When the cult art-soap-noir series “Twin Peaks” debuted on ABC in spring of 1990, television was forever changed. Director David Lynch, known then for art house cinema classics of the 1980s such as “Elephant Man,” “Eraserhead” and “Blue Velvet,” broke all the rules of network television. The darkly unconventional show that began with the straightforward whodunit question “Who killed Laura Palmer?” grew to create a subculture of die-hard fans. Teenage women marked the centerpiece. Beyond tragically murdered prom queen Laura Palmer, there was Shelley, a high school drop-out-turned-waitress in an abusive marriage, and Laura’s best friend, Donna Hayward, a straight-A student being raised by seemingly perfect upper middle class parents. A character named Audrey Horne, daughter to a father more obsessed with running his resort, the Great Northern, than paying her attention, wasn’t even in the script when a 24-year-old Sherilyn Fenn auditioned. Audrey Horne went on to become a central force in the world of “Twin Peaks,” with fans heartbroken over a cliffhanger that left everyone wondering whether she was dead or alive in the abrupt final episode of the original series, which lasted only two seasons.
Showtime made headlines when it announced “Twin Peaks: The Return,” and made 18 new hour-long episodes available for streaming, sending fans into a frenzy to find out exactly what happened to Audrey. Spoiler alert: Although the new episodes don’t enlighten us much about the 25 years that have passed, Audrey is indeed alive. Ahead of her appearance at this year’s Spa-Con, to take place Sept. 22-24 in Hot Springs, we had a chance to talk to Fenn about working with Lynch, what it feels like to be a part of a world that has inspired such a cult following, and about those trademark saddle shoes, which are one of a kind.
Your character, Audrey, was not part of the original script, but David Lynch decided he needed you in “Twin Peaks” after your audition, so he wrote a part in just for you. How did that unfold?
I’d just found a manager who had encouraged me when I went to auditions to be myself, to not be who I thought they wanted me to be, to really connect, whether I’m shy or sarcastic, you know — really show who I really truly am. She literally gave me permission to be myself. And I’m kind of shy when I first meet people, especially at that age.
I came in, as most people my age did, for either Shelly or Donna Hayward. I was myself and kind of quiet. [Lynch] was asking lots of questions. I was thrilled. I had seen “Blue Velvet,” and one of my favorite movies at the time was “Elephant Man.” To date, he was the biggest director I’d met. I was really impressed with him. He was such a mystery. We met for 20 minutes and then the casting director chastised my agent and said I should have been more positive. A week later they called and said he’d written a role for me. Little Audrey was born. It was amazing.
I like to think that there are no accidents in a funny way, and that it was supposed to happen. It would have been a very different show without her. It’s so flattering, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it — and that people love her, oh, my gosh. If you get one of those roles, that’s really the best thing you can ask for as an actress.
I try to do really honest work. That’s the way I was taught. It’s not pretending, so maybe it resonated with them. TV was really awful back then, so they were really starved for something new. And David, he just gets under your skin, doesn’t he? He makes you think. It’s not like an episode of “Friends,” you know?
Let’s talk wardrobe. You were absolutely the best dressed. And that baby pink cashmere sweater was your very own? And then David Lynch decided the outfit needed saddle shoes?
Patricia Norris, for many years, was a close collaborator as costume designer and set designer for “Twin Peaks.” They had a specific palette. Like, all of us were in plaid skirts. Since Audrey wasn’t considered an important character, they didn’t focus as much on her, which worked to my advantage.
They put the girls in very big sweaters, and when they put me in that I said, “Oh, Patricia, I have this really great baby pink cashmere retro sweater, can I bring it?” David loved it, and had the idea to pair it with saddle shoes, which they couldn’t find. He was really angry. Back then there wasn’t Amazon; it was harder. … So, they took a pair of white Oxfords and they Sharpied them or painted them. If you look at them, they were nontraditional, made on the set for Audrey. Little Audrey. One of the first shots with Audrey was her coming out of the Great Northern as she jumps into a car. The shot zooms in on her shoes before she’s pulled into the car and the door slams. He knows all these things. In his being, he just sees them.
Why do you think the saddle shoes were so integral to him?
I think it’s because he comes from the ’50s. His daughter Jen, who I’ve become best friends with, said that I reminded David of his first love in the third grade. It’s very personal, the things that inspire all of us. It’s rarely random things. I think it has to with that — and with this idea of purity. She’s a virgin. It’s very sweet, isn’t it?
Then, 25 years later, the show magically returns. What was that like, to go back to the universe of “Twin Peaks?”
It was a pure delight. Everyone was sad the way it ended and had some regrets. I don’t think [co-creator] Mark [Frost] and David thought it was going to turn into such a huge show at all, and, when it did, it ended too quickly. To be able to come back it’s been a dream. I think David is more in his essence than he’s ever been. I love that the show feels like so many different aspects of David in his work. His daughter said it best; she was so happy [because], she said, “I can just tell he’s having so much fun. He’s in his element and he’s not having to kowtow to anybody, he’s doing it the way he thought.” Some people don’t like it, of course, and are trying to understand, as if there’s some ultimate one way of understanding what’s happening, like most filmmaking and television shows tell you. That’s not what David does.
You’re about to appear at Spa-Con in Hot Springs. What’s it like to interact with fans?
For me, it ends up being this family of people who really love it. Sometimes people come up and cry and then I cry, and we’re both crying and we don’t even know why we’re crying. My job is to see humanity. My gift is that I got to be a part of something that touched people. That’s all that I would have wanted to do.
Spa-Con, a multi-genre entertainment and comic convention, takes place at the Hot Springs Convention Center, 134 Convention Blvd., Sept. 22-24. A full schedule and tickets are available at spa-con.org.