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Twin Peaks’ Sheryl Lee Explains What It Feels Like to Be in the Red Room

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez /Getty Images

“You can go out now.”

A quarter of a century after warning Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) that she’ll see him again in 25 years — nice timing, Showtime — Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) returned to the Red Room in the second episode of Twin Peaks: The Return to give him permission to finally leave. It’s a smoldering, surrealist scene that will undoubtedly make fans of the original series squeal with joy, which culminates with Laura whispering yet another secret into Agent Cooper’s ear before flying off into an oblivion of curtains. We’ve missed you and your screaming, girl! Earlier this week, we spoke to Lee about coming back to the show, smooching MacLachlan, and why searching for the show’s true meaning is pretty pointless.

It must be pretty exciting to be able to talk about your return to the show now.
What I’m enjoying more is being able to see what David’s been working on. I’m a fan of his and of all of the other actors on the show, and I hadn’t seen anything until the rest of the world saw it. Well, we had the premiere two days before, but that was the first time I’d seen anything. So that, to me, is the most exciting part. As a fan myself, to get to see what magic he’s created this time around.

How did David let you know that the show would be returning? When I talked to Angelo Badalamenti last year, he said David actually came to his house to give him the good news.
Not like that. I had heard rumors for a long time, so I didn’t pay much attention to them. And then this time around I started hearing some rumors again, and they seemed to keep staying, and then I heard something from a cast member. I then either sent David an email or heard pretty quickly after that it was true. I don’t remember exactly how it went down. I believe it was first an email exchange of “yes, it’s true, more to come” or something like that. Don’t quote me on that because I can’t remember exactly!

Can you walk me through what was going through your mind during the very first take when you walked into the Red Room, being back together with Kyle once again?
You know, the thing is because of the focus it takes to work in the Red Room, it keeps me so present and in the present moment, that yes, there’s a little bit of surrealness. In one way it seems no time has passed, and in another way it seems as if lifetimes have passed. Especially in that Red Room, it kind of does that to you. [Laughs.] Of course working with Kyle is always a wonderful delight. I’m such a fan of his work, he’s absolutely brilliant. So it was wonderful to get to see him again. What I had to do in that scene required so much focus that it didn’t allow for a lot of space in my brain to go back to the way it was before. I had to stay very present and focused on what I was doing now, if you know what I mean. I don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about and what I’m not allowed to talk about! So I’m just going to say when you work in the Red Room you don’t work in the way you normally work, like if you’re not in the Red Room. It’s not scary, it’s just different, and has its own set of wonderful, creative challenges.

Does that relate to the mechanics behind your backwards-talking, as well?
Honestly, I don’t know if I’m allowed to answer that, either. So I’m going to have to leave my answer with “when you work in the Red Room, you work in a different way than when you’re not working in the Red Room.”

What direction did David give you when you were actually filming your scene? The acting on the show is so specific to Lynch’s world, I’m curious what his directives are.
It completely depends on what scene you’re in. He’s a master at creating an environment where you really get to stretch creatively and go to places that you maybe wouldn’t normally get to go to, and he created an environment that feels safe enough to do that. And at the same time he has a very, very clear vision of what he wants. So he’s able to give very specific directions about that.

During Laura and Cooper’s conversation about why she’s still in the Red Room, Laura says that “I am dead, yet I live.” How did you interpret this?
You’ll see how I interpret it if you keep watching the show. [Laughs.] That will be revealed.

You also have some slightly more CGI-heavy moments compared to the series’ initial run, like taking your face off.
I had to have quite a bit of that before working with David, so nothing about those particular moments felt like it was the first time. I didn’t take my face off necessarily, but I did have other moments that felt very surreal in that way, or that they went out of our everyday interpretation of what reality is or what reality looks like. For me, I know that’s part of the wonderful creative experience of working with him, that you get to explore these other aspects of life, not just the physical plane of existence that we see with our eyes.

Did you lose your voice from doing so many scream takes?
I’ve had to scream so many times for David, haven’t I? I learned 30 years ago how to take care of my voice on those days, thankfully, and to scream in the right way.

What was like to make women across the world jealous by kissing Kyle?
[Laughs.] I don’t think of it that way. To me, he’s this great guy that I get to work with. For me, the joy is in getting to work with him, and I don’t think, Oh I get to kiss him, I think, Oh, I get to work with him. He’s a true gentleman. A true gentleman. That’s greatly appreciated in this day in age. And when you see it, you appreciate it so much.

What does it mean to you that the show is back and thriving after 25 years?
Getting to work with all of those people, like David and [co-creator] Mark Frost, and creatively being able to to be challenged and grow — and to work with all of those artists in every department, it’s such an incredible group of artists. From the cinematographer to the sound to the editing to the art department, the actors, the writing. It’s all so delightful to dive back into the world and see everybody again. We’ve known each other for 30 years, a lot of us. It’s certainly a relief that it’s being well-received, too.

I was going to try to sneak a question about if we’ll see Laura again later this season, but I’ve been shut down so many times about plot-based questions.
[Laughs.] It’s not even like I know! I’m watching it with you guys. I can’t wait to see what happens on Sunday. It’s like a dream world, it’s not meant to be dissected.

And I really appreciate that. I feel showrunners are always obligated to do requisite post-episode interviews and such, and David’s clear reluctance to talk about anything in the narrative has been a nice breath of fresh air.
Yeah. Part of what’s so fun is that when each one of us looks at a painting, we draw a different meaning from it based on the lens on which we see it. We don’t all listen to music the same way. We don’t hear the same thing in the song. We all find different meaning, and not only do we each find different meaning individually, but we find different meaning at different times in our lives. I can reread a book now at 50 that I read at 25 and draw completely different meanings from it. And that’s a gift of art. That’s one of the gifts of it — there is room for all of these different interpretations, and then it ignites the viewer’s own creativity.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Sheryl Lee Explains What It Feels Like to Be in the Red Room