There were many magical moments at this year’s Twin Peaks Uk Festival. One of them was myself and Anthony Divers getting to sit down with Kenneth Welsh to discuss his work on the show. As the three of us sat alone in a private room it honestly felt more like we were catching up with an old friend. He was both charming & hilarious and every now and again we got a glimpse of Windom bursting through. As we told him the history of the site and our move to become a business he seemed genuinely proud of us. As we got ourselves comfortable he rubbed his hands together and said: “Ok lads, let’s see what we can come up with”.
MH: So Kenneth, can you tell us about how you originally got the part in Twin Peaks?
KW: Yes sure. I was in Los Angeles working on another television show at the time. I was talking to my ex-wife at the time and she said: “Ken, you should call Bob Engels“. I asked why and she said: “Bob is working on this new series called Twin Peaks“. This actually has a big back story which I’ll tell you in a little bit. I was at a theatre in Minneapolis for a couple of years, that’s where I met my wife. Anyway, Bob Engels and her were students at the University of Minnesota, so she got to know Bob very well when he was, you know, young. So that leads me to this moment where I’m in Los Angeles and Donna calls me up and says: “Ken, you should call Bob Engels”. So I call Bob up and I don’t say anything about the series, I just say “Hi Bob, it’s Ken. I’m just in town making this film and thought I would say hello”. And he goes “Ken!! Funny you should call! I’m working on a series called Twin Peaks, there’s a part in it that just came up you’d be right for it. Why don’t you come out to the studio and meet a couple of people?”. It’s pretty wild (laughs).
So, I went out to the studio and Bob was there with Mark Frost. I’d never met Mark. I met his Dad from Minneapolis as he had a theatre company there, so I’d met him a few times. So Bob then shows me around. It was Bob and Mark, I met the wardrobe person, I can’t remember her name but she was fabulous. And then, there was no sign of David Lynch, he just wasn’t there. So Bob says “Ok, so you start in two weeks”. And I go “What do you mean?” “Well, you’re Windom Earle if you wanna be?” I said, “Oh yeah, okay”. I knew nothing about the show!
MH: It definitely feels like the part was created especially for you.
KW: I’d never seen the show, I didn’t know!
MH: You were just perfect.
KW: Apparently! Bob was just amazing. He knew that I was a little eccentric and he knew that as an actor I would go this way and that way. There could be many different directions and he knew that I could play a number of characters and do all kinds of stuff with that. So he just kind of knew that I was crazy and that I was perfect for Windom. I guess?
So sure enough, that was that, I got the role just from turning up. But I almost didn’t make it. It was my first day of shooting and I lived up in the country; I still do and have for 30 years now. I had this small truck that I used to get to the airport. It had been snowing all day so you can imagine the trauma of just snow, snow, and more snow. Driving to the airport thinking “I’m gonna be late”. So I drove over the curb to get into the airport and there’s this gas station there that I used to park at. I go “Quick! Get me to the airport right now!”.
So it’s just across the way. I got in there and in those days you didn’t have to go through all kinds of security so I just ran. I got to the gate and the stewardess was just about to close the gates. I said, “Waaaaaaiiiittt”. It was about 20 seconds before she closed it and I just got there in time. Otherwise, they probably would have thought “He’s not here on time so let’s get someone else in”. It was a kind of fate experience, right? Like it was just meant to be. I was meant to be Windom Earle and I just enjoyed playing him and all of the aftermath.
MH: You were definitely meant to be him. So after Bob offered you the role, what kind of things were you told about the character?
KW: Nothing much, except that Windom had gone a bit crazy from the things that had happened to him in his life. He’d sort of worked it out that he was out to get Cooper in his own little way by playing the chess game with him and eventually coming after him. I thought well ok, why doesn’t he do this in different disguises? That seems to be a good way to go.
MH: So the disguises were your input?
KW: Partly me yeah. I invented a lot of them like the biker.
MH: That’s so interesting that you had a lot of input with the character.
KW: Yeah. There was the biker, the English guy, the guy with the mustache, and then several others. I just thought let’s do it this way, this is good.
MH: You mentioned that David Lynch wasn’t on set when you first arrived. At what point did you actually meet him?
KW: It was on the set, but later. I’d already shot one episode I think. I was wearing this peculiar outfit that was some kind of plaid jacket with a strange tie. David walked over, stops, and says “That’s wrong”. I can’t remember if it was the director, but whoever was with me said, “What do you mean?”. David says “No, no. Windom wouldn’t look like that”. They asked what he should be wearing and he goes “Like an FBI suit that’s all covered in soot and all ripped and torn. Worn out. He’s been sleeping in the bushes”. So that was the first time I ever met him.
MH: And how was it, working with him?
KW: Well the very end is the only time I really worked with him. In the finale. But it was fun. He’s such a crazy character that you would never know what he was going to come up with next. One of the main things I remember about David is that, of the many directors I’ve worked with, he was so supportive of his actors. I think he really does love actors. I was fortunate enough to be in that series and I never got to work with him on anything else. But for that brief time, he was just so kind. He would always say things like “These actors are great”. He would just always compliment the actors all of the time.
MH: Absolutely. That’s something that seems to come up a lot with other actors we’ve spoken to. They all remark how supportive he is of his cast.
KW: Yeah. Every now and then he would go to his trailer for a while. Apparently he would drink a lot of coffee and smoke a lot of cigarettes at the same time. But he was even doing meditation at that time too. Of course, he now writes books, teaches it, and does meditation sessions I believe. He’s totally into it which I really respect and admire as it’s so fucking hard to do. Have you tried to meditate?
MH: I’ve tried a few times and it is so bloody hard.
KW: I’ve succeeded in it for a while. I had a therapist who I would see every week and she’d say “Ok well, have you meditated?”. It is hard, but it’s so valuable. It’s peculiar that David does it as he’s such an oddball. But then you don’t have to be anything in particular to meditate. You could be the craziest person on earth and it would still do you some good.
MH: Maybe Windom should have meditated?
KW: Maybe Windom did! Maybe he was meditating out there in the cabin with Leo. That was kind of meditative. Also, there’s the scene with Major Briggs, there’s kind of a meditation on life and love when he’s talking to him while he’s got him tied up. It was a lot of fun to say anyway. He was kind of a meditative character in himself, in a way, you know?
MH: Definitely. Maybe it was during meditation that he came up with his crazy plans.
KW: Maybe! And when he was in the Owl Cave. When he went there and there were all those hieroglyphics on the walls, that was very meditative too. You think to yourself, why does he go there? To work on his next move? But in a very Lynchian way, meditatively. I haven’t honestly watched it since I’ve done it but now I hear people talk about certain scenes or episodes and I think “Oh yeah”.
MH: Are you surprised that people are still talking about?
KW: In a way yes. But I’m ever so pleased about it.
MH: It’s quite unique for a show to stay so alive and be discussed for all these years.
KW: Exactly. The people I met yesterday during the signings and everything, they’re all just so lovely and friendly. Really kind of sensitive and totally totally open-hearted. They’re all open-hearted just coming to get a signature from this character that they seem so fond of. It thrills me. It thrills me very much. It actually really touched me a lot.
MH: I think it’s because Windom was so memorable. He was so different from all of the other characters.
KW: Well I can’t help but say it, but it’s true. I think, and I think, and I think because I played many great characters, especially in Canadian Film and Television, and on the stage. The stage is very different though; you know I could name lots of great characters I played on stage. But, for television, there’s just no more favorite character than Windom. That’s always been true. Not just because I’m here and everyone wants to love me. I’ve always thought that way ever since I’ve done it. Whenever anybody stops and says “You’re Windom Earl!” I say “Yes. I. Am. Thank you”. My favorite was in this town I live called Uxbridge, Ontario. I was going to the bank once years ago and just as I was about to go in there was a couple of guys up on a ladder, doing some work up there. One of them leaned over and went “What’s Windom Earle doing in Uxbridge?”. I say “I fucking live here!”.
(We all laugh)
MH: So being recognized for Windom is still a regular thing?
KW: Well he’s like a bloody icon now. I can’t say enough how happy I am that I got to play him. There’s only one character recently that compares with him and how much I enjoy playing it. That is in Lodge 49, my new series, and this character called Larry Loomis. He’s somewhat like Windom, but Larry’s totally cracked. Not to say Windom wasn’t, but they’re both kind of odd and eccentric, and they’re both characters that really don’t fit in.
MH: Both cracked in their own unique way?
KW: Yeah exactly. Windom ranks very high.
MH: It’s interesting that the show has the word Lodge in its title.
KW. Isn’t it? I thought so too. Because the tavern, or whatever they call it, was very much a center place. Like the lodge!
MH: Do you think there’s a way for Windom to ever come back?
KW: Of course there is! No, I don’t know. I would love it. You know he could come back as anything. I don’t know, a ghost? Or he could come back in reverse fire lets say? (mimics the sounds of the whooshing in reverse). The fire just comes in the other direction and there he is, there’s Windom again. Only he’s older. What’s happened to him?
MH: Perhaps he even has his own doppelganger now, you’d get to play two different Windoms.
KW: (Laughs). Yes, I could! Then we would have to fill in all of what happened to him over all those years.
MH: Doppelganger Windom would mean you’d have to go extra extra crazy.
KW: That’s easy for me. I’d love to do that. I don’t know, if there was ever a way, I would just love to do it. In the other show, Lodge 49, they killed me off. Then the writer/producer said “Oh Kenneth. You’re so good in this part I wish we hadn’t killed you off”. And I said, “Well you know, it’s too late now isn’t it?”. “Well, maybe we’ll find a way of bringing you back”. And he did! At the beginning of the second season, I just appear out of nowhere at the bar talking about the jukebox or something. Then I appear again in one of the main characters’ dreams. So there’s a way! Windom could come back in a dream.
MH: Well dreams have always been really significant in Peaks. Maybe he could really haunt Cooper in his dreams.
KW: Oh yeah! Give him a bad dream! Make him wake up screaming. I love it!
MH: Did you watch The Return?
KW: No, no, no. I resented it because I wasn’t in it!
AD: I expected you to be in it.
KW: (laughs) I never got the call, I don’t know what happened.
MH: When it was officially announced we were sat praying that you would find a way back.
AD: The first few scenes are in the lodge and I thought ‘Windom is definitely going to be here any minute’.
KW: I don’t know why. David didn’t care to bring me back is all I can guess. Maybe he figured that once my brain fired out there’s no place for me in the story anymore. But that’s not so, he brought back other people.
AD: There’s always room in Peaks for a twist.
KW: Of course there is. David! Are you listening? Bring me back if you do this again!
MH: You’ll always be inhabiting that world, somewhere.
KW: I think so. Two lodges now. Lodge 49 and this one.
MH: Maybe a cross over show?
KW: (Roars with laughter) Yes! Lodge Windom! I stayed at a hotel once called The Windom. Spelled a different way but none of the less.
MH: You mentioned earlier your scenes with Leo, how was it working with Eric DaRe when you had your creepy white face?
KW: I’m trying to remember exactly where I went with that one. Oh, I came back to the cabin didn’t I? With the tarantulas. Well, I liked it because I think I was in that face when I was explaining my philosophy to Leo. Talking to him and hanging those tarantulas over him, then just leaving him. He was a cool guy, that kid. He wasn’t an actor you know? No, just like BOB, he was a member of the crew. Frank Silva was such a lovely man, I think he was a grip or something on the crew. David said I need you to play this part as he looked so perfect for it. Am I right?
MH: The story goes that Frank’s reflection was accidentally caught on camera during filming. When David saw it, he liked it so much he offered him the part.
KW: Yes that’s right! That’s it. So Eric DaRe, was also on the crew, not into acting at all. His father was a famous actor from those war movies in the ’50s. I remember him very well with that voice he had. Eric was a great kid and when I had to beat him up with the flute he was really into it. I actually played the shakuhachi flute at that time. I brought my flute with me and they made a rubber version of it which I still have to this day. I’d like to auction that off… So they made this rubber one and I said to Eric do you mind if I hit you with this? I think it was the Diane Keaton episode. He says “No”. He said after that it didn’t hurt him that much. Bob knew I played the flute, let’s go back a little on this.
Bob Engels knew I played the flute. He says to me one day “Well Ken, how about you play the flute to Leo in this episode?”. So I said “Yeah Bob I got a better idea! I have this thing called the shakuhachi flute made from bamboo. I can play it and I think it would be cool if I sat there and played this bamboo flute”. So they made the rubber thing and I beat him with it. Then they wanted to record something. So I got on the phone with Angelo Badalamenti who was in New York at the time. Angelo says “What have you got there, a shakuhachi flute? What kind of notes have you got?”. So I (hums a tune). Whatever it was and he says “Ok hang on”. He goes to his piano, plays another tune and asks if I can do that. So I play it. Then over the phone, he composed what became this little melody.
I recorded it in several rooms at the studio and the sound guys were saying “This sounds great, it’s great”. Then I watched the episode and I thought ‘What?’. They didn’t use it. The sound they used was synthesized. Me and Angelo worked on this, I worked with the sound guy and recorded it beautifully. I don’t know if it was Diane who decided, or someone else, they should have used the original as it was so haunting. But there you go.
MH: That’s upsetting. It would be great to hear that original recording one day.
KW: Yeah, that’s the way it was done. I got to beat him up with the rubber version of my flute. You can’t beat someone with a normal flute as that’s just silly. Mine looked like a weapon and in fact, it was a weapon. The shakuhachi was used in a period of Japanese history when the Samurai weren’t allowed to use swords. It was against the Japanese laws. They played the shakuhachi flute and because it had a nobby knot at the end of it, they used it to fight with them. You could knock someone’s head off with it really. So there’s also that, Windom has a flute that’s a weapon. He’s a sensitive man, who could kill you with his stick. (We all laugh). Am I talking too much? Ask me something else.
MH: In Mark’s book, The Final Dossier, we found out your tarantulas didn’t kill Leo. Cooper’s doppelganger did.
KH: He did? Really? How did he do it?
MH: He shot him and ended up with your briefcase.
KW: Uh oh, that’s bad. Can he get the case open?
MH: He does. He uses your phone and speaks with someone who wants to be with BOB again. You had been with BOB; maybe it was you?
AD: Or even your Doppelganger?
KW: Hey, maybe we got something here with this. This is it.
MH: Let’s write to David and tell him that’s how you can come back.
KW: I think so! Say “Windom’s really popular David, we gotta bring him back”.
MH: He’s definitely really popular. We never knew what to expect from him next which is probably why people liked him so much.
KW: Somebody asked me an interesting question yesterday during the signings. They asked me about Windom’s emotions. Like what emotional motivation did he have, what drove him to be the troubled man he seemed to be? I said that’s a very good point. When I was playing him I felt like he was in pain. A real emotional pain. That’s why he did a lot of the things he did and that’s why he tried to make things humorous. He was trying to cover up that deep feeling of the pain he felt. Maybe there was some sort of parental abuse in there but then the story of his wife. He assumed Cooper had killed his wife and then he finally understands that it was him all along. He’s got a screw loose alright. He has this deep emotional anguish that I think drove him to a lot of things.
MH: We could feel that with your performance. What was one of your favorite memories from filming?
KW: Hmm, what was it? Maybe one of the funniest scenes, like the craziest one. The one where I’m dressed up as the horse with Eric behind me. Who was I killing at the time? Somebody? I shot somebody. I don’t even know why Windom did that! But it was definitely fun!
AD: That was one of the best things about Windom. The unpredictability without reason.
KW: No, there was no predicting it. What was he gonna turn up as next? I think even dressing up as that biker out of nowhere, that was my idea. I said, “Come on Bob, I’ll be this big biker guy”.
MH: I don’t think anyone expected you turn up as the Log Lady. Was that fun?
KW: It was! Because when I got all dressed up as her I looked just like my Mother! Especially with the glasses on. I thought, “Oh God, it’s Mom!”. So there you go. That one was written in just as it was though. I knew that it was in the script, I had nothing to do with that one. It was so much fun you know, I looked so much like her. So fun.
MH: How are you finding it here at the UK festival? We saw you quite excited at the owl show.
KW: Oh I loved that. They showed us so much about owls, didn’t they?
AD: One of them was even named Earle. it’s like they named him after your character.
KW: Oh it was fantastic. The way the little one would fly away and then come back, it was like a little cat. But the big one Earle, the older one, when she described what kind of animals it went after, I thought: “He’s after antelope!?” Then my friend Lynne says to me “Well the owl will probably go after the eyes. Peck the eyes out, and then it’s prey is… helpless”. Yeah, owls aren’t so dumb. I’m in love with owls now. I hear them at night sometimes outside my house, but you rarely see them. You rarely do. But why would you? They’re nocturnal. They like to stay that way. They just hide. I imagine their eyes are like the eyes of a hawk. They can hear a mouse rumbling through the grass. They know exactly where it is and they swoop down.
MH: Maybe that’s why they’re a part of Peaks. Rarely seen, but always there and watching what’s going on.
KW: Well exactly, there you go. Windom was sort of like an owl wasn’t he? Hiding out, preying on this person and that person, but in different ways.
MH: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, do you have any parting words for our readers?
KW: Windom lives. Windom. Lives. (Roars with laughter).