The pair first worked together on Lynch’s much-maligned adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Lynch was hot after the Oscar nominated The Elephant Man had proved that his debut feature, Eraserhead, was not a flash in the pan. Produced by Mel Brooks, who nicknamed Lynch “Jimmy Stewart From Mars”, The Elephant Man was Lynch’s first tentative step towards the mainstream, albeit with nightmarish monochrome visuals and elephant nightmares. Dune was to be his magnum opus, a huge sprawling sci-fi saga that the director could fashion with his esoteric visual stylings and predilection for the grotesque. This version was also the legendary Dino de Laurentis’s second stab at getting a version of Dune onto the big screen after his failed attempt with Ridley Scott as director – this following Chilean surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ill-fated effort to get Dune off the ground starring Mick Jagger, Salvador Dalí and Orson Welles.
Lynch cast newcomer Kyle MacLachlan in the lead role as Paul Atreides, the young noble man who would lead the Fremen to freedom against the tyrannical Baron Harkonnen. MacLachlan was a fan of the books reading them when he was 15 years old and has nothing but fond memories of the making of the film, as he told The A.V. Club, “Looking back, it was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience: seven months on a film in Mexico City in a giant, super-sized scale movie. It was the beginning of my working relationship and friendship with David Lynch.”
The film, however, was a massive box office and critical failure. MacLachlan was bound to a contract that tied him to four Dune sequels and two other movies, and a guarantee he would not work, or even seek work, until Dune had been released. The actor was in limbo, unable to further his career and when the film finally reared its ugly head, only had a mega flop as a calling card. The contract expired after the film’s dire financial performance as sequels were obviously not an option. Meanwhile MacLachlan turned down the lead in Oliver Stone’s Platoon as he waited for Blue Velvet to get green lit.
Blue Velvet was the film that turned it around for Lynch and MacLachlan. The latter’s Jeffrey Beaumont, a young man seen by many to represent the director’s young self, is thrust in a seedy world of gangsters, drug-dealers, kidnappers and sadomasochistic nutbags who get their kicks with a gas mask and a piece of blue velvet material. Beautifully shot, Blue Velvet started Lynch’s obsession with the dark underbelly of life existing behind the perfect, and often metaphorical, white picket fences that everyone puts up to hide what is going on in their lives. It’s loaded with symbolism; what initially appears as a mystery, albeit kicked off with a severed ear, soon descends into a twisted and disturbing nightmare that would raise an eyebrow or two from Freud and Oedipus.
Blue Velvet also stars model Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy Vallens, a mother who is forced to indulge the dubious sexual predilections of Dennis Hopper’s insane Frank Booth after he kidnaps her husband and son. Lured into this dangerous world when he finds a severed ear, Beaumont starts a torrid affair with Vallens, unwitting of the full horror of the man his path will soon be crossing. Hopper is truly terrifying in the role and Blue Velvet resurrected the actor’s career. Famously, on reading the script, Hopper told Lynch: “You have to let me play Frank Booth. Because I am Frank Booth!”
As well as cementing the creative relationship between Lynch and MacLachlan and earning Lynch a best director nomination at the Oscars, the noir drama also marked the first time that Laura Dern would appear in a David Lynch production. She has since appeared in Wild At Heart, Inland Empire and will soon show her face in the new Twin Peaks, reuniting with MacLachlan for the first time since Blue Velvet. MacLachlan was now completely in tune with the director’s working methods, as he told the UK Metro. “If he’s trying to capture a certain mood, he has certain words or triggers that indicate what he needs. If he said: ‘There’s a wind blowing,’ it meant there was a mystery about the scene. When he said: ‘Elvis,’ I knew what he was looking for. He doesn’t use actor jargon, which I appreciated.”
Lynch went on to shoot Wild At Heart, his demented road movie homage to The Wizard Of Oz starring Nicolas Cage. Shot concurrently with the TV phenomenon Twin Peaks. Both were released in 1990, and Peaks introduced MacLachlan to a huge household audience.
It’s a cliché to say but the role of FBI Agent Dale Bartholomew Cooper is the role that MacLachlan was born to play. But it was. In fact, the actor sees Cooper as Blue Velvet’s Jeffrey all grown up. Cooper, as played by MacLachlan, exudes the director’s can-do Eagle Scout mentality. How the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer unfolded is the stuff of TV legend but behind-the-scenes, MacLachlan was involved with Lara Flynn Boyle, who played one of Laura’s best friends, Donna Hayward. Sherilyn Fenn claims that that Boyle was not happy that Fenn’s character Audrey Horne was getting all the audience love. Even worse, Horne was to start a romantic tryst with Agent Cooper. The actor had a word with his director, claiming that he didn’t think the onscreen entanglement would be believable because Horne was too young. The result, Cooper fell for Annie, played by Heather Graham, a young actress who was even younger than Fenn. “How’s Donna?” just wouldn’t have been the same.
After the less than spectacular viewing figures for the second season, it took a while for Lynch’s planned prequel, Fire Walk With Me, to get greenlit. By this time MacLachlan was worried about being typecast as the thumbs-aloft agent and begrudgingly took on a reduced role, the high point of which is his appearance with David Bowie’s rogue agent, Philip Jeffries. It’s one of the most confusing sequences Lynch has ever made – and that’s saying something.
Which brings us to today, and the premiere of the much-heralded return to Twin Peaks. We still don’t know what Lynch has in store for Agent Cooper, or MacLachlan. Is the good Agent Cooper still stranded in the Black Lodge 25 years on? Will Coop’s evil doppelganger be getting up to mischief? Will they both drink too much coffee? We’ll find out soon, although we probably know the answer to the last conundrum. What we can guarantee is that Lynch and MacLachlan are back working together and that fact is damn fine.
It Is Happening Again
TWIN PEAKS – 22 May
Same Day as U.S.
Only on Stan.