Dana Ashbrook played the iconic bad boy, Bobby Briggs, in the original series of Twin Peaks. 25 years later, he returns to play Bobby again, and the former opportunistic delinquent and arch-nemesis of authority has grown up to become, surprisingly, a deputy sheriff in the Twin Peaks police. Mellowed, perhaps, by the decades, and a failed marriage to his—married, at the time—sweetheart Shelly Johnson, he is still devastated by the murder of Laura Palmer.
Garth Twa: It seems that Twin Peaks has been a huge part of your life, is that correct to say?
Dana Ashbrook: You know, it was, it was a huge part of my life when I was about the age of 22 to 24, but I moved away and went on and did other things. I lived life.
GT: But you stayed in touch with the character, with the Twin Peaks Festivals…
DA: I love the fans. I did the UK Festival, the original one in Snoqualmie, Washington. And I did a tour in Australia with a few of the actors and it was really fun to go down there and meet the Australia and New Zealand fans. Going around meeting people, it’s great.
GT: And now, Twin Peaks is back. Bobby is back.
DA: It became…everything seems a little bit bigger nowadays, everything just kind of burns brighter and faster and hotter and burns out fast, you know what I mean? It just seemed like that: it was hot, excitement, fun; it was a good time. But all that stuff was icing on the cake. The best thing was going back and working with the same people again, you know what I mean? You get to be back in that world. That was what the main thing was.
GT: The power of Twin Peaks never really dimmed in the 25 years until The Return.
DA: When I was just down in Australia I met a lot of people that got turned on to the show by their parents. It was a mother and daughter, or a father and daughter, or mother and son, so it’s multi-generational now. Who knew? It’s crazy.
GT: Were you a fan of David’s before Twin Peaks, the original?
DA: I met him in 1989, so I only knew, at that point, Elephant Man. I knew that he had directed Eraserhead and Blue Velvet but I did not know those movies. I knew Elephant Man quite well because it was an important movie in my household because my mom, who did local theatre in San Diego, did the play Elephant Man. She played the Ann Bancroft role. So I knew the play and at the same time the movie was out, so we watched the movie a number of times. I had met David and that’s all I knew him from, the Elephant Man which is a brilliant movie. Every single frame in that film makes me cry.
GT: When watching the new season, I found it very bittersweet, knowing a lot of people were now gone.
DA: Yeah, we’ve lost a lot of people since the show, for sure. We had a huge cast. It’s just life. So fleeting. The mortal coil and all. It sucks, you know. It sucks so bad. It’s a hard one for everybody, especially when it’s people we’ve known our entire lives, practically.
GT: Were you involved with the planning, in getting The Return to happen? I heard you were instrumental in getting the Twin Peaks cast together for the episode of Pysch…
DA: I was definitely not involved in the planning of it at all. I heard about it pretty much like everybody else, like when they tweeted, “That gum you like is going to come back in style.” Somebody said that to me and I was like, “What the heck?” and I started texting everybody, Jimmy [James Marshall who plays James Hurley], Sherilyn [Fenn, who plays Audrey Horne], and Sheryl Lee [Laura Palmer] just to see if anyone knew anything and no one really knew anything. But the more I started investigating and there were whispers that there must be something there. Then Sheryl Lee and I were going to London for the UK Festival, I think it was 2014, maybe 2015, and on our way to the airport, Sheryl Lee got a call from David saying it was going to happen, and you’re going to be in it. She said, “I’m going to see Dana in London” and asked, “is he going to be in it?” “Yeah,” David said, “he’s going to be in it.” So Sheryl Lee told me. But I didn’t know what that meant at all; was it a cameo? But I was happy and from there it was a long ride, probably two years, before we started shooting.
GT: Two years. Why is that? The writing process?
DA: It was on for a little while and then it was off for a little while because David couldn’t get the money, and other stuff that he wanted, and it just wasn’t working out for him. He wasn’t sure whether it was going to work but he ended up with Showtime coming up with the money and everything he needed. But it went on for a long time.
GT: I was following the rollercoaster, I think it was about 8, 10 episodes and then it erupted into a lot more, 18, which was quite surprising.
DA: Yeah, all that was all beyond my pay grade, I was just hoping that it was going to be on, that I was going to be doing work on it.
GT: So The Return reunites a lot of the cast members, but what about the new cast members? Was there any sort of hierarchy or a clubiness?
DA: We all gave them all that initiation thing that every new actor on Twin Peaks has to go through. I’m not really allowed to say what that is but…No! I’m kidding!
GT: I can’t imagine!
DA: There’s no real hierarchy amongst the crew or the actors, it’s all just that everybody’s there doing their thing. It’s not like one of those crazy sets where you can’t talk to people and all that bullshit. No, it was fucking awesome. I loved all of them. I loved Amanda Seyfried [who played his daughter Becky], and my wife and I became friends with her; she’s awesome. And Caleb Landry Jones [Steven Burnett] is awesome, too. I got to know him a little bit while we were shooting, he played Amanda’s husband. And John Pirruccello, who’s actually coming to London, I got to know him, he’s great. He played Chad, the bad cop, the jerk cop that nobody likes.
GT: There are so many startling moments, searing moments, in the new series, even more, I think, than in the original. It took a very different trajectory, it had an amped up intensity. I guess coming from Lynch, it could never be just a regular Season 3, taking up where we left off…
DA: He wasn’t going to rehash the old one.
GT: Was there a sense of what it was going to be on the set? You didn’t get an entire script…
DA: It was one big giant 500 page script and I got probably like 20-30 pages out of it, which was my stuff. I only knew what was going on with me. I didn’t know anything about what else was going on, like Cooper having three characters, I didn’t know any of it. None of it. I mean, you hear little whispers, but everyone was sworn to secrecy, so it was pretty locked down.
GT: Even from each other, that’s surprising. I could see doing a Non-disclosure Agreement, but from each other?
DA: They liked it that way. I mean, clearly if you’re in a scene together… but I was there, in Seattle—I don’t think I was working that day—but the day they shot the Wally Brando stuff with Michael Cera. I was there and I had no idea that he was there. I didn’t see Kimmy [Robertson, who played Lucy Brennan, Wally Brando’s mother] until the next day, you know what I mean. So everybody just kind of did their own thing, kept it quiet, just trying to keep it as secretive as possible. It was hard at first but after awhile it became easy because no one expected us to say anything.
GT: It must have been very affecting to discover how some of the scenes would play out. I think of episode 11, when you go to the car outside the Double R diner after shots had been fired, and you encounter the sick girl in the car. That was horrifying.
DA: That whole sequence was a big sequence for me because I got to do the scene in the diner first, a tender scene, and then I got to go and play the cop. That sequence was great. It was very carefully choreographed; David has total control of all that stuff so he basically approached it like it was like a big movie. They didn’t rush around. They set it up, took their time, all the actors that were there, the little kids, the parents, and the lady in the car, and the girl that throws up, and the guy that plays the cop that comes in…we all sat around the table and David drew us a little map of exactly how the cars would be and where everything would be coming from and where they would stand when they came out of the car and stuff like that so everyone could kind of get a visual of how everything would be choreographed. And then we ran it a couple of times and they lit for a couple of hours and then we shot that stuff. It was like, for me, approaching the scene, it was just based in the reality of what it actually was, which was this crazy girl, this crazy thing happening to this girl, and it was like, “What the fuck?” It was a reaction that was just the real reaction that anyone would have if someone saw that happening. It was awesome, it was fun, it was one of my favourite things out of the whole thing, doing the cop stuff.
GT: It was an amazing sequence because it did start out in the Double R, with the really touching family scene with you and Amanda and Mädchen [Amick, who plays Shelly] and then moving out to that nightmarish atmosphere…
DA: Yeah, it’s a crazy sequence. I haven’t really watched it since it was on, so I should probably check that out again. I watched it, I taped it, but I just haven’t watched them all again since.
GT: I guess you don’t just go home every night and slap in a DVD of Twin Peaks…
DA: No, not around this household!
The Official Twin Peaks UK Festival 2018 runs this weekend at the London Irish Centre in Camden and the Camden Square Gardens on September 29 & 30. Book your tickets here