There are certain things that I would love to have listed on my tombstone. A collection of the eccentric moments in my life that I’m – for better or worse – proud of having experienced. And I’m sure by the time Andre Dellamorte III sits on my lap, my story of having coffee and pie with David Lynch will likely involve me saving his life, or telling him a joke that made coffee and/or pie shoot out his nose.
Alas, such is not the case. I did have pie and coffee with David Lynch, and I’m sure I’ll be bragging about that for years to come, but it was because I was invited to attend a junket with David Lynch and Laura Dern at a nearby Marie Callenders, where we were served pie and coffee and got a chance to have a roundtable discussion with one of the few artists who managed to make transcendent work in the 80’s, and one of the stars of Jurassic Park. Though that’s not exactly fair to Dern, who has been one of the best female actresses going for nearly 25 years, with great performances in Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, and Citizen Ruth. INLAND EMPIRE is their latest collaboration. Lynch is a mad gesticulator, his hands were often in motion when answering questions, and not being able to transcribe those movements is something of a loss.
As David sat down with us someone commented that pie and David Lynch go together
David Lynch: It’s the Twin Peaks thing, I guess.
Someone chimed in "I’ll take Marie Callendar’s over Four Seasons any day."
Lynch: You and me both. (This place) is way more of a restaurant than I thought.
Someone asked if he’d tried the pie yet, as a chocolate cream pie was put at the center of our table.
Lynch: Not yet, not yet. I was thinking about Banana Cream Pie. What are you guys gonna have, you’ve got Apple pie? Nice. But now you want the chocolate cream.
So what’s your favorite pie?
Lynch: Well, I like cherry pie, I like blueberry pie, I like banana cream pie, and I like Dutch Apple pie, I guess those would be the top four.
How is Dutch Apple pie different than regular apple pie?
Lynch: Dutch apple pie has something on top. What is it, cheese? It has that crumbly top. Yeah, yeah yeah, that’s it, a real crumbly top. Killer pie, beautiful.
Do you have a least favorite?
Lynch: I don’t think I’d be wild about rhubarb
And at this point Laura Dern joins us.
Laura Dern: I love Rhubarb!
David said he wanted banana cream.
Dern: Oooh, banana cream! Does that mean we get a piece of pie at every table we go to? Oh, this is fantastic. I should get a coffee.
Lynch: I’m getting a coffee, I think. I think so. (To us) Fire away!
How long were you guys in production on INLAND EMPIRE?
Lynch: Well, production is a weird thing, how long over from the beginning to the end was about three years, but we weren’t always shooting every day, you know what I mean? A lot of days we weren’t shooting.
(To Dern) So he’d just call you up every once in a while and say "I’ve got a camera, I’ve got an idea?"
Dern: Pretty much, right?
Lynch: Yeah. (pause, followed by laughter)
It seemed like there were a lot of different styles in this picture in comparison to some of your other work, handheld type of stuff, did you take a different approach to this project?
Lynch: Yes, because I was shooting DV with a small, lightweight camera. It was so beautiful to me, to be able to hold the camera and float around, and you know, let it move according to what I was feeling or seeing. Whereas before you’re behind a massive camera, in front of you is an operator and a focus puller, and you’ve got a kind of barrier, and if you wanted to move, if you felt a thing, it wasn’t possible. Like I say, on the next take you might say "can you drift in on this line a little bit like this," but it may not happen the same way on the next take, so it gives you this ability to really be in there and stay in there, because it 40 minute takes, it’s very beautiful.
(To Laura) How different was it for you, having worked with David on previous projects?
Dern: You know, again, I’ll almost repeat the same idea. The liberty that comes with working with DV, you’re liberated as an actor, in the same way David describes you never miss anything because you’re right there. You never miss an opportunity of being in the moment, because suddenly now – not just the performance – but the camera is offering that in the moment opportunity, you can catch anything, and he can hear what the actor – seemingly off camera – is doing and want to capture that and just flip around, and because of the luxury of a 40 minute take if you need it – I mean 40 minutes in the camera – that you can shoot an entire scene without ever stopping and he can get all the coverage he wants and we are staying within the moment of acting out this scene, and not cutting and resetting but in fact even while filming talking to me, because of the luxury of the lack of expense as well, to say let’s do it again, okay, go back to this line, let’s keep going. And you’re just, as an actor, it’s an incredible feeling to stay true the mood, the feeling that’s going at that given time.
David, could you talk about how this film relates to your other work? Because there seem to be similarities with Mulholland Dr, and we actually saw clips from Rabbits in this film. Is this film an extension or how do you view it?
Lynch: It’s different but… similarities, because it deals with – as Mulholland Dr. did – the movie industry. But… And it has, you know, a female lead, um (laughs)
Dern: Thank you (more laughs)
Lynch: You know, and then it kind of takes off and becomes different.
It felt a bit like a collage of some of your previous works, was that intentional?
Lynch: No. Ideas come along, and you pick an idea, and sometimes you catch an idea that you fall in love with, and you see the way cinema could do that. It’s a beautiful day when that happens, and the idea tells you everything. Now you – because we had our kind of mechanism, we kind of fall in love with certain kinds of things, but every film is different, and it’s based on the ideas that come. And they are the things you try and stay completely true to, and all the elements you try to get to be feeling correct before you walk away, and you go.
So, Laura, with this role, there’s so many different levels, so many different performances, various different versions of the same person, how was that working for you?
Dern: You know, more than ever, the day’s work was at hand, and what I had. Given that we shot in such a way that we would, David would a write and we would film that, and then he’d write another scene and we’d film that and so on, it forced me – very luxuriously – into the moment. I didn’t necessarily know what was coming before or what was coming after, and whether one perceives it that I am different people, or that I am aspects of one person, either way you can really only act one way, which is being the person you are in that moment. So in a way, not knowing everything, and trying to somehow get to what would be logically minded as an actor and try and help the audience understand how this relates to that, etc. I was freed from any of that, by David keeping me in the moment with whatever character I was playing, or whichever aspect of the story I was involved in. And that was extremely freeing, and in a way I think allows for more imagination as an actor, because as much as an actor wants to believe this is just for my own experience, that they are not informing the audience. There can be a pitfall of feeling like "because my character is going to do this five scenes from now, maybe I should give them a little taste of that, so they know that it’s coming," but as we see, human nature doesn’t work that way. Where people cry in the news when we hear "so and so, who seemed like such a nice guy, did this atrocious thing." And so being forced by the director, if you will, to just be this aspect of what I suppose this is for, I think made me get to be braver by default, not intentionally.
Would you only want to approach a movie with this scene-by-scene approach with David? Is he the only one you’d feel comfortable with?
Dern: Well, I’d rather only work with David, period. (laughs)
Lynch: You’re working with me now, but watch what happens next time "Oh, I don’t even want to work with Robert." (more laughing)
Dern: They know, we’ve met many times before when you weren’t here. (again, this entire exchange is peppered with laughter)
Lynch: Exactly. It’s all baloney! (more laughing, as per last sentence)
Dern: Going back from their lunch. "Can you believe it? Poor David Lynch, he doesn’t
realize that Laura has said that so many times today." But I think, for myself, I’ve watched David do this with many other actors on this movie, but I don’t know if I could have done this with many other directors, because, and we’ve been asked if we have a shorthand, in fact we have a remarkable one. And I’m sure he has it with the other actors he works with, but for me, I have the ability from knowing him since I was seventeen, separate from who he is as a director to me, to intuit what he means, and he can intuit what I’m going to express before it happens. So it’s not just what the movie’s about, or the character I’m playing, but even as an operator, a cinematographer, I felt like David moved his body and camera just into place just as I was thinking of moving that way. You know there’s that thing that happens…
Lynch: Laura actually directed this picture.
With that scene by scene approach to filming, did you ever consider releasing it as a series of short films?
Lynch: No. (laughs)
Dern: A set of long films.
Lynch: No. After a while, the scene by scene revealed more. And then I wrote a lot of stuff, and then we went and shot more traditionally. We could shoot for several weeks, and have stuff to shoot, and organized like a regular shooting schedule. But it was just in the beginning that it was scene by scene. And those, were, could have ended up just being that, a scene, separate, by itself, for the internet or whatever. But I didn’t know what it was going to be, so I’d shoot a scene, and then I’d get an idea for another scene and shoot that scene, and lo and behold, after a bunch of them, a thing came out.
Your working process on this was different
Lynch: A little different.
So, with the freedom of digital video, do you see yourself making movies more in line with this, or this kind of process?
Lynch: Not this process, but with digital video. And I think, maybe, I would, it would be nice to have a script written up front, but it just didn’t happen this time.
Dern: But, as he said, there were chunks of the film that surfaced, that you wrote. Towards the end, I mean, we shot for a month.
Lynch: It all starts coming more and more and more.
Dern: But we shot for like, four or five weeks solid at one point, almost like a traditional movie.
So it was all linear?
Lynch: Totally linear. It’s a straight ahead linear thing. (laughter) No, it wasn’t all linear, but there were a lot of scenes that were there, some could have been back in time, some could have been here, and then a chunk right now, like that.
Laura, when you were shooting the opening sequence with the creepy old woman (played by Grace Zabrinski), was it as creepy to shoot as it was to do it?
Dern: Well she is the nicest, loveliest lady, but having met her on Wild at Heart, I’m just damned terrified of her every time I see her. I can’t get over who she has been made out to be by David when I see her. It’s the beauty of working with David, is that you are – speaking of being in the moment – you are there in the moment, you may have a sense that something is disturbing, or a sense that something is funny, but when you’re in it you’re just trying to make it as authentic as it is, and then when you reflect back, or when you see it as an audience something that even seemed straight while you’re shooting it to me is just hysterical. I pretty much think he’s the best comedy director going, you know other people don’t see it that way.
Lynch: Laura is seeing a psychiatrist.
Dern: Hilarious. Her speech is hilarious, but I was doing it she was terrifying, so I don’t know why it worked out that way because I wasn’t sitting across from her.
The last question call is given
Lynch: Whoa that was quick, how can we possibly get into this?
I have to ask, is Twin Peaks ever going to be released on DVD?
Lynch: For sure it is.
We’re still waiting for Season Two.
Lynch: Yeah, it’s coming out, I think next spring. I think so.
What about Lost Highway?
Lynch: It’s all color corrected, timed, high def masters ready, it’s, I think Universal owns it now, and Lost Highway did not make a lot of money at the box office, so they probably have it way low on some list for DVD, I don’t know when they’ll get to it, I haven’t heard a thing. You’re going to have to write to Universal.
INLAND EMPIRE is already open in New York and Boston, and opens in LA on Friday the 15th.