Kyle MacLachlan is one of the most elegant male stars I’ve interviewed. His assured, calm presence, and cool intellect make for a stimulating conversation and when it veers to his colourful body of work, his relationship with David Lynch, and Isabelle Huppert, it’s a treat. MacLachlan fresh off his successes with Portlandia and Desperate Housewives, appears in Bruce Beresford’s Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding starring Jane Fonda, Chace Crawford, and Elizabeth Olsen and as his estranged wife, Catherine Keener. It’s a small but pivotal role as he told us in Toronto.
Kyle MacLachlan: I worked primarily with Catherine Keener as her husband. We divorce and that’s the catalyst that sets her in motion to repair old relationships starting with her mum. And then I pop up a few times in the film to remind her that she was married and we have a relationship and share children. It was a favour to Bruce Beresford, but it was a chance to work with Catherine Keener, she’s an extraordinary actress and I share a couple of scenes with Jane Fonda, so that was cool. And then the time I spent working with Bruce was great. We did Mao’s Last Dancer a couple of years ago.
That’s not all.
KM: I go way back with Bruce Beresford; we did Rich in Love in 1988. It was a long time ago, a follow up to Driving Miss Daisy, but not quite as successful. It starred Kathryn Erbe, Suzie Amis, Alfre Woodard, and Albert Finney and I had a great time in Charleston. It comes around and here I am with Bruce again.
How deeply do you develop your character for a small role?
KM: You do the work, it’s not extensive. You get a sense of what the film is and you build your own reality and then you work within the environs of the scenes with Catherine. We had scenes with some tensions, but it was civil. You trust that the miles, shall we say, that I have traveled that come to bear on the relationship. People watching, based upon what’s not said, the innuendos, they can pull from that an understanding of the relationships. The real joy is the playing of the moments especially someone as skillful and talented as Catherine, she’s very available and spontaneous and those are fun.
How spontaneous was the shoot?
KM: Things hit you in different ways, and Bruce is pretty flexible. There were scenes that were written that didn’t necessarily have dialogue but sometimes you create stuff within the environment to supplement the dialogue but you need to carry some things, conversations, you don’t know who is there, the looks, the glances. I really enjoyed it and felt we built a nice reality which she bursts out of and we go on this journey. It was a pleasure.
And Jane Fonda?
KM: She plays Catherine’s mother so she would be my mother-in-law and she plays a wonderfully eccentric woman. It’s actually perfect, she really embraced this character because she was kind of wild and out there and it was a really free spirit. I had a lot of fun with Jane. We spent a lot of time off camera chatting about things. There was nothing off limits to her, she’s wide open to discuss whatever and she has a point of view on everything and a great perspective. She shares and she’s smart and she can draw correlations with things in her life.
I’m speculating, but I think she must have been a hippie because of her upbringing. An political activist, yes.
KM: It’s hard to say, she was certainly an activist, perfect word for her and she comes from a smart family. I don’t know the dynamics of that family but I’m sure they were complicated and complex and she’s complicated and complex, but at the same time she’s very warm and has a great laugh and she’s incredibly charming. She’s one of those people who when she talks to you and looks at you, she really does. She’s not just making time, she’s genuinely interested. This continues to keep her in the forefront of what’s going on. She is interested in what’s going on and what’s happening in the world and the people she’s dealing with one on one. She cares a great deal.
You’ve had access to come spectacular directors, doing so much of the David Lynch canon for instance.
KM: I’ve been very, very lucky. The things we did together I’m so proud of and I adore the man and we are still friends and we sit together and drink coffee and reminisce. He’s big on coffee.
Any cherry pie with that? [Coffee and cherry pie were important in Lynch and MacLachlan’s best known collaboration, Twin Peaks]
KM: No, no pie! I don’t eat pie a lot, even after all that! No, I’m not a big pie eater.
I was speaking to Isabelle Huppert yesterday and she was talking about the pie scene in Heaven’s Gate.
KM: Oh my gosh! She was in Heaven’s Gate, wasn’t she? She’s wonderful in that. That’s so funny! Old memories. I met her years and years ago. She’s so tiny. Well, we’ve both stayed the course.
Will you and David work together again?
KM: I doubt it. But never say never. David is such a pure creative being that whatever it is, he doesn’t just pick up a script and say “Let’s go”. I think there is something that will come to him in his dreams or meditations and they’ll spark an idea and he’ll expand on them and again if it takes him the direction he continues to burn hotter and hotter, and whether I want to be part of that or not, I don’t know. It would be fun to work with David. We enjoy each other’s company so much and our working process is so good.
Your speech is so well chosen. Do you harbour the dream of writing?
KM: Funny you say that. I am, out of necessity than anything else. Just the idea of writing something to write a story, put pen to paper, it’s a discipline which I’m not too good at but I’ve been spending more time. It takes time, which is the beauty of it, that there are no shortcuts to writing. You sit and you sit sometimes for four hours and you look down and you’ve got a half a page and you say “well, that’s good’” but it’s a long time to spend.
It’s exhausting. If I write all day I’m exhausted even though I’m not lifting a finger.
KM: I understand the concentration and movement and where you are, I don’t know if it will amount to anything. I have read enough and have gained an appreciation for creating something out of nothing and making it compelling. It’s a difficult process and a skill that can be developed, but it takes a lot of effort.
As Malcolm Gladwell says, being exceptionally good at something requires 10,000 hours. I think it is the time you invest.
KM: I agree. And the more you invest the better you get, the better you grasp it and it becomes easier to access. That’s very true, anything in terms of writing a script; you’re setting out a palette of people and characters and moving them through the world. Often, I know if it’s true for writing stories or novels, but they will take you in directions that are unexpected that may or may not support your built idea. Let them steer you a bit. I may use a little of that, It’s an odd process.
Your resume shows that no one in the world works as hard as you do, except maybe Isabelle Huppert.
KM: Yes, and I’m still here. I started there and I’m still here doing something I really love to do. Maybe it’s not as frequent as I would like, but certainly interesting things. And still love it and I still love the people I work with. That’s the main thing, the main reasons, working with a great director and the people who make up an ensemble for a film or a television programme. By and large, all wonderful and being able to create and create. It’s not pushed aside in the expediency to get something down. You always find a way to give a little something
You seem to be extremely careful with your choices, well maybe except for one film – Showgirls.
KM: Well, it started with a great idea and it started to grow and push the envelope and it’s going to be violent and physical and exposing and I played a bad guy, which I hadn’t had the opportunity to do that much, and it just, my gosh, turned out the way it did! As you come through time, that sort of fades away, but it gets in the distance, and you look back and say “well that was a crazy disaster” but kind of a fun disaster to be a part of. I don’t know if people look back on Ishtar or Heaven’s Gate and they think “well it was still fun to be part of it” because it doesn’t kill you. You go “yes, I have memories of that experience”. They’re not all bad.
Are you driven?
KM: No, not really. Maybe driven, but it’s hard for me to do something if I don’t at least see something potentially positively rewarding or creative or creatively rewarding somehow, even a tiny little sliver. I’ve never played that, or been that. I got to play a heroic figure in Thailand that I hope will never be seen for the Hallmark people but I loved the character, a captain, a swashbuckling guy, I worked with Gabrielle Anwar. Yeah! Okay!
It’s legitimate and wonderful and it opens doors.
KM: I think so. I would never have had that experience. You realise they are experiences and you look back and think what must it have been like to film Lawrence of Arabia with those guys, or my first big film Dune was a ginormous experience and I have fond memories of people who I still have friendships today – Patrick Stewart, Francesca Annis, these people I met in 1983. I love that, that its part of the business.
What do you do at the end of something that’s been intense?
KM: You slowly sort of step out of the clothes and put them in the cabinet and they’re there. They will always be there. The fun thing is years go by and you bump into them again or even work with them again, Bruce and I for instance. It’s like it’s so much fun!
Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding is playing in select theatres in North America and on VOD. For more information, visit ifcfilms.com.
Top image: Kyle MacLachlan in a scene from Desperate Housewives. Courtesy ABC.