Under the guidance of director David Lynch, actors Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage are filming variations on a getaway scene outside a seedy hotel in New Orleans’s French Quarter. When Lynch gives the sign, Dern, 23, and Cage, 26, bolt from the hotel for a ’65 Thunderbird convertible. As the onscreen lovers make the five-yard dash for the umpteenth time, they encounter some unexpected commotion: Lynch has grabbed 60 locals, many of them transients living at the hotel, to give the duo a rousing farewell cheer. Happy with this bit of true grit—a Lynch signature that Dern has dubbed a Davidism—the director is ready to frame his next shot.
Four years after his erotic thriller, Blue Velvet, shocked and enthralled moviegoers, it’s clear that Lynch, 43, hasn’t lost his knack for exposing the bizarre elements of the everyday. “He likes things in a certain state of decay,” says Julie Duvic, who scouted locations for Lynch’s latest effort, Wild at Heart. “His imagination is a little off.” Indeed, two weeks earlier, while filming a scene at a fleabag bungalow in Los Angeles, Lynch unleashed his surrealist wit: Dern and Cage look into the courtyard and see three obese actresses—naked save for veils—making a porno movie. “It added nothing to the plot directly,” admits co-producer Monty Montgomery. “It was just something crazy David wanted.”
In his 13 years of filmmaking, Lynch has made crazy his calling card. This, after all, is the man who gave us a spastic woman and a mutant baby in 1977’s cult classic Eraserhead and a severed ear and a sadomasochistic madman in Blue Velvet. “When people first meet David, they expect him to be neurotic and crazy and sick, but he’s not,” says longtime love and Blue Velvet star Isabella Rossellini. “It’s just that he looks at life in a different way.” Whether he can turn his off-center vision into the mainstream will be seen later this spring when Lynch’s television series, Twin Peaks, hits prime time. “When David speaks, he sounds like he just got off the Greyhound bus from Iowa,” says Steve Golin, a Wild co-producer. “But underneath that Jimmy Stewart look you find a darker side.”
It’s that shadowy, subterranean world that Lynch again explores in Wild at Heart. The movie follows 20-year-old Lula Fortune (Dern) and her ex-con boyfriend, Sailor Ripley (Cage), as they flee across the country from Lula’s vengeful mother—played by Dern’s real mother, Diane Ladd—and the hitmen she employs to shorten Sailor’s life. “This is my road picture, except there isn’t a role for Bob Hope,” says Lynch.
Road to Hell, maybe. Lynch’s odyssey promises to be even more perverse and sexually twisted than his voyeuristic Blue Velvet—although Lynch says he will keep it within the bounds of an R rating. Along the way, Dern and Cage are menaced by a yellow-toothed Willem Dafoe and followed by a detective (Harry Dean Stanton). Rounding out the Lynch mob is Rossellini as a bleached-blond accomplice. Cage, for one, is thrilled with his walk on the wild side. “I like things pushed to the edge of reality,” says the actor, who so identified with the Dracula he played in 1989’s Vampire’s Kiss that he ate a live cockroach during filming.
Near the tail end of shooting in New Orleans, a member of the crew tells Lynch that as they were setting up their cameras earlier that morning, a woman had come over and asked, “Hey, y’all need a whore? I’m a real one.” When Lynch hears this, he laughs, pauses, then asks, “Golly, can we still get her?” And that’s a true Davidism.