Consider this the revenge of the Middle-Aged White Guys I foolishly left off my appreciation list last week, but when Variety released an installment of their “Actors on Actors” series featuring Kyle MacLachlan and David Harbour interviewing each other, my heart skipped a beat. On the one hand, it’s Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks and Chief Hopper from Stranger Things, and they’re fanning out all over each other! But it also was a genuinely pleasant interview, with MacLachlan as the elder statesman comparing notes with Harbour’s talented, though perhaps slightly insecure, younger upstart.
Take this exchange, where MacLachlan gently bursts Harbour’s bubble about self-confidence:
MacLachlan: [discussing working again with David Lynch] Being able to immerse myself in that world, it’s quick and easy for me now. The challenge of course for this one was there were three or four or five different characters that he wanted me to do. Of course, as an actor, you’re always saying, “Geez, I hope I can bring it.” I don’t know if you have that experience.
Harbour: Yes, I do. The neurosis of, “Can I bring it?” Oh, god, yeah. You’re telling me that never ends?
MacLachlan: No, it never ends. You make it look easy. Especially your work in “Stranger Things,” it’s just extraordinary. You carry such power, such presence in that role. You’re the rock of that show. It’s really impressive.
Harbour: Thanks. I work really hard on it. People think that I’ve been just discovered, but I’ve been working for a long time. I sort of got to a certain place in my Hollywood career where I was a supporting player in all these big things. I would show up number six or seven on the call sheet, and just run around with a gun. Be a cop who was kind of a bad guy or something. I remember getting this role, and being like, “I have to really go to work in a different way than I ever have.” It was a lot of time spent in my particular process, which is very quiet and very uncomfortable and a lot of sitting alone in a room.
Of course, not every director can be like Lynch:
Harbour: I’m curious about this, too, because there’s such a style to the acting. It has a dream-like quality to it. Will he [Lynch] come in and say, “I want this to be a little bigger?”
MacLachlan: Words that he uses will be like, “I need more of a wind.” Or, “More mystery here.” One of my favorites is, “Elvis. Think Elvis.” I love that. As an actor, I just love that, because it just gives you a whole kind of ball of stuff that you can work with there. It’s not cerebral. You can’t suddenly start thinking, “Elvis! What does he mean by Elvis? Oh, it could be this.” You have to take the pills, swallow the pill, breathe in the gas or whatever. Just go with it.
Harbour: It’s funny. I think one of the worst notes I think I’ve ever received was Ang Lee on “Brokeback Mountain.” He came in on coverage, and he was like, “More, more handsome.” I was like, “I’ll try that.” [Laughs.]
And they also compare notes on what “cult TV” means to them:
Harbour: You’re sort of the OG of the cult TV show, aren’t you? Before “Twin Peaks” came along, I don’t feel like this phenomena of cult, strange followers was really around.
MacLachlan: I think there were popular shows, but I think with both of our shows, I equate “cult” with “passion.” I think that if it’s a cult show, it’s that people are really passionate. About everything about the show: the characters, their lives. They’re so engaged, and they’re so involved. When I was growing up, people loved shows. They loved “All in the Family.” Real passion like that, I think, is just a wonderful thing.
Harbour: There’s something about the imagination of the fans. I don’t know if you’d write fan fiction about “All in the Family.” I read some of the fan fiction that people write, and it’s so interesting that the world becomes so rich for them, that the characters in their minds go off and do other things, have other relationships. That kind of passion, I’ve rarely seen before. All I’ve ever wanted to do as an actor was move people. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do is to feel like what you’re doing moves someone, and that ultimately, maybe they can make a different choice in their life that may be better, right? Just to move people. Just to be able to have someone have a catharsis, just to be able to let off someone of the pressures and the stress of life. Sometimes you transport them to a fantastical world, but mostly to take them and to have a catharsis. This became a worldwide thing, this little show about the Midwest in America in the ’80s that can touch people in Dubai. That sort of resonance so something, the broad-based resonance of that, I’d never experienced anything like that.
Though Variety has condensed the interview into a written format, I recommend watching the video. There are bits that don’t make it into the transcript, and if nothing else, it’s the closest most of us are ever going to get to being able to just hang out with the two of them. Quietly. While drinking wine from MacLachlan’s vineyard and hearing them chat some more about their process and how cool David Lynch is.