Crypticon 2019: Sheryl Lee & Ray Wise Twin Peaks Interview

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Ray Wise and Sheryl Lee at Crypticon 2019

This year was at Crypticon was a DREAM COME TRUE for me! Not only did I get to talk with the amazing Dee Wallace, I also get to interview two of my icons: Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise, aka Laura and Leland Palmer on Twin Peaks.

You can listen to it here, and I’ve also transcribed it below:

Ray Wise: Well it’s great to be here, and see all your smiling faces. You people up here are happy!  We came from the L.A. environs and, uh, they’re not so happy down there. I think it’s the traffic. That’s what it is. Yeah. But we’re glad to be back here, where it all began. And how many … 30 some years later?

Sheryl Lee: Yeah.

Ray: Yeah. And that’s my introduction for today.

Amie: Thank you. I wanted to start by talking about how you both got to play dual roles in Twin Peaks, and actually you [Sheryl] get a third role almost with Carrie Page — and just talk about Ray, how you flipped back and forth between Leland and Leland Bob, and you did it so excellently that it was almost like watching two different people on screen.

Ray: Oh yeah. I just … I never thought of them as two different people. I thought of them as one;  in fact, I never thought about Bob at all. I just kept … Leland was in my head all the time, and that was it. And then of course he would do Bob things. But I just thought of him as Leland, and when he did bad things that was Leland doing them.

Amie: And Sheryl, can you talk a little bit about playing Maddy, and specifically about playing Maddy as Laura … but it was still somehow being different than playing Laura.  

Sheryl: Yeah … I don’t know how I did that. It helps so much to have such an incredible creative team and group, because there’s always this balance — this dance — of creating characters from the outside in and from the inside out. Especially with David because he’s so visual. As soon as the outside part of the character is figured out and he says yes that’s it, then I know, “Oh now I can kind of dig a little deeper inside.” So that’s a big help for me. Because he is such a part of that process … and the people that he hires, you know, the makeup and wardrobe and the designers — they all get his vision as well. And then just … for me those characters felt very different. You know, even Laura in the red room for me is a different space that I have to go into even though it is Laura. It’s a different aspect of her.  

Amie: Ray … how long did it take you to learn the “Mairzy Doats” song? How many takes did you have to do to get that?

Sheryl: And will you do it for us? You have to!

Ray: [Ray sings the song!]
Yeah — we did that in one take! And I’m old enough to have heard the original version of that song.So I already I knew that I knew the song. So it was it was pretty easy stuff.

Amie: Well, thank you for doing that; that made us very happy! Sheryl, I don’t expect you to sing “Just You and I… “

Sheryl: Thank you!

Amie: … but I do want to talk a little bit about that scene; that sort of Donna, James, Maddy love triangle. And was that scene just excruciating to film? Singing “Just You and I?” Or was it super fun?

Sheryl: Yeah. Just anytime anyone asks me to sing it’s excruciating … but I will say this: I love Angelo Badalamenti so much, and being able to be in the recording studio with him, in his hands; I’ll never forget it. It was such a special thing to be able to do that. And also because I wasn’t alone when I was singing; I was with two other people that I adored. So that was helpful.

I don’t think anyone else could have ever gotten me to sing out loud in front of other people.

Ray: Ahh! We’re shy.

Sheryl: [giggling] Well, one of us is!

Ray: Well, I wasn’t I wasn’t using the royal we …

Amie: I do want to talk a little bit about what I think is the original shows most disturbing episode, “Lonely Souls,” in which Leland kills Maddy. It’s such an intense thing to watch. Every time I watch it, I’m like just wrecked from seeing it and I imagine that filming it was also very intense and very rough for both of you to sort of get to the meat of that.

Ray: Yeah.

Sheryl: Yeah. I mean I’ve said this before; just to be that young, and to be doing that — but to be doing it with people that were so incredible. I mean, what Ray and I had to do through our whole story as those characters together. I couldn’t have asked for a better dance partner; I just couldn’t have. And I consider he and Grace some of my greatest teachers, you know as humans and as actors — and I felt like that little puppy, that I just got to follow them around and watch them and learn from them. I felt that he totally had my back and I felt safe. Those scenes are … you have this whole emotional thing that you have to go through, but you have to be so sharp technically so that nobody actually does get hurt. Do you know what I mean? It’s really choreographed very, very specific. So I was in the best, best hands.

Ray: She got killed that day by three different people. By Richard Beymer, who was Ben Horne; by Bob – Frank Silva – and then me. I went last, and there was a good reason that happened. David didn’t want anybody to know who the real killer was — not even the crew. So the crew didn’t know; they knew it was one of the three of us, but they didn’t know which one. But if I was one of the crew, I would have bet money on me.

And I didn’t want  it to be me; so badly! I did not want it to be me.The whole idea of killing my own daughter was just anathema to me. I it kept me up at night sometimes. At the time I had a little baby daughter of my own; she was only two years old and. The whole thought of that just didn’t sit right with me. In fact, I had moments — I haven’t shared this with too many people — I had moments where I just I was ready to quit. I wasn’t going to come in the next week to shoot, but I had to shoot.

And then I talked to David for a few minutes and expressed some of my feelings about it. And of course, you know how David is: he could bullshit me into anything. By the time he was finished talking to me, I was ready to go. I was ready to be the killer.  

Amie: And then jump back into a whole movie, where you’re terrorizing Laura.

Ray: And then watch this girl … just from beginning to end running the whole gamut of emotions, just physically and mentally … gave a performance that I think is unmatched and I really thought that it was extraordinary. Your performance should have gotten the nomination.

But you know, at the time Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was not being well received, especially by some critics. And so I think the true worth of that movie didn’t start to emerge until years later. And gradually over the last 30 years, it’s evolved into I think David’s masterpiece. I mean that’s just my opinion.

Sheryl: Well his [points to Ray] work in it … right?

Amie: Both of your work! I mean, you’re both incredible in Fire Walk With Me, and I imagine diving into further into the character of Laura was both amazing and excruciating. Do you want to talk a little bit about filming that movie and how you immersed yourself more into Laura Palmer?

Sheryl: Yeah. Creatively, it was such a relief when I found out that — when David started talking to me about the possibility of the movie, because I didn’t feel like she was dead. Just creatively, I didn’t feel that her life force had expressed what it needed to express yet — it didn’t feel finished. And usually when as an actor when you finish a job there’s a sense of closure. It doesn’t mean you always want to let go of that character; you may love playing that character … or you may have been ready weeks ago to let go of that character. But with Laura, I knew that she had more to say. So it was a great relief.

And then David started talking to me for a while about it — we’d have coffee and we’d have these deep conversations, and I was able to start doing some research. Then when we were filming, because we were there — here — and the schedule was tight, in a way it was just totally diving in and being immersed in that world, and in that life. Which even though physically that can be demanding or emotionally, it was a gift to be able to be immersed in her life for that time. It was an intense time, but it served its purpose.  

Ray: When we did Fire Walk With Me, did we stay at the same motel that we were originally in when we did the pilot for Twin Peaks?

Sheryl: I don’t know, because I was local.

Ray: Yeah, I think it was the Red Lion Inn in Bellevue — there we were, all of us in that motel just doing Twin Peaks crazy stuff.  

Amie: Like what?!? Tell us some stories!

Sheryl: It was a WILD crew!

Ray: Well you know we have Russ Tamblyn and Richard Beymer, and Russ would do you know a few little dance steps from West Side Story. And boy what a career he’s had! I keep seeing Russ Tamblyn movies going all the way back to the late 40s, and he was Tom Thumb. One of the one of the films I loved as a child. And then he was he was in Peyton Place. Yeah, Russ would do a few little dance steps and Richard Beymer didn’t want to recreate anything from West Side Story.

But then I looked at his [Richard] career and then I’m watching The Longest Day – you know that movie about D-Day? And there’s Beamer playing a paratrooper, which I thought was funny too. Yeah. He’s had a nice long career too. And they’re both still plugging along you know. And thank God for ‘em; I love those two guys.

Amie: Moving on to The Return. And I know that you, Ray, have a small but very pivotal role  in the return.

Ray: Yeah, I don’t like to talk about The Return. You can do all the Return talk …

Amie: Okay … Sheryl! I know there are a million Internet theories about Carrie Page  and Laura Palmer. What are your specific thoughts about it; how do you feel about what’s happening there; what’s going on there?

Sheryl: I haven’t heard any of the theories; it changes for me … it continues to change for me. Which I think is one of the things about David that I love the most is that he doesn’t explain anything to us. It’s like if I read a book when I’m 20, and then I read a book when I’m 30, and then I read a book when I’m 40;  that book is going to mean something completely different every time I read it. If I’ve grown as a human being, and lived a full life and so … I understand it from more of an internal place than an intellectual place. If that makes sense.

Ray: Gut feeling.

Sheryl: Uh-huh, like a kinesthetic no understanding of what of who she is and what she is, versus something that can be analyzed or explained.

Amie: Why do both of you think Twin Peaks has become such an iconic series? There’s a huge fan base, and it’s so beloved — so much so that 25 years later they brought it back. What is it about Twin Peaks that resonates with everybody?

Ray: I think it was I think it was different in its time; people hadn’t seen anything quite like it before. And then it was very intense, and sort of the way David works in all of his movies, he shows a kind of the surface life … and then you go down below and go through the layers and  that roiling world underworld. It’s always moving 100 miles an hour even in the most mundane scenes.

And I think people felt that. I think it could appeal to them on several different levels; some of them subliminal, that they didn’t even quite understand. And even for us doing it; the same way. Everything seemed sort of normal. But it wasn’t, you know. And it was very intense. I think it was made to burn very brightly for a very short period of time. Thirty episodes and then a movie … and then uh …

Amie: Sheryl?

Sheryl:  Yeah I can’t I don’t know that I could say it any better than that. Other than that I want to add: thank you to all of you, because it’s because of you guys that it has stayed alive this long you know whether it’s you showing it to your friends, or to your kids, or even to your grandchildren. And sharing it – and your thoughts, and your own artistic creativity that has contributed to its life and I just want to thank you all.

Ray: Yeah! You’re all a bunch of Twin Peaks townies; that’s what you are. You could easily fit in, and that speaks volumes.

Amie: I was gonna ask one more question, and then go to Q&A. Sheryl – has James always been cool?

Sheryl: Yeah, those two; James and Dana, yeah, they just ooze cool! They were always cool, and they still are, and they always will be.


AUDIENCE QUESTION: I’m wondering if you can speak about it doing the audiobook for The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer? It was such a different medium, and I connected with it a lot.

Sheryl: Thank you so much. Yeah, both Jennifer and I had heard so many of you guys say for years and years and years, “Why hasn’t anyone done this?” And we didn’t know … we didn’t have the means to be able to do it. So the fact that it took 30 years or something was kind of surreal to revisit, because I hadn’t read the diary or watched the series or watched the film for decades until The Return was going to happen and until the reading of the book was gonna happen.

So I was revisiting these things from such a different perspective. From not a perspective of a young girl starting out her life, but as a middle-aged woman who is also a mother and has lived a life. So it hits me in a different way; it also made me appreciate Jennifer’s writing even more,  and all over again. Which she was able to do in that short book is extraordinary. And I had a director that was … I recorded it in Los Angeles in a studio … and the director was in New York. And I really respect that director because he was able to guide me; you know he hadn’t worked on Twin Peaks or anything like that before, but we talked about how we wanted to do this, and that it wasn’t just reading a book because this is a character that I played — and so finding that balance between getting the story across, but also getting the story across from the character’s perspective.

It was an emotional experience. For many reasons. I haven’t heard it; I probably won’t, ever.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Do you have a favorite scene?

Ray: Yeah, I do. I think when I my Fred Astaire dance that I did — and then going and talking to Cooper and then the sheriff — and then going into the little anteroom around the corner and doing my little gleeful, wicked thing. That’s my favorite moment; it was all working at that time. I was operating on all cylinders …  so there was there was a great moment that I felt. How about you? [to Sheryl]

Sheryl: I have moments that are favorite for different reasons. You know, like when I would get to work with Grace and Ray together; that was that was its own special thing. Any time I got to laugh … because it didn’t happen very often. Yeah, just favorites for more of what was going on around me, versus just the scene, I think.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Sheryl, you’re in a lot of really intense scenes throughout the series and how did you tap into that? Creating such a powerful performance?

Sheryl: Well I did do quite a bit of research, but I honestly I think the biggest thing is I was working with great actors. And if you’re working with great actors and you get out of your head — and by the way I also had a great director. So the biggest thing is just getting out of your head, and listening and being present with what’s happening in the scene.

Anytime I would feel stuck, like I don’t know how to do this — and believe me, continuously, even in The Return, I would look at my scenes and go, “I don’t have a clue how I’m going to do this arc in like two pages — how I’m gonna get there,” but if I just breathe into that space, I’m not doing it by myself. All I’ve got to do is respond and be in the moment. If I can just stay present in the moment, and stay open to whatever David is telling me, right? Which may not make logical sense, but my job is to integrate into my heart and soul and to find the truth in it.Then one moment will lead me to the next moment, will lead me to the next moment.  

Ray: Yeah. He [David Lynch] has the he has the uncanny ability of just saying, in very few words, just the right thing before every scene that just gets you right in the place that you have to be to start that scene. I don’t know how he does it, and I don’t know how it really works but it does. It works every time.

Sheryl: It’s extraordinary. And like Ray said it could be two words but those two words are so potent, it’s like an arrow – you know exactly what he wants then.

Amie: That’s amazing. Do either one of you do a David Lynch impression?

Sheryl: [looking at Ray] I bet you do.  

Ray: Well I remember when he told us that I was gonna be the one, right?

Sheryl: In the round room.  

Ray: Yeah, in the round room with the lava lamp in the corner. And Sheryl and myself and Richard Beymer and Mark Frost and David Lynch were all sitting on the floor cross legged because it was … like around the campfire. And David leaned over and touched me on my knee and he said,

[insert David Lynch impression!] “Ray. It’s you. It was always you.”

And then I remember thinking, “Oh shit. Oh no no no. No it can’t be me.”

[David impression] “But Ray, it’s gonna be a beautiful thing.”

And that’s when you start to get sucked in, when he said it’s gonna be a beautiful thing. So many beautiful things that I felt …. I fell under his trance. And there it was.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: My question would be for Sheryl, and to a point, Ray as well. When you started off playing pretty much like a ghost … a murdered girl … in Twin Peaks and then we’re told that you’d be playing her cousin Maddy; what was that like to come into something as not who you thought you were, but also interacting with other actors and actresses that now had see you as a different person?

Sheryl: Well, I was living in Seattle studying theater when I played Laura. And the pilot was shot up here, and so when the pilot finished they all went back to L.A. to the actor lives. And I stayed in Seattle. So that was just sort of it for me, because I was hired for whatever, four days as a corpse and a couple of flashbacks.

So it was months later when David called and said, “What do you think about moving to L.A..?” And I was like … “Well, I’m dead.” And he said, in his David way, “Don’t worry about that.” So I don’t remember … I wish to God that I could remember; somewhere in one of my old journals I have this written down, and I should look at it because I can’t remember so much now. But I don’t remember when exactly I found out what I would be doing and who I would be playing.  

And I was just so incredibly grateful. And I was so young and not experienced, and all the other actors were really experienced. So I just kind of felt like a kid in a candy shop like I can’t believe that I get to come down here …. and I was constantly scared and intimidated and worried that I didn’t know what I was doing. I still am! It’s never going away. So I don’t know if that answers well; I’ll revisit my journals and get back to you.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: To piggyback on Blake’s question, what was it like unpacking that emotionally for you after being so young playing this character? And then also, you Ray, the intensity of that, and being such a young father – how was that after all was said and done?  

Sheryl: I remember after Fire Walk with me, that I don’t think I realized … because that was also my first film. And I, as clear as day, remember this moment a couple weeks after filming of standing in a grocery store in West Hollywood, thinking about what I wanted to get and I had this realization that it was the first time that my, Sheryl, thoughts and wants and feelings, had space again.

And it was the weirdest, trickiest moments … now since then, I’ve had a similar experience with other roles. Not to that degree, but because as a character, your thoughts, desires, fears .. especially with a tight shooting schedule, it takes up a lot of your life force. So I remember that moment. And I also remember that I went on a trip with my family somewhere far, far away that had absolutely nothing to do with the entertainment industry. So I got to go to a part of the world that I’d never been to, and I got to be with my own family. And I think that was really incredibly helpful. And it also started a ritual for me that I carried with me for decades. If I play a character like that, that is going to those places, when I’m done I take that time to go away. I used to drive from L.A. down to Joshua Tree for a couple of days alone just to clear it; to let it go; to have closure.

Ray: Yeah, well I’m kind of the opposite. I don’t like to let it go. And it doesn’t really bother me that much, because I think I pretty much get it out in the scene itself. And then when I go home at night I feel a little tired, but emotionally I feel pretty alright because I spewed it all out. Yeah, I think that’s the only way to explain it, I guess. But  you know acting acting is more reacting: and you like Sheryl says, if you just stay in the moment it’ll take care of itself. And listening is about 90 percent of the actor’s job. You have to really listen to what’s going on in the scene, to the other people in the scene, and if you really listen you know how to respond. There’s nothing worse than seeing a scene in a movie and you see the two actors who aren’t talking and they’re sort of out of it; that’s bad. You’ve gotta always be in it.  

AUDIENCE QUESTION: I look forward to season four. Let’s just pretend that it actually happens, and David says to you, I would like both of you to come back as Carrie Page or Laura Palmer, and as Leland Palmer. What would you like to see happening, potentially, to these characters?

Sheryl: Gosh. I totally trust his vision, because he constantly surprises me. There’s a surprise at every turn, and I love being surprised at that. So even if I read a scene and I think I might know what the scene is about and I get to set — it’s just totally different than what I could have thought. I feel like I couldn’t even begin to create as brilliantly as he can in terms of his idea.

Ray: Yeah, but it’s easy to do that on Showtime, you know. Try doing that on ABC like we did; that’s when it gets tricky.  

AUDIENCE QUESTION: The day-to-day of not knowing what was going to happen with your character; of getting just one scene at a time. What was that like?

Ray: It’s like it’s like living a life — I mean, you don’t know what’s gonna happen to you this afternoon right? And we didn’t know either.

CONT. QUESTION: And piggybacking on that, because he’s a big fan of transcendental meditation; I’ve studied that connection to directing … and you reference mindfulness, and staying in the movement … but day to day I imagine that must have been very exciting to not know what was going to happen with the character, script wise.

Ray: Yah and I think I think the writers, David and Mark, I think they were all flying by the seat of their pants too you know. And they were open anything, and they and they would see things that would develop, and they’d say, “Yeah I like that, and we’ll go with that a little bit more next week.”

I think we had great writers; as a group they were exceptional. And every line in Twin Peaks exists in three different levels. And that was all carefully written, and meticulous. You don’t get that too often.

Amie: Is there something about Twin Peaks that nobody’s ever asked you, that you’ve wished somebody would ask you?

Sheryl: That is a very thoughtful question that requires lots of thinking …

Ray: Somebody should have asked me how I really wanted Season Three to go. And I’ve mentioned it today, but I said you know, “Leland I believe, had a twin brother Leonard. Leonard Palmer! And one day he decided to come to town to see what happened to his brother. He wanted to hear the real story. Yep. That was my idea. And David didn’t pick me up on that. I had hairdo down and everything … I was gonna wear glasses. Leonard; Leonard Palmer.

Sheryl: I don’t know; I feel like I’d have to think about it for awhile.

Ray: You know, any question is great. And the more thoughtful the question, the better. And all of your questions are pretty thoughtful, I have to say.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Do either of you have a favorite working with David Lynch story? He seems like quite the character, so I’m assuming you have lots of stories. Just curious if there is one favorite.

Ray: I have what kind of a cute one. We were sitting around a pool at the Red Lion Inn, before we started shooting the pilot. And David was sitting in a lounge chair next to me, and we weren’t in the water. We were fully clothed — it was kind of cool that day, as I recall. But we were just sitting out there talking, and David said, “Ray. I love that watch.”

And I just bought this watch; it was a nice one and I liked it; it had a luminous dial that you could see at night, and a nice black leather band on it … and I almost took it off my wrist to give it to David. But I didn’t do it. And now, 30 years later I wished I’d given him that watch.

Sheryl: I think my … it’s not one favorite moment … but it’s a thing that happens, which is a communication without words. On certain scenes; I feel like I’m gonna cry thinking about it; oh my God I’ve never felt like this before. And it happened on The Return too, because we have such a long history. There’s this sweetness that happens when you have history with someone, and you have a shorthand of communication.

When there’s a difficult scene, and I feel like I don’t know how I’m going to get it but then I let go and I’ll be present in the moment — there is a communication that happens, like an instinct, where I feel like he’s [David] — I used to joke that I almost feel like he’s hypnotizing me, because I don’t know how he does it — he’s able to take me somewhere that I’ve never been creatively. As many times as I’ve worked with them, he’s somehow gently taking me into new territory without me even realizing it. And without my own insecurities being able to stop me from going in there. So it what it feels like, is that he’s taking my hand and he’s saying, “Come on Sheryl Lee, I’m gonna just take you over here,” and it’s a very focused, but very expansive feeling. That is BIG; that is very present in the moment.

And you know he has that ability to, that no matter what’s going on — on the set — even if we’re losing light, or time, or whatever — he’s so right here with you, that that stuff just kind of goes away. And so there is an aliveness to it.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Beside yourself, and your own characters, who is your favorite character from any season? Not actor, but character on Twin Peaks?

Ray: My favorite character that I liked? Oh goodness; it would be hard to say that. I loved Richard Beymer as Ben Horne, and of course I love Sheryl, as Maddy ….

Sheryl: I loved Andy and Lucy.

Ray: … and I loved her even when she was wrapped in plastic. And Grace is a wonderful, weird actress who can just do anything at the drop of a hat. And you never knew where Grace was gonna go. You just wanted to latch on to her and go along for the ride. So many of them that I looked forward to working with and adored and brought a lot of the good out of me. Can’t pick one though.

Amie: I want to wrap up by just learning what you’re doing now; what you’re working on now; what you’re working on next — so people know where to look for you next.

Sheryl: You go first! You’re busy.

Ray: I’m doing this half hour show called Fresh Off The Boat on ABC, my old network, and I play one of Orlando, Florida’s 100 best dentists. I’m in the top 100, and I’m the next door neighbor to the Wong family. They’re a Chinese family, and they’re wonderful and we have a great time. And it’s sort of groundbreaking television, because it’s an Asian family and they’re wonderful family and they’re an American family. I love doing that show — and I have a movie coming out in July called The Chain, so you’ll have to look for that one too and Adrienne Barbeau is in it with me! That I did Swamp Thing with back in 1981. How about you?

Sheryl: I just closed a very, very, very long chapter of my life and am at the very beginning of a new one; that I had no idea what it’s going to look like. Creatively I’m being pulled in an area that I feel like I haven’t gotten to explore enough yet that’s a big passion of mine. So I’m kind of letting that incubate a bit — so I don’t have the answer yet. I’m living in the question.

Amie: Well, we look forward to seeing what that is. I want to thank you both so much for coming to Crypticon and seeing us; I know all of your fans really appreciate it.

Ray: That’s it?!?!

Amie: Yeah, we’re out of time!  

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