ABOVE: KYLE MACLACHLAN. IMAGE COURTESY OF AUSTIN KILHAM
On a Sunday afternoon in March, a timid line of eager and excited fans lined up outside Vine Wine, a charming wine shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Inside, Kyle MacLachlan poured tastings of his 2008 Cabaret and Baby Bear Syrah, new vintages from his Walla Walla-based wine partnership with Eric Dunham called “Pursued by Bear.” It was damn fine wine.
MacLachlan is best known not for wine and smoked trout, but for coffee and cherry pie—favorites of Agent Cooper, the iconic character he played in the Twin Peaks television series. MacLachlan, dressed in a forest-green sweater, had an outdoorsy look about him, not unlike an inhabitant of Twin Peaks, the fictional town in the Pacific Northwest not far from where “Pursued By Bear” comes from. Though Twin Peaks has been off air for more than two decades, MacLachlan has continued a busy acting career on hit series Sex and the City, Portlandia, and Desperate Housewives, to name a few.
The day following the tasting, we met up with MacLachlan at a sushi restaurant in SoHo where he enjoyed a yellowtail roll and a glass of Chablis before he needed to pick up his three-year-old son Callum from a play-date. Wearing another (or perhaps the same) green sweater, khakis, and untied plaid skateboarding shoes, MacLachlan was as friendly as can be, with a demeanor very similar to the roles for which he’s most famous.
DEENAH VOLLMER: Do you know that Mercury is in retrograde?
KYLE MACLACHLAN: I hosted Live! With Kelly this morning, and that went okay. I’m glad I didn’t know about the Mercury-retrograde thing.
VOLLMER: Once you know about it, it’s worse.
MACLACHLAN: I think you’re right.
VOLLMER: I’m having a retrograde moment with my recorder.
MACLACHLAN: You can’t fight space.
VOLLMER: Let’s hope it’s working. We saw you yesterday at Fine Wine in Brooklyn. How did you end up in Williamsburg?
MACLACHLAN: Well, [whispers “taking a bite of sushi” as he takes a bite of sushi], I like to do a tasting because it brings attention to the wine and attention to the store. The store carries my wine, and I help with this little bit of a celebrity thing that I have, to bring new people to the store.
VOLLMER: There were two guys dressed in suits. Were they dressed as Agent Cooper?
MACLACHLAN: I don’t know. It was very curious, right? I thought maybe they had just come from church or something. I really wasn’t sure what was going on. They definitely lifted the elegance quotient of the tasting a bit higher.
VOLLMER: It was a classy event. And the wine was delicious.
MACLACHLAN: Thank you.
VOLLMER: I loved the syrah.
MACLACHLAN: The syrah is my favorite right now. It’s the one that has been the best reviewed. And I think syrah, coming from Washington state, is one of the stars. All the red varietals there do really well because of the climate, but syrah, they really have a handle on it. That’s our first vintage. We gotta make more!
VOLLMER: Tell me why you make wine.
MACLACHLAN: I’ve always enjoyed drinking wine, ever since I was in college. My appreciation really took off when I began to visit Napa. I was toying with an idea of making wine in Napa, but it’s prohibitively expensive, and the competition is fierce. I began to hear these callings from my home state of Washington, and I thought, “Hmm. Let me explore that area a little bit.” And I went and took wine tasting trips down in Walla Walla and Lowden and some of the areas around there, and I found they were making really exceptional wine, and I met some really interesting people. It was definitely a young scene, kind of like the Wild West of early winemaking.
VOLLMER: Have you ever stomped on the grapes yourself?
MACLACHLAN: Never stomped!
VOLLMER: Do you get that question a lot?
MACLACHLAN: Once in a while.
VOLLMER: How hands-on are you in the process?
MACLACHLAN: I’m pretty involved. I’m up there four or five times a year. I was just up there to do a pre-blending of some things and a tasting, too, of our 2011 crop. We pull grapes from a couple different vineyards, and we pull from a couple different areas within the vineyards, so we’re tasting old blocks and young blocks, the vines. And we’re also tasting different varietals, so I’m tasting some cabernet, tasting some merlot, some syrah, to go into the blend. So it turns out to be a fairly extensive tasting session.
VOLLMER: Did you ever consider the Paul Newman approach of putting your face on the label?
MACLACHLAN: No. That might scare people away. Eric and I, when we trying to come up with a name, going around various combinations of our two names. His Dunham, mine MacLachlan, both very Scottish origin. Any combination that we could come up with always seemed to say that we were trying to sell a scotch. I remembered the stage direction I’ve always gotten a kick out of from The Winter’s Tale, which was “Exits, pursued by bear.” It’s so specific and so out of left field, that I thought, “Maybe some variation of that would work.” So I thought we could call it Pursued by Bear, that it might be eclectic enough and unusual enough to be memorable, and that lent itself to the label, a visual.
VOLLMER: I understand that you trade wine with David Lynch?
MACLACHLAN: Actually, for his birthday and sometimes for Christmas, I’ll drop off a bottle of wine for him.
VOLLMER: Does he have good things to say about the wine you’ve been making?
MACLACHLAN: Mm-hm. He likes it very much. He’s a red wine drinker. He gave me my first bottle of really nice Bordeaux back when I auditioned from Dune, I think it was early ’83. He gave me a bottle of Lynch-Bages, which he had just discovered because of his name. So, he shared that with me, which was very nice, and that was my first really nice bottle. And then I bought him some of my syrah and some of my cabernet for his birthday.
VOLLMER: What did he say?
MACLACHLAN: He loves it. He’s big on red wine. We had a lot of red wine dinners when we were working together on Dune and on Blue Velvet.
VOLLMER: Speaking of Lynch, you’re probably best known for the work that you’ve done on David Lynch films.
VOLLMER: And you’ve tended to play straitlaced, kind-hearted characters. Do you feel like that’s an accurate depiction of your general demeanor?
MACLACHLAN: Yeah, I think so. You know, I think I’m most comfortable in that realm. There’s not a lot of roles that are written for characters like that, unless their world around them is quite tumultuous, which the world of Blue Velvet certainly was. I was kind of the eyes and ears of the audience, their guide through the world.
VOLLMER: Were you disappointed when Twin Peaks ended, that you didn’t get to explore the darker side of your character?
MACLACHLAN: I didn’t know if that was the direction that they were going to go in for sure. It seemed like that’s where things were pointing towards. I wish that it had happened earlier in that season, because it may have been a little bit more compelling for the audience than the storyline that they developed about a nemesis to Cooper in sort of a Sherlock Holmes/Moriarty vein. And I think had they gone into the Black Lodge stuff and the potential of a doppelganger, it would have been very interesting. I don’t know whether the audience would have stayed with it, it might have been too obscure, but it would have been interesting for me to do as an actor.
VOLLMER: Do you ever go to the Twin Peaks festival?
VOLLMER: They should cater it with your wine.
MACLACHLAN: I don’t know. My wine in the hands of Twin Peaks fans could be a dangerous combination.
VOLLMER: Between Portlandia, your wine, and Twin Peaks, you seem to be a spokesperson for the Pacific Northwest.
MACLACHLAN: That’s me! I always think of the Pacific Northwest as giant trees, and rain, and clouds and dampness, like the Native American art from that area. That all says Pacific Northwest to me. Salmon. It really only exists on the Western side of the Cascades. I’m from Yakima, which is on the eastern side of the Cascades. So, the Pacific Northwest to me is like, I know we’re in the Pacific Northwest, but it’s like, we’re not green, there’s not really pine trees there, there’s no salmon to speak of, we’re not near the water. There’s a third of the state that is evergreen. The rest of it is pretty dry and barren and sort of high—beautiful desert, kind of rolling high desert with a lot of wheat fields and dry land farming and excellent produce. But it’s different. That said, I’ve had a lot of successful things come out of that part of the world, so I guess I’m where I’m supposed to be. Even though I’m from the eastern side.
VOLLMER: Did David Lynch want you for the role in Twin Peaks because you had a connection with the Pacific Northwest, or was that a coincidence?
MACLACHLAN: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I never really asked him why he wanted me for the role of Dale Cooper. I think he was comfortable working with me. We had done Blue Velvet, we were friends, and I think he felt like I was the guy. It took a little convincing, because I was very young when we did that, and people were like “I don’t know.” It kind of added to the mystique to the character. Was I really an FBI agent, or was I posing as an FBI agent? What was his real deal? And being as young as I was then and looking very young, it helped. It kept things on the uncertain side. But, to David’s credit, I’m very, very fortunate that he has offered me two of probably my greatest characters that I’ve played, and the Dune experience was just that—it was an experience, an amazing experience. But, the memorable ones that will stand the test of time were Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks.
VOLLMER: What’s it like working with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein on Portlandia?
MACLACHLAN: It’s sort of like an improv exercise, where we set the circumstances and then you kind of launch into it as your character, and it’s a challenge. Because Fred is a master, and Carrie is very, very good, and improv is not where I come from, it’s a little more difficult. I try to hold my own with them as the mayor, and it’s been a real pleasure. It’s an opportunity that was unusual, because you wouldn’t go to me for those kinds of things. But they had an idea, probably because I sort of resemble the real mayor of Portland a little bit, Sam Adams. We have square heads, and he wears glasses. So they thought, oh, maybe Kyle would be a good choice for this. And that’s how it happened.
VOLLMER: How does working on Desperate Housewives compare with other TV shows you have been on?
MACLACHLAN: Working on Housewives was very similar to Sex and the City. Different cities of course, but a high level of talent in the writing and acting on both!
VOLLMER: What are the main differences for you between acting on mainstream TV hits like Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City compared to the darker or more offbeat shows like Portlandia or Twin Peaks?
MACLACHLAN: The primary difference of Portlandia to the others is the improv nature of the show. Portlandia can also veer off in some strange tangents, not unlike some of the best episodes of Twin Peaks.
VOLLMER: Which fans do you find to be more obsessive, Twin Peaks or Sex and the City?
MACLACHLAN: They’re both pretty obsessive, but I think because I’m identified so strongly with Twin Peaks as Cooper, who was also an obsessive person so I think that Twin Peaks fans probably. And also, they’ve hung with it longer. That was ’89, ’90, and Sex and the City wasn’t until 2000, so I gotta give it to the Twin Peaks fans. They’re still holding on.
THE SERIES FINALE OF DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES AIRS THIS SUNDAY. THE 2009 VINTAGE OF PURSUED BY BEAR WAS RELEASED LAST WEEK; FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THE LABEL’S WEBSITE.