As chance would have it, the news of David Lynch's “Twin Peaks” re-return hit only a few hours after I got off the phone with Catherine E. Coulson, better known as the series' enigmatic “Log Lady.” I had just spoken with the actress at length about the Showtime revival, which at the time of our interview remained in limbo following Lynch's declaration last month that he had pulled out of the project over a budget dispute.
It was truly an odd coincidence, and came at a time when many fans of the original series had all but given up hope that the revival would ever make it to air. But it's clear that the dogged loyalty shown by Coulson and a number of her “Twin Peaks” co-stars, including Sheryl Lee, Dana Ashbrook, Sherilyn Fenn, James Marshall, Madchen Amick and Kimmy Robertson — all of whom participated in a video montage entitled “Twin Peaks Without David Lynch Is Like” following his departure announcement — played a big part in keeping the show alive.
In response to the happy news, Coulson — who had no idea that a deal was forthcoming when we spoke — emailed over the following statement:
I am thrilled that David and SHOWTIME were able to work out a plan so we can make more episodes of TWIN PEAKS. Details to follow!
I spoke with Coulson on Friday from her dressing room at the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland, Oregon, where she's currently performing in a stage production of “Guys and Dolls.” See below for the full interview, in which we discuss her long professional relationship with Lynch (she was a crucial part of his feature-film debut “Eraserhead”), embracing her Log Lady fame, her triumphant spit-take on the set of the original series and why the show continues to resonate today.
I'm really curious about your early days working with David on “Eraserhead.” I know your relationship goes back a long way. What was the independent film scene like in L.A. in those days? Did you feel like you were part of a community?
No, not really. We were part of the American Film Institute [AFI], which is really where David was a fellow. And I was kind of hired out of a class of a theater group that I was in was teaching the fellows, the directing fellows, about acting.
And David came to like one class cause he didn't like to get up early. But we met and he…I was married to Jack Nance, who…played Eraserhead. But David heard about us from the theater group, and had us come over to his house. I remember telling him to be nice to the little girl — telling Jack Nance to be nice to the little girl, cause it was [Lynch's daughter] Jenny Lynch, she was about three or four.
And David was like, you know, he just chats with actors, he doesn't audition anybody. And he asked me if I would be interested in playing the nurse who gives Henry and Mary the baby and I said yeah…we thought it was gonna be like a 20 minute student film.
I don't know how impressed he was with Jack in the beginning. But we went outside and David had built this great rack on his Volkswagen Bug, little Beetle, and Jack said, 'oh my god, what a great rack, who made this?' And David said, 'I did.' And that seemed to cement their relationship.
So Jack got cast and I got cast, and we started…we rehearsed a few scenes and I held the stopwatch. And you know, did a bunch of little jobs. And then when we started shooting the film, I wasn't in…I was the nurse, but we never filmed it, cause by then I was helping to raise money for the movie. We didn't really need the scene.
Clockwise from top left: Charlotte Stewart, David Lynch, Herbert Cardwell, Coulson, and Doreen Small on the set of “Eraserhead”
But all throughout the shooting I got to help out on the crew, and I learned a whole new skill-set. How to do lighting, how to be a camera assistant, even how to operate. And I learned a lot about cooking on a hot plate. And we all sort of did everything. And over four years, we became a very close family. I think at one time David lived with Jack and me for a short time.
And we just had…you know, we developed a full friendship and then we helped make this film. It took a long time to finish. It became, you know, more than a student film, it became a feature. And we all interacted with the other AFI fellows, cause some of them came in and helped out with the little roles, like Gil Dennis was one of them, Caleb Deschanel helped out a little bit, Jack Fisk — who wasn't a fellow but he was a good friend of David's — helped out. Sissy Spacek was a script supervisor for a few weeks. We all sort of did everything. And it was very bonding.
So we weren't really part of the independent film scene in L.A., except that Pete Ivers, who wrote the famous 'In Heaven Everything Is Fine,' the 'Lady in the Radiator' song, was part of that scene. Unfortunately, he was murdered later after the film was over. A lot of people who worked on it died, interestingly enough. The first cameraman died, [Herbert] Cardwell…some of the actors, not during the show, but long after…Jack [Nance], obviously. Very strange.
But David and I stayed close and he dreamed up the Log Lady during the making of 'Eraserhead.' And then years later called me, I think it was like 12 years later, and said 'Are you ready to do the Log Girl?' And that's when I said I don't think she's really a girl anymore. So we called her the Log Lady.
And he put me in the pilot, and the rest is history. I flipped a light switch and held the log — I think it was the holding the log that was unusual — but that's all I can think of. I've signed a lot of wood since then, though. I definitely have a whole twig collection and sign a lot of logs for people.
Is it safe to say then that you really embrace being associated with this character?
Oh yeah, totally. I have been acting all my life, but then when “Twin Peaks'”came on the air, I suddenly became this odd cult figure. I remember going to the grocery store and having people ask for my autograph and realizing that I had better look nice every time I left the house. [Laughs] You know, I mean…it sort of grows on you slowly.
Even today, I'm working in this beautiful theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, and people stand outside with presto logs for me to sign after a show.
And I do get some TV and film stuff from my history with David, and my acting chops probably figure into it a little bit. But you know, I've been working steadily ever since as an actor, and it's been great, I mean I'm so grateful to David for everything he has…all the opportunities he's given me. And I feel really very fortunate to be associated with a very good piece of Ponderosa Pine.
Margaret is a very enigmatic woman, and very hard to see her as a full fledged person because she sort of represents a lot about this world. But when you were playing her, did you have a lot in your mind about who she really was?
Oh yeah, and David and I talked to her before every time we shot a scene. We would talk about the back story, and her husband dying in a fire, and her ability to see things that Cooper needed to know.
She was, I think, the only really sane person in Twin Peaks. She just thought of herself as a regular person, who didn't really like to be in big crowds, and was able to express herself pretty directly about what she liked and really liked. And also discovered that she could spit really far. That was kind of a wonderful skill set I didn't know I had. You know, when I chewed this pitch gum and spit it across the room, the crew first time all applauded cause I could spit so far.
So there were certain things that I learned being in Twin Peaks. And really, I love the fans. The Twin Peaks fans are so sweet, and so earnest, and so caring. And I get lots of little things from them like a crocheted Log Lady doll, and a slice of wood with my face on it. And then my daughter told me that there's a whole page of Log Lady tattoos on the internet. And so like my face is on somebody's hairy leg. It is very peculiar.
But I have to say, it's kinda fun, you know, to embrace it all. It's opened a lot of doors for me, and I've learned a lot about wood. And the importance of preserving the forest, and a lot about really just a lot about ecosystems, and I've become a real spokesperson for ancient forests. And who knew I'd ever do that, you know?
As far as shooting “Twin Peaks” the original series, I know there was some creative tension in the second season that arose because David and Mark became less creatively involved. Do you remember any tension from that time?
No, I don't remember it because…I knew I was in it less, cause David was writing less. And I don't know that some of the new writers quite knew what…maybe didn't want to or didn't know what to do with the Log Lady character. So I kind of came in and out of it. But I was busy…I helped David with “Wild at Heart” while he was doing that. While they were doing the second season, he was shooting that.
I wasn't aware of tension, no. I just was aware that I wasn't in it as much, and then David kind of came back into it, and I was in it more. It wasn't tense, it was just that he kind of — it wasn't like he lost interest — it was just that he and Mark had always intended it to be…a miniseries. And then it kind of was so popular, that it went on, and then ABC switched the nights, and then it became less popular. And I think they may have changed the message of the show.
And so without David and Mark there all the time, it just changed. And you know, I think its time was over, but now I'm hoping it'll come back and we can do the 25 years later.
Have you talked to David about [the Showtime revival]? Because I know that he's possibly not going to do it now —
Well, I think it just still has to do with contract issues and complications, so I'm still hoping it'll happen. We all put together — I don't know if you saw it on Facebook — but the actors put together each a little video saying that we would — basically the message was we wouldn't do it without David. And Showtime thought they were gonna do it, they weren't gonna get us. And all the actors put a little video together that said things like…I think Peggy Lipton said…”'Twin Peaks' without David Lynch is like a pie without cherries.” Did you see any of those?
I did, I saw them all, yeah.
Yeah, yeah. So we kind of got together as a group by email. And we've all sort of stayed in touch with each other, and formed quite a nice friendship. Cause you know, we do some Comic Con conventions together, and sign autographs together.
We did an episode of “Psych,” which is a television show, it's called “Dual Spires” where we played ourselves older, some of us. And we've just stayed a good close group. So we stick behind David. I don't think anybody would do “Twin Peaks” without him.
That was gonna be my next question.
No, no. Not at all. But I'm still hopeful that something will come around. That maybe some other network or…I don't know anything about the politics or the money, I'm just hoping that it'll still happen….I don't think he's willing to give up on it. But I think he's sticking to his guns, so to speak...
I think he really cares about the characters. I mean, he said that he was so touched by what we did and put on the internet that he would love to use us all in something. I mean, I think he's very loyal. He's a director who's used his actors over and over again. And he forms close bonds with people. He and Laura Dern and Kyle [MacLachlan] and me and a lot of other people are all friends.
So I just think he would like to be able to make this manifest, but I don't really know. I haven't said, “David do you want this to happen?” I just…he just said “I'm so touched by the fact that you all did this.” So I don't know.
Why do you think the audience is so passionate about the show even now?
You know, I think it's just grown in its reputation. And because it's on Netflix, and it's out there in the world, and they put out that wonderful whole “Twin Peaks” box set thing, with the introductions and everything. I'm so disappointed that Netflix didn't use the Log Lady introductions. It's really too bad. But at any rate, I think that the next generation and all the millenials seem to really love it.
I was in Hungary last year, in a food market in Budapest, and about 20 people in their 20s came up to me and said, “Margaret”? And I said, “well, kind of.”
Anyway, they were huge “Twin Peaks” fans. It's very big in Eastern Europe. There's a Comic Con convention in Belgium that Dana Ashbrook is going to, I went to it a couple years ago. It's just very popular, because I think it showed a world that nobody had seen on TV before. And because of David and Mark's original style, have not really seen since. A lot of shows have benefited from the pioneering effect of “Twin Peaks.”
It's hugely influential.
Hugely. But there's still nothing like the original.
There's a show on Fox right now called “Wayward Pines,” which is from M. Night Shyamalan, that I think has taken a lot of cues from “Twin Peaks.”
Oh really, what's it called?
It's called “Wayward Pines.”
And it's on Fox?
Yeah, it's a new Fox show. It's gotten some mixed reactions.
Oh, okay, well I'll check it out before it goes away. Thank you.
Yeah, so we're all hoping that it'll happen, but I'm not holding my breath at the moment. You know, I think it's sort of staying in the moment and we'll see what happens and hope for the best.
But in the meantime, it was sure a fun time, I think it was October, that David called and asked if I would do it. And I said yes, and then I did a million interviews and had a lot of fun talking about the show again. And I'm glad to see that you're keeping it alive. And hopefully there'll be some pressure on whoever does it to make it happen with David, cause it's not gonna happen without him.
Do you have a favorite episode of the original series?
Oh, gosh. you know, one of my favorites is with Don Davis, where I talk about his shiny objects on his chest, you know that one? It's at the Double R Diner, and I'm sitting eating, and I'm sitting with him, and he asks me — I say “The log does not…” something. I can't remember. I think it's in the second season, and it might start with the “I'll have a bear claw,” where I'm ordering from Peggy Lipton's character…[Note: this exchange takes place in the Season 2 episode “Wounds and Scars”]
I loved working with Major Briggs, Don Davis, who unfortunately has passed away. But um…he and I had a good rapport, and I think that's one of my favorite episodes. I like the tea party one too, but later on when it got a little more mysterious and I had that tattoo on my leg and stuff, I enjoyed that.