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Q&A: Sheryl Lee of 'Twin Peaks' (… and now 'Psych')

Posted 11:08am on Monday, Nov. 29, 2010

Sheryl Lee felt the strangest sensation when she and six other former Twin Peaks cast members reunited to film a damn fine tribute episode on USA's Psych. It wasn't déjà vu, she says. It was more like an out-of-body experience. "Yes, that is the perfect way to describe it," says Lee, a.k.a. Laura Palmer, the corpse found wrapped in plastic 20 years ago in the Twin Peaks premiere. "I actually did feel as if I was out of my body that whole day on the set of Psych." It's understandable. In Psych, it's a different actress frozen in that iconic death pose and Lee is standing over the body. "It was a very strange, surreal feeling," she says. "It touched me deeper than I expected it to." Twin Peaks fans are sure to get a kick out of it when Shawn and Gus (James Roday and Dulé Hill) visit the Northern California town of Dual Spires for the annual Cinnamon Festival, only to become embroiled in a mystery involving the death of a local high school girl, Paula Merral (an anagram for Laura Palmer, of course). The "Dual Spires" episode is Roday's kiss to his favorite show. He co-wrote the jokey hour and was instrumental in assembling the guest cast, which also includes Sherilyn Fenn, Dana Ashbrook, Ray Wise, Robyn Lively, Lenny Von Dohlen and Catherine Coulson. It airs at 9 p.m. CT Wednesday, Dec. 1, on USA.

How did it feel when you walked on set of Psych and saw so many of your former castmates?

"It was such an incredible gift. Some of us hadn't seen each other in years and years. It's hard to believe that 20 years have gone by. To be able to see these people who have such a special place in my heart was really wonderful. There was something that Ray Wise said in a scene that was the same as in the original. I just giggle now thinking about looking at him and seeing my dad from 20 years ago."

When you were filming the pilot for Twin Peaks, what were your expectations? Did you dare to believe it would endure as a cult classic? Or were you like, "Wow, this TV show is so weird"?

"I had no expectations. At that time, I was living in Seattle doing theater and wasn't thinking at all about moving back to L.A. or doing film or TV or anything. I got a call that David Lynch had seen my head shot in a local casting office and had thought that I was this dead girl in this thing that he was doing. It was all very secretive. So I was originally hired for just a few days worth of work as a corpse with a couple of flashbacks and to be wrapped in plastic and thrown on the beach. That was for the pilot, which was shot up in Washington. Then they all left and went back down to Los Angeles. I stayed up in Washington and kept pursuing theater. It wasn't until months later that David called and said, 'Would you like to come back on the show and move to L.A.?' Then all of a sudden my life took a very different, quick turn. I had no experience in TV, no experience with the entertainment industry in L.A., so I had no expectations. I wish I'd had a handbook at the time to know how to get through all that craziness, but I didn't. I was winging it."

How vividly do you remember the day you filmed those scenes as the dead girl wrapped in plastic?

"I remember that day as if it was yesterday. There are a lot of things in the past 20 years I don't remember. But that day 20 years ago, lying on that beach in the freezing cold, I remember as if it was yesterday."

Are there any challenges to playing a corpse, aside from just being still and holding your breath?

"This is going to sound corny, but it really was an opportunity to sort of meditate on death. I don't mean that in a morbid way. I mean that in an absolute way. I had studied a little bit of meditation at that time and knew that there was a possibility of sort of slowing the body down and slowing the breath down and slowing the mind down. So for me, that was what all those scenes were about, an exercise and an exploration of that."

Was it unsettling afterward to see that image of you as a dead person?

"It's not something I would ever choose to do on a regular basis, I'll say that. I think it's much more disturbing for my family, especially my mama."

Was this the first time since the 1992 movie prequel that anybody tried to reunite the cast?

"Over the years there have been little things here or there that I've been asked to do that felt a little bit like stepping back into that Twin Peaks time, but they didn't feel right to me. They didn't feel like it would have been done in a tone that felt authentic for me. This time, as far as I know, none of us ever, ever had to say that. Everybody at Psych did such a wonderful job of walking that balance."

How familiar, if at all, were you with Psych before doing the reunion episode?

"I feel so bad saying this. I hadn't seen it before. But I am fan now!"

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