I recently had the opportunity to talk to actor Stewart Strauss, who played a Woodsman in Twin Peaks: The Return. Stewart was quite gracious with his time and we were able to discuss a number of topics including his recent health issues, how he got the part on Twin Peaks, being a part of the Twin Peaks community and more. Thank you again Stewart and I hope you enjoy the interview!
On his recent health issues: Thank you so much for asking. I did have my thyroid removed on the 17th of last month. I will be having an iodine radiation treatment which is different from chemo. When you say radiation, people tend to think you’re talking about chemo. There is quite a bit of preparation which I’m not looking forward to. That’s scheduled for November 1st. It may happen a little sooner but as of now that’s when it’s scheduled for. I feel fine. My voice gets a little rough some times. I tried singing along to some Rolling Stones this morning – “Sticky Fingers” – and after about 3 minutes my throat was sore. My throat will clinch up a little bit and I don’t have as much energy as normal but I’m recovering.
On how he got the role: The role was listed without specifics, an untitled project on LA Casting, which is a subscription online service where you give them your profile and pictures and they send you things that hopefully fit your profile. Of course, this is LA so there’s thousands of people submitting some days for the same role. For this David Lynch’s name wasn’t listed, Woodsmen wasn’t listed either. It was more to the effect of the character type. Age range, character type, facial hair, length of your hair. So I submitted for it. I’ll submit for a hundred things a month and if I’m really running hot I might get 3 or 4 of them. If I’m not I can submit for 300 things and not get any. Timing, luck, someone seeing your potential or seeing a potential you didn’t know you had, which is definitely the case here with David. He is the first director to single me out in that fashion. I’ve been featured a few times, the first time being with Gary Sinise in CSI: New York. That was a very nervous event for me, just the two of us on a set. Since then there’s been a few other things and I’ve had good fortune to work with good actors and very giving actors too that have helped me heighten my performance. So I submitted, I got a text back and it mentioned Lynch and Woodsmen this time but I didn’t know it was for Twin Peaks. The text said they wanted to see a short video of me saying my name and saying hello to David. I did a short video saying “Hi David, I’m Stewart and it’s nice to meet you”. Just a few seconds long. I wound up getting the gig.
On his first day of work: It was out on location, in the desert. It was a bit of trek but not too bad. It was an outdoor adventure to start with. I didn’t really know what I was getting into but had the hope that it would be a reoccurring role. I was very excited about that. I did know Christian Calloway ahead of time and I can’t remember if we drove together that first day but we did ride together at least once. The first day of work it did take a while for hair and wardrobe to get the look right. Everything was really comfortable though. Without going into details, we were dirty. We couldn’t touch anything at all in between scenes. We were covered in plastic sheets when we were shuttled to other locations or if we wanted to sit down between takes. I do remember on the first night there was a snake wrangler. I did feel safer since we were in rattlesnake country but my eyes were wide open. Once they were ready to bring us into where we would be shooting, the four of us lined up and David walked over and looked at Robert Broski and said “Can you say got a light?” Anyhow, it went from there. I was more background for those scenes but watching it all being filmed was just delightful. During the scene where Robert approached the car, there was another car maybe 50 yards back and myself and another Woodsman would cross back and forth in front of the car lights. That was the first night and it was a great experience. I didn’t really know what the future would bring but perhaps not being featured that night is why I was featured later in the jail cell. I don’t know. I had no contact with Robert Broski after that night for the rest of filming and I had no idea about what Part 8 was. I was just blown away when I watched it on TV. Robert was so good in his role. I had no idea about the scenes he filmed without us and it was all so mind blowing. It was just great. I got a chance to tell him that at a recent dinner party.
Being featured in the jail cell scene in Part 2: I don’t recall exactly when the jail cell scene was shot but it was at a more public location. Directly across the street from the location – I really don’t want to say what the location was – but across the street was a coffee shop and there was black van parked in front of that coffee shop. From the moment I arrived I pretty much had protection. People covered me with umbrellas and such because we expected paparazzi. I never saw any pictures so I think we were successful. Once I was in wardrobe and makeup I was either tucked away in a trailer which was nice and comfortable or outside and this wonderful PA named Mindy would hold a giant umbrella so nobody could ever see my face or the upper part of my body. Later in the evening as they were closer to getting ready for me, I was inside the jailhouse and I was sitting in a corner reading my book quietly, in full Woodsman wardrobe and makeup. The lady who played Mrs. Hastings walked by and I’m pretty sure I scared the beejeezus out of her. Same with one or two production people. I swear I wasn’t doing anything except reading my book or maybe looking up to say hello. That was a great night. When it was said and done, I didn’t even know that I was going to be in Twin Peaks. I thought maybe, just maybe if they didn’t like the jail cell scene with me that they would have filmed it with someone else. I didn’t know for sure until I saw the scene the night it aired. It meant the world to me working on Twin Peaks, it really did.
Seeing himself onscreen on premiere night: I had so much anxiety leading up to the show. I had thoughts wondering if I had been replaced. I had no idea when the jail scene would air in the series. The only things I knew was when and where to show up for work. Watching the episodes, it was Greek to me. When they first started talking about Buckhorn, it meant nothing to me. I knew none of the context. Then we see Matthew Lillard at the jail and it starts looking familiar. So I’m watching and I recognize where I had been sitting and reading my book waiting to shoot and then I recognize one of the actors. I start thinking “Wait a minute, this is it!” It goes on a little bit and you see Mrs. Hastings and the attorney and then you see Matthew and again, not having any context I start to think that they passed where I would’ve been. They didn’t even use me! Then two seconds later, there he is. The camera starts rolling and this is it! I don’t know how long I’m going to be on the screen but I was ecstatic. I was in 7th heaven and beyond. By the time I did disappear, I was on the floor laughing out of joy and relief. The wait was over. The anxiety was gone. I was in. The length of the scene, the closeness, it all just floored me. Then I saw my head float away and that was just beyond (laughs). I had no idea that was coming.
Working with Kyle MacLachlan: I love when people get lost in a role. Kyle MacLachlan deserves nominations and awards for his work. I got to work directly with him in Parts 8 and 17 and he’s just a great guy to work with and be around. So accommodating, a great sport. Whatever it took, he always the first one to say ‘let’s do it’ or ‘let’s do it again’. That was really special for me.
Fan reactions: To hear that people were horrified, leaving their lights on and having nightmares was great. I couldn’t have been happier. Me, I’m a guy that laughed at Pyscho. I saw that curtain rip and I laughed. I mean, by the time I saw it, it wasn’t new anymore. There’s only one movie that left me scared afterwards and it’s the original Exorcist. There’s been nothing since then that’s moved me like that. I might jump out of my seat like everyone else but when it’s over, it’s over. If I had even close to the effect on people that The Exorcist had on me, then that’s really cool. There’s no greater height I could reach, all without opening my mouth.
Being a part of the Twin Peaks family: This has been a life changing experience. There’s been a lot of embracing, a lot of reaching out. It’s funny how these things (being in Twin Peaks and his surgery) happened together but you know (laughs) that is my life. I’ve been welcomed by everyone I’ve met, talked to, I’ve been invited to a couple of viewings. Josh Eisenstadt invited me over one night for a viewing and then took me to a cast and crew party too. Everyone from Dana Ashbrook to Connie Woods from the original series to many of the actors from this series. Got to meet John (Pirruccello) and Adele Jones, sat next to George (Griffith). Sabrina (Sutherland) was there and I hadn’t seen her since my last day of work. It was a great group of people and I had a really great time. There have been other outings too. Another time it was Amy Shiels, Nicole LaLiberte, Christopher Murry, James Giordano and Robert Broski whom I hadn’t seen since the night David Lynch asked him to say “Got a light”. I worked 6 days on Twin Peaks. I worked 9 days on The House. I worked 20 days on I’m Dying Up Here. Nothing has ever gotten me the praise or recognition that Twin Peaks has brought. I’ve had people call me after seeing me in something and say “You have to see this” but again nothing compares to the response that I got for Part 2 of Twin Peaks and everything after. Part 11 was great too. That scene on the staircase – I don’t even know if we did a second take. The reaction was great for that scene. It was awesome to see artist’s renditions of that scene. I have a whole collection of fan art from the jail cell scene, including an original hanging on my wall. A few days after the premiere I said something on Facebook about that being me that was in the jail scene. I kept reading theory after theory, seeing picture after picture and I was the happiest camper in the world at that point. I couldn’t call myself a Woodsman until after Part 8 when Robert Broski was credited as a Woodsman. Someone on IMDB credited me as “Man in Jail”, which stuck until our actual credit was revealed. Part 7 you see a Woodsman walking down the hallway and everyone thought it was me. I started getting hundreds of questions and I had nothing to do with Part 7! Fortunately Part 8 revealed that there were a lot of us.
The original series / college years: I had been a fan of David Lynch but not a fanatic, but a fan. I loved Eraserhead and The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet really took me back. I was a fan of Twin Peaks too. When the original series came on the air I had gone back to school to study broadcasting to learn to become an editor at Pasadena City College. The classroom I went to first thing in the morning was in a TV studio. Right next to the studio was the NPR affiliate station at the college. I’m a music junkie so I’d be out in the hallway waiting to go into class and whoever would be on the air at the time, I’d be listening with all ears. I just started to co-exist between the two departments and next thing I know I was interning for the program director of the radio station while taking TV production classes and learning to edit by the second or third semester and produce as well. I was also volunteering at the local public access channel to polish my jobs. I got a job at that channel and wound up being there for the next three years or so. Twin Peaks was the topic of every discussion, every week, first thing in the morning and it could last all week. People were creating things in our classroom projects, learning the tricks. That’s where it all started for me, with a bunch of like minded techies that were learning the trade. We were learning from some very capable people too, people that had been there and done that. There’s a great advantage to taking any theater, film or music classes in L.A. I’m sure it’s the same in other big cities. Most of the people that are teaching have been inside of the industry, spent their careers there and this is either an early retirement or a chance to stay off of the road and raise a family. You are getting the best of the best. I was always grateful for that. You didn’t have to go to a major university to learn from the best.
Acting Style: I do a lot of period pieces, 60’s and 70’s stuff. I’m Dying Up Here was supposed to be early 70’s and I was regular background on that. I love doing period stuff. Putting on a costume really helps and is part of my method. Working background, my eyes are the way I express myself. Less is more. Being a theater major, everything was big. It’s taken me time to tone it down with as little movement as possible and I’ve gotten good at it I think. My eyes can tell you where you’re at. I worked on a film called Airplane vs Volcano with Dean Cain, made by the same folks who made the Sharknado films. It’s a disaster film and there are no special effects; it’s us rocking back and forth to create the effect. I loved every second of that. I was seated on the plane sitting next to Matt Mercer who played the hero of the film. While he was doing scenes with other actors, I did a lot of looking around, staring out the window. I was in a lot more of that film than I ever anticipated I would be. It was certainly the most I’d ever seen of myself on screen. It was my eyes that did most of it. Getting into the Woodsman costume, I knew that it would all be my eyes again.
James Franco: I worked on a film with James Franco called Zeroville almost three years ago. It’s based on a fantastic book that I highly recommend. I had one really cool, long Steadicam scene with Franco, who directed and starred in the movie. I played Dennis Hopper in the movie. There was a trailer for the movie that came out on YouTube a year or so ago. I was a very small part of a long scene with all of these household names, really big name actors and there I was, featured in the trailer. I didn’t even know if I made the film. Then all of a sudden the trailer disappeared. There’s no trace of it anywhere. I got a few screen grabs of it. Now I’m hearing its back in post-production. The trailer made it look like it would be a helluva movie. I was just in one scene but I really want it to come out.
Favorite Films: As a kid, my parents would send me to the Saturday matinees every week. That was the thing for a long time. I saw everything – South Pacific, West Side Story, Jerry Lewis movies, horror movies. I remember seeing Russ Tamblyn in a horror movie or two. There was no rating system back then so I saw everything a kid would want to see. I loved it and I got out of my parents hair for a few hours. Things were different then though, safer. Drive ins were also a big deal. I’d go with my family or my friend’s family. I remember seeing Moby Dick with my father. It might have been the first movie he took me to. Seeing something like that as a kid, it was so big. I think my taste in movies as been pretty good my whole life by getting such a strong dose at such a young age. West Side Story has been a favorite forever. Lawrence of Arabia has been a favorite forever. Almost anything with Peter O’Toole is a favorite. I probably saw The Music Man ten times when it came out. Films and music were always my biggest interests.
The legacy of Twin Peaks: The Return: I think, my own personal point of view is that it brings back a collective consciousness to television. Tell me one other show that doesn’t show you something that’s going to happen next week? When you see an actor or actress from the show go on a talk show, they bring clips. Then there’s Twitter and YouTube clips. Even other groundbreaking shows, like The Sopranos always showed you something that was still to come. For a year before Twin Peaks aired, I looked for every mention of it on every platform. Facebook, Twitter, any promo, I would watch and scour it all. Like most extras, I was looking for myself. There was no mention of me or us Woodsmen or our characters. So the first time you saw any of us was when you saw me in that jail cell. Could you imagine if you had seen us in previews before the show? Would it have had the same effect? Not even close.
Thank you again to Stewart Strauss for taking the time to talk with me. You can find Stewart on both Facebook and Twitter. Thanks everyone for reading!