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Mike Portnoy Talks Twin Peaks, Theories, New Box Set, David Lynch Films & More!

I recently had the opportunity to sit and down and speak with one of the greatest drummers of all time, Mike Portnoy about our shared love of Twin Peaks and all things David Lynch. Many thanks to Mike for finding time to talk to me just hours before he was supposed to be on a flight on his way to a recording session. This was a really fun conversation, and I hope you enjoy it!

AG: What were your overall thoughts of the third season?

MP: Well, for starters, it was just a dream come true that it happened at all. If you had said to me ten years ago that we were going to get 18 more hours of Twin Peaks, I wouldn’t have ever have believed it. Even when it was announced, all I could think about is that I hope the world makes it a couple more years until it gets released (laughs). I hope I don’t die. My whole goal was to make it to see all 18 episodes. Just the idea that it happened at all is a dream come true and is something I can’t thank David Lynch and Mark Frost enough for, as well as Showtime and everyone involved. My thoughts on the series itself, I loved it. It was an amazing journey. I will say Part 18 stumped me and left me with a weird taste in my mouth. Parts 1-17 were absolutely brilliant and as far as I’m concerned that could have been the whole series. It could have ended there with 17. 18 just felt like a beginning rather than an end.

AG: There’s a lot of people that feel that way. Let’s talk about Part 18 a little bit. What are your personal interpretations of that final hour?

MP: I’ve watched it three times now. The first time was when it aired live, and I have to admit that I was disappointed by the end of it. There were so many loose ends that needed to be tied up, and they spent half of the episode driving. Kyle and Laura Dern. Then Kyle and Sheryl Lee driving. There’s so much more we could have seen. So on first viewing, I was a little disappointed. Then rewatching it and having a little objectivity now after taking in the whole thing, it’s really cool. I really like the fact that they’re possibly entering an alternate timeline or alternate universe. Or maybe the actions of Part 17 really did change the past. I like that there are all of these questions. About halfway through the series, I got some acceptance that 80% of what we were seeing wasn’t going to get solved. I threw that expectation out the window and just enjoyed the ride. There’s no point expecting answers because you rarely ever get them in a David Lynch film. On the second and third viewing, I ended up liking Part 18 a lot more.

AG: There are so many different opinions on what Part 18 means and I always personally look at a few of his previous films, his “California Trilogy” of Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. Shifting personalities, added emphasis on dreams and other “places” and other motifs that to me really factor strongly into Part 18. It brings about questions for me personally like were they in a dream or actually elsewhere in Part 18 and can we really blame Cooper for trying to change the past? Was he just doing what he was supposed to be doing? I’d like to get your take on that. Do you find any fault with Cooper for trying to change the past?

MP: I don’t fault him as an agent doing his job. I think he was so invested in this story and all of the people in it. Not to mention that he had been stuck in the Black Lodge for 25 years. I don’t fault him for wanting to change it. I have a hard time accepting that everything we know about Twin Peaks is negated. If he did change the past everything we know dating back to February 24th, 1989 would be different, would have never happened. It’s an interesting idea. I’m a sucker for time travel stuff. To see that aspect brought in was exciting. To see those scenes from Fire Walk With Me played out in Part 17 gave me goosebumps. Then you see Jack Nance appear and then Joan Chen appears—I was literally jumping off the couch screaming. Then to see those opening scenes altered was incredible. I do have a problem accepting that it really happened though. I think it’s a nice thing to imagine. What would that mean for Sarah Palmer? It changes her timeline and life so significantly. The fact that Leland died anyway in this alternate universe, it’s just hard for me to grapple with. It’s a difficult pill to swallow. What are your thoughts?

sarah-palmer smoking in her lounge
Sarah Palmer has always been one of Twin Peaks most tragic characters.

AG: At first, I refused to believe that he actually changed the past. Then I started to think a little bit more about the things that David Lynch as a human being believes in and examining more of his work. I came to the conclusion that I think both things happened. The timeline that we saw all along from the original series all the way up to Part 17 that happened. I go back to that line “Between two worlds” that we’ve heard so many times. I think what Lynch and Frost were showing us was that there’s more to the world than what we see. There is another place where things are different. Then are some people like Cooper and Phillip Jeffries that have the ability to cross back and forth, but there are consequences to those abilities. It’s an exercise in open-mindedness for the viewer. When I think of the end of Part 18 and Cooper saying “What year is this?” it breaks my heart. It’s a realization of both time lost in the Lodge and also him understanding what his abilities to cross worlds will cost him.

MP: The idea of him being stuck in the Black Lodge for 25 years—we all know how long 25 years is because that’s how long we were waiting for more Twin Peaks [laughs]. Imagine all of that time in the Black Lodge. He had Evil Cooper roaming the Earth and then Dougie Jones was created. I like that you compared Part 18 to Lost Highway and Inland Empire. I almost feel like the entire third season had moments of his entire career sprinkled throughout. There were so many Eraserhead moments, so many Blue Velvet moments. I even saw certain elements of The Straight Story at times. It almost felt like Lynch was trying to wrap up his entire career in this swan song in case he didn’t make anything else.

AG: Absolutely agreed and there’s definitely a lot more writing to be done on all of the themes and elements from his previous work coming into play here.

MP: I was worried when this was announced that it would be 18 hours of Inland Empire. Just completely abstract, new millennium, Lynch. I was so relieved to see that there was so much Blue Velvet there, so much of the original Twin Peaks, Eraserhead and so many other elements mixed in here. I love all of the crazy Inland Empire stuff as well but I don’t think I would’ve been able to handle 18 hours of it. I went back before Twin Peaks came back and revisited all of his features. Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive rose to the top. I found that I enjoyed Lost Highway more than I remembered and didn’t think Wild at Heart aged as well as his other films. Mulholland Drive gets better and better with every viewing. If I had to pick one film to take to a deserted island with me though, I’d pick The Return. If I was allowed to take all 18 hours to a deserted island, I would. I think it really has everything. Literally everything I love about David Lynch. I can’t wait to watch it again. I just finished going through the box set and watching all of the bonus features. The ten documentaries on there are absolutely incredible. I was blown away not only by the footage itself but also by how it was made; the narration, the music, the cinematography. They felt like ten little David Lynch films.

AG: What were some of the standouts from the documentaries for you?

MP: For starters, I was blown away by Sabrina Sutherland. Her importance on the set you really see when you watch these documentaries. Throughout the writing and pre-production process, it’s David Lynch and Mark Frost, but when shooting begins, Sabrina is right there by Lynch’s side, taking notes of literally everything that happens and overseeing everything. That was one thing that immediately struck me. The other thing was to really see David unfiltered. To see him almost like a happy little boy at times and then at other times getting angry, yelling at people and having certain expectations of how things are supposed to go, putting his foot down. I loved seeing him reunite with so many of the older actors and also seeing him meet new actors for the first time. I loved every moment of it. It’s mandatory viewing those ten documentaries because it really shows David at work. It shows “The Man With the Elevated Gray Hair” in his element.

Sabrina Sutherland

AG: To your point on Sabrina Sutherland, I got to interview her a month or so ago and she blew my mind when she outlined her schedule to me over the past few years. It is interesting to note that while David was shooting Twin Peaks, Mark was off writing the two books. (My Interview with Mark Frost)

MP: You can tell that David likes to follow the script, but he famously likes to improvise too, like with the Season 2 finale. He basically improvised that whole thing, and it became one of the quintessential David Lynch pieces ever. I wonder how much of Part 8 was David running wild. My guess is that you have three stages and David is involved in all three. The first would be writing and pre-production, where he works with Mark Frost. Then there’s production where Sabrina is his right-hand person, along with Director of Photography Peter Deming and the whole crew. Then the third stage would be the editing process, and that’s the one process we don’t really get a glimpse of. I can’t imagine what it’s like to edit all 18 hours of this and figure out how to lay it out. There’s just so much there. I would think that would be the hardest part of it all.

AG: Absolutely. The post-production took over a year alone. Harley Peyton told me in an interview that his take on Part 8 was that the story was all Mark and the visual was all David.

MP: It would be interesting to see how much of Part 8 was scripted. I guess when you’re looking at all of the mythology and all of the stuff from the 1950s that would probably have to come from Mark Frost. He’s so deep in the mythology and the story. I can see that. All of the crazy visual stuff was Lynch, and the mythology would probably have to come from Mark Frost to make the storylines work out. There are also moments in Part 17 in the office after Evil Cooper is killed and you have “frozen Cooper face” on the screen while the rest of the stuff plays out and Laura Dern appears. That stuff is really freaky too and you have to think that Mark Frost had a big hand in laying all of that out. It’s so crucial to the mythology.

mark frost in Twin Peaks

AG: What was your interpretation of “frozen Cooper face” on the screen?

MP: I don’t know. I still haven’t put my finger on that one. It’s almost like its symbolizing the two world colliding.  The one that’s frozen is the timeline where Evil Cooper gets shot by Lucy, and then everything that’s live action is probably the alternate world that’s going to send him down to the Great Northern and go meet up with Phillip. It’s one of those things that will be up for interpretation for years to come. Thank God for websites like yours and people online. That’s what’s made this time around so much fun. When the show was first on in the ’90s, I was just sitting around freaking out on my own. There was no videos or DVDs. I had to record them on VHS tapes and watch them over and over. In terms of theories, though, I was getting Wrapped in Plastic every month or two, and that was it. This time around it was so much fun to have all of these different forums and sites like yours to dig in a way that we couldn’t the first time around.  There was a lot of great podcasts too. There were 2 or 3 that I listened to every week, and it was so awesome to relive each episode and talk about it, think about it — what a ride. I’m sad it’s over.

AG: Do you think we’ll get more Twin Peaks?

MP: Never say never. Who would have thought we would have got these 18 hours? Like I said earlier if there is going to be more Twin Peaks I hope I’m around to see it. We’re all getting older. The cast is getting older. There were so many original cast members that either passed away before shooting or even since shooting finished. The clock is ticking. If they’re going to make more, I hope it’s soon. We’re seeing a lot of end of the year lists from prominent people and publications that are putting Twin Peaks at the top of their lists. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people at Showtime checked out a few weeks into it. The hype was done by that point. Us hardcore people were watching it, but people that came because of the hype had dropped off. Can you imagine turning on Showtime and seeing Part 8 if you didn’t know anything about Twin Peaks? I think when it ended, there was a little disappointed and Showtime might not have got the ratings they hoped for because even though us hardcore fans loved it, it didn’t tap into the mainstream the way it did the first time around. So there might have been this little window where there was some disappointment. But now all of the year-end stuff is coming out and all of the critics are putting Twin Peaks at the top of their lists. That’s what matters to people like David and Mark. They care if people liked it or not. I think that the fact that both critics and hardcore fans loved it means there’s a possibility we could get more.

AG: As a longtime fan, what were some of your favorite parts of the third season?

MP: Anything in the Black Lodge I got excited about. The fact that it opened in the Lodge, right out of the gates and we had The Giant who is now The Fireman speaking backwards in black and white was amazing. I loved that Laura Dern and Naomi Watts felt so comfortable in the Twin Peaks world. Both of those actresses are so important to David’s work outside of Twin Peaks, so it was great to see how well they were utilized here. Part 8 was unbelievable, completely mind-blowing. Part 17 as well. Those were my two favorite episodes. I loved Cooper finally coming back around and “I am the FBI” was just amazing. This is just off the top of my head stuff. I found it incredibly strange how Audrey Horne finally appeared, and it’s so typical Lynch. It’s what 12 hours in and there’s no sign of Audrey and boom she shows up practically mid-sentence right out of another scene. The least expected entrance you’d ever expect. Her storyline was so bizarre and still unanswered in so many respects. I loved Evil Cooper and everything about his scenes.

I wasn’t the biggest Dougie Jones fan. I enjoyed it for a while, but it did start to wear thin towards the end. Anytime there were callbacks to the original with Angelo’s music – like with Bobby seeing Laura’s stuff and “Laura’s Theme” is playing. Or the flashbacks in Part 17 with Pete and Josie, those are the moments for me that were incredible. Even when Gordon Cole opened the hotel door and saw the image of Laura screaming was incredible. By the way, David Lynch, as Gordon Cole was amazing. Dare I say he gave the best acting performance of the entire show? I think he knocked it out of the park. Miguel was amazing too. So sad that he passed before this aired. He was great.

AG: Was there anything you felt disappointed by or that you wished you could have seen?

MP: I felt pretty fulfilled. I would have liked more Ray Wise just because Leland is so vital to the story and the mythology. I didn’t think we were going to see much more of James besides that one scene in the Roadhouse, and then towards the end of the season he’s back onstage singing “Just You and I”, and that was incredible. I don’t feel at all disappointed. I think we got everything we were supposed to get. The initial shock of how they ended Part 18 was at first a bit of a disappointment but just like with anything else Lynch does; it’s going to take time to process it, think about it and theorize. Now I can’t wait to go back and re-do this journey. I’ll probably end up doing it in the next few months. I wish there could have been more BOB. I guess my only real disappointment is that there weren’t more real scares. The original series, anytime BOB was on the screen I was terrified and absolutely shitting my pants. There wasn’t much of that this time around. I always wondered how they’d handle Bob without Frank Silva. Would they have someone else play him? Would they invent a new character? There were no moments in The Return that gave me that fear and dread that I had with BOB in the original series.

leland find laura
The brilliant Ray Wise as Leland Palmer.

AG: Anything closing you want to say to those that are reading this?

MP: Thank you, everyone, for being so interactive online. It’s made the whole experience so much more enjoyable because of that. Being able to read theories, talk about it and have that interaction. When I think of 2017, Twin Peaks is what I’ll think of. My entire summer revolved around it and even the months leading up to it and the months that followed. Thank you, everyone, for contributing to it. It’s been an amazing community to be a part of.

Written by Andrew Grevas

Andrew is the Founder / Editor in Chief of 25YL. He’s engaged with 2 sons, a staunch defender of the series finales for both Lost & The Sopranos and watched Twin Peaks at the age of 5 during its original run, which explains a lot about his personality.

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