I don’t mean to disparage Ewan McGregor’s Golden Globes win for Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture for Television. His competition was stacked with titans like Robert De Niro for his Bernie Madoff portrayal, Geoffrey Rush for his horny Einstein depiction, and to a lesser extent, Jude Law for his performance as a petulant pope. McGregor also had to play two complicated characters with a complicated familial relationship for the third season of the consistently excellent FX series Fargo, which is no small feat—just ask McGregor’s fellow nominee Kyle MacLachlan.
MacLachlan undertook the herculean task of playing three (or maybe four?) characters in Twin Peaks: The Return, and with each character, he had to render something vastly different. For Agent Dale Cooper’s evil Mr. C. doppelgänger—which ended up resembling a tall, slender Glenn Danzig—MacLachlan had to be legitimately terrifying: a supernatural villain that could watch its son get fried to death by an otherworldly energy portal and barely shrug.
For the nearly catatonic husk of an Agent Cooper who was finally propelled from the Black Lodge and into the life of Dougie Jones—a gambling, womanizing, insurance salesman who had fallen in with the Las Vegas criminal underworld—MacLachlan displayed an almost surgically precise sense of comic timing, especially when it came to physical comedy. The character was barely verbal, but MacLachlan turned in an almost Chaplin-esque silent movie portrayal of Jones, save for repeating the last word of phrase of dialogue spoken to him.
For fans who had waited over 25 years for the dashing Agent Cooper’s return, MacLachlan had to sell the idea that a broken zombie was just as appealing as a faithful rendition of a beloved character. It was a risky move on David Lynch and Mark Frost’s part, to have Zombie Coop shuffle through almost 16 hours of television before the unencumbered Dale Cooper made his triumphant return after shocking himself into a coma by placing a fork into a light socket.
What’s remarkable about MacLachlan’s performance was that he didn’t have to speak to let the viewer know that the old Coop was back. The FBI agent’s return was communicated with the urgency with which he sat up in his hospital bed and pulled off the various tubes and sensors before issuing polite, but firm commands.
Almost as soon as the audience was re-acquanted with the old Coop, it had to say goodbye to him and get to know a more severe and detached version to the character once he and Laura Dern’s Diane stepped through room 315 at The Great Northern.
MacLachlan won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Agent Cooper in 1991 when the role was hemmed in by the constraints of network television. Almost 27 years later, the return of the cult classic show was all but shut out of the awards ceremony. Perhaps the fact that MacLachlan was the only person to get a nod this time around was a tacit admission of the complexity of his performance. Perhaps Twin Peaks: The Return was too weird, non-linear, and experimental for the Hollywood Foreign Press to properly appreciate, but what MacLachlan accomplished within that framework was too impressive to ignore, even if it wasn’t formally awarded.