One of the actors who has benefited, and excelled, the most in this year of Peak TV has been Mädchen Amick. Hot off the tails of finishing the freshman season of the CW’s sexy romp of a teen drama, Riverdale, as a delightfully conniving mother, Amick reprised her role as the lovely — but still quite naïve — Double R waitress Shelly Johnson in Twin Peaks: The Return. And it didn’t hurt, of course, that one of those massively popular shows was directly inspired by the other. While fighting a cold she caught from the youths on the Riverdale set, Amick called Vulture up to discuss why Alice Cooper is the best Riverdale parent, coming to accept Shelly and Bobby’s separation in Twin Peaks, and how exactly she would like to see the two shows blended together in the future.
Showrunners have fallen into a habit in recent years of comparing their shows to Twin Peaks, even if they’re far from it. But I honestly feel Riverdale has a lot of Peaks tenants that make it worthy of a comparison. Was this one of the main reasons you were attracted to the show?
I didn’t see it in the script at all, honestly. I just thought they did a really good job of bringing those iconic characters to life while giving them flesh and blood and real problems. I didn’t start seeing comparisons until after we filmed it and the pilot was released to the critics, and they started comparing it themselves. So it wasn’t so much of a self-proclaimed comparison, but the critics watching it. It wasn’t until then did I realize what a big Twin Peaks fan Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa], our showrunner, was, and he was heavily influenced by it. He wasn’t trying to copy Twin Peaks, but he was organically inspired by Twin Peaks, and it came through in the project itself. But I feel it’s a really different rhythm. Twin Peaks was so slow; it was uncomfortable. It would purposely hold on a coffee pot for ten minutes. Riverdale is very modern and quick-witted and faster-paced. They’re very exciting characters, all of them, and it keeps the excitement up, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Twin Peaks, back in the day, kept you on the edge of the seat in a very different way.
Roberto has been very outspoken about how “all roads on Riverdale lead back to Twin Peaks” and how big of an inspiration it’s been to him while crafting the series. Has he ever consulted you personally about your experience on Twin Peaks, in regards to how David Lynch would handle certain thematic or tonal situations?
He had questions about what it was like to film with David. Mostly tactical — what the experience was like, what were the sets like, what was the mood on set. He had more questions about being a true fan and what it was like. From time to time, I compliment him and point out things I think he’s doing really well. And there are times when I can compare Twin Peaks to him, which I think he enjoys. [Laughs.] A nice little pat on the back. The big thing is to stay true to your vision. Showrunners are going to have lots of voices chiming in that feel they have a say in something, but you have to be very careful not to nitpick a showrunner too much, or else you’ll get too bland for everyone, and I think that’s what was happening in television before Twin Peaks came onboard. Everybody had it down to such a vanilla formula that nobody was being challenged intellectually. So, David Lynch came on the scene and completely blew that mold out of the water. Since then, television has been challenged to continue to be intelligent and take risks. I love it when I see the Robertos of the world who do that and really fight for strong story lines to go after. Sometimes he has to have long, convincing discussions with his co-workers to do it, but I really applaud him for staying strong in that.
Clifford Blossom aside, do you think Alice is the worst parent in Riverdale?
No. I think she’s the best parent.
I was not expecting that!
Alice may not go about what she does in the best ways, and she may not have the best tactical plans. And she does things without thinking. But everything she does is to defend and fight for her family, period. It doesn’t matter who she’s pissing off or who she’s rolling over — she has moments where she loses her temper, like when she put that brick through the window. She loves her family fiercely and will fight to the death to protect them. So I think that wins her the award for best parent. If you want to argue the way she goes about it, I’ll understand and take it into consideration. [Laughs.]
There are so many bad parents, I honestly change my mind every week.
Yeah, it’s true. I think the worst parent right now is that awfully shady Hermione. I’ll lump Hermione and Hiram into the same couple that is just awful. I may not know exactly what their intentions are, but they’re so conniving and distrustful to their own daughter. That worries me a lot. So they’re the highest on my list right now.
Were there times when you doubted if Alice was actually looking out for the good of her family, and was instead serving her own self-interests?
I feel Alice genuinely wants to protect her children. She’s gone through things in her life that she’s been incredibly hurt by, so she’s doing everything she possibly can to create this perfect little bubble. What she’s not understanding is that when you’re trying to protect someone so much, you’re actually smothering them and you’re the one hurting them the most, even though your intentions are good. Alice absolutely falls into that time and time again. I think Polly was never a daughter who pushed back against that, so she was quiet and then unfortunately smothered until her breaking point, and she ran away to get out of that situation. Betty has enough confidence to challenge her mom and say, “This isn’t right, you need to stop.” That definitely shocks Alice and makes her stop and think about what she’s doing. On the one hand, it’s a typical mother-daughter relationship, unfortunately. But I find that it’s almost like they’re siblings or two teenage girls working through stuff together. Somewhere along the way, Alice hasn’t progressed beyond those typical teenage-angst feelings. I find that in a lot in their scenes, it feels like two teenagers fighting.
Do you think Alice is capable of committing more serious crimes besides bribing morticians?
Oh, for sure. What you’re seeing with Alice Cooper is just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll learn more about her past this season and how it shaped the decisions she made in her life, and why she’s working so hard to have this pristine life and judging everyone else. She has a lot at stake and a lot of skeletons in her closet.
In a weird way, Alice is what I was kind of hoping Shelly would turn out to be like in Twin Peaks — she’s a stone-cold fox, takes bullshit from nobody, and is in the prime of her career. Were you surprised Shelly remained as a waitress 25 years later and was still making the same questionable decisions with men?
I was very surprised by that. On one hand, I was very thankful to be back in that nostalgic location and in that diner uniform. I couldn’t stop crying the entire time I wore it. So as an actor I loved that I got to revisit that familiar world. But thinking it through intellectually, and hoping that Shelly moved beyond all of the tragic relationship issues she was going through back in the day, I was rooting Shelly made it out of town and went to the big city and tried to do something different — and then came back to Twin Peaks for whatever reason. But the biggest thing that broke my heart was that Shelly and Bobby weren’t still together, even though they had a daughter. That really broke both Dana [Ashbrook]’s heart and my heart. I brought that up to David over and over again: “Are you sureeeeee they shouldn’t still be together?” But he was very adamant about it. Now that I’ve played it all and went through it, he’s probably right. It’s a really smart thing for David and Mark [Frost] to tell that story of people continuing through cycles. And sometimes you just can’t get out of that cycle. Thankfully, Shelly does have Norma as her family — the one person who always loved her and is there for her and forgives her. But that cycle people can get stuck in is very real. It might’ve been tied up in too neat of a bow if Shelly got out of it and moved on and progressed. There’s something to be said about people who get caught up in that same, vicious cycle.
I think that was best personified by one of my favorite scenes in The Return: When Shelly, Bobby, and Becky had that tense meeting at the Double R. You just had to choose the foxiness of Balthazar Getty over them!
I know, I know! That was a really interesting scene to film in general, because Shelly went through such a roller coaster of emotions in a span of a minute. She’s sitting there concerned for her daughter — it’s heartbreaking because she literally tells her, “Don’t do what I used to do.” And Red shows up in the window, and Shelly becomes this stupid little girl who runs out without thinking of anybody’s feelings or consequences. She goes out to have a little make-out session and then comes back in, looks at her family, and thinks, Oh, was that not good? [Laughs.] And then it turns into gunfire. It shows how David goes all the way through from beginning to end. He was pushing me to take all of those leaps in all of those different directions. It was challenging, but a lot of fun.
Similarly, something I find interesting between the two shows is the link to the supernatural — in Twin Peaks, it’s dominant in the second and third seasons, while it’s been revealed that a Sabrina spinoff will be in the same TV universe as Riverdale. With Shelly and Alice, how do you imagine they would react if they ever, say, stumbled upon the Red Room or witnessed Sabrina doing her magical powers?
Since Shelly had no experience or connection to any of that supernatural stuff that was happening in Twin Peaks, I think she would be completely shocked and bewildered. What the eff is happening? Not that she’s not an intelligent woman, but she’s a simple woman, and I don’t think she would necessarily be able to grasp that concept. But she’s scrappy! So if anything came at her, she would fight back immediately, even if she didn’t understand what was happening. I wouldn’t put it past her to figure out the Red Room mystery immediately. Like, out of nowhere, “I know what it is!” [Laughs.] And with Alice — I know Sabrina lives in the next town over, Greendale, and there’s a lot of supernatural stuff happening over there. Anything that Alice might come across like that, she would immediately blame on the Blossom family. It wouldn’t matter if there was any connection whatsoever, but she would still be like, I knew it! They’re doing crazy shit up there in that Blossom mansion; they invited in a spirit! I’ve been proven right!
Are there any Twin Peaks actors you would like to act alongside in Riverdale someday? I think Sherilyn Fenn would make a great mother for Jughead.
That’s a great idea. I concur with that completely; it would be amazing. Especially because it would be great to see Sherilyn in the Southside Serpents world. See that bad girl in her and see her as the queen of the Serpents. Of course, I’m always going to say that Dana Ashbrook should come in and do a quick little cameo, maybe as the sheriff of the next town over. To do a little hint and a little nod to Peaks. Maybe a quick recognition between Alice and this sheriff that just feels really familiar, but we don’t know why.
Now that it’s been a couple of months since Twin Peaks concluded, have you come to an interpretation of what the ending means?
I started thinking throughout the third season that, with all of this chaos going on around the world in all of these different locations, an evil spirit broke into our universe — like that beautiful bomb in the desert in the eighth episode — through a portal, and this evil spirit then prodded its way and infiltrated different aspects of our society. I started realizing this as I was watching, and how this perfect and nostalgic town of Twin Peaks might be a dimension. For some reason, people are popping back and forth into this dimension, and it’s supposed to be this perfect little Norman Rockwell town, but in came this spirit that infiltrated it and wreaked havoc on the town. So by the end of the last episode, it really did solidify for me that there are other dimensions. David and Mark are speaking on different dimensions that are happening in our universe at the same time. For whatever reason, the future changed through an event, and we got to see Laura Palmer still alive and brought back to the town, and yeah, there was something that felt eerily familiar. And I think that last scream was recognition of this other life that had been lived. Now, do I completely understand what I just said? No! [Laughs.]
What I love about David Lynch’s work is that every one of his films or projects resonates with you, and you continue to think about it long after the fact, and you continue to piece things together much later. It’s not an immediate thing where everything is tied up in a nice bow. It lingers for a long time because he has so many layers of intellectual art. He leaves it for you to interpret and piece together, and you continue to understand that there’s a bit more later on.
Well, if he ever tells you what it all means —
— You’ll be the first person I call.