooper. Though the auteur remains tight-lipped about the plot of the 18-part series, he dished about casting, cars, and the show’s many celebrity cameos. (Who says Michael Cera lacks intrigue?)
: David Lynch
wired: It’s been a long time since the original Twin Peaks. Had you been thinking about the show over the years?
david lynch: I would sort of think about it from time to time—about the world and the people and how much I loved both those things. You just picture the characters in the place.
The new series is set 25 years later. As you were writing it, did you reflect on everything that’s happened in that time—9/11, Obama?
In some ways the answer is yes—some ideas are conjured by the world of the time you’re catching them in. But that’s a small percentage.
You were able to assemble nearly 40 members of the original cast. That must have taken some wrangling.
It was very easy and smooth and beautiful.
The population of Twin Peaks has expanded to include actors like Michael Cera, Amanda Seyfried, and Naomi Watts. How did you choose the newcomers?
It’s always the same. When it comes to finding the actor to portray a person, you try to get the one that marries to that character—there’s always a right person for the part. We landed an incredibly good bunch.
I’ve heard that your auditions entail sitting in a room and having a conversation—no script.
I guess on Dune, and a little bit on Blue Velvet, I would do a scene with somebody before they were cast to see if the script was working. But now I just look at the way they are and how they talk and get a feeling from that. You can tell a lot just from talking to someone.
How has your style changed between the first series and now?
I don’t really think about style. It’s like a movie screen in your head: You see a thing and you hear a thing and you feel the mood. You just try to get every element as good as you can.
Twin Peaks is known for its sense of randomness. It’s stuff that initially seems like an unusual choice—like a flickering light in a morgue scene—that we’ll find out later was unplanned.
I call those things gifts: A light is broken or somebody says something wrong, but it gives you an idea. It doesn’t matter really what conjured them, they suddenly become a very important part of the story. That’s why something isn’t finished till it’s finished.
But on TV, you have a smaller dynamic range …
A feature film has a beginning, a middle, and an end, then you go out of the theater. Cable television affords the possibility of going into a world and staying there indefinitely. But you have a smaller dynamic range, and you have to compress things. That’s a real hardship.
Some would argue that Twin Peaks laid the groundwork for the golden age of television. What TV are you watching now?
I always said I loved Mad Men and Breaking Bad. But the only thing I watch now is the news and the Velocity channel. It’s about cars.
I love people who customize and build cars—they’re great artists with metal and machines. Do you know Brough Motorcycles, the British bikes? They thrill my soul.
Your work has always somewhat obliquely reflected American culture. Do you feel a responsibility, as an artist, to reflect this sense of postelection anxiety in the world?
Zero responsibility. Do your work. Catch those ideas that you fall in love with and make them realized.
This article appears in the May issue. Subscribe now.