New reviews, interviews, and features via RSS or Email.

Sponsored Links

Kyle MacLachlan—Touch of Pink, Twin Peaks—06/18/04

Kyle MacLachlan has played Romeo on stage (twice), Hamlet's father, Paul Atreides (Dune), Josef K (The Trial), and Agent Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks). On the occasion of the 28th San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, MacLachlan visited San Francisco to speak at the Opening Night Gala screening of Touch of Pink, the film in which he plays the Spirit of Cary Grant. I spoke with MacLachlan the next day—June 18, 2004—at the W Hotel in San Francisco, CA.

Groucho: Remarkably, you pulled off playing the spirit of Cary Grant, arguably the greatest movie star who ever lived—

Kyle MacLachlan: Yes, I agree.

Groucho: Did taking that part give you pause, and was there a moment when you knew you'd found your way into the role?

Kyle MacLachlan: It did give me pause, but at the same time I felt like...when is the chance ever going to—it was one of those where I was sort of caught between a rock and a hard place, really. I certainly didn't think this opportunity was ever going to come up again. So I thought, well, I'm just going to have to give it my best shot. I think I somehow rationalized it by saying, well, it's an independent film. If it's not successful, y'know, no harm, no foul. It was one of those. But I also felt motivated, after meeting with Ian and his producer Martin Pope, to try and create the best Cary Grant that I could do because I thought the story was so great. If I could help make this story really sing, we really could have something here. Because it was so beautifully written and such a heartfelt journey that I felt was important. And I was so pleased because I heard that Jimi Mistry was attached, and I really thought, "Wow. This is really a great actor. Ooh, I think he can carry this off," so pieces began to fall into place in the proper order.

G: And since this Cary Grant is a projection of Jimi Mistry's character, you were sort of playing two parts at once. You're responsible for two characters—

KM: Yeah. Well, his imaginary friend, really. I mean, it's a pretty cut-and-dried device. But he—but I don't—I only exist as if, as I existed in Cary Grant films, so there's no "Who was the man?", "What's he about?", y'know, "What's his past like?" It was really just, what would Cary have done in Charade? What would Cary have done in Notorious? What would Cary have done in North By Northwest? And so, my source material was pretty easy. I just got the DVD. (Laughs.)

G: About that, GQ magazine once described you as "the kind of guy who'd pack a week early for a boy scout trip." So after accepting the role of Grant—

KM: Johanna Schneller. (Chuckles.)

G: What research did you do, and what practical approaches did you use to embody the Spirit of Grant?

KM: There were a couple things that were key, I felt. One was—and most particular was—the voice. I knew that I couldn't do anything about the visual; the visual was going to be what it was, y'know? I knew we could sort of give it a sense, and change my hairline slightly, and they did a little bit of a shading around my chin. But I said, y'know, that's basically it. I'm not interested in trying to put any kind of prosthetic on and get a different kind of jawline or whatever. It's just going to be what it's going to be. Most importantly was just for me to get the physicality as close as I could, and of primary importance was the voice, so a friend of mine suggested that I look at Some Like It Hot, because Tony Curtis does an over-the-top...

G: Right.

KM: Homage, really, to Cary Grant. And that was extremely helpful, because when you hear an accent done or a voice, 'cause his—well, I guess you could call it an accent—to that degree, you get what makes it specific, so I was able to listen to that and then take my dialogue and, y'know, run it into the ground in trying to sort of recreate the cadence and the sound and the vowels and the consonants and all that kind of stuff.

G: Sure. And having gone through that, would you have any specific advice about the nuances of Cary Grant to would-be impersonators?

KM: (Laughs.) Would-be impersonators. Well, I think listening to, or watching, Some Like It Hot: incredibly helpful. And I think listening to Cary's voice change over the decades of his career, because what you hear in North By Northwest and To Catch a Thief is a much different Cary Grant than His Girl Friday, or way, way back in the beginning, If Angels Had Wings [Ed. Only Angels Have Wings] and even before that. There's also a very helpful documentary that I didn't have as a source material that's out right now, that Robert Trachtenberg has done called Cary Grant: A Class Apart, I think, which is coming out on the Turner—

G: Turner Classic Movies.

KM: Yeah, exactly right. And that was, that was interesting to watch just because he does reference a lot of films that are difficult to get any more.

G: In the film, Grant says, "Your people do have a fondness for the brassy broads, don't you?"

KM: Right, right.

G: But there's also a coyness or maybe a touch of pink to Grant, I think, in the movie in that he's hanging out in Jimi Mistry's bachelor pad. Did that inform how you played the role at all or, as you said before, just to the extent that you felt about the films?

KM: Pretty much to the extent that he, as he existed in the films. There were a couple of times when—in one scene in particular, we're doing the sweep of the apartment prior to the arrival of his mother, who is absolutely in the dark about his orientation, and so we want to sort of de-gay the apartment, and I decided that what we needed in the scene was sort of Cary Grant from, um, um, from, um—oh, the film with Hepburn, um—

The Philadelphia Story?

KM: No, the one, uh, the crazy, the screwball, uh—

G: Bringing Up Baby.

KM: Bringing Up Baby, thank you. And so we got, got the glasses, y'know, which also helped tremendously, and he's wearing the silk robe, and he's just very, he's just very Cary in that moment, y'know, and so I gotta say that the props and the costumes really helped a lot, a lot more than I thought they would in terms of me sort of believing that I was Cary Grant.

G: And that's something that's typically useful for you, right? I think David Lynch said that you like gadgets. You like to have—

KM: It's very helpful as an actor to have something: a trigger, I think. Sometimes it works for the entire run or the film, or it will work just within the scene, but if there's something that you can find that just sort of puts you into a different place for a minute, and then you sustain that. Whether it's the way you drink your coffee, or pick up your cup, or, y'know, a little toy that you play with or something, something that can be as simple as sort of playing with a rubber band would be a certain kind of rhythm, you know. And that, with Lynch, particularly well with Twin Peaks, especially: you know, there's a whole tape recorder device that I've got, and there's donuts—and there's a lot of things to play with there. And I found that very true with Cary, too.

G: You once described your process as torment. Has acting gotten any easier for you over the years?

KM: Well, yeah. Yes and no, I think, and depends on what the demand is, you know. If I'm going to be doing a play off Broadway—or on Broadway, The Caretaker—[it] is torment. You know, because it's never going to be absolutely right. And it shouldn't be absolutely right. I keep saying that. But I seem to be drawn to those kind of things. I've sort of re-found the passion of golf. And golf is one of those games that you never get right, and it's always a torment; it's always a process. And I think it's not so dissimilar from the way I seem to be able to work in things. Now, that said, there are other jobs that the expectation isn't quite so high, and those are actually fun because you know that you can relax a little bit. And sometimes, because of that, they turn out better, because you're not driving yourself into the ground, so it's fun to do a little bit of everything.

G: You mentioned The Caretaker. That was your first Broadway run, right?

KM: Yeah.

G: With your old friend Patrick Stewart.

KM: Yeah. From Dune. Oh, God.

G: What took you so long to make it to Broadway?

KM: It's so funny. They just didn't want me. They didn't want me. I started out going to acting training school in the University of Washington. I studied very seriously there. Trained for regional theater. So you can do a number of different roles over the course of the year if you're hired for a company. And that was what I was going to do. And then I got cast for Dune out of Seattle. They came to visit and said, "We want an unknown," something that you will never hear anymore, particularly in the state of the business at the moment. An unknown? They will run screaming from the room. But it redirected me. And then there comes the whole fear of "Gee, if I"—at that time, particularly in the eighties, late eighties—"if I leave the environment of Los Angeles and go do a play, then, geez, I will have lost my tempo—"

G: Momentum.

KM: —or my momentum. And so that kind of kept me away. And I was living in L.A. and just kept saying, oh yes, you know, I'm a theater actor, theater actor, never really doing it. And finally I just got to a point in my life, looking around and sort saying, "Well, I've done this and I've done this and I've done this. And, well, it's a new challenge," you know? Well, there's this play that they're doing in London, and it was in the West End—On an Average Day, with Woody Harrelson—and that was kind of the first return after something like fourteen years, and it was like riding a bicycle. I loved the rehearsal process. But the first night, got on stage in front of an audience, was like "Yeah, this is totally fun. I'm comfortable."

G: And Ian saw you there for this film?

KM: And yeah. That's exactly right. How he got Cary Grant out of the character that I was playing in that, I have no idea. Nothing like him.

G: Um, you mentioned Dune. Though it's a flawed film, Dune has steadily gained in regard over the years. Twenty years later, how do you look on your feature film debut?

KM: Well, you know, it was—it's not that I'm proud of the film, but I think because it's David Lynch, it has a worthiness somehow. It's got a—it won't disappear. Just because he's—the idea of David Lynch doing a big—what was at the time a big-budget film—

G: Right.

KM: Quoting at like forty million dollars. I'm sure it was about half that. Creative accounting, but, um, that was just an odd combination and rarely happens, so what you're going to get is just some really unusual things that, just, you're never going to see again. And because of that, I think, the movie stays around because it's not unlike—I mean, it's not like Blade Runner in any way, but that's also very, very flawed, and yet it's one of my favorite films simply because I go there and the world disappears, and I'm in another place—

G: Yeah.

KM: For better or for worse. Sometimes the scenes are goofy; sometimes they're brilliant. Sometimes it makes sense; sometimes it doesn't make sense. Doesn't matter, y'know? I'm just happy to be in that world, and I think that's what people are experiencing now. And it's kind of fun.

G: Sure.

KM: Y'know? To be a part of something like that.

G: Back in 1984, you called the restoration of Arrakis scene "one of those wonderful moments in acting when art and life come together in a way that changes you." Since then—

KM: (Laughs.) I really should—I'm going to apologize for that statement right now. I was young, callow, and I had no idea what I was speaking about.

G: But have you, since then, experienced any moments akin to that, a moment that just gave you pause, when you said, "Something's really happening here."

KM: (Laughs.) I could answer that in any number of ways. I could reference Showgirls in a very unusual way. The Dune experience to which you're referring, I think, was, y'know, obviously, life-changing for me in a number of ways, and exciting. And it seems that, since then, there have been a number of other times that I also felt like I'm a part of something that is potentially going to be very special. And you can kind of feel it. We felt it a little bit with Blue Velvet. Although we also felt that, you know, eight people were going to see it. But we felt like we were making something very interesting. Felt it with Twin Peaks. The pilot.

G: Right.

KM: Simply because it was so unusual for that to be on television. None of us thought it had a chance of any longevity. That was completely surprising. And there have been other times, things that have been more or less successful—I did this thing called The Trial, in Prague, which was just an extraordinary experience, very difficult. Not many people saw it, but I was really satisfied with the film. And another one that I remember is the Hamlet that I did for Michael Almereyda, with Ethan Hawke, which was one of those where, at the time you felt like something magical was happening but couldn't tell you what.

G: Yeah.

And, you know, the film comes out, and it's just a really wonderful interpretation of that play. A reimagining of that play. And I felt this one, too, had the potential: the way the filming was going, what was happening, and the vibe that was on the set, and you just get kind of a feeling like, wow, if a few more pieces fall into place— and sometimes they do and sometimes they don't—this could have an interesting life.

G: It seems to be striking a chord with audiences.

KM: So far. So far, so good. It's always one of those, y'know—I've been around long enough to sort of hold back on my enthusiasm, simply because it can be dashed in so many ways, but all the screenings that I've seen and for the most part the people who have seen it, reviewers, have been very positive about it. Some mixed: some have quibbles with this and with that, the structure and the form, but anyone who's seen it who has a heart—the rest of the critics—I think can't help but be transported into the film and enjoy the process of getting to know these characters.

G: You mentioned Blue Velvet, and it's often said that on comedies, things can be deadly serious, and on dramas, things can be light-hearted to break up the tone.

KM: Mm-hm.

G: What was the tone of that set like?

KM: Very light. That's a very good way to put it. We had—we laughed all the way through that film. We had such a great time. I mean, there were a few days where we didn't laugh quite so much: I'd say particularly some of the stuff between Dennis [Hopper] and Isabella [Rossellini] was very hardcore, but a lot of that also, I think, has to do with the director and the tone the director sets, and David is serious, but he's also got a wonderful sense of humor, and has a very light touch, has got a light heart. So he's responsible for a lot of the mood and the fun that existed on that set.

G: While I'm thinking of it, too, what is the origin, in your past, of the "chicken walk"? That's a high school thing that emerged?

KM: (Laughs.) You know, that's funny. I'm trying to remember. I saw some of Blue Velvet the other day, and I say the other day, it was a few—I'm sure it was months ago, but it was on TV, and I sat to watch it for a bit, and I was just kind of watching it and going, "Gosh, this really kind of holds up. It's a very interesting film, it's beautiful to look at and a funny little storyline," and suddenly there was that scene where I'm walking with Laura Dern. I was like, "Oh, yeah! I was like, that's—I remember when I did that." And I think that came out of acting school. I think. I don't even know. It could have been that, or it could have been—it was either acting school or was a buddy of mine on the golf course and, just to be goofy, because you're walking home, you just do these sort of strange things to entertain, y'know, keep us interested. Something from the past. And David saw it, and there it was. That's also one of the brilliant things about David, y'know? Something will happen, he'll see it, and he'll grab it. He recognizes it as truth, but something you could never think about or write or expect to see in a film but that is engaging, and some of the great moments in film, that's what it's all about, y'know?

G: Lucky accidents.

KM: Happy accidents; that's exactly right. And that somehow the audience connects to it because it's so un-self-conscious, y'know? It's just people sort of behaving.

G: Sure.

KM: In unusual ways.

G: You say on your website that, of all the films you've done, The Hidden is the one that your brothers quote the most.

KM: Yes, they do. I'm glad you found the website! It hasn't been up very long. That's great.

G: In hindsight, do you think that role of Lloyd Gallagher was a warmup for the iconic detective Agent Cooper?

KM: In some ways he was. He was sort of a Harold Lloyd influence, which was an influence on—now that you bring it almost full-circle, I guess—in Bringing Up Baby, Cary Grant. Howard Hawks had this, and that's where he found his sort of screwball roots, I think, was going back to Harold Lloyd. I think it was. I'd never done anything like that before, and I was not well-supported. The director—nice man, didn't have a clue—so I was left to my own devices, and that's what came out. And I look at it now, and I say, "God, that actually works." 'Cause the expectations for the film—I think I mention that—I always say, "We only thought we were going to make, oh, maybe a 'B' movie, and it turned actually to be an 'A-'" I think I said, "'B' movie, turned into an 'A-'," and worth a look. But that was just what came out. And it was that sort of dry, still, hopefully funny situation that if you actually believe something, and the camera stays on you long enough, you can actually turn it into something. And I think that started it. That character there is borrowed, I think. Cooper was sort of from that, and I don't know if there's anything that's recent. I haven't really had a chance to do that. Cary has a little bit of that in it. It's a dry comedy, y'know? It's ironic. But it started there.

G: Yeah. On the edge of deadpan.

KM: Exactly right. Exactly right.

G: You've also referred to Cooper as "Jeffrey grown up," which—

KM: Yeah, I think I heard that, and I thought, "Oh, that sounds kind of good. Yeah, let's go with that." It was one of those where I thought, yeah, that sort of makes a nice handle. People can get a hold of that, and I thought that could be something interesting. I'd love to see—I'd love to go now and revisit Jeffrey—

G: Yeah.

KM: Again, in something. Y'know, years have passed, obviously, so—

G: I was just going to say, I think what's provocative about that comment is that it suggests that maybe there's another stage, you know, after the boyish wonder and the violent stirrings of manhood—

KM: Yeah.

G: What's next?

KM: Yeah.

G: What would be the next phase?

KM: Yeah. And you would want to enter that phase after he's gone through experiences, so he's already been formed—

G: Right.

KM: Again, and then have him encounter something else that would comment on that...but who knows if that'll ever happen.

G: Sure, well, there are so many factors, but do you think now that you've pierced that "Lynch mystique" that—

KM: Right.

G: That you see the door open to working with David again?

KM: Oh, yeah, I mean, I've always sort of maintained that it will happen again, the door is open. It's just, uh, y'know, David creates in his own particular way, obviously and—

G: And at his own pace.

KM: Yeah, and so, um, we worked together for a period of time, and then, y'know, he's gone to do other things, I've gone to do other things, and I always feel like these things are cyclical and that maybe, you know, sometime it'll come back again. I would love for it to come back, it'd be fun to revisit that. To be on set again with David, working, would be a real pleasure.

G: About a Lynch set, much of your work with Lynch is deeply rooted in clear characterization, I think, but the famous Red Room epitomizes his intuitive dimension as a storyteller, and I wonder, for you, did you formulate your own sense of that reality for your character, or did you rely strictly on his tonal direction?

KM: Tonal, all the way. David, where David sets things, and the rhythm that he's going to imbue a scene with, um: music, sound, all those things, I don't know. I don't know how he's going to do that. I have a sense of I know what he's going to do, but, um. It's much better to let him bake the cake, make the batter, you know what I mean?

G: Yeah.

KM: I'm an ingredient, and I'll do my thing, because I don't know how it's going to turn out, necessarily, so I gotta stay real true to my reality and what I'm going through, and then all the other layers that he puts onto that make sense. If I start sort of reacting or relating or trying to behave in a certain way that's, you know, incongruent with what's happening or trying to support it...y'know? I know this is sort of vague. Then my sense is it would look sort of forced and not real. So I let him create that world, and I mean, I have my sense of what the Red Room was and what it was like, and I remember watching it for the first time on Sunday, it's like, if you had left the room and gotten a sandwich and come back and sat back down and thought you were watching the same show, Twin Peaks

G: Right.

KM: You would have been very confused (Laughs.)

G: Sure. Did you find, when you immersed in that process with him, that he enabled you to tap into that, that same way that he had of taking ideas out of the air?

KM: Right. You kind of do. I mean, as an artist, you do, because you immediately go, you just—you don't go, "Hey, wait a minute, this doesn't make any—". You're like, "Yeah, okay, I see where you're going" because we've sort of left the path now, and we're wandering a bit in the wilderness in a kind of a wonderful place. And you know that it's, that stuff is—I mean Tim Burton does it in a completely different way, but it's not so dissimilar, I don't think. And I just really love that because it just, it's the one thing you can't do on stage, you know what I mean? You can transport, and you can take it into a different place, and it can suddenly— If you've lulled the audience into a sort of a state of complacency, you can kind of like, okay, wham, you can hit 'em with this stuff. It's not so linear as stage, and I think that's, geez, one of maybe David's forté, I think, that's one of the greatest things about him is that, y'know, you're getting that subconscious experience mainlined.

G: Yeah.

KM: You know? It's very pure. (Laughs.)

G: You've worked in improvisatory mode, you've done farce, you've done heavy drama, you've done stage, film, and TV: at this point—

KM: Yeah. What's left?

G: What are you itching to do?

KM: What's left to do? Gee—

G: A musical, maybe?

KM: I tried, yeah, I mean. Isn't that funny? I mean, it's so funny, because when I was school, that's what I did. I was—I sang. I mean I studied classical voice at the University of Washington.

G: Piano.

KM: Piano, guitar. Yeah, music, very musical, and sang all the time, was singing songs all the time. And then, bang! Dune came along and—

G: Right.

KM: That stopped that. That nipped that—but you never know, you never know. It'd be fun to go back.

G: What part do you play, if any, in actively seeking out roles, or do you—as opposed to your agent bringing them to you?

KM: Well, y'know, everybody, everybody has a different experience with that. I have, um, y'know, wonderful representation, but the business is such—and has been this way for a while— that nothing really comes easy. Maybe that's just me. Nothing's ever really come easy. I either had to audition for it and win it, or someone has seen something that I've done and thought, "Oh, wouldn't he be right for this," and either an interest or an offer would come. Pursuit of something any more doesn't really matter. I mean, there's a ton of things that I would love to be able to go in on, and meet on, and do, and make happen.

G: Yeah.

KM: And that's just not a reality. It doesn't matter, kind of, what I think. It's very cost-driven. It always has been, but I think even more so now, and you can't make a movie unless you have a certain name, y'know, or you have a certain—there's a certain box-office expectation. So you've got to work within the shadows and work in the cracks and find your way through all that and do the best you can with what you've got. But for me it's never really been any different than that. I've always been kind of on the outside, and that's just the reality of it. You've got to fight for everything, and sometimes say, "Make it," this choice, based on the best available at the moment, and it's not always the best, but it's the best that you can muster. And it's tough on everybody, y'know? Apart from, I mean, having—agents would like nothing more than just be able to just sit there and have the offers come piling in, and then they do what they do best, which is make a deal, y'know? And they're good at making deals. But in terms of driving careers and doing it, I mean they do the best they can, but their hands are really tied by the nature of the business right now.

G: Right. Yeah, that George Reeves project would be a real corker if—

KM: Right, right. No, it had kind of a sad history, but listen, there, that's one story of many of mine and thousands of people in Hollywood. It just never works in a straight line, and that's not to say that it might not come back around again, but that was a clear case of just, hey, y'know, box office, and y'know, you need this guy to guarantee this kind of money, foreign. And my name wasn't on the list. (Laughs.) Y'know? It's just that simple.

G: Apropos of nothing, but did you have many Lost in Translation moments when you were in Japan?

KM: It's so funny. I remember going over there a lot during a period of time, and I know that room, where they shot all that stuff, in that bar, I've been there. And probably listened to the same music. And you add to that that you're in a jet-lag situation, usually, and in a culture where you do not recognize a single letter—

G: Sure.

KM: I had that experience when I was in Moscow a couple months ago, and I look at a street sign, and I'm, for the hell that's a street sign, but I couldn't tell you what that is, y'know? But in Tokyo, or Japan, it's even more difficult. It is a very unusual society. And if you're over there without any kind of help, meaning someone who really knows, who's been there, who's lived there, who knows where to go and the places to go and the places to avoid: you would be completely lost. And just feel like you're on a little island. Your hotel is your little island, and you just can't get off. So—

G: And in the '90s, you probably were swarmed all the time, with the—

KM: Well, we, it was all, it was the time of, yeah, the great, the early '90s, '89, '90 was all the Twin Peaks stuff, so I was there to shoot a couple of commercials over there and, I mean, it was a pretty dramatic time for me and very exciting. And it just, uh, it's an unusual country. I don't know what else to say. I mean, I really enjoyed Lost in Translation. I mean, I also love Bill Murray, he's—

G: Well, you worked with him on Hamlet.

KM: Yeah, I worked with him on Hamlet, and there's a very funny story—well, I don't know how funny it is, but we were standing next to each other by the pool, and he was doing a scene and he was really going, really making a point to Ophelia, Julia Stiles as Ophelia, and he was really "Lord Hamlet is a prince out of thy star," y'know, and he was hammering her and, y'know, "Cut!", and I walked over and I said, "C'mon," hand on the shoulder. I didn't really know him that well. I said, "Y'know, Bill. She's not that bad of a kid." And he just kind of turned to me and said, "You are very brave." (Laughs.) And I just— I kind of nodded my head and walked away. (Sharp exhale.) "What did he mean by that?" I don't know, but I think I escaped with my life.

G: Yeah. Next to the pool and all, yeah.

KM: Yes, I would have been swimming.

What will be your lasting memory of working on Sex and the City?

KM: Oh man. That was, um, that was a show of, of, um—I mean, it was a lot of laughter, I guess. I remember—the character I played was a particular favorite of the crew, and certainly some of the scenes we had an awful lot of fun with. And I remember just enjoying the goofiness of who he was. At the same time, keeping a hold on his humanity, because you never want it to become so silly that he could just be written off after one or two shows. I mean he had a really nice arc, so they had a certain kind of heart and pathos that had to be there, that we would hit every now and then, y'know? But I remember just enjoying some of the wackier things that would come out of his mouth and the situations: cardboard baby and lying on the bed with Kristin [Davis], who played Charlotte, alongside and Frances [Sternhagen], who played my mother, on the other, and that's one of the clips they're using, I think, for TBS that I was reminded of recently...having a really wonderful laugh at it. A very fun place to work. And it was only that way because of the brilliance of the people that were involved: the extraordinary writing staff and crew and actors. And the only way you can really have that kind of confidence to enjoy and laugh and feel like we're really riding a big wave here is if everyone knows what the hell they're doing.

G: Well, I think I'm getting the hook here, so—

KM: Is that right? That's it!

G: So thank you—

KM: Oh, it's a pleasure. Wonderful interview.

G: Thank you.

[For Groucho's review of Touch of Pink, click here.]

Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink
Sponsored Links