The name David Lynch conjures up many images, but probably none of them boring. The
dynamic 55-year-old director/writer/producer has one of the most unique voices in
Hollywood and does not disappoint with his latest offering, Mulholland Drive. In the
drama, Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring play two actresses who have a relationship that
inspires great passion and jealousy. But in the end, nobody can tell whatís real,
unreal or surreal.
Earning his first Oscar nomination in 1980 for Best Director of The Elephant Man, Lynch
won acclaim for the controversial Blue Velvet before creating the cult TV series Twin
Peaks in 1990, which lead to the feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me two years
later. He also directed Wild at Heart and The Straight Story, which won an Oscar
nomination for its male lead, the late Richard Farnsworth before shooting a pilot in 1999
for Mulholland Drive. The series was not picked up by the network and two years later, his
film version of the same subject premiered at Cannes and shared the Best Director trophy
(with Joel Coen for The Man Who Wasnít There).
I saw Mulholland Drive but I am really not sure what I saw. Can you explain what you
wanted to achieve?
There are all different kinds of films and with some films you donít have to think
too much. One thing that really bugs me these days is people say no one wants to think,
and audiences donít want to think, they just want something spoon-fed to them. That
is so much baloney. People love to think. Weíre all detectives and we can think and
itís really good to think and itís really good to pay attention. Donít be
afraid to use your intuition and feel and think your way through something like Mulholland
Drive. You have an inner knowing after an experience like that and you can know something
for yourself. It may be difficult to explain it to your friends and you may find that you
have disagreements, but for yourself you know a lot of things that you maybe canít
trust, but you know them. So itís a beautiful thing, this thing of cinema, through
abstractions and by telling a story you can have all the people saying the same thing
afterwards, but thereís room in the world for great things that are abstract where
people talk about it and have different opinions. Itís a great big beautiful world.
So is part of the film a dream sequence?
I am not going to verify anything (laughs), and thatís the fun for all of us. When I
go to see a film, or read a book, I donít want to go and find the author and have him
tell me about what I just saw. The thing was worked on for a long time to be a certain
way. Also a lot of authors and filmmakers are dead and you canít dig them up and find
out about it. Itís up to you to make what you can out of things. Maybe you can think
back on things or maybe see it again and things will fall into place. It starts from the
beginning. There are things youíve got to pay attention to. To me, thatís what I
want to see when I go into the cinema.
The film was originally going to be a series for television. Could you describe what
This was set out to be a series for ABC television and it was built in the beginning to be
a pilot which is open-ended. You start many, many threads and the pilot was being worked
on right when we were working on The Straight Story. There was a bunch of strange things
that happened around the time the pilot got finished to the point where we could show ABC.
It was not a successful final form, but they saw this thing and truly hated it (laughs) so
it looked like it was really dead. But what was happening was a blessing in disguise and
you would never trick yourself this way, in any other situation, to start something this
way and have it go this way, but the opportunity arose to make it a feature film. It
required some ideas to make it into a feature film, ideas I didnít have, until one
night I sat down in the chair and these ideas came into me and it was a whole new
restructuring. We did a whole bunch more shooting and now it is what you see today. I see
it as a thing that always wanted to be as it is, it just took a strange route to get
there. As for what it was as a television show, that is such past history that itís
not even worth mentioning. The matter of import is that it had to start there in order to
be what it is now.
How did you cast the women in Mulholland Drive?
It is the same for me with every film. The right person for the role and how that happens
is a process. I start from still pictures and keep weeding down until I am sitting with
the persons that have been narrowed down, one on one, talking to them. They never read any
cold readings of anything from the script; itís just talking and as youíre
talking youíre running them through the scenes of the film, but youíre getting
more than that. Youíre getting lots and lots of feelings from this person and one
person rises up and is the right person for the role. That is how I found Naomi and Laura.
Can you tell me about the street Mulholland Drive and what it means to you?
When a place has a sense of mystery that ties in with a feeling of the unknown then that
brings in maybe some fear but also has a pull. It could be a beautiful unknown. A lot of
things start happening when you start feeling a mystery. Mulholland Drive is sometimes the
most beautiful, pleasant, safe place where you can see off into Hollywood and into the
valley. Other times it seems very mysterious and thereís a little bit of fear
involved with it. So as I said before, it was the mystery of it, a night-time feel that
started this thing.
You use Roy Orbisonís music in both Blue Velvet and in this film. Is there a
Iíll tell you the story of the woman who sings Crying in this film. Just before we
started shooting on Blue Velvet I met up with Kyle McLachlan in New York and we were going
through Central Park and on the cab radio came Roy Orbisonís Crying. Something struck
me and I said, ĎIíve got to get Royís Greatest Hits and I might even try to
get Crying for Blue Velvetí. I got down to Wilmington, North Carolina, where we were
going to shoot, and I got the Greatest Hits album and listened to it and heard In Dreams.
I forgot about Crying. So years go by and my ex-music agent calls me up as he does every
so often to introduce me to some new person and he wants to bring this girl by to just
stand there and sing for me and maybe have a cup of coffee. I said great so she came by
the next morning at 10 oíclock. She was four minutes in the room, didnít even
get her coffee yet and John, the engineer, had lit a mike in the booth. She goes in, four
minutes off the street and sang whatís in the film right now - Crying. I never knew
her before. I didnít know what she was going to sing. Thatís in the film.
Thatís her singing a cappella four minutes off the street. Sheís got a voice
like an angel.
What about the house you chose?
Ok, let me tell you a story. One time I got to meet Billy Wilder and I asked him, because
weíre all sort of curious, about the mansion in Sunset Boulevard and he told me
something, and as soon as he told me I wished I didnít know. So, itís a magical
thing going into a new world. For myself, I like to go into a theater. I love it when the
curtains open and the lights go down. To have the experience in the unknown and see
whatís going to happen. The more I know going in, the less enjoyable that experience
is. Where things are or how things came into being, some magic trick that someone ruins by
telling you how itís done, kills things. Itís your job to find out about stuff
like this, but donít kill the film. Itís unbelievable whatís going on these
days to kill films.
There are some directors who people feel make movies only for themselves and their
friends and if you are not in that group you can never truly appreciate the films. Do you
see yourself as part of that group?
That is an interesting thing but really a load of baloney (laughs). I get ideas sometimes
that I fall in love with, just like a painter gets some idea he wants to translate into a
painting. The joy is falling in love with an idea and translating it to some medium and as
youíre doing that, in the back of your mind, is the idea that other human beings will
have the same thrill that we had when we got these ideas. If youíre true to the
ideas. Itís not a selfish thing really, itís a beautiful personal experience to
translate ideas into film but you always hope that others will have the same feeling.
When people say a film is by David Lynch there are all sorts of expectations that it
will be surprising and offbeat, so when they meet you do people have expectations? Are
they scared of you? What is the general reaction that people get when they actually meet
you, knowing your body of work and what it reflects?
Mostly girls start falling in love with me (laughs)! Always when we know people at first
itís just the surface, we get an initial impression or weíve heard things about
people, and when we finally meet them itís an ongoing process to get to know them
better and better and better. Maybe you realise that your first impression was wrong.
Sometimes they wind up not being your friends but itís kind of ridiculous to go by
labels and surface things when youíre talking about knowing somebody.
What about yourself? How well do you know yourself and the ideas that you come up with?
Have you ever spoken to anyone to figure yourself out?
Well, I did go to a psychiatrist and I asked him about some problems I had and I asked him
if going into this could affect creativity. He said, "Iím afraid, David, it
could." I shook his hand, thanked him, and left (laughs). I know they help a lot of
people and itís a tricky business. Knowing yourself is probably what weíre all
about, but itís an individual trip.
Would you consider using the Internet for showing an ongoing story line?
I am exploring it. I have been working for two years to build the site davidlynch.com.
Itís a pay-per-view site and a membership site. In the Internet everyone expects
things for free and there wonít be anything to expect. It costs so much money.
Itís not millions but itís a lot of money and it takes a lot of people and a lot
of time to make it work. Itís in its infancy right now so the quality is kind of bad,
but itís a beautiful thing. There are ideas that can be expressed there that
wouldnít be expressed otherwise.
Published January 31, 2002