Kyle MacLachlan’s Most Shocking ‘Act’ Yet: From ‘Twin Peaks’ to Sitcom Stardom
From “Twin Peaks” to “Showgirls,” the actor is known for his intensity. You may be surprised to see him, then, in CBS’s new sitcom, “Carol’s Second Act.” He couldn’t be happier.
Kyle MacLachlan has developed a certain spidey sense. When he spots fans approaching him, he can guess what project of his they’re going to gush about.
That’s what happens after 35 years of an actor’s unicorn ideal of a career: an array of projects that, in almost comical fashion, couldn’t be more diverse. And each with a fan base armed with atypical encyclopedic knowledge and insatiable curiosity about almost every single detail.
He can tell if someone is, say, going to lead with Twin Peaks—on which he played Special Agent Dale Cooper in the original 1990 series, the 1992 film, and 2017 revival—before transitioning into about a dozen questions about working with director David Lynch on Blue Velvet. He can peg the Showgirls aficionado, likely sporting a mischievous grin and ready to ask about what may be cinema’s most preposterous sex scene, and perhaps the film’s cult status, too. There is even a certain kind of Portlandia fan.
But there’s one group he’s yet to entirely pin down, he tells me. “The Sex and the City versus the Desperate Housewives people.” He had arcs on both as WASP-y husband to respective main characters. “But I embrace it all.”
It’s an interesting skill, not to mention legacy, to consider as MacLachlan begins his run in a yet another markedly different kind of project and genre, appealing once again to a new demographic and fan group. He is now a supporting actor on a CBS multicam sitcom, laugh breaks and all.
Last Thursday, he made his debut as Dr. Stephen Frost on Carol’s Second Act, a new series from Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, the writers of Booksmart and creators of ABC’s canceled-too-soon Trophy Wife. It stars Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond, The Middle), as a newly divorced woman who, with her kids now grown, decides to embark on a “second act” as a doctor, navigating new waters teeming with guppies as the oldest intern at a hospital.
“I think it is a little unusual,” MacLachlan grins, to say the least of this move from his last regular series role on Twin Peaks: The Return to a broadcast sitcom in the tradition of Everybody Loves Raymond and The Big Bang Theory. He’s serenely pragmatic about it all, while discernibly taking a certain amount of glee in people’s impressed reactions to yet another curveball career move: a shrug with a matching cocked eyebrow.
“Portlandia was something that was very different and unexpected,” he says of the hipster satire, on which he played the Mayor of Portland. “I didn't even know what that was when I signed on. I’d just met Carrie [Brownstein], and then I met Fred and I was like, well, these are great people. This is an interesting thing. Why not join in and see what we do?”
It’s the same kind of laissez faire outlook that locked him into a major network comedy series for the first time in his career (one that, by the way, scored the highest ratings of any new series during broadcast’s premiere week).
MacLachlan first showed a certain flair for bringing off-kilter laughs to a multicam audience playing the recurring character of George Van Soot (“The Captain”) in seven episodes of How I Met Your Mother.
There, he worked with veteran TV director Pamela Fryman, who happened to also be helming the Carol’s Second Act pilot. Then he learned Patricia Heaton was involved, someone who, after two nine-season runs on Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle, with a splashy, if short-lived stint opposite Kelsey Grammer on Back to You in between, may be the most successful modern sitcom actress there is today.
“I follow people, and then I follow my gut reaction to the people,” he says. “I thought, ‘This might be fun. Let’s see what happens.’”
It is both startling and titillating to discover upon meeting him that Kyle MacLachlan, at this moment, has gone full silver fox. That indelible, clean-cut side part is still there, framing the familiar rock-ridge jawline and chameleonic smile. But now it’s all gray.
His is a special kind of look, the kind of handsomeness that, in countless profiles over the years, gets dissected, element by element, to determine how it’s allowed the actor to so slickly slide into disparate genres. A one-millimeter difference in the pitch of his smile or the angle of his chin can mean a transformation from dashing Mr. Right to unsettling psychopath. Rolling Stone’s Rich Cohen described it in a ’90s profile as “the boy next door, if that boy spent lots of time alone in the basement.”
His good looks have been his very own Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And now they’re also Daddy.
It’s fitting then that, speaking to a ballroom full of TV critics and journalists at a Television Critics Association press conference for Carol’s Second Act earlier this summer, Patricia Heaton remarked, after never having met MacLachlan before, that he’s “this really lovely, kind of old-timey gentleman who stands when ladies come into the room.”
MacLachlan kind of melts, hunching his shoulders bashfully when I bring this up a few hours later, when we meet. He rolls his head to the side, displaying what could only be described as an “aw, shucks…” face. He repeats this action every time I bring up a compliment, reference the longevity or diversity of his career, or, hell, even laugh at something he says.
“It was nice for her to recognize that and say that,” he says. “When I was younger, I sort of resented that [description]. As I’ve gotten older, I really embrace it.”
It is perhaps head-slapping obvious to say that a show like Carol’s Second Act lives and dies on the chemistry of its leads. Heaton and MacLachlan have it in spades, based on the first episode’s tease of a possible romantic storyline. “We’ve been having fun, sort of goofy time together,” he says, calling Heaton “extraordinary.”
Holding court in front of a group of journalists, the actress lived up to the hype, relaying a series of uproarious personal anecdotes to explain her connection to the show.
When working with MacLachlan was brought up, she brought everyone—her co-star included—to stitches when she said, “I thought Blue Velvet was one of the most disturbing, awful two hours of my life that I’ll never get back, and I plan to exact my revenge in the coming years.”
MacLachlan is still laughing about it when we connect. “That’s the first time she shared that with me,” he says. “That was hilarious. And I totally get it! It’s a very disturbing film. Two hours that she can’t get back.”
The idea of second acts are sensitive and personal. That’s reflected in the series, which has some rather profound grace notes flying off the zingers, one-liners, and broad comedy. But it’s a topic that strums at an exposed nerve in the world of Hollywood, where, at its most cynical, a person tends to be valued only as much as their most recent hit. An actor’s entire career is arguably in pursuit of their next act. That the concept of “acts” is so inextricable from age—to some, a curse word in this business—only makes the whole conversation all the more delicate.
Heaton spoke candidly about this. The series arrived after her nine-year run on The Middle concluded. Her kids were grown and had essentially left the house. Suddenly she felt a bit at sea: no longer a full-time mom, and no longer with her stable actress job. “I very much felt the things that a person like Carol would feel of, ‘Who am I without these things?’”
“Patricia is incredibly believable as the woman going through this journey,” MacLachlan says. “And she has no problem putting her personal feelings and her personal life out there. I think if you're going to tune in and follow a story, she's definitely the one that you want to watch to lead this journey.”
(To wit, when a reporter asked Heaton about the optics of aging the character of Carol, who is in her fifties in the series, down a decade, she was hilariously frank: “I am 61, and I don’t have a problem with that. So it wasn’t that. And, in fact, I kept saying to Emily and Sarah, “I don’t think people will really believe I’m in my fifties, right? Do I need to do gray in my hair?” They’re like, ‘No. You don’t need to do anything.’ I have sort of a dysmorphia about how I look. I’ve always thought I looked like Angelina Jolie until I looked in the mirror, and then I realized I don’t. I felt that it was more realistic that Carol was in her fifties because I look like I’m in my fifties.”)
Talking about the series’ themes makes MacLachlan reflect on his own personal Carols, so to speak, and what he’s learned from them: the “strong women” he’s been surrounded by in his life. He speaks about his mother specifically, who embarked on her own second act when she was in her forties, becoming the public relations director for his local school district where he grew up in Yakima, Washington.
Looking back at his own career, he can see a second act, and a third act, and even more. “Every time I take a job, it’s this new, overwhelming thing,” he says. “You’re challenged by new things. You’re around different people. You need to prove yourself again.
As for confronting his age, the dashing new gray hair is one thing. (Cue the “aw, shucks…” smile.) But figuring out how that plays into his career is another.
Heaton joked that her perfect scenario, as she sees “death getting nearer and nearer,” would be to die on a soundstage. “That’s how I want to go...Full hair and makeup when it happens so that the photos are good. Then as long as I’m No. 1 on the call sheet when it happens, so I get top billing in the news article.”
MacLachlan betrays no sort of existential angst about his career, which turns 35 in December on the anniversary of the 1984 premiere of Dune, which gave him his first screen role.
Some things he chases. Some things come to him. Sometimes that sees him, against all odds, playing Special Agent Dale Cooper again, more than 25 years later. Sometimes that sees him on a soundstage scoring laughs in a Patricia Heaton sitcom...or playing Thomas Edison (in the upcoming biopic Tesla)...or even playing President Franklin D. Roosevelt (the recently announced Atlantic Crossing series).
“I’ll continue doing it until they say, ‘You know what? You’re falling over and you can’t remember your lines. You’re going to have to retire now.”
I do dutifully ask him the lame Twin Peaks questions. Will there be another season? “I don’t think very likely, but never say never.” Would he want to do one another? “Yes, immediately. I would.”
Depending on what scenes or projects you think of first when you think of Kyle MacLachlan—and lord knows there is a host of avenues to run down there—all this earnest niceness could theoretically be jarring. However, I have to say, it is extremely calming. And delightful. (Did you know he had his own line of Pacific Northwest wine? More, that it is called Pursued by a Bear?)
A commotion starts as he’s being physically yanked through a door for a photo shoot, which he interrupts to collect and center himself. He wants to make sure he shakes my hand and says thank you. Like Heaton said: a gentleman.