Mike Malone (or sometimes simply “Malone”) is a Twin Peaks mainstay. He proudly reminded me that he has worked on all of Twin Peaks with the exception of the Pilot. Over the last thirty years, he and David Lynch (as well as others on the Twin Peaks team), have used humor and creativity to blow our collective minds on multiple occasions.
Mike and I spoke at length about how he got started working with one of his favorite directors, what he does behind and in front of the camera, and what the Twin Peaks family has meant to him over the years. I hope that you will enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed talking with Mike.
How did you initially get involved with Twin Peaks and/or David Lynch? I don’t know which came first…
“I had just worked on the movie Tremors with Kevin Bacon, and that was a fun experience. And then after that, I was sort of looking around for a job. And a woman named Laurie Hudson, who was a wardrobe girl (and who was a friend of a girl I was dating) mentioned that she was going to be working on a television show with David Lynch. I was like ‘Whoa! I gotta get in on that!’ because I was a big Lynch guy; I loved Dune and I loved Blue Velvet and at that time I was just like I gotta get in on that. I went and aggressively pursued the job, and got it!
You know, the funny thing about it is at the time, even though it was an ABC show, it was a non-union show. I wasn’t in the union yet, and praise God I wasn’t because it turned out to be a great experience. It was one of my first experiences as an on-set dresser, and that was when they shot the Pilot up in Washington, and then they brought the show down to Los Angeles to do [the rest] of the show. I did not work in Washington. I did not do the Pilot. I‘ve done all of Twin Peaks except for the Pilot. The story I heard was that Patricia Norris, who is one of the all-time greats and was David’s production designer, said there wasn’t any way to do the show in L.A. and she decided not to work on the show [there], and I was lucky enough to get the job. And then I connected with her when we went back up to Washington when we did Fire Walk with Me.”
Wow! Can you break down your work with the Twin Peaks art department and talk about what an on-set dresser does?
“I’m the on-set dresser. I’m the only person from the art department that works with the shooting crew. The art department is the group who designs, builds, and maintains the sets we shoot on. All the furniture on a set, the color of the walls, the color of the draperies, and everything else. But the [art department] paints the set, and while we’re shooting, I’m, for a lack of a better term, the guard to maintain the set and make sure it looks the same in every shot while shooting on it. Because while we’re shooting on it, I’ve got to move a lot of stuff around for equipment, lighting, cameras and all that stuff. Say we were shooting a scene looking one direction in the Palmer living room. All the furniture’s moved out of there for camera and lighting, and then when we turn around and shoot the other side of the Palmer living room, I’ve got to move stuff out and then move the other stuff back in and make sure it looks the way the art department wants it to look, or David or whomever the director is at that time.”
My wife and I toured the Dirtfish Racing School (shooting location for the Twin Peaks Sheriff Station) during the Twin Peaks Festival last year, and that seemed like pretty tight quarters for shooting some of those scenes.
“Yeah, actually Dirtfish was relatively easy for me because it’s an existing location and therefore you couldn’t take out walls. On a movie set you can take out walls and you have to move more stuff, but at that place it was: David would decide where the camera goes, then we would dress the shot to the camera position. The back control room was in the very back of Dirtfish and a lot of times we would just be moving stuff just to get it in the shot. So by a strict blueprint, it may not have been in the shot, but David wanted to move it in there. And you know we always have a deer head around, so we can put that somewhere in case David wants a deer head in the shot on a wall somewhere.”
You probably need those types of things for backup because they are somewhat difficult to get when you are in the middle of the work, right?
“Yeah! David gave us explicit instructions early on in the show to always have a deer head on the prop truck. That’s the people I travel with, and we had one just in case. The property department handles all the stuff the actors have in their hands: guns, backpacks, watches, rings, anything that they pick up. All that stuff in the conference room scenes in the sheriff’s station: all the old evidence boxes, most of that was brought together by the prop department. The prop department is part of the art department, but they’re kind of on their own, too. We’re all under the same umbrella.”
You talked about continuity, and I first thought about interviewing you when I saw the Twin Peaks continuity Polaroids that were posted on social media over the years! Sure, you’d keep them as a visual record of your work…
“Absolutely! Back in the day, the only way to keep track of continuity for set, for example: a certain blanket was lying over a couch, or a certain pillow was in a certain position, you take a Polaroid of it, and you mark that for this scene, this is there, then you have a record. But in our youthful hijinks, we would use the Polaroid [camera] to take funny pictures behind the scenes and put funny captions on the Polaroids. There are a lot of Polaroids out there that don’t have anything to do with continuity, let’s put it that way!
There’s plenty of laughs. John Huck, who was the sound mixer on Fire Walk with Me and I have a just blitheringly funny group of Polaroids that we did behind the scenes because we would do a lot of kidding around with Chris Isaak. I would be taking pictures and putting captions on them, and it’s mind-numbingly funny.”
Some of these are never-to-be-released, right?
“What I’ve gotta do, is I think I’ve gotta go to John’s house and basically coax him into finding them and getting them out, and then probably talking to Sabrina Sutherland. Letting them trickle out like that. We had the best time [working] on Fire Walk with Me up in Washington doing all of those Polaroids. It was good times.”
I think that there is an heightened interest with certain Twin Peaks fans who want to get behind-the-scenes information. The Season 3 Blu-Ray extras, hearing Angelo Badalamenti talk about how he created “Laura Palmer’s Theme” with David; anything like that intrigues me. Not to reveal THE Mystery Behind Twin Peaks, but learning more about the creative process for something as beloved as Twin Peaks is fascinating.
“Yeah, the great thing is Twin Peaks, the first two seasons were all directed by different people, and David directed a handful of them, he didn’t direct all of them. David’s presence is always there and the great thing about David is that he is so smart, and so funny, and just creates a really fun work environment. Which is hard to do a lot of times because sometimes you hear that work is drudgery. But I always remember the day when we were filming the scene where they find the train car where Laura Palmer was killed. You know, it was a really, really long day, longer than 15 or 16 hours, but because David had everybody engaged, and we were coming up with all of this stuff, it just seemed like fun.
For me, he said: ‘Malone! Have you got a hammer?’ And I’m like ‘Yeah, David I’ve got a hammer.’ I went to my kit and got a hammer, and he says: ‘That’s great, man! Can you paint it green?’ I’m like: ‘Uh…yeah! Sure! I can paint it green!’ So then I go off and paint it green. At the end of the day you’re just sort of buzzing because you feel like a part of the creative process here with David Lynch coming up with all of this stuff. You don’t realize that you’ve worked for this ungodly number of hours and it was a real blast.”
That was an excellent story! I had a question about the Twin Peaks set being like family. You talk about it the creative process pushing everybody on, yet you see what’s coming out at the end: David’s and Mark’s wonderful vision. Is the cast and crew like a family?
“A movie set is a very creative place, and you’re working closely and intensely with people that you may not even know, so friendships can form really quickly, and close friendships can form really quickly also. The more you work together and the more you do stuff, you get this amazing sense of camaraderie and closeness that you really can’t get anywhere else in my book. It’s a fun life, and I think some famous Hollywood star said: ‘The worst day on a movie set is still better than the best day anywhere else.’
David is unparalleled in making a fun work environment because of his demeanor, sense of humor, and intelligence. It’s fun to go to work.”
Can you talk a little bit about your acting work in Fire Walk with Me and Season 3?
“You’ve probably heard by now that reading the [Season 3] scripts was something where you had to go into the office and basically check out a copy, and then go into a room. They only had one or two copies of the script. So, when I first learned I was going to be on the show, I thought I’ve got to read the script. I was working on Pretty Little Liars at the time, and when we had a late call, I would go in about two hours early and block off a chunk [of time] and read the [Twin Peaks] script, which at that point was somewhere north of 400 pages.
And as I’m going through it, I always have in the back of my mind: ‘I’m going to get in this thing! I want to be on camera.’ Even though I’m not an actor, I enjoy being known as a class clown and I like doing the short funny stuff. So I’m reading the script and get to the “Man in Urinal” and I immediately said to myself ‘That’s the part! That’s the part I’m gonna go for!’”
You got to say: “I want to do this”?!
“Basically, yes. It was early in the process. We were a couple of months put from even starting shooting, and I had it in the back of my mind that this was the part I wanted to go for. When you see me in Fire Walk with Me as an FBI agent at the beginning in the bus scene with Chris Isaak and John Huck the sound mixer…Cori Glazer (David’s Script Supervisor and long-time collaborator), she is always sitting right next to David at the monitor. They have an extremely close relationship, and I remember when we were shooting the bus scene, I thought ‘Chris Isaak looks lonely out there. He needs a couple of FBI agents with him.’ I whispered this to Cori, and then I walked away. Then she whispered something to David, and David says: ‘Malone! Huck! You’re in the FBI!’
I’m no longer the on-set dresser. I go to the wardrobe trailer, put on one of Kyle MacLachlan’s suits (because at that time in my life I could fit in one his suits!), and David sets us up as extras in the scene. It just happened in a matter of minutes.
On Season 3, I had been planting the seed with people around the set, and I got to RileyLynch and John Sclimenti, and told them: ‘Yeah, that’s the part I want.’ Then one day I said it to Cori, and she said: ‘Yeah, that would be great.’ As time was getting closer to the day we were going to shoot [the Man in Urinal scene], which is sometime in February 2016, they hadn’t cast the part yet. I have a pretty good relationship with Johanna Ray (Twin Peaks’ Casting Director), and with about a week to go, they were saying: ‘We’ve got to find out who is going to play “Man in Urinal.”’ and Cori, to her credit (she’s one of my great friends and I love her to death) said: ‘Malone wants to play that part.’ I remember Johanna and her assistant, Cori and Sabrina, and David all just sort of looked at me across the room and were like ‘Yeah, OK. Great.’ and you know the rest is history.
I thought that was the one part I knew I could handle without screwing it up. It was fun, and I got to wear a seersucker suit in the process, which was great.”
Was that suit from your personal collection?
“I used to have a seersucker suit, and I always like them because I grew up in the South and had an appreciation for all things southern. I went up to David about a week or two out before shooting, and I caught him alone: ‘David, do you think Man in Urinal should be wearing a seersucker suit in the scene?’ He looked at me and kind of thought about it for a second and goes ‘Yeah…yeah, that’s a good idea.’ Nancy Steiner, our great Costume Designer got me a seersucker suit, I went in for a fitting just like a real actor, got some white ‘bucks’ and right afterward, Sabrina was kind enough to let me keep the seersucker suit. So now I’ve got a seersucker suit back in my closet after outgrowing my other one in the late 80s.”
Is there anything that you can share about the scene with the Fireman and Senorita Dido? I remember when watching the Season 3 Blu-Ray extras, you’re there with a vacuum. When we see it it’s in black-and-white, and the Blu-Ray extra shows all of the wonderful colors: Carel Struycken’s jacket, the gold orb, the wild print carpet. That looked like a whole bunch of fun!
“It was. We basically had the entire theatre/ballroom in this building in downtown Los Angeles and the art department covered it all in this rug that in person looked way different than it did on camera in the finished product, mostly because of the black-and-white (presentation). You’ve got to maintain and make sure that it’s going to look good when it is photographed. When you’ve got 40 or 50 people walking around all day moving equipment and dirty; 90 percent of my job is trying to make everything look photographic, including the floor.”
We had this really talented art department, headed up by Ruth de Jong and Florencia Martin, and they basically transformed the entire interior of that building with that carpet, and the couch. All sorts of different things to work with. They’ve got it the way that they want it set, then David may come in right before we want to roll and say: ‘Hey, Malone, let’s move this in here.’ Essentially, a lot of the time it’s building blocks. David, as is his prerogative, can change his mind at the last minute and do something else. As long as all of the elements are there with which he can change his mind.
What’s your biggest thrill working on the Twin Peaks projects over the last thirty years?
“Wow. I kind of have to admit the green hammer day was a lot of fun because it was just such a long day and I was sitting there working alongside David Lynch and still very new to the business at that point. Being able to start at the beginning and forge a relationship with David Lynch was something that I had not even considered in my mind a year or even six months before that. Like I said, I was a huge Dune fan and a huge Blue Velvet fan, and it was like ‘Wow! Here I am.’ This is great.
Being asked to do Season 3 was a great honor. I have Sabrina Sutherland to thank for that. She is one great lady, and our relationship that we had back in the old days helped cement the possibility of working on Season 3. It was terrific. We always make it a point when a big group picture is being taken, that we always get all of the people who worked on the original [series] 25 years later, and you’ll see a lot of those pictures on Instagram and Twitter.
We had a viewing party for the finale, the last two parts, and Madchen [Amick] was kind enough to get up there and take a picture of all the original people who worked on the first one and this one. It’s a great family that I’m honored to be a part of, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
What’s new and upcoming for you?
“I’ve been concentrating a little bit more on writing. I’ve got one script that I’ve been trying to get off the ground for what seems like forever. My writing partner is Joe Chrest, who plays Ted Wheeler on Stranger Things. He’s one of my old friends from the Soderbergh days, and we’ve been shopping this script around.”
I want to thank you for your time, Mike. I really enjoyed it.
“I appreciate you taking the time. I’m going to try and get in touch with John Huck and see if we get those behind-the-scenes Fire Walk with Me Polaroids out, because that’s a lot of laughs.”
Twin_Petes is a 27 year-plus fan of the show, music, merchandise, and emotions that emanate from the woods surrounding Blue Pine and Whitetail Mountains. He and his family now reside in what can best be described as the Purple World. His favorite response to most questions is: “That…cannot be revealed.” He loves all things Lynch and Frost. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @Twin_Petes.
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