Sigurjón Sighvatsson is certainly a name that will stand out in Hollywood, yet many people might not have heard of the film and television producer who goes by that very name. Sighvatsson, colloquially called Joni, is an Icelandic producer, and he has worked on various film and TV productions, including Twin Peaks and Beverly Hills 90210 (Fox, 1990-2000). Sighvatsson knew David Lynch prior to becoming a part of the Twin Peaks production team, and they worked together on Industrial Symphony No. 1, Wild at Heart and the unproduced film Ronnie Rocket. I spoke with Sighvatsson about the production and financing of Twin Peaks, and we briefly debated the Scandinavian references and characters in Twin Peaks, some of which are based on actual people and Icelandic songs and folklore.
AH: How did you get to be a part of the Twin Peaks production team, and could you describe how Twin Peaks was financed or produced?
SJS: I have worked with David Lynch on Wild at Heart and Industrial Symphony No. 1, but I, in fact, knew him from before Industrial Symphony. We had worked on a film called Ronnie Rocket which was never completed. Twin Peaks was financed in a fairly non-typical way. The budget was 5.4 million dollars, as I recall, and ABC came in with 2.7 million. I did both Twin Peaks and Beverly Hills 90210, and we were doing the two shows at the same time. We used a lot of the same people, such as Tim Hunter and the casting director Johanna Ray, and we were shooting a lot of the scenes on the same stage. But the experience of working on the two shows was very different. On Twin Peaks, because we couldn’t get the financing through, we came up with an idea of financing it in part from selling the European pilot. Here we had kind of a catalyst role. If we hadn’t financed it that way, it probably wouldn’t have aired. On Beverly Hills 90210 there were some other concerns, and here I had to get a lot of favors from people who were working outside the union.
AH: Which episodes and characters from the show are your personal favorites, and why?
SJS: I loved doing the pilot. It was so fresh and new. We knew that this was not how they normally did television. We knew that this was groundbreaking and different.
I have worked with David on different occasions, and it was interesting to work on Industrial Symphony No. 1 and Wild at Heart, but with Twin Peaks there were many new things going on, so it was very exciting. Many of the people who did Twin Peaks came from film, and since we didn’t really know television – we didn’t know the medium – there was a lot of excitement. I think we knew that it was going to air, we just didn’t know how it would be perceived.
AH: Twin Peaks has a number of very entertaining scenes and sequences that include some comical characters from Scandinavia, i.e. the Norwegians in the pilot episode and the Icelanders who stay at The Great Northern. What do you think of these characters and the different sequences that they are a part of? Are there any of these sequences and characters that are particularly interesting in your view?
SJS: I don’t think it’s coincidental. My sister who did the hair on some of the actors is called Heba, so I think that the character called Heba – Heba the snowqueen – is definitely named after my sister. David never explains what his ideas are, but he uses whatever is around him. I can’t speak for David, but I think that Heba was named after my sister, and the leg of lamb, which Jerry gives her in one of the episodes, refers to a very popular dish in Iceland.
“Nú er frost á fróni” is an Icelandic folksong about the cold weather, saying that the blood is freezing in your veins. That we hear this song in Twin Peaks is hardly coincidental either – with David there’s always symbolism – but I couldn’t say what it means.
AH: The ratings started to drop during the second season. Why do you think that the ratings of Twin Peaks dropped, and why do you think that many people (including critics and fans) didn’t like Fire Walk with Me?
SJS: I don’t think that the second season is nearly as good as the first one, and I think that’s why David didn’t really want to do it. The loyal audience stayed, but the novelty audience who didn’t understand it, they left. A lot of people watched it in the beginning because of the curiosity effect, but as the show grew stranger, the novelty viewers disappeared. The same thing happened with The Killing in America. When they didn’t resolve it in the first season, AMC cancelled it, until it was brought back due to viewer demand.
AH: What do you think about 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? Could streaming and Netflix have anything to do with it?
SJS: I think that David has been offered to reboot or revive it many times. I think that he’s thought about doing it for many years, and I don’t know why he is doing it now. But it will be very interesting to see the new episodes, and it’s going to be a limited series, which is also interesting. I think they will do it as a once-a-week show, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they experimented a little in terms of formats and time slots. It will be very interesting, but it is also risky in a way. It will be viewed not just as an independent piece, but also in comparison with the original show.
In any case, though, Twin Peaks was influential, and you can see the influence on shows like True Detective. True Detective, by the way, is overrated, in my view. Many things on that show seem borrowed and not new. Other shows like Breaking Bad and even Dexter were more interesting to me, and they are not that similar to Twin Peaks. The antiheroes on those shows, however, could be related to Twin Peaks. Cooper is an enigmatic character, who has flaws. You could see him as sort of a ‘frontrunner antihero’, in a way. He is certainly not a classical hero.
AH: You mention that Twin Peaks has been influential. How did it change television (drama)?
SJS: Twin Peaks changed the standards of TV in many ways. The main thing is that the series was mostly done by people in film. It wasn’t really television. Apart from Mark Frost, the co-creator who had done some television, it wasn’t made by TV people. Many of the actors and directors who came in, came from independent film. The networks then were desperate, as they are now. This was a time when home video was taking a big piece of the pie. Because of the writer’s strike there was much less supply, and because the networks were desperate, they were also willing to take a risk. Also, Twin Peaks was new in terms of viewing. You could say that it was the first example of group viewing. People got together in groups and saw it, when it aired on Thursdays, and that kind of group viewing was new.
Icelandic guests singing some traditional Icelandic folksongs in Twin Peaks: