Easily one of the most iconic and beloved stars in Twin Peaks, Sherilyn Fenn (b. 1965) played the role of Audrey Horne and was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Apart from starring in Twin Peaks, Fenn is known for her roles in Of Mice and Men (1992) and the underappreciated film Boxing Helena (1993), which was made by her friend Jennifer Lynch. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Fenn has played the title character in Liz: The Elizabeth Tayler Story (1995). I talked with Sherilyn Fenn about Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart, David and Jennifer Lynch, and we mused about spin-offs, sequels and modern television drama.
AH: How did you get the part as Audrey Horne, and could you describe the casting process?
SF: David is a very intuitive person. He looks at some pictures and chooses who he wants to see, and then he just talks with you. He actually wrote Audrey for me. She wasn’t in the original script. He got a head shot, and then he said that he wanted me to see me. Later, he told me that he wanted to write a character for me. David told me that there was one girl in school that he liked, and I reminded him of her.
I had seen Blue Velvet and I had seen my favorite film of his, The Elephant Man, so I knew and admired his work. It was a great and groundbreaking casting experience for me because I got to be myself. I was just kind of quiet. Nothing like Audrey. But he called me back, and that taught me that you can get a role just by being yourself. He brought me in on a head shot that was platinum blond, and he said, “We’ll see which way the wind blow”.
AH: Audrey is one of the central characters on the show, and some of the best scenes are between her, Agent Cooper and Benjamin Horne. Could you say a few words on the interplay with Kyle MacLachlan and Richard Beymer respectively?
SF: It was fun to work with Kyle and Richard. Initially with Kyle they had thought about Cooper being interested in Josey. But then Audrey fell in love with him, and that storyline was changed for silly reasons. Whenever David mentions Richard, he still refers to him as my “dad.” At one point he said to me, “Your dad, Richard, and I talked last week.” He will always be my dad.
AH: Two interesting situations with Audrey are the dance at the diner and the sequence in the pilot, where she pours coffee all over the desk and goes to “check out the smorgasbord.” What do these situations tell us about Audrey as a character, and how would you describe her?
SF: I think David captured a time – me as a young woman and Audrey as a young woman. She’s bored, she’s broken, and there’s a hole around her dad. And that’s totally my story.
The only thing he ever said was that, when I did the scene at the smorgasbord, I should really drag out the words. [Imitating David Lynch’s voice:] “When you say murdered, stretch it out as long as you can – muuuurdered.” And then they tied the sweater tighter and tighter.
David’s attention to detail and sense of authenticity is impressive. Think of the Norwegians. They had to be real Norwegians. Every detail with David is important. In that way, he honors human life.
The scene where I’m dancing in the café, he said [imitating David Lynch’s voice]: “Look, we’re rewriting this whole scene, so let’s all have a cup of cappuccino.” I was nervous when he said that because I had read and memorized the whole scene, but he said [imitating David Lynch’s voice]: “You’ll just get up and dance and groove to that music. We wrote ‘Audrey’s Dance’ for you, so just get up and groove to that music.” Accidents can sometimes lead to great things.
AH: There are many potential allusions to other films and works of art in Twin Peaks. To me, Audrey is reminiscent of both Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, but the scene in the pilot where she puts on her red shoes also reminds me of Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, and she later calls herself Hester Prynne, referring to The Scarlet Letter. Did you ever talk with David Lynch and/or Mark Frost about the various references related to Audrey’s character?
SF: He is more intuitive. He is sort of beautifully in the moment. It’s abstract, and he would never ever give me references.
AH: What do you think about the second season of Twin Peaks, and why do you think that the ratings started to drop?
SF: The second season lost its way, I felt. In the second season it got big, and people got weird for the sake of being weird…
What’s tricky is that the thing we fell in love with about Laura was her image. It was the image of a dead girl. In that image, there is a sadness behind the seeming perfection and happiness… In reality, Sheryl was just a sweet girl living in Seattle.
AH: Apart from playing a vital part of Twin Peaks, you were also a part of Wild at Heart. Could you say a few words on David Lynch as a director?
SF: From my perspective, I think he’s very authentic. He’s in his essence, and he sees beauty in everything. He is into Transcendental Meditation, and he also guided me into TM. He is not this big, egotistical director, and he believed in me when nobody else in Hollywood did.
When people ask him what things mean, he won’t ever give them an answer. He’ll never rob anyone of their interpretation. People will say that it’s tricky, but it’s not because people have their own understanding, and David wants it to be like that.
The scene I did in Wild at Heart actually happened in real life to a friend of Jennifer [Lynch]. When David heard the story, it just pierced him so much, and he said to me, “I want you to do this scene… It’s at a freeway, it’s broken and it’s dark, and you are thinking about your head and your bobby pin.”
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 had an impact on modern-day television drama, and, if so, how did it influence or change television drama?
SF: I felt like people were starving for something that was smarter, deeper and truer. People now are smarter and more spiritual, and cable TV networks seem more open to the kind of truthful stories that David Lynch would make. David knows how to get to the core of things, and he has always been ahead of his time. David is a wizard.
It was perfect that he had to work within that envelope.
AH: What do you think about the upcoming third season, and what difference does it make, in your estimation, that the show is being revived on a premium cable network like Showtime, not a broadcast channel like ABC? Is it likely that you will be a part of it?
SF: Are you kidding, of course I’m coming back. I texted him because I was nervous that Audrey had died in the explosion, but he just said, “The fucking network makes me do those cliffhangers. Of course you would come back.”A year and a half ago, he asked me a lot of questions, and it was weird. I didn’t know why he was asking me all those questions. I had a feeling that he was doing something…
During the second season it was going astray, and I think that this is David’s way of ending it in a correct way. And he did break ground with it. I get nervous because it’s a high bar, but David has grown as an artist. And nobody should ever underestimate Mark Frost. They are two peas in a pod. I have a feeling, based on these conversations we had – oh, no, we’re gonna do this – I’m scared but I wouldn’t be any safer in any other person’s hand. Well, yes, Jennifer. But only David and Jennifer. I came to think of the line “I’ll see you again in 25 years” and thought whether David Lynch had thought about it all along. I wrote to Jennifer, and she said, “You know my dad, and I haven’t been told anything.”
I think it will be one episode a week, and I like that kind of serialized television. I was obsessed with True Detective, and I told David that he had to go watch that show. It’s so good that Twin Peaks is coming to Showtime where he’s unrestricted by network guidelines. He’s allowed to do what he wants to, also in terms of nudity, and he’s got no TV standards to follow.
Mulholland Dr. was actually pitched in between the first and second season. We had a big dinner, where he told me that he wanted to make a film about Audrey going to Hollwood, and I was thinking, “Do people do that, go from film to TV?” He said, “And you’ll be driving on Mulholland Dr., and it will be in a convertible,” but he never told me anything about the actual story.
Dale Cooper and Audrey Horne’s first meeting in Twin Peaks: