Among the great living journeymen of acting, Ray Wise is one of the most recognisable, appearing in everything from Twin Peaks to the six-time Academy Award-nominated Good Night, and Good Luck. As of writing, his IMDb page lists a remarkable 235 acting credits, which makes him the perfect candidate for this latest instalment of “As Seen on Twin Peaks.”
This series takes a look at the acting careers of the cast of Twin Peaks – one performer at a time. But, instead of looking A-Z through their entire filmography, I’ll be picking out one film to represent each actor, which will be followed by a 10 Questions-style discussion between myself and one of my fellow 25YL staffers about the film and various other credits. Now, the films I’ve picked to be discussed are not necessarily each actor’s most famous role, or most critically acclaimed performance, or biggest box office success. Instead, I’ll be focussing on those hidden gems, overlooked treasures and underrated masterpieces. And, to make things more interesting, each article will feature a range of different perspectives between myself and my guest. Some films will be familiar to the two of us, others might be first-time watches, and some movies will be a completely new experience for us both.
So, join Ashley Harris and I as we discuss Ray Wise, his career, Twin Peaks, Swamp Thing and more!
1) Jon Sheasby: Personally, I don’t believe in the term “guilty pleasure” so let’s just say Swamp Thing has been a favourite of mine for many years. This was your first viewing though, Ashley, so what did you think about the film overall?
Ashley Harris: I wholeheartedly agree with you in a distaste of the term “guilty pleasure.” I believe you like what you like and there’s no cause to defend that. I was completely charmed by Swamp Thing! For me, it had the perfect amount of ’80s camp to make for a really good time. Plus, I love the emotional aspects of the story, looking beyond appearances to find beauty or the suggestion that outside influences don’t so much change what you are, so much as enhance whatever attributes you already have. I wasn’t expecting such a powerful message but was pleasantly surprised!
2) JS: I’m glad you liked it! I think it’s interesting looking back at the film, now knowing what we know about Ray Wise as an actor, but back in 1982, this was literally his first real film role. So, how did he do from your perspective as Dr. Alec Holland?
AH: I had not looked into that at all and I’m completely surprised that this was his first proper film role – that’s incredible! I found him so assured in the material and exhibiting a great emotional range. He had some scenes in Swamp Thing that carried some true emotional depth, and also had some outbursts of anger that were both intense and convincing. Ray Wise is one of those actors that’s had it all along, I guess!
3) JS: As you mentioned, there’s a charm to Swamp Thing that just doesn’t exist anymore in the modern comic book movie landscape. I still buy comic books every week and I have tattoos of Daredevil and Batman and Superman, but even I’m feeling the “superhero fatigue” that often gets discussed online. Are you a fan of these massive, shared universe spectacles or are you likewise feeling the fatigue or do you generally avoid all of this bloated, end of the world, CGI genericness?
AH: One does get the feeling that we’ve been oversaturated by the superhero output, especially lately, it seems. I’ve never really gotten into the superhero films, I’ve seen some, but it’s always because there’s an actor in it I want to watch. I’ve always blamed that blind spot on not being allowed to watch movies when I was a child, or maybe it’s because I’m too much of an existentialist and want to avoid breakdowns in crowded movie theatres.
4) JS: I think the most impressive part of Ray Wise’s career is simply the sheer amount of work he’s done. IMDb lists a résumé of 235 acting credits, which is a staggering number by any measure. On the other end of the spectrum, a performer like Daniel Day-Lewis has won three Academy Awards and has only 30 credits to his name, but I think Ray Wise’s career is just as impressive given his longevity and consistent work ethic. I can’t imagine how one literally creates hundreds of performances, playing lead roles and supporting characters in film and TV, plus shorts and dozens of voice parts. For you, which is more impressive: winning three Academy Awards from so few performances, or having the ability to be in constant demand, year after year, in various film and TV projects?
AH: You’re certainly right, Ray Wise is a real workhorse! The best part is, in that each role I’ve seen of his, he brings a strong unique performance to each project he’s involved in. The commitment and versatility he clearly possesses is impressive! Daniel Day-Lewis was in my second favourite film of last year, and his ability to completely lose himself in every role he takes on is remarkable, as well. I struggle to decide which is more impressive as both methods employ such different techniques, but it is certainly more fun to have the opportunity to be surprised by Ray Wise popping up in such a wide variety of films or television shows!
5) JS: I agree. And of course, one of those TV shows was this little thing called Twin Peaks. There’s this great moment in the Secrets From Another Place: Creating Twin Peaks documentary where Ray Wise tells the story about how he thought he would be a perfect fit for Sheriff Truman, and that he was surprised when David Lynch asked him to be Leland Palmer because all that character seemed to do was cry. Can you picture Ray Wise as Sheriff Truman or are you glad he was cast as Leland? In my view, I can’t imagine anyone who could’ve portrayed Leland, in all his guises, better than Mr. Wise.
AH: Oh wow, Leland is probably my second favourite character in the series and I cannot imagine him being played by anyone other than Ray Wise. The emotional gut punch of that scene where he talks about true loss was powerful in a way I can’t imagine anyone else matching. Also, like you say, there were so many colours to Leland there’s no-one that comes to mind that could have walked all the lines he did throughout the series. I definitely can’t picture him as the largely subdued angelic Sheriff Truman! David Lynch definitely knew best about that decision.
6) JS: Do you remember your reaction to the reveal of Leland being Laura’s killer? I’m usually that guy who doesn’t see the plot twist until five minutes after it has happened, so I definitely wasn’t expecting Leland’s arc to go the way it did.
AH: I do remember my reaction! I have an approach that I use that’s almost unique to Lynch’s art where I just ride the wave and enjoy the soundscape and the imagery and I don’t try to figure out what’s going to happen, which left me shocked and majorly heartbroken when Leland was revealed as the agent of Laura’s killer. His character was certainly acting strange, but I bought it completely as a grieving father. It was also terribly disappointing for his presence in the show to disappear after the reveal since he was a favourite of mine.
7) JS: It is weird, isn’t it? Knowing that Leland/BOB is this evil entity, yet we’re sad to see Ray Wise leave the show because he’s so watchable on-screen. For me, one of the biggest disappointments of The Return was the lack of Leland and the Palmer family, in general. I presumed they would have this huge impactful role on the entirety of The Return‘s narrative, but as we know, they were used all too infrequently for my liking. How do you feel about the use of the Palmer family, or lack thereof, in The Return? Did we get enough or did Frost and Lynch miss a trick?
AH: It really is a tough thing to reconcile in one’s mind. His screen presence is just so bold and fun to watch it was a huge disappointment to have him leave the show. I was also pretty disappointed by the lack of Leland, especially since he was briefly in Part 2. I was hoping his reintroduction in The Return would be fleshed out, though I felt Sarah Palmer was used to deliver incredible impact despite her brief screen time.
8) JS: This is usually the point in the conversation where I ask what is your favourite collaboration between the performer and David Lynch, but seeing as Ray Wise has only worked for Lynch as Leland, I’ll instead ask if you have a favourite Leland Palmer moment from the world of Twin Peaks?
AH: I wish they worked together more! In addition to that tearful revelatory scene, I’d have to say a favourite Leland Palmer moment takes place in Episode 15, I think. The episode is chock-full of Leland looking in mirrors and seeing BOB’s reflection, creating an ominous tone though juxtaposed with Leland’s heightened emotional state that has him going from tears to laughter in an instant. The moment when he is heading to his trunk, where Maddy’s dead body lies, offering to show Cooper and Sheriff Truman his golf clubs, not only impresses by its ability to deliver an incredible tension but also in illustrating Ray Wise’s incredible range! I see that scene as the culmination of the extremes of his character and thought he did an amazing job in bridging them all together in that moment.
9) JS: What about the rest of Ray Wise’s mammoth filmography? What are some of your favourites besides Twin Peaks? I’d have to go with RoboCop, as it’s in my all-time top five, and Ray Wise is scarily brilliant as the sadistic criminal, Leon C. Nash.
AH: I just saw RoboCop for the first time last week and had quite the giddy moment when I saw his character show up! That giddiness was brief since he’s quite the force of evil in that role. We’re blessed with a double dose of Twin Peaks actors in that movie as Miguel Ferrer shows up, as well! [Make that three, as Andrew Packard himself, Dan O’Herlihy, makes an appearance too]. My favourite is going to have to be his appearance on The Larry Sanders Show. As the titular Larry’s attorney, Ray Wise saves the day in that episode by preventing a lawsuit against Larry Sanders. He was so committed to his client, it was fun to see Wise in a happier role, for sure!
10) JS: And finally, Ashley, if you could recast any role from the history of film and TV with Ray Wise in their place, which character would you choose and why?
AH: This one was really tough! I want to see more Ray Wise in everything, especially Lynch films. I’m going to have to pick The Silence of the Lambs. I would have loved to see Ray Wise as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Not only do I think he could have handled the sinister aspects of the character, but the controlled, sickly comedic touches, as well. I truly would have loved to see what Ray Wise could have brought to that character!
I want to thank Ashley for taking the time to join me for this latest edition of “As Seen on Twin Peaks.” So, you’ve read ours, but what are your thoughts on Ray Wise? Favourite roles, performances, works? Please leave a comment and let us know by following the information about our social media accounts, which can be found below. Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter (@JonSheasby), and we’ll continue the conversation over there.