Two promising actors in their twenties, Gary (Garrison) Hershberger (b. 1964) and Dana Ashbrook (b. 1967) became a part of the Twin Peaks roster in 1990, a roster that, in part, consisted of young, attractive and unknown faces. Hershberger and Ashbrook would play opposite each other as the two friends and football players Mike Nelson and Bobby Briggs, and they also became a part of the much maligned prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. In the late 1990s, Ashbrook began working on a film project called Driven to It, a project which David Lynch was apparently meant to produce, yet it was never filmed and financed. At approximately the same time, Hershberger became a part of another game-changing drama series: Six Feet Under (HBO, 2001-2005). Ashbrook would later come to star in the episode “Dual Spires” from Psych (USA Network, 2006-2014), an episode that paid tribute to Twin Peaks. And in 2014, at the Twin Peaks UK Festival, Dana Ashbrook revealed that he would return to the world of Twin Peaks in 2016 or 2017. I had a lengthy conversation with Gary Hershberger and a brief, albeit interesting, talk with Dana Ashbrook, and inasmuch as the two interviews circled many of the same themes, characters and scenes, I have chosen to interweave the two interviews, without making any revisions.
AH: In the pilot episode, Mike appears in two scenes which are particularly interesting to me. One scene is where Mike comes to pick up Donna at her parents’ house – and where we see an inebriated Bobby dancing on the hood of the car – and the other one is where Mike and Bobby are in a jail cell barking like dogs at James Hurley? To me, those scenes are very typical of David Lynch, very Lynchian. How would you describe those scenes, Gary, and do you remember what David Lynch said to you when you had to do those scenes? How did he direct you?
GH: Even if we were kind of serious, there was always a strange and bizarre element… The barking scene came out of the blue because we had done the scene, and David said, “Gary, have you ever been to the zoo?” “Yeah,” I said. “Well, do you know that there are monkeys that bark at each other in a very angry way? I want you to do that.” I just said, “Okay,” but I didn’t know what he was getting at until I saw the final scene which is both funny and slightly scary at the same time. Often in Twin Peaks we have these competing moods and themes, and we don’t exactly know how to process or deal with it.
AH: Apart from the barking scene and the scene outside Donna’s house, there is one scene with Bobby which is particularly noteworthy – and which is also somewhat indefinable in terms of mood. I am thinking about the scene where Major Briggs describes his “Vision of Light.” Could you say a few words on that, Dana?
DA: That scene is a special scene. Don Davis was amazing in it. I think that the scene lends itself to interpretation as far as Bobby’s taking in what his father’s vision was. Over all it was a lovely scene to film that I have talked about many times before. People ask me about that scene a lot.
AH: It is interesting to me that you talk about different possible interpretations of the same scenes, and it is interesting that you, Gary, talk about the “competing moods and themes” in David Lynch’s work and in Twin Peaks. That makes sense to me. Others have talked about Lynch wanting us to confront the “uncomfortable.” Does that make sense to you?
GH: Yes, indeed… I remember the silences were very important on Twin Peaks. David would let the camera role and just stay on actors’ faces without dialogue. And you don’t usually see that on TV. It’s something that you would perhaps see in cinema, but you wouldn’t ever expect to see it on TV. And that was perhaps also a way for David to show everyone that we were breaking the mold of TV, which Twin Peaks clearly did. Usually, when there are silences and pauses like that, it becomes more like life. When someone stares at you for a long time, it becomes uncomfortable. And that’s what happens here. It never gets irritating on Twin Peaks, but the long stretches of silence are uncomfortable, and on Twin Peak it was okay for a scene to be uncomfortable.
“What am I feeling?” You’re asking that question when watching Twin Peaks, and, normally, you never think about that when watching TV. Normally, you know what you feel. You know what you are supposed to feel.
AH: How would you describe Twin Peaks, Dana, and would you consider it a groundbreaking or game-changing show?
DA: The best way to compare Twin Peaks at the time of its airing is to look at the other shows on the air at the time. There was nothing else even close to the look of the show or the general aesthetic of the show. Everything else still looked like what TV looked like before Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks looked more like a movie.
AH: You, Gary, describe the pauses or stretches of silence in Twin Peaks as having a more “cinematic” feel. Would you say that Twin Peaks was a game changer in terms of television and that is was more cinematic than what you would normally see on television?
GH: Looking back on it, it was truly a groundbreaking show in many respects. Back then, television was network-driven and basically had the same kind of shows going around. But when we came along, we felt that there was a very collaborative atmosphere and environment, and we just knew that David Lynch was in charge. The characters were so deep and rich, and storywise the show was pretty interesting. It was obviously an ensemble show, but there were many stories going around and a lot of subtext going on. You could put Twin Peaks on HBO right now and people would be like “wow.”
There is a certain magic to David Lynch, there is a certain excellence and enthusiasm and magic to him, which goes beyond network and television.
AH: There is a certain magic “to David Lynch,” you say. What about Mark Frost? How does he fit in to all of this?
GH: I see Mark Frost as more Midwestern. He is very much a part of Twin Peaks, and I think that he was very instrumental in creating the characters and storylines. In terms of planning the story arcs and the characters, he was pretty important.
AH: Many of the cast members were part of a social media campaign called “Twin Peaks without David Lynch Is Like…” Did that campaign have any impact in terms of changing the minds of David Nevins and the other Showtime executives? And don’t you feel, Dana, that there is a tendency to underemphasize Mark Frost’s role in all of this?
DA: I have no idea if there was any social media impact. I hope so. If this is going to happen, it has to be David Lynch. He is the whole deal. He and Mark Frost. Both of them are the creators of it all. They are both geniuses. That’s the only way it will work. Pretty much I think that is the general consensus.
“Twin Peaks without David Lynch Is Like …”
AH: We have talked about Twin Peaks being more “cinematic” than you would usually expect of a television show, and that it made the viewer confront the uncomfortable. How did the network react to it? They must have been worried that it would scare off the viewers, yet it became something of a cultural phenomenon.
GH: ABC didn’t know what to do with it. And as soon as they put it on the air, they must have been thinking, “What is this?” But suddenly everyone was watching it in groups, eating pie and drinking coffee. Nobody could have seen that coming.
AH: Eventually, though, ABC placed Twin Peaks on “indefinite hiatus,” and it became slightly uneven during the second season. Mike suddenly got involved with Nadine who, in turn, got superpowers. How do you see the second season, and do you remember anything concerning your character and how it changed?
GH: I remember an episode where we are standing outside, and it’s before Leo is shot. I kept looking down, and he had these boots, and me and Dana we had the giggles. It was 2 o’clock in the morning or something, and it was so serious… Later, as you say, my character changed. You never know where the characters were going to go. I think the writers were looking for something for my character to do. The second season was different. It had a different feel. It was kind of more silly, but it was very funny. What happened in the second season is that the mood was suddenly more shifting. I think people were thinking that it became more standard. It shifted. And then ABC put it on a different day.
Gary Hershberger in Six Feet Under (HBO, 2001-2005).
AH: After acting in Twin Peaks, you also starred as Matthew Gilardi, the representative of the Kroehner company, in Six Feet Under. Six Feet Under seems to have been inspired by Twin Peaks, e.g. in the way that it blends different genres and moods. Would you also consider Six Feet Under to be inspired or influenced by Twin Peaks, and how would you describe the two series in terms of genre?
GH: Twin Peaks and Six Feet Under are similar, but they are also different. In Six Feet Under, the funny and the sad are not in the same scene. In Twin Peaks, there are competing themes and moods in the same scenes, like in the barking scene. Twin Peaks creates scenes and sequences that you, as a viewer, don’t really know what to do with.
Six Feet Under was also a groundbreaker because of the subject-matter, but also because of the style. And it was interesting because it was basically just a family-melodrama, but it had all these different aspects to it.
AH: How can we see the influence of Twin Peaks on today’s so-called golden age?
GH: As I said before, it was groundbreaking, but it was groundbreaking because it influenced young actors, directors and writers. It wasn’t like Twin Peaks aired, and suddenly there were four or five Twin Peakses. It was so out there, it seems, that people and channels had to push themselves. Twin Peaks pushed the medium to its boundary, and it showed the executives that we could trust the filmmakers, and networks don’t do that so often.
Many networks have found out that they can trust the filmmakers, and I think that when David Lynch and Mark Frost showed an interest in doing a new season of Twin Peaks, different TV channels were thinking, “Hey, this could be interesting.”
The networks really aren’t moving away from the standards, the things they do so well, which often is episodic television.