USC Twin Peaks Retrospective: March 24

Courtenay Blog Icon“Once upon a time, there was a place of great goodness called the White Lodge. Gentle fawns gathered there amongst laughing, happy spirits. The sounds of innocence and joy filled the air. When it rained, it rained sweet nectar that infused one's heart to live life with true beauty. Generally speaking, a ghastly place, reeking of virtue in a showered smell, engorged with the whispering prayers of kneeling mothers, mewling newborns, and fools, both young and old compelled to do good without reason.” Dale Cooper’s nemesis Windom Earle describes the White Lodge to “Leo-stein” and clearly favors a bleaker place. Dark forces are at work, and Earle is no stranger to a Dugpa. The game of chess is getting deadly, and not even Pete Martell can win this one. Nor can agent Dale Cooper. Perhaps we can wish Cooper to enter into the White Lodge where he and Annie may roam with the fawns and commit good acts without reason. Sunday marked the sixth day of the USC Twin Peaks Retrospective. Two more dates to go, including the April 14 series finale and the May 5 screening of the prequel/sequel “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.” The March 24 screening was shown in the Ray Stark Family Theatre instead of Norris Theatre due to a scheduling conflict. Both the April 14 and May 5 screenings will be held in Norris. Alex Ago (Moderator) announced the following are attending the May 5 panel – Robert Engels, Jennifer Lynch, James Marshall and Ray Wise, among others. He is working to confirm Sheryl Lee and Kyle MacLachlan. Fingers crossed.

Buy or Rent A Voyage To Twin Peaks at Amazon. It is the documentary Scott directed about the 25th Twin Peaks Festival. See the actors, the set locations and interviews with the fans.

The March 24 USC Twin Peaks Retrospective played "Diane: The Twin Peaks Tapes of Agent Cooper" as the audience entered Stark Theatre. Then, USC's Visions and Voices screened the following episodes: episode 2.15 (“Slaves and Masters”), episode 2.16 (“The Condemned Woman”), episode 2.17 (“Wounds and Scars”), episode 2.18 (“On the Wings of Love”), and episode 2.19 (“Variations on Relations”). Donna and James finally escape “noir town.” While James and Donna break up, Ed and Norma are (finally!) getting together. Swoon! Josie Packard leaves her corporeal form and enters the Douglas fir of a drawer handle – still one of the weirdest moments on television I have ever seen. Cooper sees Bob and Mike in a vision. Windom Earle begins his chess game of death with Cooper as king but the Queen of Hearts as pawn. Enter Annie Blackburn – recent convent dropout and Norma’s sister. She steals Cooper’s heart and drinks the strangest cocktail – rum and tonic? The ladies of Twin Peaks prepare to enter a pageant. The Sheriff’s department enters Owl Cave and discovers some strange markings. The Black Lodge is close. I can feel it.

After the screening and some delicious donuts and David Lynch Signature coffee, the panel entered the stage. This week’s panel included some of the lovely actors of the series, an editor and a director. Unfortunately Ian Buchanan had to reschedule to the April 14 panel, and Chris Mulkey did not appear on the March 24 panel. The March 24 panel was comprised of the following:

1)         CALEB DESCHANEL (Director, Episodes 1.7, 2.8, 2.12)

2)         MARY JO DESCHANEL (Actor, “Eileen Hayward”)

3)         ROBYN LIVELY (Actor, “Lana Budding Milford”)

4)         KIMMY ROBERTSON (Actor, “Lucy Moran”)

5)         WENDY ROBIE (Actor, “Nadine Hurley”)

6)         JONATHAN P. SHAW (Editor, Episodes 1.2, 1.3, 1.6, 2.2, 2.25, 2.8, 2.11, 2.14, 2.17, 2.20)

7)         KENNETH WELSH (Actor, “Windom Earle”)


Kimmy Robertson (Actor, "Lucy Moran")

Kimmy Robertson (Actor, “Lucy Moran”) began the discussion by recalling her entrance into the series as the lovable Lucy – receptionist for the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department. She said she never really auditioned for the series but, instead, met with David Lynch and Mark Frost. She laughed and told the audience, “You wouldn’t believe the outfit I had. It was a unitard!” Apparently, it had lace on the collar and waist. She said it was “awful.” During the meeting with Lynch and Frost, Robertson said she “went immediately on several tangents, but they were smart tangents.” She said a conversation began about “how pissed I was when people went out into nature. They get crazier, not smarter.” Apparently, Robertson’s grasp of an aspect of the mythology of the show – nature controlling man and making him insane – sealed her role.

Robertson and other members of the panel talked about how open Lynch and Frost were to suggestions and ideas. She recalled the episode in season 1 in which Agent Cooper attempts to discover who Laura Palmer’s killer is by the strange means of rock throwing, Tibetan magic and the will of the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department. Robertson suggested to Gregg Fienberg (Producer) that Lucy should be reading a book about Tibet in the office the next day. According to Robertson, Fienberg said, “No, she wouldn’t.” She then asked Lynch who immediately responded positively to her idea and demanded Fienberg find the book since he had said no. “Aces!” Robertson exclaimed. The audience laughed with her and her Lynchian response to triumph.

Robertson said one of her favorite scenes was the one in which Andy spelunked in the office. She said it was difficult to keep a straight face when she saw him awkwardly descending from the asbestos office tiles. The most difficult scene to shoot was the fashion show scene because it was shot in 118-degree weather in a building with no air conditioning in Sunland, California. What made the shoot worse was Robertson was modeling Northwest winter fashion, so she was donning a wool jacket, wool skirt and wool tights. She smiled and said, “But acting is like that. I have never been comfortable … that’s why we get paid the big bucks.”

Mary Jo Deschanel (Actor, "Eileen Hayward")

Mary Jo Deschanel (Actor, “Eileen Hayward”) said she also did not audition before she was given the part of Donna Hayward’s mother. She met with David Lynch who she already knew because her husband, Caleb Deschanel, had attended AFI with him. Deschanel recalled asking Lynch about Eileen’s backstory. Lynch told her they actually created several backstories for the character. Deschanel said one of the backstories involved Eileen Hayward pretending to be paralyzed. Deschanel never got a confirmation on which story was correct. She said she loved the creativity and openness on the set – especially because Lynch responded to suggestions. Deschanel loved the aspect of Eileen Hayward that was dark and hidden and had a second life – her relationship with Ben Horne was revealed toward the end of season 2.

Wendy Robie (Actor, "Nadine Hurley")

According to Wendy Robie (Actor, “Nadine Hurley”), she thought she was auditioning for a pioneer period piece because the show was originally called “Northwest Passage,” and she did not know anything else about it. She laughed, recalling how she brought a shawl and was prepared to play a pioneer woman. She originally read for the role of Ben Horne’s wife. After she received a call back, David Lynch told her, “You seem like a jolly very nice person.” He asked Johanna Ray (Casting Director) if she thought Robie could play the “angriest woman in the world.” Johanna replied, “Oh yes. I think she can.” And she did. Wendy Robie’s portrayal of Nadine is heartbreaking, heartwarming, frightening and hilarious. Robie said David Lynch and Mark Frost wrote a story like a “Greek tragedy, but you still saw all the humor.” This describes Nadine’s journey for sure.

Mark Frost told Wendy Robie, “We want to use your athleticism” and sent her to a circus school in Van Nuys, California. She said in season 2, after Nadine emerges from her coma and thinks she is 18, the writers had Robie doing some pretty crazy things like trying out for cheerleading and dating Mike, a much younger high school student. She said she performed a lot of physical actions, but she also had an incredible stuntwoman to enact the more extreme acrobatics. Robie said, “Having all that stuff in the second season was like Nadine’s reward for all the stuff she went through first season.” Robie recalled the episode directed by Diane Keaton in which she enters the bedroom and finds Norma and Big Ed in bed together. According to the script, Nadine’s strength is so great she is supposed to take the door off the hinges when she enters the room. There were several takes, but on one take, the door hit her leg so hard she had a bruise from her knee to her ankle. Diane Keaton told Robie because she “was wounded in service,” she could pick the take. Robie picked the one in which she got hurt. She didn’t even flinch. Robie mentioned some of the challenges of portraying Nadine, including wearing an eye patch. She said she would get headaches after wearing the eye patch on set for many hours. She said she “whimpered” to Mark Frost about it, and he simply gestured for her to remove her eye patch when they weren’t shooting. Robie laughed because the solution had not occurred to her. She said what she liked best about Nadine was she was “so relentless. I loved that about her. Everyone else just had to deal.”

March 24 panel from right to left: Jonathan Shaw, Caleb Deschanel, Mary Jo Deschanel and Wendy Robie.

Caleb Deschanel (Director, Episodes 1.7, 2.8, 2.12) talked about knowing David Lynch as a student while they both attended AFI. He said they were in the first AFI class together and would often have dinner with his family. Deschanel said Lynch was a “real artist,” and added, “Mel Brooks once said that David Lynch was ‘Jimmy Stewart from Mars.’” Deschanel began working on “Twin Peaks” after he saw the pilot. He began watching it because his wife was cast as Eileen Hayward. He instantly loved the show. The atmosphere on the show was great because anyone could bring ideas to Lynch, and he was open to implementing them. Deschanel discussed the episode in which the Horne boys recall watching their babysitter dance. Deschanel said he came up with the idea of the flashback and proceeded to find two young boys who looked like a younger version of Ben and Jerry. Deschanel said the girl dancing is David Fincher’s sister. Click here for the clip.

Deschanel said he worked well with Lynch because they have a similar sense of humor. He admires Lynch for creating art that is both humorous and serious. He said, “It is a really remarkable balance that is really difficult. There is a certain wish fulfillment on the part of the audience. The characters have to be characters that you like.” Deschanel described himself as primarily a cinematographer. He recalled being the cinematographer for the film “The Natural.” There is a scene in which Robert Redford’s character hits a home run and it knocks out a stadium light. The other lights proceed to explode. He said the scene is over-the-top, but the audience accepts it because they love the character. They are rooting for him. See the scene here. Deschanel fondly recalled working with Lynch because so much of “Twin Peaks” is Lynch – the coffee, Tibet and dreams. He also said working with Ray Wise was amazing because Wise had this “ability to be both poignant and insane.”

The idea for Waldo’s blood to spill onto the donuts when Leo Johnson shoots it was Deschanel’s idea. Deschanel said directing “Twin Peaks was “kind of like jazz music because each note would inspire something else.”

Deschanel said everyone was afraid the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer would leak, so they actually shot scenes revealing someone else as the killer. Jonathan Shaw confirmed that one of the scenes revealed Ben Horne as the killer. Shaw said he was getting calls from his hometown paper asking about the identity of the killer. But, he said, nobody knew. Deschanel said although Ray Wise was devastated when he discovered that his character was the killer, “at the same time, he took it and ran with it in the most wonderful way.”

March 24 panel from right to left: Kenneth Welsh, Robyn Lively and Kimmy Robertson.

Kenneth Welsh (Actor, “Windom Earle”) told the audience when he came to “Twin Peaks” in season 2, he had never seen it. His ex-wife was a graduate student with Robert Engels (Feb. 10 panelist, Co-producer, Executive Story Editor and Writer). After the first season, she called him to tell him Engels was working on this “great series” called “Twin Peaks.” He spoke with Engels on the phone and Engels said to Welsh, “I’m doing this series called ‘Twin Peaks,’ and I have a part that’s perfect for you!” Welsh said he did not meet Lynch at first. His initial encounter with Lynch occurred in the second episode Welsh shot. Robert Engels introduced Welsh to Lynch and told him Welsh was Windom Earle. Lynch looked at Welsh and said, “Good deal!” He probably gave a thumbs up, too.

Welsh said he relished wearing all of Earle’s disguises. It was his idea to play the biker in the RR diner scene. He enjoyed the role because he had so much input. In the scene in which Earle plays the flute in the cabin with Leo Johnson, Welsh said the flute type was his idea. Welsh said, “I happen to play the shakuhachi – a Japanese flute used by Samurai as a weapon when they could not use their swords. The shakuhachi is made of bamboo root. Ronin (masterless Samurai) and weaponless Samurai would fashion the shakuhaci as a club by making it longer and stouter. Welsh said the props department made a rubber flute so “I could beat the daylights out of” Leo. Welsh worked with Angelo Badalamenti (Composer/Conductor) over the phone to arrange the melody. Welsh said he preferred the original sound of the flute and not the part in which it was synthesized, “which pissed me off.”

Moderator Alex Ago asked Kenneth Welsh about shooting the Red Room scene. The scene was originally supposed to including more of Windom Earle – much of it to include Earle singing Cole Porter tunes, apparently. Welsh said it was the only episode in which he worked directly with Lynch. Lynch would often improvise and go off the script. In the scene in which Earle drags the winner of the Miss Twin Peaks contest to the Black Lodge, Lynch told Earle to turn her head out the window and yell, “Oh look! Ten rainbow trout!” The improvisation would often take some strange turns. According to Welsh, Lynch cut Earle’s time in the Black Lodge because he wanted to focus on Cooper and his duality. Welsh said shooting the Red Room scene was fun – especially when he got to talk backwards. Welsh said Mike Anderson (Actor, “Man From Another Place”) was an expert on talking backwards and perfecting the annunciation of diphthongs, which are extremely hard to pronounce in reverse.

Welsh said despite Windom Earle being so psychotic, he loved that he had a sense of humor. He said he was crazy, “But his speech was so literate. You had the mad man speaking like Shakespeare.” Welsh said he has worked on many projects, but he had more fun playing Windom Earle than any other character.

Robyn Lively (Actor, "Lana Budding Milford")

Robyn Lively (Actor, “Lana Budding Milford”) said her character was not originally written as a Southern woman. Lively had seen the show by the time her character showed up and was very familiar with the women on the show, who she thought were gorgeous. She explained the difficulty of playing a character so beautiful that men were rendered useless while there were already a bevy of beauties on the show. After reading the script, it occurred to her to make Lana from the South. Lively said, “She’s written to be a Southern belle!” She approached the writers, and they loved the idea. Kimmy Robertson told Lively, “I had a hard time talking to you because of how pretty you are. Now that I’m old, I have a lot of practice.” They both laughed. When I spoke to Lively after the panel, I asked her where she is from. It turns out we are both from Georgia. Her Southern accent was spot on, which is rare to find in actors who play Southern roles – even when they are from the South.

Miss Twin Peaks Poster. The lady pictured is David Duchovny as Denise Bryson.

Alex Ago asked Kimmy Robertson about her background in professional dance and how it added to the show – specifically in the Miss Twin Peaks contest. Robertson said she was sitting in Lucy’s office and saw Mark Frost and David Lynch looking at her and snickering. They walked over to her window as if they were ordering something. They told her, “We want you to dance, and we want you to do the choreography to it.” Robertson asked them, “Do you want it to be real choreography or ‘Twin Peaks’ choreography?” They replied “Twin Peaks,” of course. There is a difference!

Robyn Lively said when she got the script for the Miss Twin Peaks contest, she read that Lana was supposed to do a jazz contortionist exotica dance. She laughed and said, “I was so scared!” She told the audience, “Being from the South, I grew up doing beauty pageants, but not the dancing.” Years after shooting “Twin Peaks,” Lively said she did a spot on the “X-Files.” She introduced herself to David Duchovny who told her they had already met when he attended Lana’s wedding reception at the Great Northern. However, he was dressed as Denise, so Lively didn’t remember him. Wendy Robie then revealed the lady on the Miss Twin Peaks poster advertisement was in fact David Duchovny dressed as Denise.

The lovely ladies of "Twin Peaks," Robyn Lively, Kimmy Robertson and Wendy Robie (Lana, Lucy and Nadine).

Jonathan Shaw (Editor, Episodes 1.2, 1.3, 1.6, 2.2, 2.25, 2.8, 2.11, 2.14, 2.17, 2.20) had worked with David Lynch on the film “Blue Velvet” before “Twin Peaks.” Shaw said, “There was an environment David set in the pilot … it really was this land of experience.” Shaw told the audience, “the big thing for us as editors – as soon as a script came out, we would all sit down and read it.” Shaw said Lynch and Frost created a fine show, “But I have to give props to ABC for having the stones to put it on the air.” Caleb Deschanel agreed but added there was a lot more censorship on television at the time, but the writers would get around this by placing very obvious items to censor in the script. But they also included a lot more subtle and subversive items, which would not get cut.

Toward the end of the panel session, Kimmy Robertson asked Mary Jo Deschanel if she ever brought her daughters Emily and Zoey to the set. Deschanel said Emily was 12 and Zoey was 9 at the time. According to Deschanel, Zoey couldn’t watch the show, but Emily did. I was a little older than Emily when I began watching "Twin Peaks." Thank goodness the Deschanels allowed Emily to watch the show because it was and is a work of art. Fortunately, even though I was a teenager, my parents didn’t censor what I read or watched, but maybe that’s why I have insomnia. That and perhaps all the damn fine coffee I drink.

Thus concludes the penultimate panel before the end of season 2 , which will be screened on April 14. Until then, remember, there may in fact be no such thing as coincidence, my friends. See you then. We interview Alex Ago, the moderator from USC on this podcast. Click here to listen. Stay tuned for my next blog about the April 14 USC Twin Peaks Retrospective. The panel includes Ian Buchanan (Actor, “Dick Tremayne”), Julee Cruise (Songwriter/Performer), Sherilyn Fenn (Actor, “Audrey Horne”), and David Patrick Kelly (Actor, “Jerry Horne”).