Ever since making his feature film debut in David Lynch’s ill-fated 1984 adaptation of the sci-fi novel Dune, Kyle MacLachlan has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has seen him move between movies and TV and in and out of different genres seamlessly. His major feature films include Lynch’s Blue Velvet, The Hidden, The Doors and others, while his TV work encompasses Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and perhaps his most famous role, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper on Lynch’s legendary Twin Peaks.
MacLachlan can be heard now in Inside Out, where he plays the father of 11-year-old Riley, a young girl whose inner mind and emotions take center stage in this brilliantly realized, entertaining and powerfully moving new gem from Pixar and directors Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen. The father of a young son himself, MacLachlan related instantly to the role. Screen Rant sat down recently with the actor to talk about Inside Out, as well as his role as Calvin Zabo/Mr. Hyde on S.H.I.E.L.D. and the upcoming Showtime revival of Twin Peaks.
What were you initial thoughts on the film when Pete Docter pitched the premise to you?
I love Pete Docter, so I knew it was going to be something special. The movies that he’s done, Up and Monsters, Inc., were always a little more -- there was a little more emotion to them. Maybe they pushed things a little bit further. I mean I love The Incredibles. But Up, there were things that were coming out of that. So I thought, “OK. It’s going to be a little different, I think.” The journey is going to have a little more resonance maybe, I think, emotional resonance.
When he was talking to me about the dad when I came into work, and they sent ahead lots of materials for me to look at and familiarize myself with, it was kind of a new world. They had drawings of this character already established. So I was like, “OK. That’s me. So I look like that. OK, great,” as opposed to it coming from some other organic place. They’d already sort of written out the scenes and the dialogue and everything. So everything was already in place.
I had to embody this guy in a different way, just vocally. So I kind of jumped in and let Pete and (producer) Jonas Rivera really give me all kinds of feedback. And they were really good at describing the where’s and the what’s and where he’s coming from. And then I asked questions, too, that made them kind of have to go back a little bit and figure out kind of why and where. So that was an interesting process. There was a lot of talking about and around trying to find this character, which we did.
There was part of me that didn’t trust the idea that they were interested in me. Just me? I was like going, “Don’t you want a character or something?” He said, “No, no. just bring to it what you, as a dad now, bring.” I was like, “OK.” So that was refreshing. And I leaned heavily on the fact that I was a dad, as I have a son, and the dynamic between us. I wanted to bring some of that into the performance and the relationship with Riley.
There’s so much there to relate to. He clearly loves her. He’s not like an absentee dad, but he’s pulled by the same forces everybody else is, by his job, investors and so on. There’s a lot there that people can relate to on a normal, everyday basis.
Yes. I think they did a nice job in portraying that. You see him initially before he moves and he’s definitely connected and there and fun. And then you see him in his moments of stress. And that’s what they’ve done. They’ve taken this family and put it in a moment of stress. And they’ve seen how the emotions have reacted. Ultimately, it comes back to about family and family is what holds it together, which I think is beautiful.
Do you look at your own son’s emotional roller coaster a little differently now after doing the movie?
Oh, definitely. Joy is definitely still driving and is a dominant emotion. But it’s interesting when something pops out of them, either some observation or revelation. He’ll say something or have an empathic response to something that he feels. He feels very strongly about his stuffed animals or something; he has a strong connection to them. Whereas, if one of his fish dies, he’s like, “Eh. It’s a fish.”
So it’s interesting to see how they see the world like that. Anger is exactly as it is in the film -- he erupts and then it’s gone. Disgust is more that he’ll throw attitude a little bit, but it’s usually learned from one of his classmates or somebody, he’s seen something and he’s imitating it. But you can point them out. You can recognize them straight away.
Watching your career over the years, it seems you move very smoothly from film to TV back to film again.
It’s not smooth at all, but thank you. [laughs]
We see so much of the landscape changing now. Brad Pitt, one of the biggest stars in the word, is going to star in a movie for Netflix. Things are changing really fast. How do you see it changing in terms of your own career?
I don’t know. I’m moved by quality of character, quality of material. That’s not to say every choice I make is solely based on that. There are other ingredients, like just working with really, really smart people. I’ve been lucky, even starting way back, even with 'Sex and the City' and 'Desperate Housewives', you know, television shows. But the people that were involved were very smart, the characters were interesting. It’s fun to be with a character for a period of time.
That was never so true to me as doing 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' I really like that character. I miss being able to get back into that character’s skin, because it’s been a couple months now. I liked his journey. I liked what they were asking me to do and what they expected me to do. Even to the point of that actual goodbye scene that I had with Chloe, or with Daisy, was real. I mean it was very hard to speak because everything just kind of kept coming up and getting locked in the throat because it was so emotional that this was the goodbye. And I knew it was the goodbye.
As an actor, that’s really like hitting a homerun, I think. A lot of times, you’ll find just talking about a character and quality of character. You could probably talk to Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson about 'True Detective'. It was so much to stay with those guys and go through all those ups and downs that they had for that period of time. As an actor that’s just it, I think. And it’s very hard to do that in a film. Film is sort of different.
Is Cal’s story finished on S.H.I.E.L.D.?
I don’t know if he’s done or not. I know they left the door open, which is really nice. I don’t know what’s going to happen there. I have no idea.
Of course I have to ask about Twin Peaks. Were you holding your breath waiting to see if David was actually going to come back? And what can you say about what’s ahead with it?
I’m so excited that David is back. I’m looking forward to it on a couple of levels. First of all, the character will be really great to revisit because he’s one of my favorites, if not my favorite. And then I haven’t worked with David for a number of years, and I miss that working relationship. And so, that to me is maybe even the most exciting thing about it, the fact that David and I get to go back and get into a world and work together and create this stuff. That’s just gold for me.
Inside Out is in theaters now.