USA Today, Friday August 17, 1990
Lynch´s 'Wild' World
The 'Twin Peaks' creator unleashes his new 'violent comedy' film.
By Susan Spillman
HOLLYWOOD - Writer / director David Lynch could have walked right out of one of his own screen creations. Nibbling a Swiss cheese sandwich at the Studio Coffee Shop, one of his favorite diners, the man who´s pushing the limits of movies and TV looks like your best friend´s big brother.
Fresh-faced and affable at 44, he was an Eagle Scout while growing up in the Pacific Northwest and Virginia, loves Big Boy restaurants and recently visited former President Reagan.
But Lynch is full of paradoxes - like the wildly idiosyncratic characters that have become his trademark in films such as 1986´s acclaimed Blue Velvet, TV´s Twin Peaks and now Wild at Heart, opening in theaters nationwide today.
"He´s love and hell personified," says Laura Dern, who stars in Wild and also worked with Lynch on Blue Velvet. He says he hasn´t watched a TV show since the Perry Mason series went off the air 16 years ago. Yet Twin Peaks, his first work for the tube (co-created with Mark Frost), just grabbed 14 Emmy nominations, more than any other show.
Many ideas come from meditation
Actor who´ve worked with Lynch say he´s a powerful communicator, though he´s not very verbal. "He doesn´t use a lot of words but you can sense his direction," says Nicolas Cage, who also stars in Wild at Heart. "It´s kind of Zen."
Lynch is intensely private about mundane facts like revealing the religion in which he was raised. But he unabashedly exposes some of this most bizarre fantasies on the screen for the whole world to see.
An admitted workaholic, he´s been divorced twice and lately romantically linked with Isabella Rossellini, who starred in Blue Velvet and appears in Wild at Heart.
Wild is a typical Lynch. Made for a modest $9 million and billed as a "violent comedy," it explores the unconditional love between a couple on the run: Sailor (Cage), a nice guy who crushes a man´s skull with his bare hands, and Lula (Dern), a naive Southern sex kitten with an obsessively domineering mother (Dern´s real mom, Diane Ladd).
"It´s a very wild film," Lynch says. "You have to fasten your seat belt and go for it."
Many in the audiences at the first test screenings didn´t.
"At the first one, 80 people walked out," Lynch says. "At the next one, a hundred people did ... They made me see that with certain things (specifically violent scenes) I was going too far. They were thinking, 'This is the max we´re going to take. We don´t need it shoved down our throats.'"
He made changes and Wild went on to grab top prize at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
The Motion Picture Association of America´s rating board asked for one more minor change before giving Wild an R rating. Smoke and fire were laid over one second of film to tone down a grisly scene of a man´s head being blown off.
Lynch is always even-tempered, according to actors who´ve worked with him, but he´s intrigued by both physical and mental violence. "Pleasure can only be there if there´s something to contrast it against," he says. "It takes the lows to feel the highs."
Born in Missoula, Mont., the son of research scientist for the Department of Agriculture and a homemaker who taught English to foreigners, Lynch grew up playing in the woods where "you´d get a weird feeling," he says. "The woods can be a scary place." He conveys those feelings well on Twin Peaks, set in a Pacific Northwest logging town.
But it wasn´t until Lynch studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts that he encountered the greatest influence on his work: Philadelphia.
"It´s such a very sick, degenerate, decaying, fear-ridden place where things are totally absurd and confusing, and violence is in the air at all times," he says. "It´s definitely the sickest town I´ve ever been in and it´s called the City of Brotherly Love."
He made his feature film debut in 1978 with the macabre cult hit Eraserhead, then earned an Academy Award nomination with The Elephant Man in 1980. Next came Dune, a major flop. Six years later he hit his stride with Blue Velvet, which won the National Society of Film Critics´ best picture award.
Film isn´t Lynch´s only passion. He paints, draws a weekly cartoon strip, The Angriest Dog in The World, that appears in newspapers across the country, created commercials for Calvin Klein´s Obsession fragrance and produced a record album, Floating Into The Night, for singer Julee Cruise.
His ideas are inspired equally by real life and imagination. Kyle MacLachlan sees similarities between his Twin Peaks character, FBI agent Dale Cooper, and Lynch. "It´s a feeling I get when reading some of the dialogue," says MacLachlan. "Then I´ll plug into his physicality or gestures. ... Put a little David Lynch spin on it." He adds that both Lynch and Cooper "can surprise people with what they say. They just lay it out there."
Take Dern´s first encounter with the director. "I was waiting for him in the hall outside an office. He comes up an say, 'I´ve got to take a pee, I´ll be back.'"
Similarly, Cooper takes Sheriff Harry S. Truman aback when he nonchalantly says: "Harry, I really need have to urinate."
Lynch credits meditation with keeping his mind in shape. He has meditated 40 minutes twice a day for the past 17 years. "It expands the container so you can capture more ideas. ... You can capture ideas at a deeper level so the ideas are bigger."
Diners are among his favorite spots for letting his imagination go wild. "They´re very well lit, safe and clean places. You can let your min go into serious areas, frightening areas or new areas and if it does get strange you can bob back up to the surface and you´re in a safe place," he explains.
Lynch´s facinations are eclectic. Mark Frost says coffee was the top conversation topic at their first meeting; Cage recalls his first Lynch conversation jumping from "strip clubs to red wine to the bread Indians make around Texas. He made a diagram of their ovens on a napkin."
Lynch relishes exploring the inner workings of almost anthing. He loves to visit factories, oil refineries and electric plants and would like to take a course in dissecting the human body.
He thinks too much has been made of the fact that a friend once sent him her uterus in a jar after having a hysterectomy or that he toured a morgue at midnight while living near one in Philadelphia.
"The bad thing about all these stories is that it turns it into a freak show," he says.
"The point is there are many, many textures. Just like that roll that guy´s unwrapping," he says, pointing to a man at the diner´s counter.
"If that were a spleen instead of a roll he´d pitch it on the floor right away. But it´s OK to take apart a roll and look at it and see the little seeds in it. But for some reason it´s not OK to take apart a spleen. ... It´s just textures, and through those things you find things that inspire you for paintings or setting up a shot in a film," he explains. "Even a song could come out of it. Who knows?"