The Thoughts of Agent Cooper

Kyle MacLachlan

He talks of the place where pies go when they die.

He dictates his thoughts to a mysterious figure called Diane.

He is, of course, Special Agent Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks,

otherwise known as actor Kyle MacLachlan. And Philip Thomas wants a word.


Diane, there is no way yet known to man whereby apple pie can be made to look like cherry pie, no matter how honed one´s culinary skills may be. Berry pie, though - that, as Twin Peaks´ Special Agent Cooper may say, is a whole different ball of wax. Highly skilled specialists in Home Economics can, given the right budget and a small bottle of cochineal, pass berry pie off as Special Agent Cooper´s beloved cherry pie, a masking technique that was necessary every time - i.e. quite often - a mouthful of the stuff was consumed on-screen in Twin Peaks by the raven-haired FBI employee. And the reason for such complex in-kitchen jiggery-pokery is that Kyle MacLachlan - Twin Peaks´ Agent Cooper - places cherry pie right up there among his most destested foods in all the world, battling it out with boiled bacon and cabbage.

"Apple is in fact my favorite pie," says MacLachlan, in only slightly less clipped tones than his eccentric alter-ego employs on the "cult" mystery series. "But they can´t make it look like cherry, so they gave me berry pie, which I can just about cope with."

A great acting feat, then, to appear so enraptured each time you thrust a spoonful down the old gullet?

"I went to acting school for three years," chuckles MacLachlan, "just to learn how to do that."

The 32-year-old Kyle MacLachlan did indeed complete three years at acting school - in Washington State in the north-west corner of the USA - and was in something of a wondering-what-to-do-next situation when a delegation from the production team of Dune, David Lynch´s 1984 adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel, arrived in Seattle. They, like several other teams despatched throughout the U.S., had been sent by Lynch to find the star of the film - the only prerequisite being that he should be a complete unknown.

"It was all part of the hype for the film," recalls MacLachlan. "But in the end I was chosenm, and I went down to Los Angeles to meet David, and I had lunch with him. He doesn´t really like to talk about the project, he just likes to talk about whatever comes up. So we talked about the North West, because we´re both from there, and we talked about red wine. You just have to sort of try to find common ground, which I think we did. Mind you, I don´t know of anyone who doesn´t get along with David. He´s very interested in everything and everybody."

MacLachlan clinched the role of Paul Atreides in Dune, which turned out, of course, to be the only immediately dumper-bound Lynch film to date, with critics lambasting the flaccid production and audiences staying away in droves. MacLachlan, after filming had finished, was left to stew in his own juice, his contract stipulating that he must not work in any other movie until Dune was released, to ensure that it really was the young graduate´s picture debut. Thus, for 15 months, Kyle MacLachlan was paid to do nothing, and when his movie debut finally appeared, it was in what can only be described as a stinker.

"I have as many theories as to why it failed as I have hairs on my head," says MacLachlan. "It´s very frustrating, but I think David tried to make the sideline issues of the book become the main issue, whereas in fact the main issue was really about the people. You know, Herbert borrowed a lot from T.E. Lawrence´s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and there are great elements in his book. Sadly, David didn´t latch on those parts."

Happily, though, America´s hippest director had obviously latched on to Kyle MacLachlan, choosing him in 1985 to star in Blue Velvet, a film never too far away from anyone´s list of Best Movies Of The 80s. In 1987, MacLachlan went off on his own to star in the critically acclaimed blockbuster-like The Hidden, before Lynch came back to him with a peach of a role in a new TV series that had "cult hit" written all over it. At the now legendary moment when Agent Cooper first dictates the details of his arrival in the logging community of Twin Peaks, MacLachlan left the company of the middle-ranking stars of the cinema to become one of the most famous faces on television.

Even the briefest resumé of MacLachlan´s career to date highlights the link between the actor and David Lynch, a link so painfully apparent that the term "alter-egos" has been used in some quarters to describe the pair.

"Hmmm," muses MacLachlan. "I guess we´re friends, but I´m not sure we´re very good friends, and I certainly don´t know about alter-egos. Professionally, the constant linking used to be more irritating than it is now, because I´ve just done The Doors with Oliver Stone (MacLachlan plays keyboard player Ray Manzarek). I mean, for a while it did seem like David was the only director who would hire me, and that´s tough. I guess any time a director and an actor work together for more than one film, people draw parallels."

Kyle MacLachlan

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Cooper (left) with Sheriff Truman (Michael Ontkean) in Twin Peaks: "There is a strong reaction to the show - people either love it like a drug of they just don´t care."

It was particularly interesting, says MacLachlan, to contrast Oliver Stone´s working methods with those of Mr. Lynch.

"They´re very different people," he laughs. "Even when David was heading up Dune, which was a very stressful time, I felt I could have a conversation with him and he´d focus on me, give me time, even if it was only five minutes. But with Oliver, it´s always definitely on his terms - he´ll talk to you only if he wants to."

So the two-times Oscar-winning director is indeed as gruff as his reputation would suggest?

"He can be," considers MacLachlan. "But he can also be the sweetest, warmest, most supportive human being. He has this teasing game he plays - he´ll criticise you, and he cuts a bit deeper than he thinks he does. I just throw it right back at him, because the reason he does it is to fuck with your mind, and as long as you realise that, you´re OK."

In addition to The Doors, MacLachlan can also be seen soon on British television advertising Ruffles, a brand of Walkers´ Crisps, a peculiarly Twin Peaks-style deal that would surely have been a shade unlikely to have materialised before the series. It would seem, then, that Special Agent Cooper has changed everything for MacLachlan.

"There´s no denying that working in television is extraordinary when compared with movies or the theatre," he agrees. "The recognition factor is much, much higher. And in terms of the business side of it, I think producers are obviously more interested if they can cast a well-known name and face who will help them with selling tickets. The show had an initial exposure of tremendous numbers all over the world, and then people decided whether the show was for them or not. There is a strong reaction to it - people either love it like a drug or they just don´t care, they don´t like the style."

Part of the reason this huge audience was initially attracted to the series was, of course, the name David Lynch - the thought of the man once described as "Jimmy Stewart From Mars" being involved in a TV programme being just too delicious to resist. And that, strangely enough, gets Kyle MacLachlan´s goat.

"It´s completely a marketing ploy," he says. "David really doesn´t have much to do with the show now. He directed the pilot and a couple of other episodes and he has a look at the scripts every now and again. David sort of cut out pretty early, and now Mark (Frost, creator and co-producer) has farmed out the writing, so they didn´t really stay with the show. I resent the fact that it´s 'David Lynch´s Twin Peaks' a bit, because now it has much more to do with the new writers and the cast - we´re trying to keep the thing interesting. It can be difficult, because all the really eccentric bits - the dream sequence, the giant - they´re all David, and if anyone else tries things like that, it just looks like a bad copy."

Even though the world now knows the identity of Laura Palmer´s killer, there are still a number of episodes of the current series left, during which we learn of a "larger hand" guiding the murderer. This second series is 22 episodes long, and seems et to retain its substantial audience here, as it did post-murderer revelation in the U.S.

What, then, is Special Agent Dale Cooper´s very own take on why this bizarre TV soap opera is so popular, and indeed on why his own character is so beloved by so many - particularly women viewers?

"I think Agent Cooper´s a bit like Sherlock Holmes," muses MacLachlan, "in the sense that he´s very intelligent and can pick up clues to the mystery very cleverly. But there´s another side to him as well. He has great sensitivity, he understands people and he cares about them. That´s a rare combination in a character, and I think people warm to that. I think the series itself is best summed up by Albert the pathologist. He´s my favorite character because he´s someone who is able to be strange and eccentric but within the boundaries of Twin Peaks, he almost appears normal. That´s the secret, really - that´s what all the characters should be like. To appear to be normal, but actually to be very eccentric and wild..."

Philip Thomas
EMPIRE, 1991.