Exclusive Sheryl Lee Interview!! (Part One)

Well, we just crossed one off the bucket list. We here at Twin Peaks Archive celebrate our sixth anniversary in grand style with part one of our two-part interview with Laura Palmer herself, Sheryl Lee. Our friend Brad Dukes talked to Sheryl by telephone...

Brad Dukes - You recently appeared at the big USC Twin Peaks Retrospective. What was that like? Are you surprised that Twin Peaks is still thriving?

Sheryl Lee - It's always great to see any members of the cast, first off, It's always such a gift because they are so dear to my heart and we don't get to see each other enough, so I'm always grateful when there is an event like that to be able to reconnect with the creative family I care so much about. It's nice, I was surprised at how many people there who were watching the film and the series for the first time. So it's nice to see that it does still have legs and a life and is still going on. I'm a fan of David and It doesn't surprise me that his work stands the test of time. (laughs) Did that answer your question? Or...

Brad - Yes!

Sheryl - Okay!

Brad - Speaking of David, going back to the Pilot episode, where you meditating at the time and what techniques and or acting training helped you play a dead person?

Sheryl - I had studied different types of meditation, I wasn't studying one specifically at that time, but I had grown up in Boulder Colorado mostly, Boulder is a very conscious town and we had access to a lot of spiritual teachers and studying different types of religions and it was wonderful in that sense. For me, playing a dead person really was a meditation on whatever wanted to reveal itself in that space for me, I felt like I had to slow my internal system down a lot in order to able to lay there that still for that many hours at a time. So I did use some of the techniques that I had learned and studied at that time to just slow everything down and explore what that state had to offer at that point in my life.

The crew carries Sheryl back to the Kiana Lodge

Brad - What conversations did you have with David about playing Laura as a corpse?

Sheryl - Well, we didn't at that time have a lot conversation, other than the basic comfort issues; was I comfortable? How long could I stay there? That sort of stuff. But he did, David is such an artist, you know when you see that picture of me with the plastic wrapped around my face and the sand particles, David placed those sand particles. David placed the plastic. David knew exactly what color my skin had to be and worked with the make-up artists. He is a true visual artist in that sense, as well as being a director. He knew what image he wanted to portray, down to the folds of the plastic. So, I really felt a lot like his canvas in that sense for all the dead scenes.

Brad - The first time that you play Laura alive was in the picnic video, what do you remember about that day and did David give you any special instructions on how to portray Laura?

Sheryl - I don't remember a lot about that day except just having a great time. I was still very young and that was my first set and I had been working in theatre in Seattle at the time, you know it was just really fun to play like that and dance around freely. Then there was the technical aspect of getting the reflection of the motorcycle in my eye, I remember that being a very technical... that was a whole new world to me, you know, dealing with cameras, you know, that kind of aspect of filmmaking, it was very interesting.

Brad - Right after the Pilot wrapped in Washington, the Red Room scenes were shot down in Van Nuys. What do you remember about your reactions to reading the script and arriving on that set?

Sheryl - For the series?

Brad - Yes.

Sheryl - Well, I was still living in Seattle, I stayed up there because the role of Laura was just for four days worth of work I think. It turned into something a little bit longer because we did photographs and flashbacks and stuff like that. But then I stayed, and everybody else came back down to L.A. and then it was months later that David called me, David was in L.A. and I was in Seattle, and he asked what would I think about moving to L.A. and I said, well, I'm not just going to move to L.A. for the sake of moving to L.A. (laughs) I had done that once when I was eighteen and I didn't last! So, no, he meant to come back on Twin Peaks with a job and I was like, well I'm dead! He said don't worry about that, we'll figure it out. So, I don't even remember seeing a script at that point, I just remember saying I would come and I was open to whatever he wanted me to do. At that time also, I came down to do the Good Witch in Wild At Heart as well. So I was just sort of (laughs) excited to be jumping into any more work with him. The scripts that I saw, I almost kind of think of them as blueprints. A lot of the scripts that I saw were very bare compared to what ends up happening on set and what it ends up looking like and feeling like and being like, and they are very freeing in that way. I mean, you can't read something about the Red Room and have any concept of what that actually is like until you're on set doing it.

Brad - Did David have any explanation for that when you first did it?

Sheryl - I don't ever remember... which is one of the things I love so much about David, is that I don't ever remember a lot of explanations for anything. I sort of remember him saying things like "Sometimes life doesn't make sense, why should we expect art to?" I remember him saying things like that, which was very freeing artistically to me. You know like sometimes were doing something and we don't have to have a logical left-brain explanation and reason for why were doing it. Sometimes it's the subconscious working. Sometimes it's the spirit of creativity working. Sometimes, I feel like for me it's the spirit of that character working. We don't always know. Even when we think we know, sometimes we may still not know. You know? (laughs)

Brad - The photo of Laura Palmer, dead, wrapped in plastic, is such an iconic image. But, we have heard that you're not terribly fond of that image. Is that correct?

Sheryl - Well, it's not that I'm not fond of it, I can appreciate the image that is created, but because it's me and I'm dead, it's bizarre! (laughs) You know? It's a strange feeling. I mean, I don't have any photographs of myself in my work anywhere in my house anyway, whether dead or alive so...(laughs) but especially not those! I have a child, I don't want him to have to see that (laughs)

Brad - What was it like moving to Los Angeles as a young actress? Had you done much traveling before that?

Sheryl - I had traveled quite a bit. I moved to L.A. originally when I was eighteen, I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena for a semester, and I left, It just wasn't right for me. Then I went to the North Carolina School of the Arts for the professional summer training program and then I went to the National Conservatory Theatre, I went to New York briefly, and then an actor that I briefly knew, that I had gone to school with at North Carolina School of the Arts, was living in Seattle and he and I spoke and he said that there was an amazing director named Mark Jenkins in Seattle who was going to start a theatre company and he was teaching actors in a professional environment, and that was what I was looking for at that time. So I flew to Seattle and auditioned for Mark and got in and just loved him. I credit him truly as my great acting teacher. He is an incredible man, actor and teacher. So I was living in Seattle studying with him when I got the call about David.

Brad - Crew members have referred to the set on Balboa as 'Twin Peaks Land'. What did you think the first time you set foot on that set?

Sheryl - On Balboa meaning (laughs) out here in Van Nuys?

Brad - Yes!

Sheryl - Well, see that was really weird for me because I had never been on a set like that, even when we shot Twin Peaks it was up in Seattle in the environment that it was supposed to be in. You know? And my training was theatre, so to come down here and step onto a set that's basically just a big empty warehouse in the middle of the valley where it's like a hundred degrees (laughs) and we're supposed to be pretending like it's the North West, all of that was very surreal to me the first time. To walk in and see the incredible work of the set designers and the props department and wardrobe to make it look so real, and yet it was just this big empty dirty warehouse (laughs) It was a wild experience!

Brad - The idea of the Maddy character came from Paula Shimatsu-U. (Unit Publicist, stills photographer and Mark Frost's assistant) who was inspired by the identical cousin plotline from 'The Patty Duke Show'. What was it like to take on a new character in Twin Peaks?

Sheryl - Well I was thrilled because I got to keep working with everybody. That was, as I had said, I had just done the Pilot and I thought that was it and I didn't think anything more of it, because there was nothing more to think, I knew I was only hired for that week in Seattle, and everybody else left and I stayed and just kept doing theatre and kept doing my thing and I didn't think anything else of it. I didn't even know how T.V. worked, I didn't even understand that they shoot the Pilot and then the Pilot has to get picked up and then they buy episodes and they shoot that later - I didn't know anything about any of that (laughs) So I just did my week's worth of work and I kept doing theatre and then when I got the call from David that he wanted to bring me back on the show I was thrilled because I really loved working with him and I knew I could learn so much from him. He's been one of my greatest teachers. Creative teacher, life teacher, acting teacher, he's an incredible man. To able to work with him and his team and his group of writers and actors and directors, you know, everybody, set designers, everybody who he surrounds himself with are so inspiring creatively. So i was very very thrilled to be able to continue on that path with him and them.

Brad - So what were told initially about Maddy and what did you bring to that character?

Sheryl - You know, I'm trying to even remember. I don't think I can even remember when I was told about her. You have to forgive me, this was twenty-six, twenty-seven years ago (laughs) I just remember, for myself, energetically, being very clear, I mean I needed to be very clear and I found clarity about how different they felt (between Laura and Maddy), that was my thing was making sure internally I felt the difference between the two. Which I did, obviously the visual difference that the wardrobe and make-up and hair created helped with that. This is such a trivial thing, but changing your hair color, I could write a whole (laughs) paper about how the world treats you differently as a woman with different hair color! It's really true, and I've had my hair almost every single color now for different roles and you are treated so differently by society depending on your hair color. It's fascinating, It's so trivial you think we can't possible be so shallow as a culture, unfortunately, it's pretty shallow! (laughs) Because you really are treated differently!

Brad - Did you have a wig as Maddy? Your hair looks very real in that first season.

Sheryl - No, they dyed it. My hair was dyed. There were different times when I wore wigs, for the film Fire Walk With Me, I had to wear a wig because I had had to have my hair cut short for a film before we shot the movie. But for Maddy, I think for the most part it was actually my hair. But then there was one time later I think where we went back to shoot something and by then I had to go blonde for a different role, you know when you're doing something over a long period of time, and you're doing other work amidst it, those are the times when you have to go back to the wigs. But yes it was dyed, they actually dyed it dark. Which was great because then I got to experience in my day-to-day world how I was treated differently. It was the only time in my life when a man had said to me "You look like an intelligent woman" was when I had dark hair (laughs).

Brad - Speaking of hair coloring, your first and last scenes as an alive Maddy are with Ray Wise. What can you tell us about Ray as an actor and a person?

Sheryl - Oh my God, I love Ray. He is an acting genius. That man is so brilliant and he has this ability to be so deep and so layered and so powerful and then wicked funny. Just wicked funny. His range is phenomenal as an actor. I mean, I'm in awe, awe of him and Grace Zabriskie. To be able to work with those two, both have that quality of just huge range. From deep, deep emotional expression to wicked funny to sexy and charming. And as people, they are the kindest, just good-hearted solid people, I adore them both so much and I couldn't have had two better people to play my parents and be my mentors at that time in my life. I love them both so much. I was very blessed.

Brad - Paula Shimatsu-U. shot and has preserved a lot of photos from Twin Peaks and there is a set of them that is very interesting and that is of Waldo the bird and he is posing on your shoulder. Do you remember anything about that day and did it go smoothly?

Sheryl - Yes, I remember that day. I love working, I have a huge thing about animals and I loved working with Waldo. The thing I remember most about that day was that Michael Jackson's chimpanzee was for some reason there at the same facility there where Waldo was. I loved working with Waldo, it was wonderful. Then we were leaving and I saw this little chimpanzee in diapers, you know, swaying back and forth behind bars and I was like 'What?', 'Who is that?' He just looked so sad, and they said 'Oh that's Michael Jackson's monkey'. I never understood why he was there, unless Michael was out of town or gone for a really long time, but I got to meet him and he was really a sweet, sweet little monkey. But yeah, being able to work with Waldo was great. Just going out to that, it was way far out in the valley somewhere where the facility was and they train them or they used to be someones pet and couldn't keep them anymore.

Brad - As the first season progressed, did you have any theories about who killed Laura Palmer?

Sheryl - Well, yeah everybody did! We were constantly joking and laughing and trying to figure it out. The funniest thing is, did you see the taped show of us at USC?

Brad - I have not seen it yet, but I've read up on most of it.

Sheryl - Because I think Bob Engels said that Mark and David knew like by the third episode, which is so funny to me, because they acted like they didn't know and the press was convinced that we knew, the actors, but we didn't have a clue! I mean we really didn't know at all. I did not know who killed Laura until I was in the room with Ray and Ben Horne and it was the three of us with David and he told Ray that he was the killer and that now he was going to kill Maddy. That was the day of or the day before that scene, I think it was the day of that scene. Maybe the day before, but, that was the end of the second season, that was when we found out.

Brad - As Maddy, you have so many scenes with Lara Flynn Boyle, talk about working with Lara.

Sheryl - I loved her. She cracked me up. You know, she was in a very different place than I was because she had a lot of experience by that time, I think she had started working in her early teens, so, she was so funny about it all and just very caring and very generous in terms of her knowing that I was completely green and had no experience. She was a lot tougher than I was, in a good way, I say that with respect because she had learned through working on films for so long what do and what was expected of her and what was needed. I really really enjoyed it.

Brad - Mark Frost has been described as the unsung hero of Twin Peaks. Can you talk about him and his influence on the show and his directing style?

Sheryl - I love Mark. That's a nice thing to say about him. I see why people would say that. He's a dear man and very very talented. I always liked Mark, he's just, again, very kind, very creative. You know, one thing that I didn't know then because I was so young, but I know now after having worked with so many people, something that was so impressive about working on that show in hindsight and working with David and Mark and everybody is that, they were so generous in terms of, their egos, nobody had huge egos that were getting in the way of the work. Do you know what I mean? They were there to serve the story and to serve the creative process. So they were really open to ideas that came from anybody, It didn't matter what department, it didn't matter if you were an actor or a writer or a make-up artist, props department, Mark and David, they really nurtured the people that worked with them. They made you feel safe enough to give your input and that is very valuable and very appreciated because you really get to grow and try new things when you work in that environment, and because that was my first show, I didn't know that wasn't the way it always is! (laughs)

Brad - Can you describe the experience of watching the Pilot when it was broadcast? Do you remember where you were?

Sheryl - Yeah, I was at a party, I was living in a house at the time with like, oh my word, eight other people, I think, I didn't even have my own bedroom, I just had like a little tiny bed on a sun porch, that was my room. Some of the people living in the house actually worked on Twin Peaks on the production end and we were all living in this big house up in the Hollywood Hills. The main guy who was renting the house decided that we should have a party. So, yeah, I remember standing behind the couch feeling a little bit shy with this packed room of people and seeing the response of everyone and then everything changed so fast because it was such a hit so quickly.

Brad - So what was that madness like? Twin Peaks was on every magazine cover, talk shows and even the news.

Sheryl - The weirdest thing is that you lose you anonymity overnight and there's no way for anybody to explain to you what that's going to be like. I am painfully shy by nature, I am a one hundred percent introvert, and so to all of the sudden... like I remember sitting at a deli with a friend of mine and my best friend and we were in this really deep conversation about boys or something and the waitress kept coming by and asking us what we wanted and I was just talking to her just freely, to my friend, and then at the end of the meal the waitress said something, and it was very kind, about knowing me and Twin Peaks and that whole thing and that was one of the first moments that I realized that I couldn't just talk freely in public like that without being conscious of where I was and, it was just a strange feeling all of the sudden. Now, it was fun in so many ways too because we were getting to travel and we were getting to do it together and we got along with each other and it was such a great group of people, so there also wonderful opportunities that came with that. It just took being that young and that green and trying to figure out and navigate my way through it! But you had your good friends and you had your family and you call them when you need to! (laughs) I feel for these kids now, my heavens, you know with this whole social media craziness that they have now to deal with. It's a whole different world then what we dealt with then.

Brad - I'm glad I grew up without all that.

Sheryl - Me too. Me too.


End of part one.

Part two can be found right here.

A very special and heartfelt thanks to Sheryl Lee for taking the time to talk to us!

Thanks to our pal Brad Dukes for performing the phone interview with Sheryl!

Special thanks to Paula K. Shimatsu-U. for making this interview possible!


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