David Duchovny, Billy Zane, Heather Graham and more played minor characters on the spooky series

By Drew Mackie
Updated April 06, 2015 06:00 PM
Credit: Getty

Twenty-five years ago this week, Americans got their first glimpse of the small Northwestern town of Twin Peaks. They heard the chords of that theme song for the first time, and they had just begun to wonder, “Who killed Laura Palmer?”

The anniversary seems especially meaningful today because those same fans are wondering what will become of Showtime’s planned Twin Peaks revival. On Sunday, series creator and surrealism purveyor David Lynch announced on Facebook that he had chosen not to direct the new Twin Peaks as a result of payment disputes. However, he cautioned that “Twin Peaks may still be alive on Showtime.”

So far, the revived series has promised the return of Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper, as well as Catherine E. Coulson as the infamous log lady and Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer, who would presumably still be dead when the show picks up 25 years later. Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs) and Richard Beymer (Ben Horne) have also been confirmed as returning.

At this point, one can only wonder whether the new episodes might feature other actors closely associated with the original run – Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn, Mädchen Amick, Piper Laurie, James Marshall, and Peggy Lipton among them.

But those aren’t the only names involved with the show. Actors who played minor roles on the series ended up becoming famous for non-Twin Peaks pursuits.

David Duchovny

Perhaps most famous among the guest actors to appear on Twin Peaks is Duchovny, who preceded his career as FBI agent Fox Mulder with a brief one as FBI agent Denise Bryson, whom Agent Cooper had previously known as Dennis. In January, Duchovny told the Los Angeles Times that he’d be willing to reprise the role, but it has since been announced that The X-Files is also returning to television.

Heather Graham

If you’re one of those with hazy memories of Twin Peaks‘s back half, you might forget that Heather Graham joined to play Annie Blackburn, little sister to Peggy Lipton’s Norma. But that’s her, all right, pre-Boogie Nights, with a magnificent mane of moussed hair and in her first major role since 1988’s License to Drive. Graham even appears in the prequel movie, Fire Walk with Me, whereas most of the series actors don’t.

Billy Zane

Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) falls hard for Agent Cooper, but then the dashing Johnny Justice Wheeler rolls into town and Audrey suddenly only has eyes for him. Before Twin Peaks, Zane had appeared in the first two Back to the Future films and starred in the thriller Dead Calm.

Robyn Lively

In the second season, Twin Peaks introduced Lana, a woman that the men in town find irresistible even though there’s no shortage of drop-dead gorgeous women around. However, you may not have realized that the actress playing Lana is Robyn Lively, star of the 1989 movie Teen Witch and half sister to Blake Lively.

Molly Shannon

Before joining the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1995, Molly Shannon played more restrained roles. Judy, the case manager for Nicky, an orphan who may or may not be evil, isn’t a standout character, and that’s too bad, because that ebullient Mary Katherine Gallagher energy would be right at home on Twin Peaks.

Brenda Strong

She’s known today for her roles on the Dallas reboot as Ann Ewing or on Seinfeld as Elaine’s nemesis, Sue Ellen Mischke. On Twin Peaks, Strong plays Jones, the right-hand woman for one of the series’ heavies. Strong would go on to play Mary Alice on Desperate Housewives, but the role was originally given to Sheryl Lee, who plays Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks. Coincidentally, both Laura and Mary Alice are characters who spend the entire series dead.

Alicia Witt

Most Twin Peaks episodes end with Laura’s Theme played over a photo of Laura as prom queen, but the second season premiere closes out with this footage of Alicia Witt playing piano. In the episode, Witt plays Gersten, younger sister to Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle). Witt had previously appeared in Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Dune. She would later play the title character’s daughter on Cybill and have recurring roles on shows such as Justified and Friday Night Lights.

Michael Parks

He’s since become a Quentin Tarantino regular, appearing in Kill Bill, Grindhouse and Django Unchained, but on Twin Peaks Parks played Jean Renault, a drug-running crime boss and the meanest French Canadian in the history of American TV.

Frances Bay

Never forget how terrifying the late Frances Bay once made creamed corn seem. She’s probably best known for playing Adam Sandler’s grandmother in Happy Gilmore or the marble rye lady from Seinfeld, but in this episode (and Twin Peaks and Fire Walk with Me as well), Bay plays an enigmatic granny who shows up with her creepy grandson to screw with the heads of the town’s residents. Bay died in 2011.

Honorable mentions: Chris Isaak, Kiefer Sutherland and David Bowie all appear as FBI agents in Fire Walk with Me, which also had Moira Kelly subbing in for Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna.

And in case those running the Showtime revival want to keep it in the family, Rashida Jones, Amber Tamblyn and Zooey Deschanel can each claim Twin Peaks legacy status. Jones is the daughter of Peggy Lipton (Norma), Tamblyn is the daughter of Russ Tamblyn (Dr. Jacoby), and Deschanel’s mother, Mary Jo Deschanel, played Donna’s mother, Eileen.

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