Interview de Ray Wise
par Terry Gross, NPR, 12 décembre 1990
TG: For months, the most asked question on TV was "Who killed Laura Palmer?"
Coming up, we meet the answer--actor Ray Wise talks with us about playing
Leland Palmer, and he tells us how to do the "Leland Shuffle".
TG: This interview is dedicated to our TV critic David Biancooly (sp?), who
seldom lets a week go by without mentioning "Twin Peaks" on our show.
[next we hear an audio excerpt from the show]
Cooper: Did you kill Laura Palmer?
Leland: [howls] Hoooooo, hoo hoo hoo hoooo hoooo hoooooo.
That's a yes.
TG: It was two Saturdays ago that Leland Palmer confessed to killing his
daughter Laura Palmer. Right after the confession, the evil spirit BOB
left Leland's body and Leland died, which means the actor who played
him, Ray Wise, is out of the series. The perfect time, we thought, to
ask Ray Wise to fill us in on what it was like to star on "Twin Peaks."
Since the premiere of "Twin Peaks." the characters in the series and the
TV viewers who watched it had asked the same question, "Who killed Laura
Palmer?" I asked Ray Wise when *he* found out.
RW: I found out the morning after the Emmy Awards, this last summer. Mark
Frost and David Lynch called me up to their office. Actually, called
Ben Horne--Richard Beymer--and myself and Sheryl Lee, who played Laura
and Maddie Ferguson, up to the office, and we went into a small room
that was devoid of furniture. It was very dark.
This is true. With a kind of Lava Lamp in the corner--a Lava Lamp
waterfall as I recall. And David was sitting on the floor crosslegged
and so was Mark and so was Sheryl Lee. And Richard and I came in and
we sat down crosslegged. And David leaned over and put his hand on my
knee and he said, "It was you."
"It was always you, from Day One. It was you."
And I sort of bowed my head and curled up into a fetal position and said,
and I really can't say the word that I said at the time, but it was,
TG: Why were you upset?
RW: I didn't want it to be me. I grew to love Leland Palmer and his strange
ways and I didn't want it to be him. It's like having a close friend
turn out to be a killer and go to prison and all that sort of thing. I
just didn't want it to be Leland. I wanted Leland to go on and on.
TG: Did it ease the pain though, knowing that in a way he was innocent?
Because after all, he was possessed, it wasn't his own motivation that
killed Laura Palmer.
RW: Absolutely. Mark went on to explain my last show and the meaning of the
last show. And they also filled me in on some of the background that
I hadn't been aware of--that BOB had been inside me for the last four
or five years. Leland is a true innocent, in a sense, because he was
totally possessed by this evil spirit BOB. So when they told me that
it really took the edge off it for me. I was able to accept it a lot
better after that.
TG: Did the writers know right from the start that you did it, that Leland
Palmer was the vehicle?
RW: Oh yeah. Mark and David promised me that they did. They knew it from the
start. I don't think they knew quite *how* they were going to arrive at
that point, but I think that they knew who they wanted it to be. And it
was me. I was the sacrificial lamb.
TG: Let's talk about that last scene--the death scene, after you confess and
then you're barking. Whose idea was it for you to bark?
RW: That's me. That's all me. Tim Hunter directed that episode and Tim did
a wonderful job. But I had all these things sort of planned out in my
head, the way I wanted to approach it anyway. The times when I was
possessed by BOB I wanted to exhibit certain things, and then when I
became Leland again I wanted to show certain things.
The bark just sort of came out--a very feral thing, very wolflike, very
animal-like, and very vicious, and it just seemed to fit with the woods
You know, the wolf in the woods--that kind of thing. I did it anyway.
TG: So you've known the secret to who killed Laura Palmer since the summer.
Were you pledged to secrecy? Were you protected from the public in any
way, so that no one would find out?
RW: Yeah, they made us do everything but sign a paper. They stamped numbers
on all of our scripts, so that if one of our scripts fell into foreign
hands, they would know the party responsible for losing it. It sounds
funny, but it was true that they tried to impose maximum security on
the set, so that no one would know and so there wouldn't be any leaks.
They even tried to fool the crew sometimes. They would have us do certain
scenes with a couple of different actors, and they would film it and
actually waste money and waste film--shoot superfluous footage, just
so people wouldn't know who the real killer was.
TG: What are some of the ways people tried to get you to reveal who killed
RW: Well, they'd just start talking to me. They'd just start talking to me
and asking me supposedly harmless questions. And it's wonderful to be
able to talk to you right now with this load off my chest. I don't have
anything to protect anymore. I can be pretty truthful and it's great
to feel that way.
But people would just start out asking me little questions, seemingly
harmless ones, and then try to lead into the big one and try to slip it
by me without my knowing it. But I always clamped down on it and said,
"Look, I'm sorry. I can't answer that."
TG: When you first started to work on "Twin Peaks," what kind of overall
description and what kind of character description did David Lynch give
RW: When I first came in on "Twin Peaks" it was originally for the role of
Sheriff Truman. David and Mark were seeing me for that role. And then
we talked, our first meeting we talked for about 20 or 25 minutes about
just life in general. And the first cars that we owned. I think David's
was a Volkswagen and mine was a little 1960 Alfa Romeo convertible that
was in pretty good shape. Anyway, we talked about our cars and a couple
of people that we had in common, and that was the extent of the interview.
They called back a few days later and my agent said, "Ray, they're
interested in you for the part of Leland Palmer." And I said, "Wait a
minute. Leland Palmer? Who's he?" So I opened up the script and I
quickly rifled through the pages and said, "Ah yes. There's Leland Palmer,
right here. Un huh. He hears that his daughter has been murdered. OK,
he cries here . . . he goes to the hospital to identify his daughter's
body and he breaks down and cries here." And I thought, "Oh my, this
guy spends a lot of time crying, a lot of time with grief." And that was
my introduction to Leland Palmer. I had to quickly look him up in the
And then several days later, we were all chosen for our various parts,
and we flew up to Seattle about a week later to begin the pilot. And I
thought Leland was a pretty normal, straightforward, simple kind of a guy,
who was a pretty good lawyer in town, reasonably intelligent, reasonably
articulate, who was well liked, and unfortunately had a young daughter
who was murdered. That's what I thought he was in the beginning.
TG: Who came up with the Leland Palmer dance and the weird singing?
RW: The dance, the actual dance that you saw, is mine--it's my creation.
TG: Why don't you describe the dance for our listeners who hadn't been
RW: The Leland Shuffle?
RW: Leland, through his grief, has become terribly, terribly sad. Just moping
around in corners. And he can't seem to be able to deal with the thought
that his daughter is gone, that she was murdered violently.
He sort of regresses back to a time in his past when he used to listen to
big band music on the record player, that his father introduced him to.
He loved that big band music, so he would play these songs from that
era, the big band music, and they would soothe his spirit a little bit and
calm him down and make him feel a little better.
When he played these songs, he would naturally kind of do the dance of the
time, which was a kind of a modified jitterbug. He would vary it with some
If people were watching very closely, they would have seen that the
imaginary partner that Leland was dancing with varied in height from time
to time and that sometimes that person would get very small. That was
little Laura, when she was a little girl. Leland taught her how to dance.
She would stand on his feet, and he would take the steps for her.
So all of these things were going through Leland's mind at the time: the
soothing music, dancing with his daughter. Then it would become too much
for him and he would start to cry and to wail, and hold his head in his
hands. That was the beginning of the Leland Shuffle--doing that modified
jitterbug holding your head in your hands and wailing and crying, and
dancing with yourself.
TG: A lot of the actors in "Twin Peaks" were either considered washed up,
like Richard Beymer, and Peggy Lipton hadn't been on anything for a long
time . . .
RW: We don't like to say "washed up," just "out of the public eye".
TG: Thanks. And a lot of the actors weren't very well known to public at all.
An interesting mix of people . . .
RW: A great mix.
TG: I'm wondering if there was a great esprit de corps because of that. I
could see a lot of actors having a special investment in this because it
was a chance to really be before the public in a way that they either
hadn't been in a long time or hadn't ever been before.
RW: You're saying it better than I could say it. It's absolutely true. Some
of those people, in fact most of them--Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn--
they're just joys to work with. I love them all dearly. Piper Laurie, and
just all the way down the line, the various personalities from different
ethnic backgrounds. We were all thrown together, chosen by David and Mark,
who in their great wisdom picked a group of people they knew instinctively
would get along. And we did.
TG: In a lot of ways, "Twin Peaks" was this weird version of a soap opera.
You did a real afternoon soap opera for about six years, "Love of Life"?
RW: Yes I did.
TG: Describe the character you played.
RW: I played a guy named Jamie Rawlins (sp?) and when I started on that show
in 1970, he was a college student, he was a kind of a pseudo-hippie radical
type who started riots on campus. In one episode, I remember, I caused the
president of the university to have a heart attack.
That's the way he started. Six years later, he was a lawyer in the
district attorney's office. You tell me how that could possibly happen,
but it did.
TG: Social realism.
RW: And in that six and a half years time, I was a cub reporter on the
newspaper, and I had Marsha Mason as a girlfriend for a while there on the
show, and I was almost poisoned by Christopher Reeve, who later became
Superman--he played a character named Ben. I was a garage mechanic,
then a law clerk, and I worked for a judge for a while. Just a million
In the meantime, my wife ran off with my child. My little child fell
through the ice and died. I had an affair with one of my good friend's
wife, and she became pregnant with our illegitimate child. Just a whole
slew of things. My best friend died of a rare blood disease. I can't
even tell you all of the stuff that happened, but it did. It was a lot
TG: You obviously have a nice sense of irony. Was it hard for you to take the
role or the show seriously?
RW: Oh yeah. Sure it was. It was very hard to take seriously. But we tried
to do the best we could. It was a great job. You learn how to act in
front of a camera and you do it on a daily basis. You make a pretty good
wage, which is always a desirable thing.
TG: In your film career, you've worked with some interesting, very quirky
directors. There's David Lynch from "Twin Peaks", Paul Schraeder directed
you in the remake of "Cat People", Wes Craven in "Swamp Thing". Do you
like quirky movies like that?
RW: As a matter of fact, I do. I enjoy watching them, and I certainly enjoy
being in them. I think that because I like to do movies like that, they
sort of gravitate toward me--these parts become available to me becuase I
*want* them to be available to me, and I end up doing them.
Yeah, that's the kind of thing I like, and it is true that they seem to
TG: You're interested in horror? It says in your bio that you have the
original 1897 edition of Bram Stoker's "Dracula".
RW: I'm steeped in it. Yeah.
TG: How did you get started?
RW: Oh, I don't know. I suppose it might have something to do with my Rumanian
heritage. I'm half Rumanian on my mother's side. No, I'm sure it doesn't
have anything to do with that--we've been here in this country for many,
But I do enjoy those legends of Count Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, early on
in the 14th or 15th century, the whole vampire mystique. I love to be
scared. I love to lay in bed late at night under the covers and shiver a
little bit when I read passages. It feels good to be on the edge of that
kind of danger--literary danger--that isn't life threatening. It feels
pretty good. I enjoy that feeling.
TG: Now that your character of Leland Palmer is dead, is there any chance
you're going to be coming back as an apparition or in a flashback?
RW: Well, from your words up to God's ears.
I don't know. I suppose that's always possible. It would be interesting.
I'm sure that some thought about that has been bandied about. They don't
miss a trick up there in the "Twin Peaks" office.
TG: You're at NPR's Los Angeles bureau and I'm in Philadelphia, so we're not
looking at each other. So I need to know if your hair is really dark or is
it really gray?
RW: You mean my real hair?
RW: My real hair is dark. It's dark brown. They had to make my hair white,
through a terrible chemical process that I don't think anybody should have
to endure. But I did for several months. They had to use major chemicals,
and large amounts of them to make my hair as white as it looked on the
screen. Right now, I'm half and half.
TG: So it's only half grown out.
RW: Yeah, I'm very Madonna-ish, I guess. Very, very dark roots that are about
an inch long and then about an inch of white hair on top of that.
Everybody tells me that it looks quite good, but I can't imagine that.
I'm just giving my hair a breather--letting it rest a little bit. I
promised my wife that I'm going to get it cut within the next couple of
TG: Well, I want to thank you for talking to us. It's been a lot of fun to
meet Ray Wise.
RW: It's great talking to you. A lot of people have seen a lot of Leland,
but not a lot of Ray, and it's nice to talk to you.