The things you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit. Speaking with the veteran and increasingly cherished American actor Kyle MacLachlan, I mention his involvement in so many memorable television shows and cult-favourite films. Of course there’s David Lynch’s sci-fi epic Dune and his weird noir-mystery Blue Velvet. After that auspicious career start, he survived Oliver Stone (in 1991′s The Doors, as a deeply disguised band member, Ray Manzarek) and the 1995 stinker Showgirls, where MacLachlan kept his head above water while Elizabeth Berkley went for one of the most peculiar swims ever. On the television side, who can forget ABC’s Twin Peaks (with Lynch again), a short stint on Sex and the City, 85 episodes of Desperate Housewives and a 2017 reprise of Twin Peaks on Showtime?
And yet the University of Washington-trained actor steadfastly downplays his role in those beloved projects – the man is a poo-pooing maestro. “I think it speaks to the quality of the material,” says MacLachlan, impeccable in blue jeans and a dark blazer in a Toronto hotel room. “If the writing isn’t good, then the characters don’t live.”
But surely you were important to the success of your projects? “Well, I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in shows and films that really have an audience that loves to revisit and cherishes the world they see on screen,” says the finely chiselled 60-year-old.
But why do directors and producers keep hiring you? Surely they recognize charisma and talent when they see it? “To be honest, that I’m brought onto some projects is a reflection of David Lynch,” MacLachlan says, referring to the revered director. “The people behind some of these shows have a fondness for his work. I think I embody that – they like that connection somehow.”
To be modest and repulsive, it has been said, is easy. Immodest and attractive is easy too. But to be modest and attractive? There’s an art to that.
The fetching, self-deprecating MacLachlan is speaking to The Globe and Mail about Giant Little Ones, a thoughtful coming-of-age drama about high school and homophobia that opens Friday. He plays a father who leaves his wife (Maria Bello) for another man. “It’s a small part,” he says, “but a nice part.”
The film, directed by the Vancouver-based Saskatchewan native Keith Behrman, was shot in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Describing it as a “fun little place” and a “charming little community,” MacLachlan says the city reminded him of his hometown, Yakima, Wash., a fertile place for wine, apple orchards and professional athletes (bowlers, baseballers, footballers, golfers and more). “Sault Ste. Marie felt like the Northwest to me, right down to the grass and the sounds and smells of summertime,” says MacLachlan, a skier and oenophile. “It was unexpected.”
The small-town boy grew up to be bicoastal, with residences in New York and Los Angeles. Last summer, an article in Variety mentioned he was looking to lease out his house in the foothills above Hollywood for $25,000 a month. When it is pointed out that the property is described as a “mini-compound,” MacLachlan downplays his spread. “It’s very mini, actually,” he says, smiling. Does it have a helicopter pad? Any compound worth its “lagoon-style” swimming pool and “picturesque patios and cottage gardens” should have a heliport. “Yeah, right, that would go over real well in my neighbourhood,” answers the well-paid actor, whose wife is the producer and businesswoman Desiree Gruber.
Reminiscing about the roles he’s played, MacLachlan is particularly enthusiastic about The Doors, which starred Val Kilmer as debauched rock god Jim Morrison. “Val was amazing,” he says, waving off the stories of Kilmer’s method-acting weirdness during the filming. “I love Val.”
MacLachlan, a trained pianist, played keyboardist Manzarek. He and the other actors portraying the band became competent enough to be able to play a few Doors songs. “The whole thing was crazy,” he recalls. “It was Oliver Stone at the height of his glory and talent. The concert sequences were wild, with five cameras going at the same time. Every rock star wants to be an actor, and every actor wants to be a rock star. There were times when it really felt like that’s what we were.”
Filmset Light My Fire exploits aside, MacLachlan isn’t looking for a side hustle. A Golden Globe-winner as FBI agent Dale Cooper on the original Twin Peaks, he earned another nomination when Twin Peaks returned for a long-in-the-making third season in 2017.
“What brought it back was David Lynch and writer Mark Frost discovering a way to go back to it in a way that was not a nostalgic return,” says MacLachlan, who played four characters all told for the reprise. “It was something new, forward moving and compelling in a completely different way.”
Of course, it starred MacLachlan. Modesty precludes him from mentioning the star of the show.
Giant Little Ones opens March 29 in Toronto and Vancouver