Ahead of a visit to New Zealand from some of Twin Peaks’ most iconic characters, die-hard ‘Peakie’ Angela Cuming meets three of her heroes and asks what it’s like to be part of a cultural phenomenon for almost 30 years.
Sheryl Lee’s laugh travels down the phone line to my suburban home in Hamilton and wrap me up in plastic, for I am dead.
‘’I honestly have no idea what year it is either!”, she says laughing, referring to that final scene of the third season of Twin Peaks.
I’m speaking to Lee – who played Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson in seasons one and two of Twin Peaks (1990-91) and later Carrie Page in 2017’s Twin Peaks: The Return – before her visit to New Zealand later this month. Lee and four of the show’s other stars – Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs), Kimmy Roberston (Lucy Moran), Michael Horse (Hawke) and Al Strobel (Phillip Gerard) – will visit Auckland and Christchurch to talk about the series and to share stories from behind the scenes.
They will be joined onstage by Sabrina S Sutherland, production coordinator on season two and executive producer on Twin Peaks: The Return. Series co-creator David Lynch will appear via Skype to join the actors in answering questions from the audience.
For fans like me who have spent the best part of 25 years watching and re-watching Twin Peaks – back in 1990 I had the distinction of being the only kid in primary school whose mum would let them watch it – it is a tantalising prospect. To be able to ask the actors themselves anything they want about the show, and, possibly, to get some insight into Lynch’s thinking.
The beauty of the show, of course, has been that it can be interpreted an infinite number of ways. Indeed, Lee was watching The Return unfold at home on her television screen, not knowing how it would all play out.
“I was watching it just like you,” she says. “I was watching it at home, week to week, often texting other cast members, including Dana [Ashbrook] and Kimmy [Robertson].
“I went through all the emotions watching it. I think that is part of David’s genius, artistically, is that he can take us anywhere, and he can change it quickly.”
Robertson depicted one of the series’ most distinctive and important characters, the police department receptionist with hidden depths. Like Lee, she says she was in the dark about how season three would end. “I didn’t even know Lucy was the one who shot Evil Cooper!”
“I found out along with everyone else, and I can tell you there was big cheer that went up in my living room when that scene aired.” The insight Roberston shares about filming that scene is fascinating. “I walk onto set that day and David (Lynch) calls me over and he’s holding a gun and he says ‘have you ever shot a gun before because you are going to today’.
“And I’ve never held a gun and I have no idea who Lucy is supposed to be shooting – he hasn’t told me – so we film my parts of the scene. I suspected it was Evil Cooper I shot but I wasn’t sure.”
During my chat to Dana Ashbrook aka Bobby Briggs, I’m sure to avoid mentioning the poster I had of him on my bedroom wall 25 years ago, but I do ask two crucial questions: what does he think Twin Peaks means and will Shelly and Bobby ever get back together? “Hell yes, let’s get Shelly and Bobby back together,” says Ashbrook.
“I know that Shelly still wears her wedding ring on a chain around her neck. But I think now Bobby’s swapped his leather jacket for his deputy sheriff’s badge he’s too square for Shelly.’’
So does that mean a season four?
“I…I’ve heard…there’s certainly a chance. I’ve heard nothing about it. You know, it would have to be something shorter because that was a lot, 18 episodes is a lot of work. But you know I never thought it would come back the first time… so who knows what the possibilities are.
‘’I am going to say maybe, who knows, I hope. I would love it. I love working with these people and I love being around them. It’s all David.”
The search for meaning among Twin Peaks fans is a constant. Who killed Laura Palmer is one of its simpler questions, answered long before season three even began. But like a true Peakie I can’t help but ask.
Ashbrook is concise. ‘’I think people that really watch it understand it’s not so much about, you know, A plus B equals C, it’s not going to be linear and have all the answers,” he says. “Sometimes you have to use your own imagination and use your own ideas and think about it on your own. That’s the thing with Twin Peaks, it’s not an easy show, it’s not simple, it’s complicated.”
I try my luck with Lee, asking how Lynch explained the character of Carrie Page to her at the time of filming. Her answer makes it easy to see why she is one of Lynch’s muses.
“Well, I don’t know if I will ever know where or how she fits it and I don’t know that I need to,” she says.
‘’David makes space for that mystery in his story telling and I love that. It is thrilling, it keeps you really present in the moment. So Carrie Page is very much alive and present in that moment in time. I may not logically have any explanation for you about when and where and how she exists, but that doesn’t matter. What my job is, what I have to bring, is 100 per cent commitment that she does exist.’’
Spoken in perfect Lynchian. But would Lee love to see a season four of Twin Peaks?
“I wish there would be a season four! It would be wonderful to have the opportunity to go play with everyone again. But who knows, we will see. I haven’t heard any rumours or anything about a season four.”
So was that the last time we will ever see Laura Palmer?
‘’Well, I don’t know if that was the end (of Laura Palmer) or not. I trust David’s vision. So whenever or wherever he feels like something is the end, I trust him in that.”
That, in itself, explains a lot. How Lynch as a director manages to get his actors to connect emotionally with an audience, despite all the dream-like sequences and trips to the Black Lodge.
Lee says she and her Twin Peaks cast mates would ‘’stay in the moment’’ while filming and avoided discussing theories about the storyline or trying to work out the symbolism of key Lynch motifs, like the owls or the electricity. “We are just focused on being those people (the characters) and David’s direction is about being those people and not coming from a place of ‘this means this’ or ‘that symbolises that’. He doesn’t explain that kind of thing.’’
So not even Lee knew what that final scene she shot with Kyle McLachlan (Special Agent Dale Cooper) meant?
“No! And yes, it’s kept me awake at night a little bit myself.”
Twin Peaks’ Conversations with the Stars takes place at Auckland ASB Theatre on Wednesday August 22 and Christchurch’s Isaac Theatre on Thursday August 23. Tickets are still available through drwe.com.au.
This content, like all television coverage we do at The Spinoff, is brought to you thanks to the excellent folk at Lightbox. Do us and yourself a favour by clicking here to start a FREE 30 day trial of this truly wonderful service.
Join The Spinoff Members for as little as $1 to help us hire more journalists and do more investigations. Or get a free Toby Morris-designed tea towel when you contribute $80 or more over a year.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.