By Samuel Elliott
Actress Kimmy Robertson had originally intended pursuing a career as a ballerina, before fate intervened in the form of her being headhunted by a talent agent. Launching with several small, but nevertheless memorable roles in films such as The Last American Virgin and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, Robertson was then called to an audition for the pilot of a new television series, Twin Peaks.
She secured the role of Lucy Brennan, one that she would reprise some nearly thirty years later with the new series. In the interim, Robertson utilised her distinctive voice in a myriad of animated shows, including a role as Milhouse Van Houten’s one-time girlfriend, Samantha Stanky, in an episode of The Simpsons.
Set to tour with several of her Twin Peaks collaborators in the looming Twin Peaks: Conversation With The Stars, Robertson catches up with Samuel Elliott to discuss her storied career.
How’d you come by the role of Lucy? Was there an audition process?
It all started with a conversation with David Lynch, Mark Frost [EP and co-creator of Twin Peaks] and me. I never read anything, I never acted. The three of us just talked, I asked a bunch of questions and gave a few theories of my own and we ended up discussing some quantum science things, as you do. [Laughs]
But it all seemed like a casual chat, a normal one, not a normal audition though, not at all.
Chat or not, it must’ve gone down very well. You were part of the cast from day one.
I got the impression that they just went – that’s Lucy, the one they had already formed in their mind’s eye before we had actually met. I don’t really know, strangely enough I’ve never really talked to David about it. But I do know that the way Lucy thinks is very similar to how I think, that analytical, inquisitive mind, one that finds a thread and follows it.
Like when Lucy was reading about Tibet the day after Agent Cooper told us about Tibet, that’s sort of how I think and how I was talking and I was really pushing David hard about how that should be shown. That’s been a recurring thing with us, throughout our working together and not even necessarily when we do work together as well.
Like with Mulholland Drive, when that came out – I really needed answers and asked him about it non-stop, but didn’t really get any. I was there on behalf of all my friends, I was the one going in that had to ask the questions, the hard questions and I got no answers. [Laughs]
You mentioned that your experience in landing Lucy’s role was unlike any other. You’d already appeared in shows like Married With Children and movies like Honey, I shrunk the kids beforehand – was the set, and overall experience of, Twin Peaks very different to all the others?
Working on Twin Peaks and with David truly was completely different from everything else. The only thing that even came remotely close was the first movie I ever did – called The Last American Virgin. With that movie, Boaz Davidson, the director, would have me be on set all the time, even if I wasn’t scheduled to be in anything that day and just sort of listen to me talk and then put those lines into the movie. He sort of wrote the character of Rose as I talked. That’s how he worked and he was very particular, knew exactly what he wanted, didn’t do a lot of takes either and that reminded me of the way David Lynch works, because he definitely doesn’t do many takes, no more than two hardly ever.
So, my first experience as an actor on The Last American Virgin, was the closest to that of working on Twin Peaks. But then I did all this other stuff in between those two that were so different and so tense, so high-pressure and then I landed the Twin Peaks role and it was just a pleasure to be there on the set.
I waited around a long time to do my first scene on Twin Peaks, it was a night shoot and there other things going on, so I got to be there and watch, observe and listen and really get a feel for the energy. It was beautiful, very beautiful.
Having been there from the very start, did Twin Peaks turn out to what you imagined it would be? Do you remember thinking at the time that it would amass such a cult following?
I tell you something that I haven’t told anyone for a long time. A little before I got the role of Lucy, or went for that chat, or audition, or whatever that was, I was out with some of my best friends in San Diego, it was between Christmas and New Years.
We went out to a bar in Silver Lake, called the Cheeky T, it’s a teeny, tiny little bar, it’s still there. It has blowfish and bamboo everywhere, a tropical bar, with tropical drinks. Anyway, we started drinking and on the first round, we made a toast. One of my friend’s, another actor, their toast was about wanting to land a series that year and I said I did too.
Not just any series though, I wanted a series that would change television forever and we toasted. Just like that. The next month after, I was in Seattle, doing the pilot for Twin Peaks.
Six months later, Connoisseur magazine came out and it had a picture of David Lynch and it said: ‘Twin Peaks, the series that will change television forever!’ – that’s how it went.
The stars must’ve all aligned that night.
Absolutely, that’s just how the whole show has been. Magic, a miracle!
What was it like working with such an auteur as David Lynch? Was his directing style an immediate fit for your acting style? Did you have to work together to compromise? Did the dynamic change much over the years?
It’s always been the same, has never changed at all. It fit me perfectly, which was what was so sad when the show was cancelled after Season 2. And then I became in search of the same kind of master, a maestro, I did find that in a couple of commercial directors I got to work with over about twenty years, but then they retired.
But, the way David Lynch has the whole set prepared, the picture of what is going to happen is already totally formed in his mind from the outset. Then he comes over and talks to you and says what you’re going to do and sometimes why, sometimes not, keeps you guessing, which was fine with me.
For instance, [Spoiler!] – when we found out the Log Lady passed away, he had all of the set cleared, all of the lights were down, and all the rest of the Sheriff’s station was cleared. There was only left a small crew in the big conference room and he wouldn’t let anyone talk loudly or anything. It was very respectful and very real. That’s just how he works and I just love working that way and it’s so rare.
He has total confidence in the people he has picked to play these characters and you can feel that, as an actor, and that just never happens. With your average set, you are actually made to feel like if you say one more word, you’re going to be fired kind of thing, or cut out altogether maybe. [Laughs]
But with David, there’s the confidence and love, there’s definitely love, for his characters. You feel responsible for the character, to do your best, to make them feel alive. He gives you the opportunity to truly become these characters, you really get to be in that world and only be there and you know you’re being loved as you’re doing it.
It’s just really amazing.
Touching on the subject of transforming into the character of Lucy. You mentioned that she was quite similar to you in some regards, did David allow you some creative input with her and her development as the series went on?
There were only two instances where I got any kind of creative input like that. The first time was in the first season where I talked about using the black phone, not the brown phone. David had pulled me aside and said a very long paragraph to me about who Lucy is and how she decides things, how she has her finger on the button of everything and she doesn’t want to waste any time when she knows there’s an important phone call. She senses it and then we discussed how Lucy would tell the Sheriff of which phone to answer, because they had just redecorated last week and the phone service had been replaced.
So then I said what I said and then he said – ‘Aces, do that!’
And then there was also another time, it was after the rock throwing incident, when Agent Cooper had talked about Tibet, I was on set the next day and I asked somebody if I could have a book on Tibet and they said no. [Laughs]. I said that Lucy would be reading up on Tibet after such an important conversation like that and they still said that there was no time. So, I asked a producer next and they also said no.
Then David Lynch came on the set and I went straight up to him and said – ‘Wouldn’t Lucy be reading a book on Tibet?’
And he went: ‘Yes! Where’s this book for Lucy?’
Then he got the prop team on the case and sure enough, they brought one out.
Those are the only times I had any kind of a say and I wasn’t saying anything that Lynch wasn’t already thinking anyway. But it worked perfectly.-
How’d you feel about reprising the role of Lucy, after a long stretch between season two and the new season? Did you have any apprehension? Or did you just jump into it straight away?
There was no apprehension. I was immediately beyond excited. The only thing I was a bit concerned about was that we did have a new costume designer, that’s was a bit of a funny story actually. [Laughs]
I was doing my sitting for the new series and there was one sweater that I wanted to try on and she wouldn’t let me. So we kept trying stuff on, a few ensembles, and I then I made this trek, because there was a long walk to David Lynch’s office, all through the set warehouse and I would show him and he would say – ‘Nah, that’s not exactly right. Maybe try something else.’
Finally, she got a phone call that she had to take and I secretly put on that sweater and I turned on my heel and bolted to David Lynch’s office before she could catch me. [Laughs] I ran into his office and didn’t even have to say anything, straight away he said – ‘There’s Lucy!’
I ended up wearing that sweater quite often, it was the pink one.
Do you have a favourite memory from onset, either from the 90s series or the new series?
That was a favourite for sure. And also, just generally working with Michael Sera [new season] was also a favourite. He’s such a cool person and I’m a huge fan of his. Both of us, both Harry [Harry Goaz actor who plays Andy Brennan] and I were honoured and really excited that we got to have such a cool son. Michael’s such a cool actor and nice guy, who wouldn’t want him for a son? Seriously? [Laughs]
So, working with him was really something and also, how he was dressed, I mean, come on. [Laughs]
Aside from your work as Lucy, you have done a ton of voice work over the years. Is it very different to performing on-screen? Is there a particular type of acting that is your favourite?
Voice Over is my favourite, hands-down – it was always what I wanted to do.
In the 80s, I tried and tried to get an audition. I used to drive past Hannah-Barbera studios and say to myself – ‘One day, I’ll be working in there’, power of positive thinking and all that. Still though, I couldn’t get an audition even and I finally realised the way to get a job as a voice-over person, if you were mediocrely talented, such as me, you have to have an on-camera series, so I said – ‘OK, I need to get an on-camera series’.
The day after the pilot for Twin Peaks aired, Hannah-Barbera called, no kidding. I had 3 calls that day. My publicist, the David Letterman Show and Hannah-Barbera. So, I got to get my first voice-over audition then and I got that job and I got to do a lot more like that after that.
I like it because it’s a lot like music, you’re in a room with other actors and you have your lines like on a music stand and you get to play with it and bounce off each other and the energy is so much fun.
Last question – if you were to go back to the very start, when you first committed to the role of Lucy, would you have done anything differently?
I definitely know the answer to this!
After Twin Peaks came out, I used to get presents all the time, even from Australia, I got a case of wine. I got all kinds of presents. I got biscuits and cupcakes and cookies and flowers and I didn’t know why I was getting all these things. It made me feel bad, like I didn’t deserve it. Because I identified as a worker, just doing their job.
I was a trained ballet dancer first, that’s what I had done my whole life before acting. I was just doing my job, I didn’t understand the notoriety at all.
And, I think, if I were to go back now – I wouldn’t waste so much time crying and wondering if I deserved it. I would been more accepting of it all. At the time, I was very grateful for the amazing opportunity of Lucy, believe me, but I was also confused as to why I was suddenly getting all these gifts and now I know that people, everybody, deserves to have dreams come true and that was a dream come true for me and I wouldn’t have wasted any time arguing with the god that made this happen for me. I would’ve just said ‘Thank you, now what more can I do to help you?’
Skype chat with David Lynch at the upcoming Twin Peaks: Conversations With The Stars show, touring throughout Australia, on the following dates:
MELBOURNE – Palais Theatre – Saturday August 25
BRISBANE – Eatons Hill – Sunday August 26
ADELAIDE– Thebarton Theatre – Wednesday August 29
SYDNEY –International Convention Centre – Saturday September 1
PERTH – Astor Theatre – Sunday September 2
You can find out more information and buy tickets here: www.drwe.com.au
About the interviewer: Samuel Elliott is a Sydney-based author that has been published in Antic, The Southerly, Compulsive Reader, MoviePilot, Writer’s Bloc, Vertigo, Good Reading, FilmInk, Veranadah, The Big Issue and The Independent. He is currently working on his novel series, ‘Milan Milton: Heiress’ in between completing a degree and working two jobs within the television industry. Find him at: www.facebook.com/samuelelliottauthor