David Lynch: Czar of Bizarre

As his haunting Twin Peaks begins a new season, David Lynch tests whether a brilliantly eccentric film artist can move into the mainstream

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"We were in exactly the right place," says Mark Frost, "at the right network, at the right time. The end of the Reagan era, a new decade -- there were a lot of pointers." So who deserves credit for Twin Peaks? Movie people, knowing Lynch, may think it is his miraculously conceived love child. TV people, knowing Frost as a gifted graduate of the Hill Street Blues team, may see him as the Tom Cruise character in Rain Man, artfully manipulating an idiot savant. Neither legend fits the facts. Frost is Mr. Inside, Lynch Mr. Outside, and together they make an ideal odd couple. The show's pilot and atmosphere are clearly vintage Lynch. Frost runs the show day to day. Both fabricate the major story lines. "Mark is very straightforward and supportive," says Tina Rathborne, who directed the finest non-Lynch episode last season (Laura's funeral). "He is brilliant in his own right."

"David is the keeper of the flame," says Kyle MacLachlan, who plays Dale Cooper. "This is his world." Ever since Dune, when Lynch plucked him out of anonymity in Seattle, MacLachlan has been the director's onscreen face. It is a startling visage, as pure of line as an art deco vase, with soft, all- American features and a comic-book hero's jutting chin -- you could park a Packard on it. Blue Velvet needed his reckless innocence; Twin Peaks profits from his daft righteousness. "The show is unique because of the combination, the balance, of Mark and David," MacLachlan notes. "That uniqueness is not necessarily transferable. It may madden the staff when David directs a segment, because he throws the rules out. But to us actors that freedom is an elixir, a magic potion. It's hard to have it watered down once you've tasted it."

Lynch directs, his actors suggest, through osmosis. "He might say, 'A little more,' then 'Peachy-keen,' but that's it," says Dennis Hopper, the actor-director who was the memorable sicko Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. "However grotesque or violent or weird one of David's scenes may be, the whole is coming from a place in his brain that I trust," says Grace Zabriskie, the spikily hysterical mother of Laura Palmer. "It's that razor's edge of knowing and not knowing what he's doing."

Right now Lynch and Frost are walking that edge even as they hone it. They want Twin Peaks to keep surprising its audience while they defer surprises. They want the show that couldn't be made to be the hit that keeps on coming. And when they get bored or exhausted, they want to get out. "We own the show," Frost notes. "There is no studio around that can milk this thing until it drops dead." Lynch, with his tunnel-vision focus, is the last Hollywood figure one could imagine extending a project just to pick up a paycheck. He doesn't want to stay around; he wants to stay young.

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