It’s been 13 years since David Lynch’s horror-noir Mulholland Drive enthralled audiences, and while not everyone can agree on what the film meant, most of its fans agree that the hobo behind the dumpster is absolutely terrifying.
The woman responsible for that scare, actress Bonnie Aarons, who is appearing in the upcoming indie flick Spreading Darkness, spoke with us from her L.A. home about creating what is arguably filmdom’s scariest cameo.
Was there a traditional audition process for the role?
I don’t mean to brag, but David Lynch said he was looking for the most incredible face he could find. I actually met him at a Twin Peaks party, and he was like, “Look at that face!”
Did anybody ever explain to you who your character was?
They really didn’t. They said I was going to be a character called the bum, and it was going to be a bunch of special effects. But that is all real makeup. That is real moss on my face. That is oatmeal and dirt in my hair, and steel wool. They were gonna make a mask, but [Lynch] says, “No! I don’t want any of that. I want to see every bone structure, I want to see the green eyes.” So he had them put it on with a tweezer. It took over 12 hours.
And what are you wearing in the scene?
It was really heavy and flannel, and they just kept putting dirt on it and beating it up.
Did David instruct you to do different expressions on different takes?
Oh, no. He had an idea of what he wanted. David was going over the facial expressions. I did a couple, and he’s sitting there with me, and he says, “No. Nothing like that at all.” And, ya know, David Lynch is really hot, and I’m looking at him all dreamy-eyed, and he says to me, “That’s it: the look, Bonnie!” So I get up and I do it behind the dumpster, and David says, “No, do what you did before.” And I said, “Well, it’s really easy when I do it with you, David.” So guess what? He did it with me. He stuck his head [out], and I came out and looked at him. So when I put out my head, I saw his face.
So the bum was giving sex eyes?
Love can kill, can’t it, baby?
What context were you given for the scene with the blue box?
There was fire all around me, and the thing I remember [Lynch] saying was, “This is your box. It belongs to you. And then I want you to look at it, study your box, and then just drop it into the bag.” Well, what can I say? It took me two seconds. [Laughs.] I nailed it.
Did David eventually give you an idea about what the bum represented?
He says, “Not yet.” He says to me, “Everything.” But he didn’t want to tell me.
Do you have your own idea about what she represents?
I think she represented the devil and an angel.
Did you know that your part was intended to be so frightening?
No. However, when I saw the film with the cast and crew, I did scare myself. The stories I’ve heard are so outrageous.
Someone told me their girlfriend was rubbing their dick in the movie theater, and that came on and [she] squeezed, and he was screaming in the theater like a maniac. [Laughs.]
Has anyone on the street recognized you as the bum?
No, never. I don’t understand, because my face is very … ya know. But I’m very chameleonlike. Put a little makeup on me, I look completely different.
Even still, where in your career does being the bum rank?
On the top. Way on the top.