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Twin Peaks Star Chrysta Bell on Being David Lynch’s Muse

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Author Topic: Twin Peaks Star Chrysta Bell on Being David Lynch’s Muse  (Read 218 times)
In the Mouth of Madness
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« on: August 23, 2018, 07:54:09 pm »

Twin Peaks Star Chrysta Bell on Being David Lynch’s Muse
Is her Agent Tammy Preston the new Dale Cooper?

    Joanna Robinson

June 7, 2017 12:59 pm
By Rui Aguiar

There was more than an air of mystery surrounding David Lynch’s revival of Twin Peaks—it was an impenetrable fog. But curious fans of the original series and of the mythology that both Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost continued to build around the world of Laura Palmer, Agent Cooper, and the Black Lodge had one primer to go on: Frost’s 2016 novel, The Secret History of Twin Peaks. In that book, one alluring new character takes center stage: Agent Tamara Preston, who appears on almost every page. Twin Peaks fans had no idea who would be playing Preston in the new series until Episode 3, when singer, model, and actress Chrysta Bell showed up to debrief Lynch’s Agent Gordon Cole and Miguel Ferrer’s Agent Albert Rosenfield. We may not know much about the rest of Twin Peaks: The Return, but we can count on Agent Preston—who serves as something of an Agent Cooper proxy—to feature prominently for the rest of the season. How, though, did the actress land such a plum role?

Though her name may not have immediately popped against the rest of the Twin Peaks revival’s starry cast list, David Lynch devotees will recognize Chrysta Bell (full, first, and only name) as the writer/director’s longtime musical collaborator. The pair met in the late ’90s when she, then a jazz/swing singer, was chasing dreams of becoming the next Vonda Shepard from Ally McBeal. She met Lynch through a series of agents and managers and it was musical love at first sight. “The first time I saw [Bell} perform, I thought she was like an alien. The most beautiful alien ever,” Lynch said in 2016. “I had to kiss a lot of frogs to find that,” Chrysta Bell tells during a recent phone call. They released two “dream pop” albums, This Train (2011) and Somewhere in the Nowhere (2016). But not even Chrysta Bell suspected Lynch would tap her to take on her first major acting gig in his Twin Peaks revival—let alone in such a pivotal role. Though Chrysta Bell, like the rest of the cast, is sworn to Peaks-ian secrecy, she did hop on the phone to discuss her new album, We Dissolve, as well as Agent Tamara Preston’s most memorable on-screen moment thus far.

Vanity Fair: Given your longstanding collaboration with Lynch, I imagine you weren’t made to jump through the same audition hoops as some other people in the cast.

Chrysta Bell: [laughing] I think my audition lasted about 19 years!

Yes, maybe more hoops than anyone.

If anyone had to work for their part, let me just tell you. I had no idea David was going to ask me to be in Twin Peaks. I did not know that our collaboration would extend beyond music, and I didn’t honestly dare to dream. But David knew what he was getting with me, you know, because we’ve been pals for many, many years. Plus David’s one of those people—if intuition were a muscle, his would be really big and strong. And he uses it a lot. And so he was flexing his intuition muscle and fortunately I was uplifted in the process.

Most F.B.I. agents on TV, even someone like Dana Scully from The X-Files, have a really drab sense of style. But not Agent Preston. How much say did you get in creating her look?

You’re the first person to ask me about this. Nancy Steiner is the style maven for the show, and we probably tried on, oh I don’t know, 50 shirts before we hit gold. The skirt probably took like, seven to nine incarnations before we realized we wanted to get a nice kind of high waist on it. But finally we were able to hone in on the fact that David wanted a retro look for the undershirt and tops. He liked the crępe and the silks and the lace—but the kind of more vintage-looking lace. It was kind of desolate there for a while, but that was definitely David’s idea and David’s vision for Tammy’s look and we worked to find it.

Unlike most of the other actors playing new characters, you had this kind of playbook for Tammy in The Secret History of Twin Peaks. Did you read it?

I did! I wasn’t aware what a significant aspect Tammy was until I kept reading and turning every page and I was like, “Damn, she’s actually kind of a big deal.” I learned a lot about Tammy from Mark’s perspective, you know, because Mark and David have their different views. I loved every minute of reading The Secret History, but I’m kind of way into the whole extra-terrestrial cosmic expansion awareness-type jazz. I loved reading Tammy’s thoughts, but I’d already filmed, you know.

You didn’t get to read the book beforehand? They didn’t sneak you an early copy? Were you like, “Thanks, guys, this would have been helpful before”?

I mean, as I’m watching Twin Peaks, I’m learning about what my character does later. I mean, everyone is. We didn’t get anything in the script except our own lines. And how they were in context with only the lines immediately following and preceding. So, we’re all learning together how everything works itself in. And so, yeah, there was none of that. We didn’t get to do any research. It was all just giving yourself over to the experience and allowing the process itself to infuse all that you needed into the moment of being your character. Every part of the process was mysterious, like, unreal in a beautiful and maddening way.

But Kyle MacLachlan got the script in full. Were any of you tempted on set to interrogate him about your character?

No, because there is just, there’s a reverence for everything going on. It’s like we’re all holding something that’s very fragile and yet mystically powerful. And so you’re just kind of doing everything that you can do to help transport this thing that you don’t even know what it is. But you’re all working together to do it, and you feel so fortunate. A couple of times, I would read something online about the show that kind of led me to believe that there had to be some kind of breach somewhere. But not from anyone on set, because I could not imagine anyone on set letting a piece of this thing go out into the world. Everyone was protecting it—reverence is the only thing I can think of. David, you see him giving heart and soul, and Mark’s there, and you just can’t help but feel like, okay, you have to step up to the best of who you are to be able to hold space for whatever this amazing thing that’s happening is.

Getting to watch and and discover the show along with the rest of the audience, was there a particular moment in the first five episodes that surprised or delighted you?

The sequence, I don’t know if it was a dream, with Cooper and the blind woman in the room—I feel like I could watch that 27 times and I would still be seeing new things. All the visuals at the top of Episode 3, with the purples and the ocean, was David Lynch getting to really express himself with support and with resources. And so there’s the comical and the meaningful and the Easter eggs people talk about. But that one sequence had my jaw, like, on the floor. Like wow, David. I was so proud of him and amazed. He’s such a humble, lovely person, and it’s just been so many years—and now seeing him finally get to fulfill his purpose and give this to the world is really something. And then, of course, for me the other incredibly significant thing is seeing [the late] Miguel [Ferrer] again, and remembering him. I can’t say that any of it hasn’t been a delight, because so many parts of it are just simultaneously sweet and awkward and expansive and ridiculous and it’s all covered in the Lynch patina.

What do you make of the fans who want to brand you as the new Agent Cooper?

I stopped reading everything because, you know, I was going to take David’s advice. Because I am not prepared to delve into everyone else’s ideas and thoughts about Tammy. I can’t speak for how David does it, but I think he’s pretty insulated from a lot of the noise, you know, about what the world is saying. But as far as being the new Cooper, I think Tammy and Cooper have a lot in common as far as just really, really wanting to be great F.B.I. agents and being studious and very curious. I think that I would say, you know, maybe Cooper is more open in some ways, and Tammy’s still learning to be open. But I think there can only ever be one Cooper, and I think as far as that’s concerned, Tammy would very much respect and admire Agent Cooper—yet want very much to be known as Agent Preston and find her own way.
By Elias Tahan

I wanted to get your read on one Agent Preston scene at the end of Episode 4, where she walks away and the camera follows her as Agents Cole and Rosenfield look on and comment on her appearance appreciatively. What does that mean for you?

I have to admit—I’m personally kind of also a lover of the feminine form, and have almost, like, driven off the road looking at a woman on a bicycle. I have the same thing within me. And so when I was reading the script, you know, and Tammy walks off, I was like, “Oh my God, I get to walk off?” It never occurred to me that people might take it in a different way. I myself have always had really great father figures and personal, sensual, healthy relationships in my life and with myself. So I thought this was just a sweet moment. Tammy is such a badass, and is also dressed a certain way. She may be sensitive to her power as a woman, but her power as a woman is not what is at the forefront of who she is. It’s the power of her mind, and how she can figure things out and work a room. She’s just kind of built how she’s built, and she knows what she knows, and it all works together to be, you know, a pretty powerful force.

And I think women get to appreciate the human form, and it’s not seen as being lascivious or objectifying. Like maybe if there was a man who was ogling a beautiful woman—like I do sometimes—it might be taken the wrong way, but because I’m a woman who sees it as like appreciating, you know, art of a form. I see it as a compliment. At the end of Episode 4, it was like a bunch of concrete, and then you’ve got a woman walking away. Seemed like the natural thing to do, but I’m kind of a weirdo.

Are you a longtime fan of Twin Peaks?

My relationship was definitely with the original airing. Even though a lot of the nuances and sophistication was definitely over my head, what I did get was how the music connected to the visuals and, in particular, the theme song was expansive for my little bean. So that was a really precious association that I had with David’s art.

And you recently covered Julee Cruise’s original Twin Peaks theme song, “Falling.” How did that come about?

No one knew much about the new Twin Peaks, but in my mind, there was going to be a different theme song. I just figured David would make a new one. So I was inspired by this Guardian article, which made me realize that “Falling” came first, and the theme music for Twin Peaks was taken from the song. I always thought it was the other way around. So I thought I’d give my respect the only way I knew how, which was with my voice. And this is all happening before the show was out. This producer, John Fryer, made this beautiful, dark, very somehow cold but inviting track out of it, and it turned out to be very reflective of the mood of the new Twin Peaks. But this was nothing to do with the revival; it was just an homage to the song that captivated me as a child and made out of reverence for Julee Cruise, Angelo Badalamenti, and David.

And now you’re releasing a new album, We Dissolve, in the eye of the storm of Twin Peaks. How does this experience differ from your previous album releases?

Well, all of this happening at once was of course to some degree by design. But I don’t know that I was fully understanding what that would look like. You know, you’re doing all this administrative stuff, and I own the record label, and I’m also tour managing for my upcoming European tour, and preparing the live show as well as all the press. I’m sometimes overwhelmed, to the brink of tears—but I’m growing because if it. I think part of that is what David has imbued in me, because I see him do everything he does with such grace. And I see the tools that he uses to do it, which is the meditation. I don’t know how I would have done all of this without the meditation, because when you are on the brink and you’re like, ‘Okay, it’s either six Valium or TM [transcendental meditation]. Okay, I don’t have a Valium, so let me go ahead and meditate so that I can keep going.’ Without that, I would be probably somewhere in the stratosphere like a basket case. I mean, it’s a little silly, but every time I think that I can’t do it, I can. And that’s been a pretty remarkable thing to feel about myself. Maybe it’s Tammy. She’s helping.
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