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Twin Peaks : Revisiting our Bob Engels Fire Walk With Me Interview

Celebrating the return of “Twin Peaks” with a look back..

With Showtime’s “Twin Peaks” revival hitting next week, and storylines within it apparently linked very closely to “Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me”, what better a time to revisit our interview with writer Robert Engels, writer of the film.

Interesting to note that so many questions raised in the following interview –  aside from the chance of a third season happening – have now been magically answered.

The following interview was first published in 2010


Did you think you’d be here, twenty years later, talking about ”Twin Peaks”?’

It does seem to grow – in a weird way. I don’t look at it that much but for the 20th anniversary, we joined some friends and watched it. It was the first time I’d watched it all the way through in a long time. I thought it was wonderful. So many memories of all that stuff we dreamt up. For the most part, I thought it held up. It’s so flattering to hear people like yourself talking about all of its memorable scenes.

Both the series and the movie had many memorable moments.

A neighbour of mine was just saying to me the other day that the scene in Fire Walk With Me, at the traffic stop, where the girls are screaming and yelling at each other over the noise, was terrifying. I think that’s what great movies are – moments that you remember. The saying is ‘you got five cool scenes, you got a movie’. The film held up much better. And it definitely seems to be increasing in popularity. It’s entering some kind of pantheon… it’s not cult, it’s just a movie that influences people. The seemingly non-linear narration – it’s not, it’s very linear; there is a plot – is also very appealing. I think those type of films make great movies. We live in a time when so many movies – movies good and bad – just, well… one scene pushes to the next scene. I think there’s a whole other way to watch movies and appreciate movies. A movie doesn’t have to be scenes pushing forward, it can be about theme or what’s being discussed in the movie – I think that’s why the popularity of Fire Walk With Me grows; it’s about this young girl who died, but it’s about so much other stuff. We’re still moving forward but there’s so many wonderful detours along the way.

I think that’s it. What works about ”Twin Peaks” – series and the film – is that you don’t just serve it up on a plate and say, ‘this is what’s on offer’. All these years later, people are still trying to figure out what went on in ”Twin Peaks”.

Yep, Yep. In terms of the movie, David [Lynch] and I know what’s going on – but we don’t share it. That’s part of the reason why we don’t do commentary tracks on these DVDs – we want you to take away from it what you take away from it.

So, had a third season of ”Twin Peaks” happened, would you have explained what was going on? Or would you still have left things dangling?

I don’t think so. My recollection is that there wasn’t really a plan for a third season. I think, as we were going through the second, that we knew we were toast. If we were on Showtime now, or HBO now, we would’ve done six years.

Definitely. I was talking to Gary Cole the other day about ”American Gothic” – another quirky, supernatural series of the ‘90s – and he said the same thing. Shows like ”Gothic” and ”Peaks” were just too ahead of their time.

Yeah… Oh, Yeah.

So all those rumours about Audrey becoming pregnant in a Season 3 outline, and so on, are bogus? There was never an outline for a third season?

Audrey survived. They all survived. that world of doppelgangers and a reality that’s just behind another reality, there can be another Audrey – that was the area I would’ve liked to have explored. And yeah I think it was Harley Peyton who thought up the idea of Audrey being pregnant. We discussed the idea of going ten-years forward… the screen would say ‘Ten Years Later’ and all the characters would be doing different things. But I think, in reality, once we saw that the numbers had dwindled, we knew we were done. I also did a show called Wiseguy at the same network, and I remember checking the ratings for it and we’d just gotten like a 13. I went into the boss’s office and said, ‘We’re gone aren’t we?’. And we were. Now, a ’13’ would get you the evening! They would give you Monday night if you could deliver a 13! But twenty years ago, with those numbers, we just knew we were done.

So when did you decide to do ”Fire Walk With Me”? As soon as you found out the show was a goner?

David and I had been writing more together. When the season ended, he asked me to write something else with him. We were writing that, and then David came up with the idea of doing a Twin Peaks prequel. I think then he went back to CIBY-2000 (the production company), or they approached him, I can’t remember, and they went for it. We then had to ask ourselves, “What would the two weeks before Laura’s death be like?”. And then we just started to think of things that would happen in those two weeks. We just started listing things we’d like to do in it – ‘what would be a cool thing to have happen to each of these characters?’. We then tried to weave their stories into those two weeks. I’m sure a lot of the things we talked about were things that David and Mark Frost had talked about before – because you can’t just build these stories from scratch without having some kind of understanding of where they’ve come from or what they’ve gone through. At one point we were going to go back to the 1950’s.At one stage the script was 200 pages of stuff. What was different about writing this, as opposed to another project, was that we already knew the project was going to happen so we could essentially do whatever we wanted to do, and they’d make it. We had to whittle the script down due to length, budget considerations and making sure the main characters got a good share of screen time – but as I said, this was a unique situation in Hollywood because we knew the movie was going to get made regardless of what we wrote.

I’ve heard that Kyle MacLachlan wasn’t very keen to come back for the film?

I think he was afraid to be typecast – he was so identified with that role. At one stage, as I recall, he was reluctant and we still had to go [on with the film] so we came up with the character of Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak’s character). But before we started shooting, Kyle had agreed to do it. And then we decided we’d keep both characters. David thought it’d work great. I think there’s a certain point in an actor’s career where, although they’re a little frightened they’ll be forever known as a certain character, they know that great parts are hard to come by – and to not let them go. I always think about Sean Connery’s advice to Christopher Reeve, ‘I would do Superman’s until they don’t want to see Superman anymore – and then I’d find out if I can act’. Connery, of course, played 007 in four of five Bond movies and it worked out for him. I think Kyle knew that it was such a great part, and David was so terrific with him, that he was always going to return to it.

I remember reading that original 200-page script and, if I recall correctly, there was a lot more with Dale Cooper and Sam Stanley in it.

Yeah, I think so. I don’t remember, but I think so. Like I said, the script was long but… I think we had them on another case, and then that case led to this case.

So none of that stuff was filmed?

No, I don’t think any of that was filmed. There was, however, probably another forty-minutes or so of stuff that was actually filmed that didn’t make it into the movie. Everybody in the series we wrote a part for. And then, as I recall, there was more with the David Bowie character. But everyone had their moment – we were very faithful, we brought everyone back. A lot of it was written and a lot of it was shot. When it was clear it was too long, David started to cut it down.

Do you think we will ever see these legendary deleted scenes?

I don’t know if those scenes still exist or not. I’m not bullshitting here – I don’t know if they exist or not. I know they shot them, and I saw some of them, but I don’t know if they’re gone or if they’re somewhere or… my guess is that they’re gone or they would’ve turned up on the internet. A film house would’ve come across them by now.

The character that David Bowie’s character refers to ‘Judy from Seattle’. Is that supposed to be Josie’s sister?

Hmmm, that’s a good question – I don’t know. That’s good though. And I think they’re probably all related, but to be perfectly honest I don’t remember.

 And Annie, is she dead?

No, I think she’s sort of in a dream state – which carries through the whole series and movie.

Would you ever like to return to ”Twin Peaks”?Oh sure. It’s a funny thing… I think if we could figure out a way to do it, I think everybody would have fun going back. You just don’t want to do Return to Mayberry. It’d be a miracle to get the whole group back together again but I think, all things being equal, they’d say ‘I’m in’. I certainly would.

I know David has said in interviews that ‘Twin Peaks is still there’ and that he still thinks of it, so that’s what makes me think one day he might..

Completely. I get a call once every six months or so from someone asking, ‘What do you think about doing Twin Peaks again?’ but it’s not my call. If David and Mark are in, then yes.

So these people calling – are they fans? Studio execs?

Both fans and the network. The network will come to me and say ‘What do you think about this?’ Thing is, all the writers and directors from the show have gone to have nice careers, and none of them will want to come back and do, as I said, Return to Mayberry. When people think of Twin Peaks they usually think of it as this show about a town full of weird people… and that it was quirky. But I think what they’re forgetting is that it also had a lot of heart. There was so much emotion to it. It’s a quirky town, sure, but there’s so much more in it – and it gets lost when people try to revisit that.

Did you watch ”Lost”?

Yeah, from time to time, but not much. I liked it, but I certainly wasn’t a regular viewer, I certainly saw the last episode. It was wonderful.

I’d think that, with the success of a show like Lost, that there’d be definite movement on resurrecting ”Twin Peaks”. ”Lost” owes so much to ”Twin Peaks”.

Yeah. In fact, someone sent me a long article in a London paper that compared the two. The article basically stated that ‘there’s no Lost without Twin Peaks’. That’s very flattering, but I don’t know. David and Mark certainly did something new on Television. And suddenly it was cool for a big time director to do Television. And the whole scape of guest stars they could attract. It became cool to do television if you were on a cool show. At the same time as we were doing that, Bill Murray went and did an episode of Square Pegs – the biggest comedy star in the universe was doing a sitcom! It was a little golden era of Television.

“Twin Peaks” returns May 22.

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