The first season of Twin Peaks included a show within a show known as Invitation to Love. With many citizens of Twin Peaks such as Nadine and Lucy as fans, the soap opera starred today’s interview guest Lance Davis as “Chet” and also mirrored many plot lines of Twin Peaks including arson, evil twins, and murder. These days Lance runs Parson’s Nose Productions in Pasadena which includes a couple of Twin Peaks alumni as well! I recently had the chance to catch up with Lance Davis to chat all about Twin Peaks and its own show within a show. “You get ’em, Chet!”
BD: Where are you from originally and what led you to a career in acting?
LD: Born in Philly, Brad. Went to Catholic schools. Moved to St. Louis Junior Year and went to a Jesuit High School that had a great drama program. I got involved. Went to Notre Dame, spent a year in France, came back and majored in Theater. Won a McKnight Fellowship to U of Minnesota where one of my profs was Warren Frost. Mark was the kid playing with trains on the floor. We had no idea he was going to be the wunderkind.
Stayed on at the Guthrie Theater in Mpls. For five years. So became good friends with the Minnesota contingent in TP. Moved to NY, lived and worked there 12 years, met my wife, moved to Los Angeles. Bob and Jill Engels are great friends. Jill is now a member of my wife’s and my theater company, Parson’s Nose.
above: title card of “Invitation to Love” (left); Rick Giolito as Jason “Dimbo” Montana giving Martin “Chet” Padley whatfor (right)
BD: What was it like having Warren Frost as a professor?
LD: Warren was from the business and not academia so he had a wonderful practical knowledge of what worked. He taught television directing. He also directed me in a terrific production of Shaw’s “Heartbreak House”and gave me a whole new insight as to how to play Mazzini Dunn. His age for the end of the play was a nuclear holocaust. And I remember him saying,”I wanted to bring in one of those huge outdoor lights they use for Hollywood openings and have the back wall of the set open up and shine it on the audience, but it made too much noise. ” He and Ginsy became great friends in Los Angeles when we moved here.
BD: How did you originally get involved with Twin Peaks?
LD: Mark was kind enough to ask me to do it, along with Peter Goetz who is another great Minnesota friend. We were tickled to be working together.
above: Lance Davis as “Chet” with “Jared Lancaster”, played by Peter Goetz
BD: So what was it like filming Invitation to Love?
LD: We were up at the Frank Loyd Wright house in Los Feliz, I think. It was in video which was new then. We did it all pretty much off the cuff, as I recall, moving from scene to scene very quickly. Mark was very fun as a director, coming up with stuff, asking for stuff. And we all had a great deal of fun. I was playing Chet, and decided he should have a last name so I made it “Weems”. Then, and this is what happens when you have too much time to think, I decided that the name of the character was Chet Weems but the actor’s name in the credits should be different so I chose Martin Padley, who is my wife’s uncle in Wellesley Mass. So the credits, I think, for “Invitation” read Chet Weems…Martin Padley.
My favorite moment was shooting the gun. We didn’t rehearse. We were racing to get everything in. So we set up the shot. Got ready for my moment. Now I’d never shot this gun before, nor had Chet, and I was in no way prepared for the gun to be that loud in a living room. I’d obviously not realized that the crew were all holding their ears. So Chet shoots and instead of feeling any compassion or fear he reaches for his ear “Ow…”. I think in retrospect it was perfect for Chet.
Lance Davis as Martin Padley as Chet, about to put Jason “Dimbo” Montana on ice in “Invitation to Love”
BD: Did you get to keep any props or take pictures from your time filming?
LD: No, I didn’t get any, Brad.
BD: Were you a fan of the show when it aired on ABC? What were your thoughts on the show? (then and now)
LD: Well given that we shot it in a day I thought it had possibilities. I loved the idea that the soap would mirror events that were going on in the town. But I heard that David didn’t like video, and that the cast had grown to such a size that they couldn’t afford to have a whole separate plot line going on for the soap, so was disappointed, of course, when it went away, but I certainly understood.
I thought they did a great job with a lot of it. I think it got a little Escher like in that plot lines got a little too unresolved and that got confusing. But obviously people fell in love with it. It certainly blazed new trails as to what could be done with a TV series.
BD: Are you still close with anyone from the Twin Peaks world?
LD: Still very close to Bob and Jill. Haven’t kept up with Mark since he left TV or with Warren since he moved to Maine, but wish them well. Peter Goetz did Scrooge for us at Parson’s Nose last year. Great fun.
BD: What inspired you to begin Parsons Nose Productions? Tell me about your experience since founding it.
LD: I spent a lot of time at the Guthrie, studying classical theater, and fell in love with it. I’d been in France and fell in love with it. I’m a great fan of Moliere. I was also lucky to be in some very good productions, directed by Michael Langham who died last year, probably the finest interpreter of Shakespeare in the last third of the twentieth century. He liked American actors, not the Method actors, but those who had technique and still could show the emotional and psychological underpinnings of a character. He’d been the Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival in Canada for 12 years and really put it on the map.
Lance Davis (far right) during a Parson’s Nose production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
So I had this knowledge that audiences could enjoy the classics if they could get over their fear of boredom and incomprehension. So in 2000 I was teaching a college class and realized these students, theater students, had never seen a Shakespeare done well, let alone a Moliere. I came home and talked to Mary and we formed Parson’s Nose. “Introducing classic theater.” I was a fan, as a kid, of comic books called “Classics Illustrated” which did Midsummer Night’s Dream and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” I wanted to do that in theater with the classics. I’ve adapted 26 works over the years, one hour versions of the classics. I get the best actors I can, old friends from the Guthrie and Minnesota and The Acting Company, but who’ve been around awhile so they’ve developed their own technique, not what some teacher taught them, and they’re excellent at comedy. We’ve had great fun. We now – recession- perform readings at an intimate, black box, performing arts space in Old Pasadena. We use about 8 actors playing several parts, the audience can sit at café tables and have a wine or coffee, and we present the classics. We don’t hoke them up or make them rock n roll or send them up. We play them straight, and they’re very funny. And then people traveling to Ashland might go “Hey, Servant of Two Masters”! We know that one, let’s go.
Many thanks go out to Lance Davis! Stay up to date with him and Parson’s Nose on the official website!