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'Twin Peaks' Star Mädchen Amick on Graduating from the School of David Lynch

The 'Riverdale' star opens up about what she learned from the 'Twin Peaks' creator, and choosing longevity over fame.
May 18, 2017, 5:25pm
Photos courtesy of Mädchen E. Amick

On May 15, 2015, actress Mädchen E. Amick woke up in her Los Angeles home to a slew of email notifications. The first one came from Dana Ashbrook, who played the love interest of Mädchen's character Shelly Johnson on Twin Peaks. Mädchen immediately emailed Twin Peaks creator David Lynch, "Can we communicate quickly?" According to her account, he wrote back: "I will see you very soon in the world of Twin Peaks."

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"My body was covered in shivers," she recalls.

Viewers will see the results of those emails this Sunday on Showtime, when the network airs the first of 18 new Twin Peaks episodes that fulfills Laura Palmer's prophecy made in the last episode that aired in 1991. "I'll see you again in 25 years," she tells Agent Dale Cooper.

Mädchen never though a network would let Lynch reunite the cast: "We barely got away with it the first time around!" She understands the rough business of television; throughout her acting career, she has gone from hit drama to indie film to buzzed-about pilot that bombs with viewers. Audiences know Mädchen as a television actress—an oddity in the world of outsider artist David Lynch—but working actresses are the biggest outsider artists in Hollywood, fighting day to day to perform.

She may be a working actress, but at age 46, Mädchen is experiencing the height of her career, returning to Twin Peaks and playing Alice Cooper (mother of Betty) on the CW's hit Archie show Riverdale (which also revolves around a teenager's death in a Pacific Northwest town).

"I feel like my head is spinning on a swivel," Mädchen says. "I've prepared my whole career for this."

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She came of age on set with Lynch (she was in her early twenties when she filmed Twin Peaks) and the experience has prepared her for the secrecy of the reboot: the plot remains a mystery. "No, I do not know who killed Laura Palmer," she acknowledges. "I cut my teeth on the business with David Lynch he trained me that they want to know till they know." He and co-creator Mark Frost gave her background on Shelly Johnson's last 25 years, but Mädchen remembers filling in some details herself, a job she was well prepared to do.

Her television schooling also brought Lynchian cred to Riverdale's plot about murder in the Pacific Northwest. Mädchen initially missed the Twin Peaks allusions. "When we were filming the pilot, I noticed a few things," she recalls. I just tweeted a picture of the Riverdale sign. It's at the river's edge. We're in the northwest. I was feeling some vibes but it wasn't till the pilot was released to the press and they started commenting that it hit me." Now she recognizes that she's playing the mother role in a scenario where she previously acted as one of the teenagers. Mädchen perceives the biggest parallel between Twin Peaks and Riverdale to be exploring the lives of both teenagers and their parents, but recognizes the common thread of spookiness that most critics highlight.

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"When people first meet me, or when I come into meetings, [people say] that I'm mysterious," Mädchen notes. "They put this femme fatale personality on me, but I'm just the biggest awkward goof ball that trips every 10 feet." She's right—to a degree. Mädchen laughs in conversations, but when we meet at Blue Bottle Coffee on Beverly Boulevard, she arrives in a grey sun hat that covers her eyes. A black cardigan and flannel skirt hang over her thin body, while gold obelisks dangle from her earrings. She looked more like a visitor from a far off planet than a Nevada girl who has resided in Los Angeles for most of her adult live. If a star tattoo didn't peek out from her ankle, I wouldn't have pegged her for an Angeleno at all.

Photos courtesy of Mädchen E. Amick

She has sought anonymity over fame. "Right after Twin Peaks there was this huge fame that came to me so quickly and early," Mädchen remembers. "It immediately showed me that I wanted to be an actor, and I really enjoyed acting. I didn't enjoy the celebrity of it." She decided to chase longevity over box office success.

Being a working actress means taking what roles come. Four weeks after giving birth to her son in 1992, she went to work on an indie movie called Dreamlover. "Every molecule of my body wanted to be home with my son," she recalls. "Actresses don't get maternity leave… I've never had the luxury that a lot of actresses do that they're born into the business, or have wealth, and can pick and choose what they want to work."

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Mädchen remained strategic, saying she passed on roles in Speed and Total Recall to avoid the potential A-list fame they could have brought her. After CBS cancelled her second series, Central Park West, in 1996, she declined series creator Darren Star's offer to create a new show around her called Sex and the City. Mädchen worried about reliving the difficult production of Central Park West while raising her young son.

"I don't regret that," Mädchen says. 'I think Sex and the City is what it is because of Sarah Jessica Parker. That was her lightning in a bottle… [Her] producer decisions is what made it what it was."

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On the set of Riverdale, she has found herself mentoring the young actresses Camila Mendes and Lili Reinhart. "They look to me as an actress who has been in the business as long as they hope to be and to be a survival of that," Mädchen explains.

She has visited the house of her mentor, Lynch, when her career has tumbled. "I said to him, 'Sometimes it's so good to sit around and be reminded by you that you can stay true to your artform and vision and be a true artist and be successful." Lynch, she says, explained that success is relative: "Nobody looks at my work and thinks it's gonna make them money."

Perhaps his most important lesson Mädchen learned came early in the pair's working relationship. "Our job—and I really agree with this—[Lynch said], is [to] neverwanted to talk about the locations we filmed in or secrets behind the scenes," she says. "I agree with that… I want to go to a film. I want to go to Titanic, and I want to get lost in this idea that they're on this giant ocean liner in the middle of the ocean. I don't want to know that they're in warm water and in front of a green screen. I want to believe in the magic.

"Keeping the magic alive is really important."