Last week’s premiere of “Twin Peaks” brought with it no shortage of surprises, but here’s probably the most unpredictable one we witnessed: a captivating performance by Matthew Lillard as William Hastings, a high school principal accused of murder, whose wife is tied up in the supernatural mystery surrounding Agent Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) evil doppleganger.
Lillard’s career began in the early ’90s with roles in “Serial Mom” and “Hackers,” and his reputation is definitely rooted in some variation of comedy, from horror comedies like “Scream” to the live-action “Scooby-Doo” films (and subsequent animated projects, for which Lillard still provides the voice of Shaggy).
“Twin Peaks,” while never lacking in funny moments, marks a bit of a departure for the character actor. That might be why, at the premiere last Friday, Lillard received a great deal of attention following the screening, with attendees coming up to him at the afterparty to praise his work. “It was crazy. I felt a little like the prom king. I mean, David Lynch was the prom king, but I feel like I was the runner-up to the prom king,” he said to IndieWire via phone.
Like many of the actors brought into the new series, the casting process was shrouded in mystery — though Lillard did actually know that he was being considered for “Twin Peaks” when he went to the casting offices. “It’s super David Lynch-y. Which I love, and you would expect nothing less,” he said of his initial audition. “You have a moment where you go in and you have a conversation with the casting people, who are lovely. And as you’re having this normal conversation, they pull out a camera and they start recording you.”
There are pluses and minuses to this process. “In one way it’s sort of a relief, because you don’t have to do something for them. But you don’t want to be the person that screws up just meeting someone,” he said.
And there’s an additional quirk to auditioning for Lynch: seeing who else is waiting in the casting office. “The difference between that sort of experience and other casting experiences is that when you walked out into the lobby, there were all kinds of very handsome men, and funky women. You’re in this circus of humanity in the waiting room. I never thought I was gonna get cast, because everyone was way, way cooler than I ever will be.”
Lillard got the role, of course, though he never found out what it was that got him hired. “I worked with him, I know him, we’re friendly. But I have no idea why or how I got the job,” he said. “My hope and my expectation is that I satisfied whatever itch he needed scratched. A situation like this, you sort of want to hit your mark and say a line and hope he’s happy.”
Lillard paused. “God, I hope he’s happy.”
It’s just one aspect of the “leap of faith” (his words) that joining the project required. “It’s not a hard one. You’re talking about an iconic filmmaker and director. So you’re just bound to say yes. But as you’re reading the pages you’re just hoping you don’t end up naked somewhere, doing something strange,” he said.
He then immediately made sure to clarify that “I’m not saying I haven’t done that. I’m not allowed to comment on anything. But you know, for me to do this thing, you’re like, ‘Oh God, please don’t be naked, I gotta get in shape.’ So you read through and you don’t know what’s coming… It could be anything. I mean, David Lynch. It could be anything.”
The actual production process turned out to be a real joy, Lillard said, in part because, in his experience, “the crazier the filmmakers are, the more sweet and grounded they are. Wes Craven made horrible things and was the kindest man I know. And David Lynch has that same kind of vibe… he has a sense about him that’s really full of this, like, joy.”
That said, he did feel a certain amount of pressure over the role. “There’s an element of doing that show that is different from doing your normal television show. There’s an element of really high stakes. I think that the idea that the show is being remade, that it was a cultural phenomenon 25 years ago, and you realize that you’re doing something that people are gonna watch,” he said. “So that adds an element of tension to it. The stakes are really high as an actor, and you don’t want to screw it up.”
Due to the secrecy of the project, Lillard was often surprised by the actors he got to work with — and didn’t know who was in the full cast until Showtime released the official list of 217 actors last year. “There were days where I looked around and you see actors where you’re like, ‘Oh. That’s a pretty famous actor, and that’s a pretty famous actor,'” he said. “It’s like this weird dysfunctional family where you don’t know the cousins or the uncles. But you’re all still one big family.”
What did getting this opportunity mean to Lillard? “I have to say, it’s lovely. It’s lovely to be in something that’s as popular as this is right now. But I’ve been around for a long time and hopefully I’ll be around for a little longer,” he said. “My whole thing is, I hope it validates me to be around for another year. That’s it.”
IndieWire noted that the odds of this seemed pretty good.
“I hope. I mean, we’re talking on the phone,” he replied. “That’s a good sign, right? If I sucked, you wouldn’t call me, you’d call somebody else. I’ve been in a lot of stuff and a lot of stuff disappears and nobody ever watches. But the response to this has been crazy.”
Is there more of Lillard to come? “Well shit, I hope I’m in more of it. Who knows. You never know,” he said. “I could be done. We have no idea what’s gonna happen next. This is all we know.”
Lillard came away from the “Twin Peaks” experience with at least one irreplaceable souvenir — a decorative log he stole from the premiere party. “Feel free to report that, I’m fine with that,” he said. “You can let the world know that I stole a log. I had just enough cocktails that I took one.”
But he also got to be in the new “Twin Peaks.” And that’s pretty special.
New episodes of “Twin Peaks” air Sunday nights on Showtime.