A quirky addition to Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-1991), Kathleen Wilhoite (b. 1964) was already an experienced film and television actor and a gifted singer-songwriter, when she came on the show. Wilhoite started her acting career in the campy and raunchy teen movie Private School…for Girls (1983), before starring in films like Road House (1989), Lorenzo’s Oil (1992) and Nurse Betty (2000). In Twin Peaks, she played the part of Gwen, Lucy Moran’s sister who is every bit as ditsy as Lucy. I had a short conversation with Wilhoite about Twin Peaks, comic relief, quirky side-characters and showrunners versus network executives.
AH: How did you get the role as Gwen, and could you describe the casting process?
KW: My manager called me one day and said, “Hey, do you want to do this role on this show Twin Peaks? Everyone is talking about it. I hadn’t seen it. I knew nothing about it when I did it. They handed me about four pages with all of the lines but my own blacked out. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
AH: Gwen was not a mainstay-character, and you were only in one episode, directed by Caleb Deschanel. Did you feel that you were coming on to a show that was trying to invent new characters and plot arcs, without knowing exactly where it was going?
KW: Yes, I did, but I had fun doing it. Caleb was fun and kind. Kimmy, who played my sister, was great to work with.
You say that Kimmy was great to work with. Could you describe the collaboration between you and Caleb Deschanel, and the interplay between you, Kimmy Robertson and Harry Goaz?
KW: Most of my stuff was with Kimmy. She’s a very generous actress, nice to me in the makeup trailer. My scene was pretty straight forward. I don’t recall needing too much direction for it. It was all pretty much right in my wheel house.
AH: There are some wonderful scenes between you and Kimmy, but I am not exactly sure whether Lucy and Gwen were mostly comical side-characters. How do you see Lucy, Andy, Gwen and Dick? What would you define as their most important functions and contributions respectively?
KW: I would say, most definitely, that they were there for comic relief, especially the stuff I was in, but you never know. Had the series continued, it wouldn’t have surprised me one bit if the comedic characters turned tragic and the tragic characters turned comedic. David Lynch is a bit of a genius in that respect, Blue Velvet being a classic example of a film maker manipulating his audience. When I saw that movie, I was blown away by how much I was repulsed when I knew I should have felt a sadness, and I was laughing hysterically when I should have been disgusted. He’s a genius at that.
AH: The ratings started to drop during the second season. Why do you think that the ratings of Twin Peaks dropped during the second season?
KW: I couldn’t tell you. I couldn’t even hazard a guess. If David was involved, then I would suspect people didn’t “get it.” If he wasn’t involved then I would say, the network intervened too much and watered down his vision.
AH: Twin Peaks has often been described as one of the most important and influential TV series of all time. Do you think that it has had an actual impact on modern television drama?
KW: I think it was incredibly creative and original. It seems to me, David Lynch didn’t have to suffer what I hear most showrunner types have to deal with, which is the intervention of network executives and know-nothing development people. He apparently set up so that he was often times the only one who knew what was going to happen to the characters and where the story was headed.
I suppose anything that veers off the predictable path could do well to thank the courage of David Lynch and his creative endeavors.
AH: When it first aired in Denmark in November 1990, Twin Peaks was not a huge primetime hit, but it quickly got a cult following, and still to this day Twin Peaks is a cult-TV show that continues to attract Danish film and television viewers. Why do you think that Twin Peaks has been – and still is – such a cult-phenomenon?
KW: I would have to say it’s because of the original and fresh vision David Lynch brings to everything he’s involved in. I would imagine, though I’ve never been there, that the general populace is responding to David Lynch’s dark and original voice and his brutal honesty he seems to bring to all of his projects.
AH: Which role, if any, has Twin Peaks had for your career. What do you think of the sudden revival of Twin Peaks, and why do you think that Twin Peaks is being re-hyped by young TV-audiences all over the world and revived by David Lynch and Mark Frost?
KW: Television is at an all-time high for showrunners right now. People are finally having a say in what’s popular, not network executives sitting around a desk condescending to what they think out-of-touch farmers from Iowa are watching. When David Lynch makes his revival, he’ll get to be as gross and as weird and wild as he pleases. He’s a true artist, so if he wasn’t able to do the show the way he saw fit back in the days of network suppression, then it doesn’t surprise me in the least, he’d be inspired to get back in the game now. The main change now for showrunners is that executives understand that the more they squash showrunners the lamer and less popular the shows become.
AH: What do you think of Twin Peaks, and which episodes are your favorite episodes?
KW: I love its originality. I wouldn’t be able to say which are my favorite episodes. All of them, I guess.
An article about “11 Actors You Forgot Were On Twin Peaks”, including Kathleen Wilhoite and one particular scene with Lucy and Gwen.
A funny and campy sequence from the beginning of Private School…for Girls (1983), in which Kathleen Wilhoite made her acting debut: