Lara Flynn Boyle: Iron Butterfly
The TV show Twin Peaks made Lara Flynn Boyle a household name at the age of twenty. When the show ended after only two seasons, Boyle seemed uniquely positioned to continue working in film. While costar and rumored rival Sherilyn Fenn floundered, Boyle found work in movies like Mobsters and The Temp. Although her career seemed to be moving in the right direction, the writer who interviewed Boyle for this article from the February 1993 issue of Movieline uncovered several strange neurosises.
I’m worried about Lara Flynn Boyle. No, no, no, I’m not worried about her career. Ever since the TV series that launched her, “Twin Peaks,” went down in flames, her career’s been going swimmingly.
Everybody, it seems, wants to work with her: she was directed by Clint Eastwood in The Rookie and co-starred with Christian Slater in Mobsters; in the past year alone, she’s made Equinox with Matthew Modine, The Temp with Timothy Hutton, and Where the Day Takes You with Dermot Mulroney.
Neither am I worried about her material well-being. She’s got a house in Studio City, a new, black BMW 325i, a closet full of Melrose duds, and money managers investing what’s left over. And I sure as hell am not worried about her corporeal assets: she’s 22, with a face full of freckles that make her seem impish, she’s willowy yet ample in all the right places, and she has bright blue eyes. Still, there is cause for concern.
She wants to meet me for lunch at one of her favorite hangouts, Smokey Joe’s, a humble coffee shop in the Valley. I arrive at one, the appointed time, and ask for a seat in the no-smoking section. The booths are Naugahyde, the menus laminated, the staff multicultural. On the walls are framed glossies of celebrities who have frequented the place in the past: Donny and Marie Osmond, Roy Rogers, and the late progenitor of the Arquette acting clan, Charley Weaver.
While I’m fiddling with my tape recorder, Boyle walks in and takes a seat on the opposite side of the coffee shop. I look up and see her. I wave. She waves back. I motion for her to come join me. She motions for me to come join her. I point to the no-smoking sign. She holds up a pack of Marlboros and smiles like a bridge player who’s just trumped my ace. If I were a director or producer, I would have stayed put, but in the Hollywood hierarchy, a reporter is out-ranked by a hot starlet, so I collect my gear and wade into the haze of secondary smoke.
The waitress comes over and Lara orders. “I’ll have french fries, ranch dressing and ice coffee.”
“That’s your lunch?” I ask. She smiles and replies, “I love junk food.” Lara Flynn Boyle might have the body of Artemis, but she’s got the stomach of Jimmy Hoffa.
“How do you eat like that and look the way you do?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “I guess I have a lot of energy.”
“Do you exercise?”
“No, not unless it’s for a job. On The Temp I had a personal trainer. It was so strange getting up early and putting on a Walkman and walking up stairs for an hour. After the shoot, the producer, Howard Koch Jr., told me how good I looked and suggested I should continue with the trainer. I said, ‘Will you keep me on the payroll to pay for it?’ He said, ‘No,’ so I said, ‘Forget it.'”
I would have thought that as an actress who gets paid for being beautiful, Boyle would treat her body as a temple. She shakes her head. “I like nicotine and I like the taste of coffee. My friends call it the Bette Davis syndrome.” Boyle then confides that the reason she was 10 minutes late for the interview is that she’s “afraid to walk into restaurants alone.”
“But you did walk in alone,” I say.
“That’s because I knew you’d be here,” she explains. “I always come a little late to make sure the person I’m meeting is already there.”
“I see.” This strikes me as a rich vein, so I keep mining. “Are there any other places you’re afraid to walk into alone?”
“Supermarkets,” she says.
“What do you make of these fears?”
“I don’t know,” she says. Not a lot of introspection here. Maybe it’ll come with the years.
“So who does your shopping?”
“Either I go with friends or my mother shops.”
“You make your mother shop for you?”
“Well, I’m a young girl, I don’t cook. There’s not much to shop for.”
Yes, but not so little that she gets it herself. This is the first of many times during the interview that she refers to herself as a “young girl,” though she’s 22. I let that one slide and ask, “Doesn’t your mother have better things to do than shop for you?”
“Well, we live together, so it’s–”
“You live with your mother?”
“She’s the best roommate I’ve ever had.”
I wonder what happens when Boyle brings a date back to her place and mom is sitting on the couch watching TV.
“I introduce him and then, the next day, my mom will say, ‘I think I’d like him for my third son-in-law.'”
“Meaning that I’ll be divorced twice before I marry him.”
“So you and your mom joke about your being divorced?”
She shrugs nonchalantly–isn’t this how all mothers and daughters talk?–and says, “To me, breakup and divorce seem like the norm. Whenever I meet people whose parents are still together, I’m amazed. They’re freaks. They make me nervous. Seeing people still married after 20 years is like watching a TV show.”
Can you see why I’m worried? I’ve been visiting with Boyle for all of 20 minutes, and already I’ve uncovered self-destructive behavior, a too-cozy relationship with mom and more phobias than Sigmund Freud would have known what to do with. Could she be putting me on about the supermarkets? I lay a trap.
“Okay, so what happens if you’re really hungry, and you’re alone, and you can’t get hold of any of your friends and your mom is getting her hair done? What do you do for food?”
She doesn’t fall for it; with a level gaze, she replies, “I’d go to a McDonald’s Drive-Thru.” She must be for real. I usually don’t offer guidance during interviews, but in this case, I decide to break with tradition.
“You might need a therapist,” I say.
“I think I’m okay,” she says, and I watch as the former Bonnie Bell Clear Skin girl lights up another Marlboro while she dredges a fry through the ranch dressing. Can you see why I’m worried? How has it come to this?
What little I know about Boyle is this: after minor roles in films like Poltergeist III and How I Got Into College, and after playing the victim in the TV docudrama “The Preppie Murder,” Lara Flynn Boyle got a call from her agent.
“You’re going in to meet David Lynch,” Boyle recalls her agent said. “Call me afterward and tell me what he’s like.” Boyle says her response to this was a simple question: “Who is he?”
“You hadn’t seen his films?” I ask.
“No,” Boyle says. “I come from the world of Neil Simon. I had no idea who David Lynch was when I went in to read with James Marshall.”
“What is Lynch like?”
“He’s…” she begins, pausing to exhale a cloud of smoke, “…soothing. Although when he gave me direction, I had no idea what he was talking about.”
“How did you know what to do?”
She smiles, and tells me, “That’s the magic of David Lynch.”
“When did you hear you got the part?”
“That day,” she says, “after the reading.”
“What did you do?”
“I maintained my professional demeanor, thanked him, then I got into my car and screamed. Those first 24 hours after you hear you’ve gotten a job are just the greatest.”
The job, of course, was playing the part of prim Donna Hayward in Twin Peaks, and Boyle, like all the other cast members, rode the big wave of acclaim and hype that the bizarre series engendered. All of a sudden, at age 20, she was not only being offered features, she was dating the show’s leading man, Kyle MacLachlan. What was that like?
“It was so frightening,” she says. “He’s the first guy I ever said ‘I love you’ to.” Their storybook romance–well, if you can call anything “storybook” when it’s played out on the pages of the tabloids–was grist for the wagging tongues of Hollywood.
“It must have been a pretty heady time,” I say. She gets a dreamy look and says, “I guess it was, but I still had to do the dishes. I still had to take the dog to the vet. You know, you keep thinking, ‘When this or that happens to me, when I’m on the cover of this magazine, my life’s going to change.’ But you still go home at night. I still went to bed with my dog and watched David Letterman. It was nice to hear things, but it was just talk.”
During the second season of Twin Peaks, the affair fizzled. Rumors circulated that Boyle dumped MacLachlan after he became enchanted with another Twin Peaks co-star, Sherilyn Fenn. Boyle says this is nonsense, and she shows her school-marmish side when she tries to explain what really happened. “When a boy and a girl date in Hollywood, and at the same time, the TV character played by the boy is involved with the TV character played by another girl [in other words, when “Audrey,” played by Fenn, shows up in the bed of “Agent Cooper,” played by MacLachlan], and those two people kiss on-screen, the public assumes there’s trouble in the boy’s offscreen life.” Boyle assures me that TV fiction did not bleed into real life, that MacLachlan did not get it on with Fenn and she (Boyle) did not break off the relationship. “It just came to an end. [The tabloids] had to blame someone, so they picked me.”
That phrase, “it just came to an end,” would do nicely as Boyle’s take on why she passed up playing Donna in the feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. I ask, “Did you have a falling-out with David Lynch?”
“No,” she says, lighting another cigarette.
“Then why didn’t you do the Twin Peaks feature?”
“Because I was offered an Alan Rudolph movie, Equinox, and I’ve always wanted to work with Alan. Choose Me is one of my favorite movies. I would have done a toothpaste commercial for him.”
Oh yes, Equinox. This is a moody meditation on fate, but like all Alan Rudolph movies, its arty and charming parts just don’t add up to a satisfying whole. Boyle plays a repressed, Emily Dickinson-spouting spinster who seems locked in an emotional straitjacket. At the end of the film, I felt I still didn’t know enough about her character, but when I mention this, it obviously doesn’t bother Boyle. “It’s nice having secrets in film,” she says. “So many times you watch movies, and by the end, you know everything there is to know about a person. That’s not true to life.”
Boyle’s first starring role in a big studio picture comes with The Temp, in which she plays a temporary secretary who drives her boss, Timothy Hutton, to distraction. Producer Howard Koch Jr. says, “Boyle’s an actress with range. She’s utterly believable whether she’s playing sweet or diabolical.” In fact, pretty diabolical stories circulated around town that this was not a happy troupe of actors, and that she and Hutton did not get along. When I mention this, Boyle waits a beat before answering.
“Look,” she says to me, “it’s a fact of making movies that people get bored. They love to talk and spread rumors, and who better to gossip about than the stars? I’ve heard these crazy stories about The Temp, and I find them fascinating. Granted, Hutton’s and my relationship in the movie is fiery and we both have strong acting methods. I think people saw this and may have thought it was personal, but actually it was all just part of the work process.”
She flashes her eyes as if to say, “Had enough?” Boyle isn’t tough, exactly, in person; she’s got what used to be called “grit.” When I ask where that came from, she explains that she grew up poor in Chicago. Okay, how poor? In those days, it was just her and her mother; her parents had divorced when she was young. There were times, she tells me, when as a youngster she would be greeted in the morning by the sight of a dead rat who’d nibbled some of the poison that was crumbed into the corners of the apartment. Grade school, to hear her tell it, wasn’t any better; she calls it “the worst experience of my life.” Because of a learning disability, integration dyslexia, she got bad grades. “I’d go home and study, and I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t write math problems, and fractions were impossible.
“My mother used to say, ‘A lousy life makes for a good personality.’ I’ve had lousy experiences but it’s given me good intuition. I’m not book-smart, but I am street-smart, because of what I had to learn and face as a child.” While she’s chatting away about how theater classes helped her to overcome her extreme shyness, I’m wondering how street-smart she can be if she’s afraid to walk into a supermarket.
In theater class, Boyle is saying, “I was popular, I had answers for the questions, I got A’s.” It was during this time that Boyle and her mother, while eating in a restaurant, were approached by a man with a camera. He said that Boyle’s young face could make her money, and he asked to take her picture. Thus began a modeling career. And with the income she earned, Boyle helped pay for her tuition to the Chicago Academy for the Performing Arts. “It was either that or I would have dropped out of school.” In her freshman year, at age 15, she auditioned–a total of nine times–for a TV miniseries called “Amerika.” Eventually, she got the part. A couple of years later, when she was 18, her parents’ joint custody agreement ended, and Boyle lost contact with her father.
“Do you think your father’s leaving you has affected your view of men?”
“Yeah,” she says, “I don’t find them as fascinating as I probably would have if I did have a good father figure. I get bored easily with men. When I go out with my girlfriends we talk about who will probably get married first and who will have children. And the last time out, one friend said to me, ‘Lara, you’ll never get married.’ Another friend disagreed and said, ‘Lara, I’ll never be able to keep up with all your husbands.'”
For all this, Boyle is then coy when I ask about the men in her life. “I don’t find relationships as important as my work,” she says. “I don’t use up a lot of energy on boys.”
“But there must be someone . . .”
“I’m a young girl, I don’t want to settle down anytime in the near future. As an only child, I’m used to being alone.”
Okay, if she chooses not to speak about her love life offscreen, how about her love life on-screen? I ask about her sex scene with Christian Slater in Mobsters, and she’s quick to point out that “stunt boobs” were used when the camera panned their writhing bodies.
“Every young actress has to play ‘girlfriend’ roles,” she tells me, “but that doesn’t mean you have to lie there like a slab of meat. Whether or not [I’ll do nudity] is a decision I make on almost every project I’m offered. I discuss it with my agent, my manager, the director, the producer, the writer. It’s a very standard meeting that takes place. Sometimes I’ve lost roles because of not wanting [to undress], but it has to be my decision. On Mobsters, I looked at the part, the depth of the character, and I felt that I’d be cheating myself–and my character–if I did it. I didn’t think that, artistically, it was needed.”
About the 1920s, the time in which Mobsters was set, Boyle says, “I would have loved to have been a woman then instead of now.”
“Why is that?”
“Women had more fun and respect in those days.” More fun? Before the pill and legal abortion? More respect? Before women’s lib? Then I remember how little formal education Boyle has had, so instead of calling her on her observation, I ask, “What do you do for fun, now?” Amazingly, she can’t think of anything.
“Well then, what about hobbies?”
“I don’t have any hobbies. I don’t know what I like to do when I’m not working. That’s hard for me, because I get my identity through my work. That’s when I feel the most confident, the happiest, the strongest.”
“Well, what do you do when you’re not working?”
“I look for work.” Sounds depressing, so I inquire, “Do you get depressed?”
“Yeah. When I got on the plane after shooting The Temp, I cried. I usually cry when I leave a location. It’s very sad. It’s like graduating from high school. If I’m not sad, it means I haven’t given enough of myself to the part. I want to leave a part of myself in every role. I want to give something away.”
“What did you do when you got home?”
“I went to bed for two weeks.” When she’s not working, Boyle and her bed are best buddies. She sleeps from three in the morning till two in the afternoon, then she gets up in time to watch the chat shows: Oprah, Phil, Geraldo.
“Do you read a newspaper?” I ask.
“Have you read any books lately?”
“Yeah,” she says, “I just read The Missing Piece and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O by Shel Silverstein. You should read them.”
“Are there directors you’d like to work with?”
“Yeah, I’d like to work with Hal Ashby.” I don’t have the heart to tell her that Ashby is dead. Since this is for the magazine’s “Sex” issue, I ask Boyle if she recalls her first kiss. She tells me that she can recall her first kiss on-screen–in “Amerika”–but not her first real-life kiss. I guess she sees the look of astonishment in my eyes because, unprompted by me, she tries to explain how this seems logical to her.
“When my character falls in love with a leading man, that’s a much purer love than any love outside of work.”
“Why is that?” I ask. “Because in making movies, it’s all unreal?”
“But it is real. It’s unreal because that’s what making movies is, but it’s real, I feel all of it. It’s real to me. It’s real until the director yells, ‘Cut.'”
Just at this moment, the owner of Smokey Joe’s comes over and tells Boyle that her mother is on the phone. How many movie stars could this happen to?
When Boyle returns, she tells me she has to run off to do a newspaper interview. Too bad. I had wanted to tell her that if she ever needs an escort to the market, she could call on me. I wanted to tell her that I was worried about her. I wanted to recommend a therapist. But I have time for only one more question: “What are you doing with all your money?”
“I’m very careful with my money.”
“Good. I feel better.”
“I have people investing it,” she explains as she gathers up her things and heads for the door. “I don’t want to have to clean up rats again. But who knows? That’s what’s so intriguing and so frightening about the profession I’m in. You never know. But I like that. Anything permanent bores me.”
Jeffrey Lantos interviewed Michael Biehn for our October issue.