Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) and FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) on Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks, the seminal 1990s murder mystery drama from creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, gave us many things. The show, which only ran for two seasons, brought a lush cinematic feel to episodic broadcast television while offering a surreal and often nightmarish look into the seedy underbelly of a seemingly idyllic small town. Its highly serialized and stylized format went on to influence countless other television shows and became a catchphrase for inexplicably odd circumstances. (Thank you, Cher Horowitz.)
Cher (Alicia Silverstone) realizes just how how surreal the situation with Elton (Jeremy Sisto) has gotten.
The show also featured quite a few now-familiar faces among its cast of dozens, which helped to shape the sense that Twin Peaks was a weird and wonderful place inhabited by malevolent spirits and oddball townspeople. While the show’s main cast boasted Kyle MacLachlan, Sherilyn Fenn, Ray Wise, Sheryl Lee, Peggy Lipton, Grace Zabriskie, and Lara Flynn Boyle (among many, many others), quite a few familiar actors dropped in for a damn fine cup of coffee during Twin Peaks’ all-too-brief run.
1. David Duchovny
Who: Before he played Fox Mulder on Fox’s The X-Files, Duchovny played DEA Agent Dennis/Denise Bryson, a cross-dressing federal agent who arrives in Twin Peaks when FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (MacLachlan) is investigated by his employers.
Episodes: Three (2.11-2.13)
Memorable Scene: Dressed as a waitress, Denise infiltrates a hostage standoff where Cooper has been taken prisoner. Her distraction enables Cooper to draw a gun secreted on Denise’s body and take out French-Canadian baddie Jean Renault (Michael Parks).
Memorable Quote: “Coop, I may be wearing a dress — but I still put my panties on one leg at a time, if you know what I mean!”
2. Robyn Lively
Who: The one-time star of Teen Witch (and sister to Blake) played the cursed Lana Budding Milford, a possibly unintentional black widow of sorts who had an ability to make any man fall madly in love with her. Lana marries Dougie Milford — who perishes during an acrobatic love-making session — and then becomes engaged to his brother, Twin Peaks mayor Dwayne Milford (John Boylan).
Episodes: Six (2.11; 2.12; 2.14; 2.19; 2.20; 2.21)
Memorable Scene: The entire Twin Peaks police force falls under Lana’s charms. (Is it pheromones or what?)
Memorable Quote: None, though her full-bodied ’90s hair deserves a category of its own.
Trivia: Lively played Sawmiller Diner owner Michelle Barker in Psych’s 2010 Twin Peaks homage episode, “Dual Spires.”
Bonus: Lively’s Lana Budding Milford dancing a rather unusual routine she calls “contortionistic jazz exotica.”
3. Billy Zane
Who: Zane played wealthy entrepreneur John Justice Wheeler, an associate of Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer), who later becomes a love interest for Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn). He eventually — SPOILER ALERT! — deflowers the saddle shoes-wearing amateur sleuth.
Episodes: Five (2.16-2.20)
Memorable Scene: John and Cooper, strangers at this point, share a fireside drink, toasting one another, unaware that they’re connected by Audrey. See also: the scene in which Audrey tells John that she’s a virgin and demands that he have sex with her posthaste.
Memorable Quote: “A lot of fuss over a loose weasel.”
4. Heather Graham
Who: The future star of such films as Boogie Nights, Swingers, The Hangover, and Bowfinger played Norma’s sister, Annie Blackburn, an ex-nun returning to Twin Peaks after a suicide attempt and a loss of faith. Annie works as a waitress at the Double R Diner, falls in love with Cooper, and is targeted by Cooper’s nemesis and former partner, Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh). She somehow also finds time to enter the Miss Twin Peaks competition.
Episodes: Six (2.17-2.22)
Memorable Scene: Cooper and Annie dance for the first time together, right before the start of the Miss Twin Peaks competition.
Memorable Quote: “I understand why you treat me with care, why you hesitate. The convent evokes images of helpless women fearful at the thought of emotions other than those derived from scripture and prayer. But when you hold me, when we kiss, I feel safe and eager. I’m not afraid. Not of anything you make me feel. Or want.”
Trivia: Graham very briefly reprises the role in the prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
5. Brenda Strong
Who: Years before she lent her voice as disembodied narrator Mary Alice on Desperate Housewives and starred on TNT’s recent Dallas update, Brenda Strong played Jones, the enigmatic and puzzling executive assistant of the sinister Thomas Eckhardt (David Warner), on Twin Peaks. Viewers learn very little about the character other than the fact that she appears to be completely insane.
Episodes: Four (2.14-2.18)
Memorable Scene: Jones attempts to garrote Sheriff Truman (Michael Ontkean) with piano wire, after dressing up as Josie Packard (Joan Chen), complete with black négligée and Josie’s signature perfume.
Memorable Quote: None, but that piano wire scene speaks volumes more than mere words.
6. Molly Shannon
Who: Way before Saturday Night Live (and the sadly departed Enlightened), Molly Shannon appeared on Twin Peaks as Judy Swain, a Happy Helping Hands case worker with knowledge of Little Nicky, a boy who may be cursed to bring “persistent random misfortunes” to those around him. Nicky becomes enmeshed in a storyline involving the love triangle between Dick Tremayne (Ian Buchanan), Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson), and Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz).
Episodes: One (2.12)
Memorable Scene: Um, she’s only in one scene.
Memorable Quote: “Mysterious circumstances. I’m afraid the orphanage has
never provided us with that information.” (Like I said, she’s only in one scene, but the shock of seeing Molly Shannon on Twin Peaks makes up for any lack of dialogue.)
7. Alicia Witt
Who: Actress and singer Alicia Witt — who has extensive credits including Dune, Cybil, Ally McBeal, The Sopranos, Friday Night Lights, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, among others — played Gersten Hayward, the piano-loving younger sister of Lara Flynn Boyle’s Donna and daughter to local doctor Will Hayward (Warren Frost) and Eileen (Mary Jo Deschanel, real-life mother to Zooey and Emily).
Episodes: One (2.1)
Memorable Scene: At a dinner party at the Haywards’ house, Gersten performs for Laura’s grieving parents, Sarah (Grace Zabriskie) and Leland (Ray Wise). Leland ends up singing “Get Happy” to Gersten’s accompaniment, but quickly begins singing at an alarming, uncontrollable rate… which leads to Leland breaking down and fainting.
Memorable Quote: “Dad, is he okay?” (No, he really isn’t.)
Trivia: Lynch allegedly created the character of Gersten especially for Witt. While nearly all episodes of Twin Peaks featured a static image of Laura Palmer’s photograph under the end credits, the end credits of this episode featured Witt playing the piano.
8. David Lynch
Who: Co-creator and director David Lynch, best known for his work on such films as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway and many others. Lynch played hard of hearing FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, one of the few times he appeared on-screen in his work. (He would go on to lend his voice to The Cleveland Show as Gus the Bartender and appeared in two episodes of FX’s Louie as Jack Dall.) Gordon is Cooper’s boss and falls in love with Double R Diner waitress Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick), whose voice is the only one he can hear.
Episodes: Six (1.5; 2.6-2.7; 2.11; 2.18-2.19)
Memorable Scene: Gordon finally gets a kiss from Shelly.
Memorable Quote: “YOU ARE WITNESSING A FRONT THREE-QUARTER VIEW OF TWO ADULTS SHARING A TENDER MOMENT.”
9. David Warner
Who: The British actor — perhaps best known for playing Povel Wallander in BBC/PBS’ Wallander and appearing in everything from Doctor Who and Ladies in Lavender to Titanic and Wild Palms — played the deliciously sinister South African businessman Thomas Eckhardt who obsessively pursues Josie Packard afar from Hong Kong. Josie’s former lover, he wields a Svengali-like grip on the widowed mill owner.
Episodes: Three (2.14-2.16)
Memorable Scene: His final scene. SPOILER ALERT! Eckhardt is shot to death by Josie, who then inexplicably dies herself… and her soul is deposited in the wooden knob of a nightstand at the Great Northern Hotel. (Don’t ask.)
Memorable Quote: None, though he gazes villainously into the fireplace with great aplomb.
10. Kathleen Wilhoite
Who: Boasting an insane resume that lists nearly every television show on the air, Kathleen Wilhoite is perhaps best known as Chloe Lewis on ER and as Liz Danes, the erratic sister to Scott Patterson’s Luke, on Gilmore Girls. On Twin Peaks, she plays Gwen Morton, sister to Robertson’s plucky police receptionist Lucy Moran, who visits Twin Peaks with her new baby in tow.
Episodes: One (2.8)
Memorable Scene: Gwen continually interrupts Andy’s attempts to tell Lucy about his recent sperm count test.
Memorable Quote: “You know, that is all men think about. You know, I remember when little Carl was first born and they laid him down on my breast and I looked at him and I saw what kind of a tiny little creature I was dealing with and I thought to myself, I thought, my God just what the world needs another sperm gun running around loose, right? Women beware.”
11. Clarence Williams III
Who: Clarence Williams III — who has appeared in The Butler, Justified and countless other films and television series — starred alongside Twin Peaks star Peggy Lipton (Norma and the real-life mother of Rashida Jones) in the 1960s drama The Mod Squad. In Twin Peaks, he played FBI Agent Roger Hardy, an internal affairs officer who arrives in town in order to investigate a series of charges (including misfeasance) against Agent Cooper. Given the evidence against Cooper, Hardy temporarily suspends him from the FBI.
Episodes: Two (2.10-2.11)
Memorable Scene: Hardy is justifiably incredulous when Cooper talks about “seeing beyond fear” and “looking at the world with love” rather than fighting the charges against him. See also: Hardy crosses paths with Lipton’s Norma at the Double R Diner and orders a “cup of coffee and some of that pie I keep hearing about.” Mod Squad reunion!
Memorable Quote: “Dale, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. And the first thing we expect a bureau man to do is stand up for himself. A man who can’t, who doesn’t even try, may be packing feathers where his spine’s supposed to be.”