On Monday, June 3rd 2013 the Seattle International Film Festival presented local legend and cult favorite, actor Kyle MacLachlan, with SIFF’s Outstanding Achievement Award.
The evening began, for some of MacLachlan’s spendthrift fans, with an exclusive tribute reception at Mistral Kitchen. I did not attend the dinner, but that allowed me to get in line early so that I could get a good seat for the sold out main event. 480 MacLachlan fans, friends and family packed into SIFF Cinema Uptown’s largest screening room to celebrate nearly three decades of eccentric floppy-haired charisma in some of the most iconic roles in Cinemaphile history.
Seattle feels a special claim to MacLachlan because the Yakima, WA native studied acting at the University of Washington. It was following graduation, when he was toiling in small dark theatres around the city, that he received the call to play Paul Atreides in David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” (1984). Though many (Lynch and MacLachlan included) consider “Dune” somewhat of a disappointment, there was no doubt that this blue-eyed, raven-haired charmer was destined for greatness.
MacLachlan was blown away by the well-constructed and thorough tribute video that SIFF presented, which included clips spanning his entire career to the soundtrack of the Portland theme song he sang in the role of the city’s mayor on the IFC series, “Portlandia.” The exuberant audience clapped for their favorite characters (which were all of them). MacLachlan had not seen some of his performances in years and remarked, “I was quite the young buck”. He also held up the phallic silver award and quipped, “We could have used this in ‘Showgirls.’”
If you want a memorable acting career, it doesn’t hurt to stick with David Lynch, and that’s just what MacLachlan did, starring alongside Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini in “Blue Velvet”. He initially turned it down because he didn’t want to offend his mother, but the haunting script sunk its claws into him. MacLachlan’s character in “Blue Velvet” is Jeffrey Beaumont, an upstanding young man whose insatiable curiosity finds him in the middle of a sticky situation involving an emotionally broken nightclub singer and a nitrous-sniffing mad man. The original feedback cards for the film were shattering, but the film enjoyed a cult following and is now (rightly) considered one of the most influential films of all time.
Lynch found a muse in MacLachlan, and cast him as the lead, Agent Dale Cooper, in the avant-garde 1990-91 television series “Twin Peaks”. MacLachlan admits to having based his portrayal of Cooper off of Lynch himself, especially the hand tenting gesture that the FBI Agent uses whenever he excitedly discusses the simple pleasures of donuts and Douglas Fir Trees.
When asked what goals he originally set for himself, he admitted that he “tried to be the Tom Cruise guy” (to which one audience member loudly responded “NO!”). He also revealed that he turned down the lead role in Oliver Stone’s “Platoon”, joking that he narrowly avoiding becoming Charlie Sheen. Later that year, MacLachlan presented Stone with the Academy Award for Best Picture, and, as the gruff director took the statue, he whispered, “…and you turned it down.”
Finally, the moderator got around to the topic we’d all been waiting for: MacLachlan’s transcendently campy turn in Paul Verhoeven’s epic catastrophe, “Showgirls,” which MacLachlan cheekily described as “a hard-hitting expose of Vegas”. He maintained that during filming, he had no idea what sort of movie he was making. He simply shot his scenes and then went skiing. At the film’s premiere, MacLachlan was blindsided by the truth. He spent the entire screening slumping lower and lower in his seat. But he’s since come to love the inadvertent cult classic because it “succeeds for all the wrong reasons. You gotta embrace it at a certain point.” Of the infamous “spin-cycle” love scene, he described a grueling night shoot that resulted in very sore arms for the actor who was “just trying to hold [co-star Elizabeth Berkley] so she doesn’t just fly off my lap.”
There was much discussion regarding MacLachlan’s many memorable hairdos, citing “Blue Velvet” and “Showgirls” in particular, “a disaster.” His favorite look was Dale Cooper’s stiffly coiffed black helmet. At the tribute, MacLachlan wore his hair in brunette bed-head chic, augmenting his Michael Caine mod glasses. (If it sounds as if I’m in love with him, it’s because I am. Aren’t you?)
Film festival audiences are generally notorious for their rambling, half-insane/half-sycophantic questions during Q & As. But I have to give this particular group props for asking coherent, concise questions about his career. One fan asked about his experience working on the “Twin Peaks” prequel film, “Fire Walk with Me.” MacLachlan recalls being star struck by the presence of Sir David Bowie (I now he’s not knighted, but he should be).
After the Q & A, SIFF treated the audience to a special screening of original “Twin Peaks” pilot. Meanwhile, MacLachlan headed up to Capitol Hill’s newly opened Lost Lake Café and Lounge, which possesses a vaguely “Twin Peaks” vibe, including a creepy Black Lodge zigzag floor pattern in the bathrooms. The diner fills a gaping void in local “Twin Peaks” commemoration. The original diner exterior for the show belongs to Twede’s café in North Bend, where the business has failed to properly capitalize on fans. They serve an abominable approximation of cherry pie and coffee that would make Agent Cooper cry. But Lost Lake gives the famous food pairing the respect it deserves, and Mr. MacLachlan enjoyed his signature snack amidst adoring fans and dessert enthusiasts alike.
Kyle MacLachlan indubitably deserves the Outstanding Achievement award for acting. But he wouldn’t be so beloved if it weren’t for his practically supernatural affability. Should MacLachlan ever run for mayor of Seattle, he would surely win by a landslide.