Mädchen Amick strides into the sun-flecked courtyard of a packed L.A. breakfast hangout still looking so much like Shelley Johnson, her vixen/victim character on Twin Peaks from 27 years ago, you almost expect to hear that twangy Duane Eddyish guitar theme from director David Lynch’s deeply twisted TV series. Heads swivel in recognition as Amick, sporting big brown sunglasses, a clingy white cotton sweater, T-shirt and dark slacks, waves a sweet bye-bye to David Alexis, her husband of 30 years, and their 24-year-old daughter Mina Tobias as the two head off for breakfast and shopping. With that, Amick joins me at a tucked-away table. I’m guessing that more than a few of our fellow mid-morning diners—hipsters, trust fund brats, scriptwriters—may also recognize Amick for her subsequent decades of recurring roles on Californication, Witches of East End, American Horror Story and, currently, the Archie comics-gone-gothic series, Riverdale.
We’ve barely made our introductions when things take a delightful swerve toward the strange, whimsical and, well, Lynchian. A flock of tiny sparrows start hanging out on the patio near our table, staring up and chirping at Amick like they know her. A few others flutter near her head before perching on nearby vines and branches. “I feel like Snow White,” she says, tossing her feathered friends bread chunks from the table. Moments later, she spots a spiky-haired passerby and shakes her head in disbelief. “That’s Lenny von Dohlen,” she says, referring to the Twin Peaks actor who played an agoraphobic horticulturist with a vital connection Laura Palmer—the apparently sweet, innocent high school homecoming queen whose murder fueled the show’s plot. Deadpans Amick, who clearly hasn’t seen von Dohlen in some time, “OK, what is happening right now?”
Who knows? But it’s fitting, considering Twin Peaks put Amick’s striking features and enigmatic sleepwalker vibe on the map. And the lovefest attending the show’s return may lead to Amick being appreciated all over again as David Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost continue unleashing hours of new Twin Peaks weirdness over the summer on Showtime. Amick’s fellow returnees include Kyle McLachlan, Ray Wise, Sheryl Lee, Sherilyn Fenn, Russ Tamblyn and Richard Beymer, along with new additions including Naomi Watts, Monica Bellucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Trent Reznor, Tim Roth and Amanda Seyfried.
So how did a nice girl like Amick first wander into David Lynch-land, sticking with him when creative battles between the director and ABC network executives led to the cancellation of Twin Peaks after a two-year run—and going on to star in the feature-length iterations Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces? “I watched beautiful, glamorous movies as a little girl and had parents who encouraged me to follow my creative instincts,” she explains. “I studied ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance. My father was a musician and I learned piano, violin, guitar and bass. I couldn’t wait to move to Hollywood at 16, which I did. I gave myself a year to be fully independent and supporting myself and got signed by the Elite modeling agency, got cast on Star Trek: The Next Generation and in the Baywatch pilot. I was 17 when I had a casting meeting with David Lynch and he bluntly asked, ‘Do you want to do a TV show with me?’ I said no to becoming a regular on Baywatch and yes to Twin Peaks, saying, ‘This show is either going to be brilliant, different, and get a lot of attention or it’s going to be so brilliant and different that it fails miserably.’”
Despite ABC’s top brass having so little faith in the show that they tried to bury it by airing it opposite Cheers, a ratings giant at the time, in its first season Twin Peaks became must-see TV. “I was thrown into fame so quickly and intensely and I found it uncomfortable and scary,” says Amick, who, along with her co-stars Sherilyn Fenn and Lara Flynn Boyle, became an instant magazine cover girl. “I learned quickly that I wanted to be an actress, not a celebrity. It sounds artsy-fartsy, but what gave me pleasure was the craft of acting, being on set, working through things, getting it right. Having to dress up, go to red carpet events and get surrounded by crowds of people and photographers made me so uneasy that I actually thought, ‘I’ll be happier if I can stay under the radar, do a lot of really good work, and just have enough success to continue to work—to not become Julia Roberts or whoever was ‘the girl’ at the moment. Going forward, that helped navigate my choices.” Amick’s plan led her to say yes to the Stephen King-penned Sleepwalkers, the Nicholas Cage comedy Trapped in Paradise and the neo-noir marital suspense thriller Dream Lover. None was a hit. She said no to roles “where there’d be nothing for me to do except be the beautiful girl on the action hero’s arm or be a black widow bitchy femme fatale.” That meant she skirted projects opposite big male stars including Sylvester Stallone and Denzel Washington—movies that helped advance the careers of several other actresses, including Sandra Bullock.
“In retrospect, I should have done one or two of the things I was offered, just to gain more leverage,” she says. “But I remember went in for a movie starring two very big male stars and I got told that the part was mine—if I got a boob job. When I asked, ‘What’s so important about having big boobs for this role?’ they said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll pay for it all.’ I was like, ‘Fuck you, I’m moving on.’ Five or six years of this and I sort of had an emotional and professional crisis. After the experience of doing Twin Peaks, where we could aspire and limitless freedom as creative people, I kept hitting projects where the people working on it were so narrow-minded, going, ‘Oh, no, we can’t do that.’ The boxes, the rules and limitations that movie studios and TV networks put up around projects got narrow and narrower. I went back to David and said, ‘I’m losing myself. I’m having such a struggle trying to see any positives.’ He told me, ‘Success is relative. You have no idea how many films I can’t get made because people don’t understand it.’ It was honest and sobering. Here we have a master, a living, breathing Einstein, a da Vinci in our midst. How is Hollywood not embracing him?”
Amick found balance by focusing on her family, including her son Sylvester Time, who battles bipolar disorder and with whom she has become a counselor and advocate for ending stigma toward the diagnosis. She has also stuck to working episodic TV, including Gossip Girl, Damages, Longmire and even a sweet one-off as the hallucinatory beauty strangled by Don Draper on a memorable Mad Men episode. But flying under the radar is tougher for Amick now that Twin Peaks is back. Rumors from the Washington State and Los Angeles studio locations were too weird and delicious to ignore. Did director Lynch actually have the cast practicing transcendental meditation? Did Lynch and Mark Frost’s script weigh in at a massive 400 pages? Did he really shoot the equivalent of seven or more two-hour feature movies? Does the Laura Palmer murder still fuel the plot? She says, carefully choosing her words, “David told us, ‘No matter who you think you’re playing, even that is up for debate.’ I know what he means, because there were actors in my scenes doing things where I wondered, ‘Why are they doing that? It must relate to something else I don’t know about.’ He says, ‘Everybody wants to know everything until they know.’ We don’t want to ruin what’s still to come. We want to let people enjoy it and discover it for themselves.”
So what can she confirm or deny? She answers, grinning enigmatically, “I can say this: I’ve seen David often over the years, but when I walked in and saw him and the old crew members back again, I was crying. David was crying. He kept saying, ‘Isn’t this beautiful? How is this happening again?’
“I’d like…” She hesitates, letting what looks like the tiniest bit of anxiety cloud her expression. “There is so much expectation. Will it live up to the expectation? Can you catch lightning in a bottle twice? That’s a little frightening to me. But the risk is far outweighed by the beauty of it reaching more people, especially with the original show streaming on Showtime and reaching a whole new generation. It was so beautiful to be back again in David’s world.”
Read “When Twin Peaks Actress Sherilyn Fenn Posed for Playboy” here.