MacLachlan was the guy, but "Dune" was a bomb and De Laurentiis backed off from financing Lynch's "Blue Velvet." For two years MacLachlan didn't work in film, a blow for the handsome, aspiring actor who had justified his departure from the stage for Hollywood by telling colleagues, "I won't look like this forever."
That year after "Dune's" release, MacLachlan moved to Los Angeles, a time he describes as "like a ship, you could feel it going down. I just kept saying, it'll be OK, I have this much money to live on and my work in 'Dune' was OK, I just need to get a second picture."
He enlisted the aid of a public relations firm, dropped his agent--Creative Artists Agency, "which was just a bunch of baggage"-- and auditioned for a number of films, including "Top Gun." But nothing seemed to work. Most of his days, MacLachlan said, "I would get up, go to the gym, work out, come home, floss my teeth, clean the apartment, talk on the phone. It was a bad time." Finally, De Laurentiis gave Lynch the go-ahead on "Blue Velvet" with a much reduced budget. "I arrived on the set two weeks early I was so anxious."
Shooting that film was "100% different," according to MacLachlan, "because we were like this little forgotten movie." It was also the first time that MacLachlan encountered Lynch's more personal directorial concerns in a film that would be critically acclaimed and also criticized for its sado-masochistic treatment of women.
"Yeah it was sickly erotic, the stuff I did with Isabella (Rossellini). It made your heart beat fast," says MacLachlan about "Blue Velvet," a movie that required his first nude scenes. "I never really asked David what it meant, it was pretty obvious. I mean I was intrigued by the script, but I trusted David that he would do it in such a way that those scenes would be truly offensive and not erotic, that it would be horrific. That was my only concern that it would not come across like cruel treatment (of women) is good."
"Blue Velvet" put Lynch on the map as a director and established MacLachlan as an actor of some note and led to his one and only New York stage appearance in the short-lived drama "Palace of Amateurs." It was also a film that MacLachlan had initially turned down because his mother, who was dying of cancer, protested. "I had given my parents the script and my mom objected to the film's treatment of the women. At the time I said her reaction was valid because she had cancer and I didn't want to do anything more to disrupt her life. So I turned it down." Although he eventually said yes to that career-launching project, MacLachlan "never lost that feeling of 'Oh God, we have to be careful.' There was definitely a sense of responsibility."
It was a conscientiousness acquired from the beginning, this classic first-born son, a handsome, talented, favored child, the oldest of three boys born to Katherine and Kent MacLachlan, a middle-class Republican family in Yakima. He was a lawyer-turned-stockbroker and she was a homemaker who was very active in community arts programs, "very, very friendly, pretty, thin, very outgoing, your instant best-friend," recalls Gloria Beigler, one of MacLachlan's college roommates.
"My mom was really a community-involved lady," recalls MacLachlan, leaning back in his chair with a rueful smile. "She sent me to piano lessons, which I hated, and then I got into classical singing which was horrible. Thinking back on it, it was like this poor little kid . . . Then she was the director of this teen-age theater program and I was dragged there. No, no, no a million times no! I was like 'Jesus, Mom. It's one more thing you're like shoving down my throat.' I didn't say that but yeah, there was definitely this grooming thing going on."
That community theater experience, however, established a pattern that MacLachlan adopted not only for the professional opportunities but also as a release from certain pressures at home and at school. "I didn't go to drama class--those guys were a little too strange," he says, smiling. "I mean I was out there, but not that far. So I did the plays and starred in the big class musicals that everyone went to, all the jocks and dopers, and I sort of made a new category there. I was sort of an eccentric satellite and I chose that. That was my niche."
It was a pattern of semi-isolation that MacLachlan took to college in 1977--the University of Washington, where he initially tried to major in business. After taking one business course, "where I got a 1.6," MacLachlan drifted to the theater department.