VISITING SEATTLE recently, British-born, Australian-raised Naomi Watts explained how she undertook, in effect, a crash course in David Lynch when Mulholland Drive was produced as a 1999 two-hour TV pilot. "He doesn't audition people," she says. " He doesn't read you. It was a very irregular casting process, actually; we just sat and talked." Then, after a quick shoot, came the first screening.
"The networks panicked when they saw it," Watts continues. "It was a huge shock to be told that it wasn't going to work." Two weeks of additional footage were then shot for the cut that earned Lynch best director honors at Cannes this spring, but Watts is coy about what the new material comprised. "David doesn't like to delineate too much," she avows. "He doesn't like to say chronologically how we shot. Pretty much everything we shot is in the film. The edit has changed dramatically from when it was shot for TV. Whole scenes were dropped; points were emphasized completely differently within a scene."
Lynch was equally opaque on the set, Watts recalls. "He doesn't divulge much. He isolates the scene more than thinking of the whole big picture. Sometimes I felt like I was being tortured, that he was withholding—and maybe he is, but he does it in such a mischievous, sweet way. Literally, to the last day of shooting, we were still speculating and trying to interpret [Mulholland] in whichever way we could."
Yet having spent a couple years on the project, the actress dismisses any easy interpretations. "I'm still learning about the film, and I've seen it three times now. It's really something quite out there and convoluted . . . you can get little pieces every time. There is that thing that repeats itself in David's films, and I think that's the exploration of the dark and the light. He's studying the human psyche. And I know that that's David's endeavor, and that's why he doesn't like to talk about it and leaves it mysterious. You can go back to it; you can talk about it and think about it."