Kyle MacLachlan

Kyle MacLachlan Dune

Another transcript, this time for a piece that kind of got lost along the way. This interview with Kyle MacLachlan, concentrating specifically on Dune and Blue Velvet (apologies to Twin Peaks fans, but sadly it wasn’t part of the agenda), was scheduled to coincide with the release of a DVD/Blu-ray box-set of David Lynch films, from Universal. A short version went alongside the review in the relevant section of Empire magazine, and the full thing was supposed to go on the website. However, a manufacturing fault with the Blu-rays lead to them being withdrawn after release, so online publication of the full interview was held back. And by the time the discs had resurfaced, the moment had basically passed and the interview wasn’t used in full after all.

So this is it, and it’s an interview I especially remember. As is often the case with these things, the interview was by phone and I only had a very short time-slot (because I was in a queue with other interviewers). But a couple of hours after our initial fifteen minutes, my phone rang, and it was Kyle again, saying that he didn’t feel we’d had long enough and he wanted to keep talking. That had never happened to me before and has yet to happen again. It’s one reason in particular that I wanted to make sure the full version found its way online.

OW: These films are obviously the start of your long working relationship with David Lynch: do you remember the first time you met him?

KM: Absolutely! It was at Universal Studios in one of the famous bungalows there. I had auditioned for Dune in Seattle, for one of the casting ladies, and she had recommended that David and Rafaella [De Laurentiis, producer] meet me. They flew me from Seattle to LA, and they brought me straight from the airport to meet David. I arrived at the bungalows a little early, and David was on his way back from having lunch at [legendary American diner] Bob’s Big Boy, which was his daily ritual. I was wearing the only smart coat that I had at the time – I’d been out of school less than a year, so this was all new to me. I’d never been to LA before; nobody had ever paid for a flight for me. David walked in the room, and he was wearing what at the time, and I think still is, his uniform: khaki pants, black sport coat and white shirt, buttoned up to the top. He was very warm and very friendly. This is almost thirty years ago, so I think I was about 23, and David is about ten years older than me. We were just kids! He sat me in one of the offices, and we just talked about things we had in common. We talked about where we both grew up. I grew up in Yakima, and he grew up in Montana and Idaho, very similar parts of the world. We talked about that and we talked about our enjoyment of red wine, and we didn’t talk much about the movie, or why I was there! During the course of the conversation, Rafaella came in and I was introduced, and at the end of the conversation they gave me the script and said to come back in a few days and read the scenes he’d highlighted for a screen-test.

David Lynch with Dune author Frank Herbert.

David Lynch with Dune author Frank Herbert.

Did you research him before you met him? Had you seen Eraserhead and The Elephant Man?

I didn’t do anything particularly. I’d seen Eraserhead when I was at college – it was always playing at midnight showings up in Seattle. And Elephant Man I thought was unbelievable. So I knew a little bit about where he’d come from and what he did, but not too much.

So did it seem incongruous that the Eraserhead guy was making a huge studio sci-fi movie?

Certainly in hindsight… But at the time I was so new to films, I’d never been in front of a camera, so I didn’t think much about it. I guess it made sense to me somehow! He was wonderfully supportive throughout the whole process. When I came to screen test, everything was new: make-up and wardrobe and being on a sound-stage and what a camera was and who all these people were and what they were doing… There was a lot of sitting around and I didn’t know what my responsibility was. I’d come from theatre and that world is such a smaller family of people. You have a stage manager and props guys; you do your own make-up. I was quite nervous, or uncomfortable, and David was wonderful at making me feel at ease and encouraging me.

It must have been fantastically exciting to be heading up this massive film as basically your first job. Was it then crushingly disappointing that it wasn’t as well received as everyone hoped?

My getting cast was quick. I screen-tested, David seemed pleased, I remember running the gamut of three or four of the set-pieces – one talking direct to camera, one in the desert – and then I was in Seattle back in theatre for a few days, and then they said they wanted a second screen-test in Mexico City and that’s when I had to say goodbye to the play. I stayed down in Mexico City when I got the call saying I’d got the role. I felt kind of numb. It wasn’t like jubilation, it was a sort of odd calm, like ‘OK, I’m going to go and do this movie now’. I’d befriended some of the younger English guys who were the art department, who were roughly the same age as me, so I shared it with them. We were having a beer in the hotel and a call for me came through and I took it. And I went back and finished my beer and said ‘Hey, it’s going to be me,’ and they were like, ‘Oh great,’ in that typically English, understated sort of way!

So it was like the next journey for me. I wasn’t really aware until I got on the set and saw the scope of what was happening – the stages and the size of the production. It was massive, but again, to my mind at the time, I just thought this was how you make a movie. It wasn’t until I went and did Blue Velvet that I was like, ‘Oh, there are different scales…’ Blue Velvet was a little tiny film we did in Wilmington, kind of off the radar: a completely different animal. So that’s when it really hit home.

Dune David Lynch

Muad’Dib lines up his Fremen.

I went to the premiere of Dune in Washington DC, and it was a big deal. My friends were there, my parents were there and my brothers were there. It was a really great night for me, and a great party. Then I went on a tour though Europe with the movie, which was an extraordinary experience, because I’d never been to Europe before, and we went everywhere! We went to Italy, France, England, Denmark, Germany, all over the place. So that was my personal Dune experience. The reaction only impacted me insofar as there was the expectation from outside that I was going to be a huge movie star, but that was never something I was aspiring to, so when it didn’t happen it was like, oh well, that’s fine. I’d started in theatre and planned to work in regional theatre. Actually I went back to the theatre after we shot Dune, because I was contractually obliged not to do any other film or television work until Dune had been released. There was nothing I could do apart from theatre! Obviously I look back and see that my path could have been a completely different one had Dune been a success, but in the same breath I don’t know whether I was emotionally or at a level in my craft where I would have been at my best. I think I was a ways away. I would just have been at the mercy of whomever the director was that I was working with. So in a way it was good that it turned out the way it did.

Do you find it satisfying that Dune has, to an extent, been re-evaluated now as a sort of mad, flawed masterpiece?

Yes, I have that same response. I think everyone recognises… They love the movie because they love the mood and the tone and the feel. It’s a little bit like Blade Runner – people look at Blade Runner now and say that it’s a great masterpiece, but when it came out it was considered a failure. Dune gained a following over the years. People love to go into that world, even though it doesn’t make sense and it’s kind of all over the place, it just pulls you into this unique experience. That’s David’s great strength, of course: his ability to transport you to a different place. So it wasn’t a Star Wars-esque experience – it was something completely different, and I don’t think there are many films in the sci-fi genre that you can say that about. I have the same appreciation of it as you do. It’s fun for me to go back and look at it – I remember being there and I remember the people involved and all the relationships. I was there for seven months – it was a very long shoot. But again, I just thought that was how movies were made. In an odd way I feel like I caught the tail-end of old-style Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking.

I remember watching Jurgen Prochnow in Das Boot when I was still in college, and being completely blown away by his performance. And less than a year later he was playing my father. Now that was something.

Jurgen Prochnow as Duke Leto Atreides.

Jurgen Prochnow as Duke Leto Atreides.

Did you see a very different David Lynch making Blue Velvet than you saw making Dune?

I did. I think David was much more relaxed making Blue Velvet. He was working on Dune for a year and a half, and it took a toll on him, although to the greater extent I didn’t see any of that. I remember I first came to Dune on the weekend of his birthday – January 20th – and a year later we had his birthday again in the same place in Mexico City, and there was still more for him to go! It just tired him out. He’s always very personable and there’s a great creative energy that flows out of him, which is a pleasure even when you’re working on dark stuff like with Isabella and Dennis. His work process is just one of joy and pleasure, and when we were working together on Blue Velvet, it was really evident. That’s when I began to see the on-the-spot creativity that he brought to Twin Peaks. He’d have written a scene and an actor might suggest an adjustment during rehearsal, and David would allow that to flourish. In television, that hardly ever happens. Dean Stockwell brought all of that make-up and odd sensibility to his Blue Velvet character. David embraced all of that and allowed that to happen, which made his scenes even more intriguing and evil and frightening than had been originally intended. It hadn’t been on the page at all, but it perfectly chimed with David’s vision.

Legend has it that Lynch gave you Blue Velvet almost as an apology for the way Dune went down: is there any truth in that?

No, I read it while we were filming Dune, and I thought it was very, uh, very different! Even not having read very many scripts at all at that point, I could see that. It was dark, and erotic, and very frightening.

The real story is that we were supposed to go with Blue Velvet shortly after Dune was released, but it ended up having to go on hold. Dune was released in December and Blue Velvet was supposed to start in January, I think. But the fact that Dune didn’t have the success that they expected, stopped everything on Blue Velvet until later in the year, August I think.

I had actually said to David that I didn’t think I could do it. I had shared the screenplay with my parents, and my mom, who was very unwell at the time with cancer, read it and thought it was very disturbing. She hadn’t met David, of course; she didn’t know what his process was like. She didn’t say anything about it, but I didn’t want to upset her, so I explained to David and he said that it was fine, and he understood. But then after a few months, I hadn’t been able to forget it, and because of that delay I was able to reach out to David again later on and tell him that I thought I’d made the wrong decision, and we re-engaged and went forward with it.

MacLachlan makes an unpleasant discovery in Blue Velvet.

Kyle makes an unpleasant discovery in Blue Velvet.

The new Blu-ray has a couple of deleted scenes, but Lynch’s initial cut apparently ran to four hours! Is there anything you remember shooting that you miss in the final cut?

I never seem to remember those things! I don’t think I ever saw that rough cut; David never shared that with me. I do know that there were stipulations in David’s contract that he had to bring the film in at a certain length. That’s not unusual at all. But in talking to David, after he rediscovered these other scenes, he told me that he’d fallen in love with all these different pieces again. I think it’s the same way for me… it’s like revisiting friends you haven’t seen for a long time. It’ll be really fun to see those scenes again. I remember when I watched the Redux version of Apocalypse Now: those extra scenes don’t actually help the film at all, but it’s really fun to see them, and I think that’s what we find with Blue Velvet.

I do remember wondering where some of my scenes were when I saw The Doors! But Oliver [Stone] was right: they didn’t add to the film in the end.

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