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Justin Theroux Says Even David Lynch Didn’t Know What Was Going on During His ‘Mulholland Drive’ Scenes

"It's like you're on an escalator into a cloud with him," Theroux said. "You never know where the escalator lets off."

MULHOLLAND DRIVE, Justin Theroux, 2001

“Mulholland Drive”

Courtesy Everett Collection

David Lynch is notorious for his lightning-in-a-bottle approach to directing actors on set, often keeping them as shrouded in mystery as he is about the real meaning behind a given scene. Such was the case for Justin Theroux, who talked about making 2001’s “Mulholland Drive” during a recent sit-down with IndieWire’s Ben Travers in honor of his Apple TV+ series “The Mosquito Coast.” Watch below.

In Lynch’s surreal neo-noir, Theroux plays hot director Adam Kesher, who’s circling a coveted new project, but that’s about all Theroux knew about his character and his motivations going into one of his key scenes, in which he discovers his wife cheating on him with the pool guy.

“He’s a total outlier because he doesn’t answer your questions,” Theroux said of director Lynch, with whom he also worked on “Inland Empire” five years later. He said on “the first couple days of ‘Mulholland Drive,’ I was course peppering him with a million questions like, ‘Well, why am I there? Who’s the cowboy? What’s going on? What reality are we in?'”

Theroux said the first day on set, Lynch “cleared the whole set. ‘Everyone get out of here.’ They were laying cable and hanging lights as you do. And he said, ‘Wait a minute, everyone’s got to get out of here. Me and Justin need to talk.’ We went in and into the house [where we’re] shooting, I think the scene where I come home and find my wife with the poor guy, [played by] Billy Ray Cyrus.”

Theroux said, “I started asking him questions… When I finished a question, [he’d say], ‘You know, I don’t know, buddy. But let’s find out.’ He wasn’t being cute or cheeky or evasive; he genuinely didn’t know. He’s like, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s like you’re on an escalator into a cloud with him, you never know where the escalator lets off.”

Theroux said he had a similarly uncanny experience making the nightmarish house of mirrors “Inland Empire,” starring Laura Dern as a Hollywood actress coming undone after taking on a haunted new role, whose predecessor died under mysterious circumstances.

“The crew [David Lynch] assembles are great. You’re giggling. The stuff with Laura Dern and ‘Inland Empire,’ we were laughing so much. Then you go to the screening of it, your brains all over the back wall. I had no clue that that’s how that scene was gonna be, the tone of that. Most of the time I’m a pretty quick study on [tone]. but David Lynch is an absolute outlier in that respect in that what you end up seeing once he’s gone to the lab, and cut it up and put sound in and arranged at all, is so different from the experience you’ve had on set.”

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