Seven feet tall, the Dutch stage, film and television actor Carel Struycken (b. 1948) towers above many people in the acting business. Apart from appearing in Twin Peaks and Fire Walk with Me, as the emblematic character The Giant, Struycken has starred in The Addams Family (1991) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). Struycken is a recurring celebrity at Comic Con, and he is also a very intelligent and political person who has some clear and honest opinions on both social matters and the Hollywood business. I had a talk with Carel Struycken about everything from David Lynch and Dune to network television and the current political situation.
AH: How did you get the role as The Giant, and can you describe the casting process?
CS: It was initially a meeting with Johanna Ray. That, in itself, was quite an experience, because she’s such a classy person. A normal casting can be very crass – it’s the Hollywood thing – but Johanna Ray is so classy.
After having met Johanna, I think I met Mark Frost the next day. I didn’t meet David Lynch until minutes before we started shooting. I guess I was nervous, because I remember that David Lynch came up to me and said, ‘Everything is gonna be peachy keen’. It sounded like someone from the Fifties, and it made me relax instantly
AH: Michael J. Anderson has once said that he didn’t know “what he was”, and that David Lynch had told him that he acted in totally “disembodied scenes”. What do you think that your character represents, and did you ever talk about your character and his function with Mark Frost and/or David Lynch?
CS: I never talked about it, but I just took the character as something from another plane, a parallel universe. Being on the set, you had the sense that things came from osmosis. There was not a lot of direction, and people just went with the flow. It was very much like a dream on the set, just like the actual show.
AH: In the beginning of the second season, The Giant appears just as Old Bellhop leaves Dale Cooper’s hotel room, and after the killing of Maddy, we see The Giant on the stage and later Old Bellhop saying to Agent Cooper that he is “so sorry.” Do you see these characters as closely related, perhaps even “one and the same”?
CS: I don’t think that Old Bellhop and The Giant are the same person. I saw them as part of a different dimension or plane of existence – maybe not the same one.
AH: You are not part of many episodes, but you are part of the best episodes in the entire series, in my view. One episode, in particular, frightened me, when I saw Twin Peaks back in 1990-1991, and that was episode 14 (“Lonely Souls”). Here you say the words “It is happening again,” and that line has stuck with me and many other people ever since. It has even been sampled and used in different pieces of music. Why do you think that line has become specifically central and memorable to many people, and could you say a few words on that particular sequence in that particular episode?
CS: What I remember from the sequence is that everything started to accelerate in the story. I saw it as kind of a general warning. Today, that line is still very relevant. It seems as if we’re stuck in a repeating loop both in Twin Peaks and in politics. The way I saw it was that my character didn’t know himself, that perhaps he was just acting as a medium.
AH: Do you think that The Giant is supposed to be frightening or ominous in some way?
CS: I think in most of David Lynch’s movies the really scary people are never the strong people. I didn’t see him as a scary character, almost like a therapist, an observer.
AH: Did you know what would happen to Maddy, and did you know what the line “It is happening again” referred to? (The reason I ask is that I have talked with many actors who only knew their own lines, because David Lynch and Mark Frost didn’t want their scripts to be leaked).
CS: I don’t remember ever getting an entire script. I don’t know how concerned they were with the scripts being leaked, but they perhaps wanted us to act on our intuition, not on our knowledge of the context. I also think that the script wasn’t really done yet. In any case, David Lynch changes his mind and the script, the scene and the dialogue often, on the spot.
There is this scene in the first episode of the second season [“May the Giant Be With You”] which is rather typical of David Lynch’s style. We were not shooting on a real sound stage, where you can make some extreme low-angle shots, but on a normal set with concrete floor. David Lynch, however, wanted to use low-angle shots, and the only way he could do this was to get a special prism to put on the lens. He stuck with his decision, though, and we ended up waiting 1-1½ hours for the lens to the low-angle shots that David wanted. That would have been expensive and time-consuming, and was very unusual. It is not something you normally see on TV.
AH: My favorite episodes of Twin Peaks are episode 14 and episode 29 (the final one). Which of the different episodes was your favorite? And why?
CS: My favorite episode is probably episode 29, the main reason being that it was the only time I was there for the whole shoot, from beginning to end. There was no real script, as far as I remember, but orders for what we needed.
Nobody knew what would be done with it, perhaps because they had to end the show, so they had to improvise. We had to make up the story, as we were shooting it. I remember that a guy went around with a suitcase containing different contact lenses, and none of us knew what they would be used for. I thought that somebody got lenses, but, as it turns out, the lenses were for the doppelgänger scenes.
When David Lynch did Dune, he is said to have walked around in a white shirt with a stethoscope and listen to people’s hearts. Those kinds of unsettling things also found their way onto the set of Twin Peaks, and that influenced the tone of the actual show, I think.
The last part of episode 29, we did it all backwards, and Mike was our coach.
AH: Apart from acting in Twin Peaks, you were also a part of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Why do you think that many people (including critics and fans) didn’t like Fire Walk with Me, and why do you think that the ratings of Twin Peaks dropped during the second season?
CS: To me it was clear that the ratings dropped because the network changed when it was aired from Thursday to Saturday night – a night where people didn’t like to be home. And this was a time, mind you, where many people did not have video recorders.
Re-scheduling Twin Peaks, I think, destroyed the Thursday ritual of getting coffee and pie. The network was very nervous about the show because it was completely alien to them, and they had no control over it. A part is that it got kind of neglected or even sabotaged by the network.
To me, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is much darker than Twin Peaks, and Blue Velvet, to me, is much more closely related to Twin Peaks.
AH: Which role has Twin Peaks and Fire Walk with Me had for your career, and why do you think that the world of Twin Peaks continues to attract new audiences and cult-followers year after year?
CS: It didn’t do anything for my career. People in Hollywood – producers, studios, casting directors – were not that crazy about the show. It wasn’t part of Hollywood, so it didn’t really get any roles on account of Twin Peaks”. But in Europe it had a surprisingly huge following, also in Spain and Italy, which is surprising to me. In 1993, I was doing two movies in Romania. They had just gotten rid of Ceausescu, but the country was still traumatized. One of the first shows on TV was Twin Peaks, and that to them reflected how they lived under Ceausescu, where nothing made sense.
I do a lot of comic cons and horror cons, and last year I noticed a lot of young college kids who were into Twin Peaks, and I think it’s lovely that the show continues to get new fans. At a time when things are not that exciting frankly, Twin Peaks is a reminder that things can be different. We live in a stalemate, I think, and Twin Peaks is so completely different from anything else.
AH: Twin Peaks is definitely popular in Europe. It was and still is huge in Scandinavia. Is there a reason for that – a certain something that links Twin Peaks and Scandinavia in some way?
CS: It isn’t surprising to me that people from Scandinavia like Twin Peaks, and there definitely is a connection in terms of sensibility. The simple fact that it’s dark in the winter in Scandinavia has something to do with it. If you’re lucky you have a fire place, but people sit inside and have these long dark nights to deal with. Add to that the Scandinavian myths and folklore, something that clearly relates to the strangeness and mysticism of Twin Peaks.
AH: Is it possible to trace the influence of Twin Peaks on more recent television shows, and what impact, if any, would you say that it has had on modern television drama?
CS: Twin Peaks is usually compared to shows like Northern Exposure, but it didn’t seem to have the same tonality, really. It felt more like a copy. The X-Files was closer to Twin Peaks perhaps, but I never saw Twin Peaks as TV, because it was so unusual and cinematic in a way. It might have liberated producers and writers to think more broadly, however, and shows like Six Feet Under and True Detective seem to have been inspired by it.
AH: I am curious whether The Giant is coming back in the new season of Twin Peaks. Have you heard anything?
CS: I haven’t heard anything yet, but I hope that they will call me back.
An iconic and ominous line from Twin Peaks that has haunted me ever since the original airing of the show: