One of the most heavily debated characters in Twin Peaks, Evelyn Marsh was played by the American actor Annette McCarthy. After starring in shows like Happy Days (ABC, 1974-1984), Magnum P.I. (CBS, 1980-1988) and St. Elsewhere (NBC, 1982-1988), McCarthy was enlisted on the Twin Peaks roster where she would play a sensual, femme fatale-like character during the second season. The Evelyn Marsh/James Hurley-arc is often debated among fans – some fans love it, while others intensely hate it – and McCarthy was directed by a handful of different episode directors while being on Twin Peaks. Thus, when I talked with McCarthy, we debated the differences, in terms of style, between the various episode directors, and we talked about her character and the relative heterogeneity or unevenness of the second season. We also talked about James Marshall as an actor and a co-star and about Diane Keaton as a director.
AH: How would you describe Twin Peaks, and how did you get the role as Evelyn? Could you describe the casting process and your initial reaction to the show?
AM: We, as Americans, would say you either love it or hate it.
I was introduced to it by Steven Soderbergh. He was my husband’s best friend. He came to our guest house and introduced me to the pilot episode of Twin Peaks. He said, “I found this wonderful new show that I want you to see,” and I just didn’t get it. I didn’t find it wonderful to begin with. But then I started watching it, one episode after the other, and it started to grow on me, and I began to love it.
Later, I had a casting with Johanna Ray who was fantastic. She wanted me to get the part. She was rooting for me, and she is very unique in that she wants you to get the part, so she acts as if you’ve already gotten the role. She really rooted and campaigned for me, and eventually I got the part.
AH: There are some incredible noir-like scenes between you and James Marshall. Could you describe the interplay with James Marshall?
AM: He is a great actor, the chemistry was fantastic. He is one of the greatest actors in the show, in my view, a wonderful co-star, both romantic and wonderful. I came on the show, mind you, and I was afraid or nervous to begin with, but he helped me relax.
As an actor you play with what is given you, and often, as an actor, you are in the dark. Often you are handed a script just before you start shooting, and almost every audition is a cold reading. So, as an actor, you are used to being thrown quickly into a new character and a new world.
AH: Did you talk with some of the different directors about the femme fatale-like quality to Evelyn, and was she an intentional reference to the noir-genre? Twin Peaks seems to have a timeless or somewhat nostalgic quality to it.
AM: Completely, ultimately, yes. It was meant to be a different time, a different place. The show has a timeless quality to it, and, indeed, there is sort of a Fifties vibe going on, reminiscent of Peyton Place. Peyton Place was a soap opera when I was a baby, and it was so dramatic. Going back to the feel and style of that show, David Lynch has probably wanted Twin Peaks to be sacred – to be ours – and to have a certain element of nostalgia.
AH: Twin Peaks, indeed, seems to have been modelled after Peyton Place, at least to some degree. There are also scenes, however, that are reminiscent of classic noir-filmes, and here I am thinking about the entire Evevyln/James-arc as a sort of allusion to Double Indemnity. There is a noir-like quality to Evelyn, at least, and like Barbara Stanwyck’s character in Double Indemnity she uses her sexuality to attract James in order to double-cross him.
AM: That’s exactly what it was. She lures him in. We didn’t talk about Double Indemnity as an actual reference. My directors were so wonderful, and they might have alluded to Double Indemnity, but they didn’t reference it directly. That particular scene was directed Diane Keaton, and she was wonderful to work with. You get a director like Diane Keaton and a good looking man like James. What more can you want…
AH: You mention Diane Keaton. Her episode is often debated among fans who either love it or downright hate it. How would you describe her as a director in general and her episode from Twin Peaks in particular?
AM: Diane Keaton was interesting, and her episode stood out in a way. She, to me, was a minimalist, and, whereas everybody else was so serious, she took it in a more light-hearted way. She was serious in her work, don’t get me wrong, but she was more light-hearted, and I vividly remember the mourning scene where she was shooting me from my legs and moving the camera upwards. Keaton’s episode was unique, but the thing is that every episode was unique in a way, because each episode was handed on to the next director. A director would get a couple of episodes before handing on the responsibility to a new director for the next episode.
AH: You starred in a number of episodes during the second season, and you worked under the direction of Duwayne Dunham, Caleb Deschanel, Todd Holland, Uli Edel and Diane Keaton. Did any of these directors stand out in any way?
AM: Caleb Deschanel is fantastic. Every bit you know about him – put that in slow-motion. He is slow-motion perfect.
AH: Why do you think that the ratings of Twin Peaks dropped during the second season?
AM: The ratings dropped primarily because of the heterogeneity of the second season. Because of the structure of each director’s input. Each director’s input was magnificent, but also very different.
When we first made this, it was for the US, and I’m amazed at the interest it has produced outside of America.
AH: How can the see the influence of Twin Peaks on today’s so-called quality-TV shows in the US and abroad, and which series are, in your view, most clearly inspired and influenced by Twin Peaks?
AM: Has it been influential to modern TV shows. Yes and no, I would say. I think Twin Peaks is unique and unusual, and I think people are a little afraid to do that. It has been influential, yes, but maybe not in a very clear and direct way. Congratulations to ABC, though, for their willingness to do a show like Twin Peak. I love the fact that ABC did that. I love the fact that ABC aired that. It is about risk taking. The rest is just catch if you can.
You might call Twin Peaks groundbreaking, though. It started with something unusual, and after a while, other people and shows started to imitate that unusualness. One show which comes to mind is Six Feet Under, a show that I absolutely adore and love. And TV has changed in a more general sense. Directors move from film to television because, in a way, it is easier and more satisfying for them to work in television. My good friend is Steven Soderbergh, and he does The Knick because it’s easy. It seems so ridiculously smooth, but that is it.
Evelyn Marsh is characterized as a traditional femme fatale, akin to Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity (1944), and her name is reminiscent of Evelyn Mulwray from Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974). She seems to be mourning, and she seems to be ‘below’ James, yet she is, in fact, just playing a role, cunningly trying to attract and double-cross the gullible young ‘rebel’: