Kyle MacLachlan has spent a lot of his career in creepy movies, playing creepy guys. But that didn’t matter to Pixar, who cast him as the well-intentioned, overworked, mustachioed dad in this new high-concept comedy Inside Out. The bulk of the story takes place inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl, but outside her parents are trying to connect with her and find out what’s wrong. And inside her parents, they’re just as confused, distracted and troubled as she is.
I sat down with Kyle MacLachlan as Walt Disney Studios to find out more about “Dad,” where he comes from and what he’s going through. But we also started talking about the way fatherhood affects his career, and how being the father of a 7-year-old changed his performance for the better. We also started considering what will happen when his son gets old enough to see some of Kyle MacLachlan’s darker performances, which it sounds like the actor isn’t entirely ready for… yet.
Inside Out premieres in theaters on June 19, 2015.
CraveOnline: Is this the first film where you’ve ever had a mustache?
Kyle MacLachlan: Let me think… Well, yes. I had muttonchops in The Doors but I don’t think I had the mustache. That was pretty funny, I thought. The funniest thing was then all of the emotions inside my head all have mustaches. Had you noticed that? [Laughs.]
Yeah, it’s a very distinctive feature.
I was like, “Okay, that’s brilliant.”
Did you grow a mustache just so you’d know what it was like?
I can’t even grow a mustache.
You can’t grow a mustache?!
No, there’s no way. I can’t. Facial hair and me, it’s just… you know.
You’ve done a lot of voice work before…
New Frontier. I really liked your Superman.
Superman, yeah, that was fun. That was different. That was different, kind of a [does the voice] “Superman,” I had a whole different kind of attitude. Which I was… I relied quite heavily on them to say “Okay, push it here, push it there” because I really didn’t know what I was supposed to be. But this character, much more intimate. Quieter.
It’s very realistic. You don’t always get that in a cartoon. What sort work do you do with a character like this? Did you talk to Pixar a lot about where he’s coming from, and what his business is…?
Mostly it’s conversations with Pete Docter, when we’re in the room, working. And Jonas Rivera, who was also very involved, the producer. You know, Pete was very clear, very specific about who the guy was and where he was coming from and what was happening. I just went into that, expanded into that, as well as bringing in some of my own… I don’t know, attitudes or interpretations of certain things. Maybe I spun something a little bit different and we would work together on that.
Can you tell me about the Dad’s backstory? We only see him from Riley’s perspective. I don’t even know what his job is. Do you know what he does?
Yeah, he’s coming to San Francisco to work in the tech world. He’s got, we really didn’t get into the specifics of it, a startup. Which requires a tremendous amount of time and energy away from the family. There’s a lot of stress, not only in the move and on Riley, but also within the entire family and everyone’s a little bit disconnected. But still, with attempts made to try and hold it together, which the Mom is capable of doing, but it’s just a lot of stress.
One of the first films I ever saw you in, you also played a very good family man. It was Roswell.
Oh yeah. It was an interesting concept, right? Just the idea of the questions it asked. What if, and could it have been? Yeah, that was interesting.
I was just thinking about it because you started off working with David Lynch, and it seemed like you tended to gravitate towards kind of creepy roles. It’s nice to see you be the nice dad. Like on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you’re a really nice dad.
You’ve got some problems…
Big problems! But I think as you get older and you’re still around, those are the kind of roles that come, and I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve had some really interesting stuff in the past, especially the past couple of years, to work on.
Is that a milestone, when you start getting cast as dads? Is that a moment, for an actor?
Yeah, I think there’s a transition. It’s kind of a natural one, I think, and one that I really embrace and welcome. Because the characters are still interesting. They have this other added dynamic of having children and a family and what that means. It’s not just the individual anymore.
It’s hard to play that when you don’t have a family. I know that I was asked when I was younger, that I dealt with a couple of roles where the character had a son, [but] I didn’t have a son. So I did the best I could. But it’s different when you actually have the experience. It just influences you in a different way.
So are you playing Inside Out differently than you would back then?
I think there’s… yeah, there’s a recognition. My son is almost seven, and so he’s still in the joy. Everything is great except for a few moments. LEGOs are an endless fascination. But you also, you’re approached to them. I had nieces before I had my son, nieces and nephews, and my approach to them was a certain way but now that I have my son, my approach to them is a little bit different. There’s a little more understanding of what I see going on, I think.
And I think it’s the same thing with Riley. The approach when I come up to the room at night and […] he attempts to do these things, and he’s also trying to find a way into her [mind] as well. It’s not exactly working. It’s not clicking. So those are all things I think once you have a little one, you are aware of. You realize the difficulty in trying to really connect with them and get them to look at you, and sometimes it has more to do with timing. Are you are at the right time? It’s not the right time, there’s nothing you can do. Don’t take it personally, just walk away. [Laughs.]
These are my fears of parenthood. You never what to do and you never know what’s going to stick.
Yeah, it all sticks I think.
Yeah, but there are moments in my life when my parents said something to me that had an unimaginable impact on everything I do, and they have no memory of even saying it.
[Laughs.] That’s true! I think that’s very true. When I speak to my son and I say something, he’ll repeat something back to me a couple days later that will reference that, and I’m like, I didn’t know he was listening. But you realize that that mind is a little sponge. Everything that’s going in there is somehow sticking. Not everything, but stuff that you don’t expect.
Has your son seen Inside Out yet?
Not yet. He’s seen the trailer and a couple little snips on the iPhone that I showed him. He likes “the foot is down” a lot. “The foot is down!” He repeats that a lot.
Have you shown him some of your other work? I guess probably not Showgirls, but maybe The Flintstones?
He has an action figure. I have a Flintstones action figure, so he has that, but he hasn’t seen The Flintstones. He’s seen a few snips from the movie but not the whole movie yet. And I think apart from maybe an appearance on Kelly and Michael, he’s kind of… he’s aware. He doesn’t really understand what it is, or what it means. He hasn’t seen me in a full thing yet. There’s nothing that’s quite really appropriate that he’s ready for.
Yeah, how do you decide when it’s an okay time for your son to see you in Blue Velvet?
Yeah… He’ll probably surprise me and say, “Oh dad, I saw that.” I think that should be a little ways off. [Laughs.] At least!
Well, it’s a great movie. He’s going to love it.
Yeah, I think so.
It’s just going to be really awkward.
He’ll probably have a lot of questions. Hopefully I’ll be able to help and answer them.
You know Showgirls turns 20 this year.
It’s just insane, what an event that movie was and how it has a huge cult following now. Does that excite you to know that that movie has lingered so long? There was so much nonsense about it when it came out.
I wouldn’t say “excites me” is the right word. I mean, you know, it has a life and it has a following, which is fine, I guess. But I wouldn’t say… yeah, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. [Laughs.]
So you haven’t seen Showgirls 2?
Not yet. [I’ll] probably miss that one.
What is next for you? It seems like your story has wrapped up on S.H.I.E.L.D. so we probably won’t see you there for a bit.
I think so, yeah. I think at the moment. It was nice that they let it be somewhat open-ended at the end, when they did the Tahiti process on me and wiped everything clean, which was a bittersweet moment. So it’s there, in the ether, if they ever decide to revisit it. The next thing following Inside Out will probably be beginning to work on Twin Peaks. So that will be in the fall sometime.
I know you can’t tell me anything about that, but are there scripts yet? Do you have an idea?
There are scripts that David and Mark Frost have written and spoken about. I am still in the dark about all of that, so we haven’t started the process yet. It’s not that I can’t tell you anything, it’s that I don’t really know.
It’s fine, it’s fine. Did you save the flannel or did you save the suit?
[Laughs.] I hope he goes back in the suit. That would be best. But I don’t know what they have in store for him but Cooper has to have that black suit. That’s his mark, you know?