We've Dug Up Some Unexpected Secrets About Twin Peaks

Inside the making of the most Lynchian production of them all, in honor of the cult-classic drama's 30th anniversary

By Natalie Finn Apr 08, 2020 10:00 AMTags
Watch: "Twin Peaks" Stars on What to Expect for Premiere

What we thought was going to be an eternal mystery—what would Mark Frost and David Lynch have done with their creation if Twin Peaks had lasted longer than two seasons—was solved when Showtime brought the cult-classic drama and most of the original cast back for a third season in 2017.

Yet nothing will ever quite compare to how it all started 30 years ago, on April 8, 1990, when Twin Peaks' two-hour pilot premiered on ABC, posing the infamous question: Who killed Laura Palmer?

It wasn't easy to convince the network to put the decidedly different drama on the air at all, but the response, when it did, was fairly rapturous. The eight-episode first season was promptly nominated for 14 Emmys and won two, and it was named Best TV Series, Drama, at the Golden Globes the following year. 

Twin Peaks: Then and Now

Dark, funny, endlessly surprising and ultimately way ahead of its time, the series didn't turn out to be everyone's cup of coffee and, after Laura's killer was revealed in the middle of season two, was canceled after 30 episodes.

But it endured in the hearts and minds of superfans everywhere (a fanzine called Wrapped in Plastic published for 12 years, and now you can read all the issues online), and armchair analysis has been consuming the internet ever since.

So in honor of this damn fine show about murder, secrets, betrayal, love, family and hallucinatory dreams in a small town where it turns out nobody really knows each other, here are some secrets we dug up about the making of Twin Peaks:

1. Like so many things in Hollywood, Twin Peaks started out as something else. Creators David Lynch and Mark Frost were working on a script about a thinly veiled Marilyn Monroe-type character whose untimely death comes at the hands of the all-powerful Kennedy family (whom some have always blamed for the real movie star's demise in 1962) but they couldn't get financing. Ultimately they worked out a story about a murdered homecoming queen who had been having an affair with a prominent older man.

"You could say that Laura Palmer is Marilyn Monroe, and that Mulholland Drive is about Marilyn Monroe, too," Lynch wrote in the part-memoir, part-biography Room to Dream. "Everything is about Marilyn Monroe."

2. Lynch, who eventually earned his own adjective—"Lynchian"—because of how endlessly odd and haunting his work is, did not want to do TV. It "seemed like a horrible thing to me," he wrote, "and in those days it was pathetic. All the commercial interruptions—network television was the theater of the absurd and this was the nature of the beast."


3. In the original pitch to ABC, the show (floated by CAA agent Tony Krantz as Peyton Place meets Lynch's world) was called Northwest Passage.

4. At first Mark Frost thought Kyle MacLachlan, whom Lynch had previously directed in his exceptionally weird noir thriller Blue Velvet and famously pronounces his name "Kale," was too young to play cherry pie enthusiast FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper—but luckily Lynch got his way.

5. "I was so young and nervous when I met David that I sat on my hands because they were shaking so badly," Sheryl Lee, who played Laura Palmer and Laura's cousin Maddy Ferguson, was quoted in Room to Dream. "But David has such a kind, warm way about him that he puts you at ease immediately. He asked me how I felt about being dipped in gray paint and wrapped in plastic and being in cold water, and I said, 'No problem!'"

Ultimately, she said, because she spent so much time just lying there, listening to everyone talk around her, "it was a great way to learn, playing a corpse."

6. Lynch originally wasn't going to be that involved in the actual filming and went off to New York to make Wild at Heart, but producer Monty Montgomery told him that pre-production seemed to be a big mess—so Lynch went to Washington state, where the whole cast and crew stayed at a Red Lion hotel, and rolled up his sleeve. They shot the two-hour pilot in 22 1/2 days, mainly in the cities of Snoqualmie, North Bend and Fall City, for about $4 million.

Some other woodsy exteriors were shot in Malibu and interiors were set up in a San Fernando Valley warehouse.

The following seven episodes, ordered after the pilot was shot but finished before the show had premiered, had a budget of about $1.1 million an episode.

7. Scenes from Invitation to Love, the fictional soap opera featured in the show, were shot at Frank Lloyd Wright's historic Ennis House in Los Angeles.

8. Lynch met Russ Tamblyn (Amber's dad) at the 40th birthday party friend and Blue Velvet star Dennis Hopper threw for Lynch in 1986. When he was casting two years later, Tamblyn just popped into his head as the right guy to play Dr. Jacoby.

9. Isabella Rossellini, who also starred in Blue Velvet (and dated Lynch), was originally going to be in the show but ultimately didn't want to do it, and the character of a rich widow with ulterior motives, Josie Packard, went to Joan Chen.

10. Al Strobel, who lost an arm in a car accident when he was a teenager, was only going to be in the one scene in the pilot where Agent Dale Cooper and Sheriff Truman get off the elevator and Cooper notices a one-armed man walking away, a nod to The Fugitive. But Strobel's compelling voice prompted Lynch to want to write more for the character of Philip Gerard.


11. When shooting scenes in the custom-built (and re-built, when the door wasn't at first on the side of the room where Lynch had envisioned it) Red Room, the actors had to learn how to say their lines backwards.

12. The Log Lady, meanwhile, was a character Lynch had been shaping in his mind for Catherine Coulson to play since 1973, and they would discuss her detailed backstory when they saw each other. Finally, when he was shooting the pilot in 1989, Lynch called Coulson: it was finally her and the log's time to shine.

13. Sheryl Lee was also going to be a wordless presence at one point, hired to play Laura's corpse and a a girl in a frame, and not much else. But Lynch was impressed with her and gave her a small flashback scene, which led to the role of cousin Maddie so she could do more.

14. Local business mogul and town muckety-muck Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and his brother and business partner Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) are named after ice cream purveyors Ben & Jerry.

Twin Peaks was a reunion for Beymer and Russ Tamblyn, meanwhile, almost 30 years after they played Tony and Jets leader Riff, respectively, in the 1961 film of Westside Story.

15. Dale Cooper's pro-Tibetan rights stance (a very hot-button geopolitical issue at the time that had a prominent Hollywood supporter in Richard Gere) was inspired by Lynch's meeting with the Dalai Lama at an event Uma Thurman hosted for the spiritual leader and friend of her father, Robert Thurman, a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies.

16. Who the heck is "Diane"? Night after night, FBI Agent Dale Cooper unpacks the latest turns in the Palmer case by recording voice memos as if he's speaking to someone named Diane. Well, she does turn out to be a real person, his secretary at the Bureau and, in Twin Peaks: The Return...

Let's just say it got really complicated along the way.

17. Concerns and laments about television aside, Lynch loved Twin Peaks—though he felt the pilot was the only episode that really captured the essence of what Twin Peaks really was to him, as did the Red Room where people speak in reverse, while the rest of the series was "done like TV." For instance, he didn't want to reveal who killed Laura so early on, sensing that people would stop watching once the premiere mystery was solved. And he was right. (In fact, it was future Disney CEO Bob Iger, then the president of ABC Entertainment, who told them, "You gotta solve this mystery,'" Lynch wrote in Room to Dream.)

"Some of the air went out of the tires after the identity of the killer was revealed," Frost agreed in Room to Dream. "Then television was kind of hijacked by the Gulf War… People couldn't keep up with what was a complex piece of storytelling when they could only see the show sporadically."

18. The cast only got the scripts one week at a time, so they couldn't see what was coming anyway, and Ray Wise really had no idea that his character, bereft family man Leland Palmer, was going to turn out to be his daughter's killer. 

Considering all the crying required of him, "I realized, 'well, therein lies the challenge in playing Leland Palmer—having to show varying degrees of grief; being able to differentiate between them and keep it interesting," Wise told Screen Anarchy at FanExpo 2014. "So that was the challenge and I accepted it and went full out, never realizing how they were going to develop the character. Then the weeks went by and Leland got stranger and stranger and did things that very few people ever do... especially on television."

He didn't want to leave the world of Twin Peaks, Wise recalled, but Lynch promised him a good onscreen death. "So, he painted a very pretty picture for me and made it very palatable," he said. "And that last episode was very well done. Tim Hunter directed it. It was a great episode."

19. What turned out to be the final two episodes of Twin Peaks aired on June 10, 1991, after which ABC put the show on indefinite hiatus.

20. The haunting theme music is the instrumental version of the 1989 Julee Cruise song "Falling," composed by Angelo Badalamenti, who won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 1991. Lynch wrote the lyrics.

21. Cooper was supposed to have more of a romance with teen temptress Audrey Horne, but according to Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle—who played Laura Palmer's BFF Donna—was dating MacLachlan and didn't want him sharing all that screen time with Fenn.

"What happened was that Lara was dating Kyle, and she was mad that my character was getting more attention, so then Kyle started saying that his character shouldn't be with my character because it doesn't look good, 'cause I'm too young," Fenn told The A.V. Club in 2014. "Literally, because of that, they brought in Heather Graham—who's younger than I am—for him and Billy Zane for me. I was not happy about it. It was stupid." (Without naming names, Mark Frost had told a version of this story in 2011.)


22. Fenn was one of many actors in her age group that Lynch chatted with for potential roles, and she ended up with a part tailored for her. "It was the first time I'd ever actually been myself in an interview and tried to just be open," she told The AV Club. "But it went great, and they called and said, 'Yeah, he's writing you this role!' When I got the pilot, a two-hour script, it seemed like nothing, but I don't know. David's just kind of a wizard. He sees things in certain people and knows how to weave them into a story."

(Alas, she didn't really tie a knot in a cherry stem with her tongue.)

23. Much of the cast agreed that what made Twin Peaks so special was the example Lynch set of remaining super-present in the moment (he's a long-time practitioner of transcendental meditation), which allowed for him to let the characters develop as he felt was organic to the actors playing them, and he would direct them accordingly.

Richard Beymer said that the idea for Ben Horne to do a seemingly incongruous dance while talking about murder came when Lynch spotted the actor doing a little tap dance to break in some tight new shoes. Mädchen Amick, who played waitress Shelly, said appreciatively, "He let me find Shelly and watched how I started to crawl into her skin, then he responded to that." (Amick also was honored that it was Shelly who got a kiss from Lynch's Gordon Cole.)

24. Lynch didn't originally plan on being on the show himself, but rather was just lending his voice to the scene where Agent Cooper needs to speak to his boss on the phone. Enter Lynch's Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, a name he borrowed from Billy Wilder's noir classic Sunset Boulevard


25. Killer Bob wasn't going to be an actual character, either, until they were filming and Lynch overheard a woman tell set dresser Frank Silva, "Frank, don't lock yourself in that room." All of a sudden he envisioned a man locked in Laura Palmer's bedroom, and when Silva accidentally ended up reflected in the mirror during a scene with Grace Zabriskie as Sarah Palmer, Laura's grieving mother, scenes of Bob lurking around the Palmer house were born.

Silva played a bigger role in season two but he died in 1995 and was seen in archival footage in the 2017 reboot.

26. According to Lynch, roughly a quarter of Twin Peaks' stars didn't care for the idea of a prequel film, including Kyle MacLachlan, but Kale appeared in 1992's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, about the last week of Laura Palmer's life, all the same. Lee, Amick, Wise, Peggy Lipton and many more returned, but Sherilyn Fenn (who told AV Club she didn't not want to do it, but the scheduling didn't work) and Lara Flynn Boyle were notably missing.

Moira Kelly played Donna and Lynch brought in new FBI agents played by Chris Isaak and Kiefer Sutherland to beef up the FBI presence around Dale Cooper's smaller role.


27. Fire Walk With Me was largely pummeled by critics, and even Twin Peaks purists were torn, but those who were part of it appreciate it. Ray Wise, who since all was revealed could really sink his teeth into the role of the monstrous Leland Palmer, called it Lynch's "masterpiece." New audiences found it more recently in anticipation of Twin Peaks: The Return in 2017 and in hindsight it has become an essential part of the canon.

All 30 episodes of Twin Peaks are streaming on Hulu.