Some of the best one liners in all of Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me come from today’s interview guest, Gary Bullock! Gary portrayed the callous and stubborn Sheriff Cable, the foil to Special Agent Chester Desmond in the first segment of Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me. I was pretty excited to learn that Gary grew up in East Tennessee, just like me and I was even more thrilled when he agreed to answer a few questions about his experience filming Twin Peaks as well as his character Sheriff Cable. Without any further ado, let’s rock!
BD: Where did you grow up in East Tennessee, and what was that like?
GB: Elizabethton is my home town, up in the northeast corner of the state, surrounded by the Appalachian mountains. I had a pretty normal childhood, roamed the woods, was a boy scout, and all in all, was pretty happy. I developed a passion for model aircraft when I was in my teens, and that has stuck with me all my life. I currently have around 40 models hanging in our workshop and in the house, and they all fly, mostly radio-controlled. I have a science and engineering geek side, and that helps satisfy it.
BD: When did you first get into acting?
GB: Well, my Dad was a great fan of the movies, so I saw a lot while growing up, everything from Fred and Ginger to Gary Cooper and Roy Rogers. Acting wasn’t my first thought about a career. Since I was fairly talented in Math and Science, it became sort of assumed that was what I would pursue. And I did through High School and into college. But somewhere in high school I got bitten by the theatre bug. I am basically a shy person, or was then, and it terrified me to get up in class and speak, even if it was as innocuous as a book report. I discovered something interesting though – when I was acting a character in a play or a short reading, it wasn’t me out there – it was this other guy, and it was exhilarating, and liberating. As time went on I learned how to “act” myself, and eventually got the courage to play that guy all the time (when I wasn’t playing someone else.) Anyway, to make a long story short, I graduated from college with a Math major, but I spent all my spare time doing as much student theatre as I could. I eventually wrote my own one-man show, playing Abraham Lincoln. That actually got me my first union acting job, and I joined Screen Actors Guild. My fate was sealed.
above: the historic covered bridge in Elizabethton, TN
BD: How did Twin Peaks come about? Were you a fan of the television series?
GB: I was new to L.A., and by sheer luck acquired an agent my first year there. He was known for his stable of character actors, and got me an audition with Johanna Ray, who cast Twin Peaks. I was indeed a fan of the series. I love the humor.
BD: Were there any characters from the series that really resonated with you, or any favorite scenes of yours?
GB: I really liked Kyle (MacLachlan). He really had the rhythm of Twin Peaks down. And I liked Russ Tamblyn’s shrink. If you watch “Fringe”, you will have seen John Noble wearing a pair of colored glasses, one side red, the other blue, and he referred to having gotten them from a doctor in Washington, by Russ’s character name (I forget) (ed.-Dr. Jacoby!). Many other characters as well, but those come to mind first.
The scene which immediately comes to mind is one where Kyle is questioning one of the teen characters (I think), and the kid starts giving him attitude, asking questions himself. And Kyle just stops, with this wide smile of almost awed disbelief, turns to Sheriff Truman, and says “He really doesn’t understand how this works, does he?”, then, still smiling, and speaking carefully, as though to a child, “I ask the questions, and you give me answers.” As though the kid really needed it clarified. Kyle’s character was a delight to watch.
above: Gary Bullock (center) as “Sheriff Cable” taking no guff from the J. Edgars in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
BD: What was the audition process like for Fire Walk With Me, and what did Lynch and company tell you about the role of Sheriff Cable?
GB: The audition was very relaxed. I had the script, and it was pretty clear to me what Sheriff Cable was all about. David told me absolutely nothing about the role, rather he asked me what I thought. And we discussed it a bit. But I was never asked to “read” for the part. That has rarely happened to me.
BD: Did you add any of your own personal touches to the character of Sheriff Cable, or was the character depicted straight from the script and character presented to you?
GB: Sheriff Cable’s lines came straight from the script. No ad libs. I didn’t plan how they were to come out of my mouth, they just did. Hence the peculiar pronunciation of “any-where”. Just happened. That scene is of course my favorite, including the “little ring”.
BD: How long did you work on Fire Walk With Me?
GB: Two weeks.
above: Gary and Chris Isaak (as Chet Desmond) throw down in a deleted scene. left photo courtesy of Gary Bullock.
BD: Tell me about some of the scenes that didn’t make it into the final cut.
GB: The only scene I know anything about that was cut, was the fight scene between Chris Isaak and myself. You may have noticed an odd cut where Chris comes to take the body, and I stonewall him – “You’re not taking that body anywhere.” That was supposed to lead to a fist fight out back where Chris whips my ass after I sucker punch him. Then he picks up a length of rebar and bends it, just like the photo in my office (shown below). Well we filmed the whole thing, after a week of working with the stunt coordinator, and it was cut. I guess the film was a bit long. Too bad.
BD: That IS too bad! Hopefully that scene will be unearthed someday. What was it like working with Chris Isaak?
GB: Like working and playing with a buddy. He was great fun.
BD: Did you keep any props or costumes, or take any photos from your time filming?
GB: Nope. Wish I had. It would have been nice to have the arm patch of the sheriff’s dept. But I thought of it too late. I have a few photos, nothing special.
BD: What did you think of the final product?
GB: Well, I understood everything (I think) up to the part where Chris Isaak vanishes. And I loved the touches of Lynchian humor. It was a unique experience – the only time I have ever been directed to slow down my delivery of lines. David said to slow it down till it is almost uncomfortable, that will be about right. He was hearing that slow beat that suffused almost every scene in Twin Peaks. And he was right. I watch it now, and it is such a hoot.
above publicity photo courtesy of Gary Bullock
BD: What have you been up to since Twin Peaks?
GB: Well, that was what, twenty years ago? We lived in Hollywood, about 4 blocks from the Mann Chinese theatre, for about 15 years, and did as much film, TV and theatre as they would let us! I particularly enjoyed working in the small theatres in Hollywood. My last movie was Racing Stripes, where I played a race-horse trainer. It was filmed in South Africa, doubling as Kentucky, would you believe. And it is a breathtakingly beautiful country – not one I would have chosen to visit, but I am so glad I had the opportunity. And got to work with some great people – Wendie Malick, Bruce Greenwood, and Hayden Pannetiere. Interestingly enough, the first movie I ever did was “Winter People”, and the animal trainers were also the animal trainers for Racing Stripes. Great people, full circle.
BD: What projects do you have going on these days?
GB: We now live in the mountains of North Carolina, not 3 hours from where I grew up in Tennessee. I don’t actively look for roles these days. But I have been involved in a documentary of the “Checkertails”, the 325th Fighter Group of World War II, being filmed by a British guy named Neil Pugh. I have co-written some of the narration, and also voice the narration. We have finished Part 1, which is 1 ½ hours long, and will be finishing up Part 2 in December.
We have built a sound booth in our home, and my consummate actress wife, Mil Nicholson, records, or rather performs, audiobooks. Currently she has finished 5 of the novels of Charles Dickens. She does all the character voices as well, and there are typically 50-60 characters in any Dickens book. I am her engineer and audio editor. Each book takes about 4-6 months, not counting prep time.
I also have been writing, and have a couple of screenplays I think worth filming. One might interest you, being a Tennessean. It’s based on the true story of a man in my home town during the Civil War. East Tennessee you may know, was very loyal to the Union, and was actually “occupied “ by Confederate troops.
This man helped people escape the South to Union lines, guiding them through the mountains. He was a wanted man, and a man of peace, until Confederate soldiers attacked his family. Then the gloves came off. He was a one-man guerilla war.
The other story is a sci-fi romance, which could easily be filmed right here in the mountains. No aliens, no space ships, but a heroine who can step into alternate realities at will.
A HUGE thanks goes out to Gary for taking the time to talk Twin Peaks! Check out Gary’s site for more information! www.act2sc3.com.