Wendy Robie (b. 1953) is an American stage, film and television actor. Recognized mainly for her role as Nadine Hurley in Twin Peaks, Robie, in fact, began her career as a stage actor, and she still stars in different plays. Robie is particularly great at playing roles that show or display the duality of life, and she has an acute sense of displaying the elements of vulnerability and sadness that are hidden beneath the surface of seemingly unpleasant, aggressive and mad characters. She has played Lady Macbeth on the stage, and she has starred in Wes Craven’s horror film The People Under the Stairs (1991) – a film which also features Everett McGill, who played Nadine’s husband in Twin Peaks – but Robie will always be remembered for her role in Twin Peaks. I talked with Wendy Robie, a warm, generous and very insightful person who often breaks out in laughter when debating Nadine Hurley, Twin Peaks, David Lynch and modern television drama.
AH: How did you get the role as Nadine Hurley in Twin Peaks, and could you describe the casting process?
WR: I was a stage actor. I still am. I was living in Seattle, and I was was called in to an audition for a TV pilot along with many other stage actors. The pilot was called Northwest Passage, and no information had been given to us apart from the title so I thought it had to do with The Pacific Northwest and the Lewis and Clark expedition. I even brought a shawl [she laughs]. Originally, I wasn’t brought in to audition for Nadine. I was, in fact, supposed to audition for Ben Horne’s wife, and I did a scene where she was very angry. Johanna Ray saw that and called me back to meet with Mark and David. Not an audition, just an interview. I remember seeing a woman running down the hall saying “I got it,” and I knew then that I wouldn’t get the role as Ben Horne’s wife. I considered going home, but somebody told me to stay. Then I came in, and I met Mark and David. It was very nice, and I remember David saying, “Now, Wendy, you seem like a happy and friendly person. Do you think that you can be angry?” Johanna immediately said “yes,” and then David said, “The character is named Nadine, and her eye is shot out.” I remember saying “which eye?”, and that must have amused David, because I got the part. When we shot in LA, the show was called Twin Peaks, but when we shot in North Bend, it was still called Northwest Passage, and I just remember thinking that it was about Lewis and Clark.
AH: There are some incredible scenes with Nadine, and I particularly enjoy the scenes where you talk about the silent drape runners. How would you describe your work and the interplay with Everett McGill and Peggy Lipton?
WR: It was just heavenly to be part of Twin Peaks and to work with Everett McGill and Peggy Lipton. It was wonderful. I always saw Nadine’s pain. Anger isn’t that interesting. It’s what causes that anger that is interesting to me. In the end of the first season, Nadine tries to take her own life. She loves and admires Ed, but when Norma broke Big Ed’s heart and went on with Hank, there was Nadine… One could say that a tragic episode in high school caused so much tragedy for Ed and Nadine later on. I just went into her pain, and that was what did it for me.
The great present they gave her was the season of happiness during the second season. In that season, she got to be the Nadine she would have been. There are scenes between Nadine, Ed and Norma that are melodramatic in a way, but life is like that. Mark Frost and David Lynch took some elements known from soap operas and twisted it, and at the same time Twin Peaks is so funny.
AH: David Lynch, or so it seems, has a thing for characters that are missing a limb or one of their senses. In The Amputee, Catherine Coulson is an amputee, and in Twin Peaks we have characters that are bound to wheelchairs, characters with an irregular height, and Nadine who has an eye-patch. Why do you think that characters like that are so interesting (to David Lynch), and don’t you find it interesting and noteworthy that Nadine is so adamant about wanting “silent draperunners”? As if she has a particularly acute sense of hearing.
WR: David Lynch loves broken beauty. The beauty of the broken. There’s nothing I like more to see on stage than the quality of courage. We all have pain, we all have loss, but it’s what you do beyond that… David Lynch taps into that beauty – the beauty of the broken or of something in decay. An aging face can be so beautiful, and there’s so much in that. That kind of beauty is also seen in the sets. I always loved the set-designs on Twin Peaks, and I used to spend all of my free time looking at the different sets and decorations. Often there were long stretches of time where we were just waiting. Between the time you were called to work and the on-camera time, there could be up to 10 hours. So, I loved to wander around on set. I liked Russ Tamblyn’s place with all the Hawaiian things, but I also remember Nadine’s figurines, figurines that also illustrated this kind of broken beauty.
AH: Of the different episodes you did, which was your personal favorite and why?
WR: Initially, as she was written, Nadine was the angry woman with the eye-patch, but other things happened. It was as if they used whatever I had to offer. I remember shooting the pilot and having to do this scene where we see Nadine through a window pulling her drapes. As we were doing that scene, I could hear David Lynch through the P.A., and I could hear him laughing, so I just continued my movements robotically to the point that I gave myself ropeburns. That was probably the main reason that Nadine became an ongoing character.
I love the Diane Keaton episode. It was so unique, not only in the way that it explored the relationship between Nadine, Ed and Norma. The camera was almost like a character itself, it became a part of the scene and was moving around to create interesting shots and reveals. During the second season, different episode directors created each their own signature style. I also remember Todd Holland’s style, and I vividly recall the way James Foley created a scene with Everett, Russ Tamblyn and me where all of us were seen in one shot. In that scene, I wanted to wink. In her psychosis, Nadine forgets she’s wearing an eye-patch, so I thought it would be cool if she winked. If a person with an eye-patch winks, the wink is suddenly something else, I and thought that would be an interesting little point to make. Nadine goes into a psychosis, and Ben Horne also changes during the second season. Now, I don’t know about Ben, but Nadine certainly reflects the kind of duality which is typical of Twin Peaks and David Lynch. In Twin Peaks and in many of David Lynch’s films, there are different realities or different perceptions of reality at the same time. Even if it was a fantasy, though, I am glad that Nadine got her season of happiness.
AH: Thinking about Nadine’s duality – her angry and bitch-like, yet vulnerable character – I am wondering whether you have ever played Lady Macbeth on the stage. There is a certain Lady Macbeth-like quality to Nadine.
WR [Laughing out loud]: Yes, I have played Lady Macbeth three times… It’s funny you ask me that question. Ian Buchanan asked me that same questions, while we were shooting a scene about The Miss Twin Peaks Pageant. [Imitating a thick and sophisticated British accent akin to Ian Buchanan]: “Wendy, darling. Tell me, have you ever played Lady Macbeth?” It was a lovely time.
AH: Which role has Twin Peaks had for your career, and is there any chance of you and Nadine returning for the third season?
WR: I don’t know whether Nadine will be returning to Twin Peaks. I hope that I’m a part of it, but honestly and truly I don’t know anything. In any case, I’m happy to see it happen. It will be good to see new episodes of Twin Peaks, and it would be really nice to see those people again. Some of them, I’ve kept in contact with. Twin Peaks was a real turning-point for me. I was a stage actor in Seattle. I was a stage actor, but Twin Peaks was wonderful and brought me to LA. It was supposed to be two days, and suddenly it was two years. After being in the pilot of Twin Peaks”, things changed, and Everett and I started shooting The People Under the Stairs for Wes Craven. Suddenly, I was type-cast in horror movies as a redheaded psycho-bitch – all thanks to Twin Peaks [she laughs]. But I kept going out of town to do theatre, and now I go where the work takes me.
After debating her role in Twin Peaks and the role that Twin Peaks has played in her career, we turned our attention to modern American and Scandinavian television drama. On that topic, too, Wendy Robie had many insightful thoughts and comments.
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 helped change television, and, if so, how did it change the standards of TV? And which other shows would you point to as influential?
WR: I think Twin Peaks was really a turning-point. I remember when it first came out. Back then, interviewers would ask me – seemingly irritated – whether Twin Peaks was supposed to be funny or not. And I would always tell them “yes” because it was very funny, but it was also frightening, mysterious and many other things. It was a detective story, but also a comedy, a drama and a horror show. That way of blending genres was new when Twin Peaks came out, but some of the shows that followed Twin Peaks were clearly inspired by it. Shows like Northern Exposure, Picket Fences, The X-Files. I’m not saying that we would not have The X-Files, if there had been no Twin Peaks, but somebody had to be first. Somebody had to break the mold, and I have always admired Mark Frost and David Lynch because they did what they wanted. Nobody oversaw what they did, and how they were able to do that on network television is beyond me. Today you probably couldn’t do that on network television because you wouldn’t get enough viewers, and you have sponsors. Twin Peaks has always had a strong and somewhat strange following [she laughs in a friendly, inclusive way], but once the viewers knew who killed Laura Palmer – once that mystery was solved – the show needed to find its audiences. And it clearly wasn’t for everyone. But many shows that have a lot of viewers aren’t that good, to be perfectly honest, and if you want to please everyone, you’ll often end up making something for the lowest common denominator.
AH: How can we see the influence of Twin Peaks on today’s so-called quality-TV shows in the US and abroad, and which series are, in your view, most clearly inspired and influenced by Twin Peaks? And why?
WR: The first shows that come to mind are Mad Men and The Killing. Mad Men is different from Twin Peaks in terms of plot, but it explores the same kind of duality. There is a duality within the different characters. It’s like there’s a little secret to every one of them. In Mad Men as in Twin Peaks, people are broken and held down in different ways. Stylistically, Mad Men is also related to Twin Peaks. David is a visual artist, and that artistic sensibility is central to Twin Peaks. The visual style of Twin Peaks is unmistakable, I think, and the same could be said of Mad Men. And Lesli Linka Glatter, as you know, has directed episodes of both shows. She is so wonderful. I remember working with her, and I remember that she was really excited to be directing Twin Peaks. And, lo and behold, now she is one of the major TV directors out there.
AH: You mention The Killing, which is actually a remake of a Danish crime series called Forbrydelsen. Did you know how influential Twin Peaks has been overseas, especially in the Scandinavian countries where a whole wave of Nordic Noir-shows has been created? Twin Peaks is also said to have inspired many Danish film and TV creators.
WR: It is interesting that you say that Twin Peaks has inspired different Danish film and TV creators because I also think there is a kind of connection the other way around. I have always felt that there was a kind of affinity in Twin Peaks with Scandinavian film and literature. There are hints of Ingmar Bergman, the mystery, the metaphorical setting and a certain duality. Twin Peaks is essentially about the duality of life – that there is another side to things. There is a sense of innocence in the small town, but there’s also another side.
A classic scene with Nadine Hurley: