Released in 1986, Blue Velvet became both a glimpse beneath the surface of picket-fence America and probably the most popular surrealist film ever made. Hopper’s Frank Booth is invested with such manic fury that it’s hard to imagine the atmosphere on set as the legendary actor plunged into his dark side for the role.
“Dennis was solid gold, one of these people, bigger than life. A rebel, an artist, a very hip superstar.”
And were there scenes of wild excess after filming?
“He was clean and sober when I met him — that was all in his past. He could draw on his past but it wasn’t killing him. It was a very good time to work with Dennis.”
Hopper said that he could never have played Frank Booth as he did without his years as a drug addict and alcoholic. The gas mask on which Booth sucks, Lynch originally planned to contain helium. But Hopper asked to be able to imagine the gas was a more intoxicating amyl nitrate or nitric oxide. He later wondered how Lynch’s vision of Booth with a squeaky helium voice might have played.
I ask Lynch if the atmosphere of menace that has dominated so many of his films is apparent on set.
“The ideas are what drive it. Those feelings are there in the elements but it’s not got the power until all the elements come together.”
You seem like such a sunny person. Where does all the darkness come from?
“Ideas. You’re walking down the street and suddenly — bingo! — there it is. It pops into the conscious mind and you fall in love with it.”
However, Lynch is not entirely without anger. When questioned about the emerging right-wing backlash against Barack Obama his mood chills momentarily. Famous for shattering America’s glossy façade, I ask if he still finds a shine to America’s surface.
“America’s façade is not glossy at all. Obama is doing a great job, it’s just that one person can steer a boat in one direction but there are a lot of people down below who are pulling in a different direction. It’s a thankless job. The country is called the United States of America and these days it’s the Divided States of America. People are out of work, they’re p*ssed off and they’re suffering. It’s very frustrating.”
He pulls me back to more comfortable topics, reminding me that he’s “not a political person”.
As the creator of Twin Peaks, is he constantly badgered to return to the cult series?
“No.” He states simply in his oddly disarming child-like way of speaking but does declare his love of another continuing drama. “I like Mad Men. They’re great characters and whoever cast that show did a sensational job. It’s great writing, great atmosphere.”
Excitingly he reveals that he’s met some of the cast but confusingly, for a grown man and film director, he refers to them by their character names. “I had the opportunity to meet Peggy Olsen and Don Draper...” I interrupt to congratulate him on avoiding their actual names — something he has in common with my elderly relatives.
What’s more he insists on addressing the actors as their characters even when he’s with them. “That’s who they are to me. I called Peggy, ‘Peggy’.”
Did she mind?
“No not a bit. I met them in Cologne, Germany and my wife and I had drinks with Peggy in Paris.”
Is she as nice as her character?
“Maybe even nicer.”
Unconventional in his approach to actors and plotting, is he ever surprised by his own films once he sees them?
“Yes. Usually it’s a very unpleasant surprise. You think it’s going to work and it mostly doesn’t. You throw things out and you put things in and you try to keep your objectivity but it’s difficult. And finally it comes together and it works.”
Almost all his films are set in and partly about the US. Could he live anywhere else other than America?
“I like the city of Paris but like to live in Los Angeles — I like the light and the sense of freedom I have here.”
Would you recommend other people moving there?
“No! Everyone has a place where they feel at home and the trick is to find that place. Thank goodness we don’t all love the same place.”
Where should we go in David Lynch’s LA?
“I like the Chateau Marmont on a Sunday night — they have fried chicken with mashed potatoes. I love that.”
A typically simple and homely meal for this odd character who’s made some of the most frightening and baffling films in cinema history but who comes across as a genial uncle, a peripheral character from Little House On The Prairie.
Finally, I return to his musical adventure. He has more releases planned and is launching his own music website. I check whether he’s open to other mature men with musical ambitions, clearing my throat modestly.
“There are no restrictions Phil — your album will be highlighted.”
Lynch releases his double A-side single Good Day Today/I Know on 31 January; both deluxe CD and vinyl packages are available to pre-order from Davidlynch.com
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