Kyle MacLachlan Resurrects Cary Grant
by Tony Phillips
It’s kind of a weird scene. For one thing, it’s early. I’m waiting in the deserted New York corner office of Hollywood wheel Amy Pascal. There are those plasticene corporate donuts and coffee, but not much else. The décor is straight outta the Sony corporate catalog where the colors are surely described as “putty” and “smoke.” And before I can stop my double take, Kyle MacLaughlin walks in casually. There’s a makeup person who’s going to take him into Pascal’s inner-sanctum for a “touch-up,” and then I can have at him. But it’s unclear whether I’m allowed to speak to him before said touch-up. So, like I said, it’s kind of a weird scene.
Kyle passes on the plasticene donuts, but inquires about low-fat crème cheese. Nobody knows nothing. He’s wearing wire rim glasses and Levis. Dressed down. There’s kind of a no-ass thing happening, but it’s clear he’s in great shape. He turns to me and notices my baseball hat. It’s swag from the new incarnation of his old gym Duomo. The new gym is now simply called The Gym and Kyle wants to know how it is. “It’s okay,” I begin, “I was just there for a tour, really.” Pause. Kyle wants more. “The staff seemed a little service oriented,” I fumble, “in a kind of an annoying way.” There’s another awkward pause. “I write about gyms sometimes,” I offer, ratcheting up the awkwardness of the pause exponentially. Things reach a crescendo when Kyle, in perfect Queen’s Chelsea, asks, “Oh, where do you work out?”
He’s hustled off to makeup and leaves me to reflect if that wasn’t some kind of staged little treat. Like here’s a little Twin Peaks donut shtick and maybe I should throw in some gay stuff too. Who knows what it was about? Before I even have time to wonder, Kyle’s back and if they beat his face, it’s completely imperceptible to me. I should probably add that I admire this man immensely. The ground-breaking David Lynch work alone: Emmy-nominated turns as FBI agent Dale Cooper on the series Twin Peaks, his feature film debut in Lynch’s Dune — a film that’s both brilliant and Alan Smitheed by Lynch — his star turn as wholesomely suburban Jeffrey Beaumont whose brief, yet much freeze-framed full frontal scene highlights the kinky, off-kilter Blue Velvet.
I could go on. Sex and the City, his Claudius in Michael Almereyda’s Pepsi machine studded Hamlet, classic stage work on both Broadway and London’s West End, the 93-minute single take of Mike Figgis’ split-screened Timecode, the Showgirls pool fuck, The Flintstones. These are bold choices, people, and now he can add “plays gay” to his already diverse portfolio as he rolls a bravura performance in Ian Iqbal Rashid’s very funny debut film called Touch of Pink. In the coming out farce, Alim is a South Asian Canadian living in London with a very humpy Brit boyfriend and they’re forced back into the closet when Alim’s pushy, but utterly fabulous and recently widowed mother arrives from Toronto for a visit. And Kyle? Well he plays the Cary Grant that lives in Alim’s head and gives him practical pointers on life, love and staying in the closet.
So is this political at all? Is Kyle outing Grant? Inning him? “He’s really just a device,” the actor explains, “he helps the main character not get hurt. It’s why my advice in the film gets less and less substantial. That’s echoed in the costumes which tend to get broader and broader culminating finally with the wedding and the elephant riding outfit from Gunga Din.” So it’s not the actual Cary Grant, but rather the interior Grant inside us all? “Yes,” Kyle agrees, “Cary tries to keep things the way they are. He blames Alim’s heartache on his mother and so when she tries to come back into his life he sees her as a threat.”
Placing the character in that context also allows the film to cycle through the many faces of Grant. “Every time I pop up,” Kyle laughs, “it’s a different look. We tried to mirror the films so Cary Grant fans will recognize his To Catch A Thief look, Charade, North by Northwest, there were so many great costumes.” Fortunately, Kyle’s research for the role allowed him to revisit many of them. “I have such a respect for his level of skill,” Kyle enthuses about Grant, “when you go through the early work and see how he grew in the later work, his film with Mae West brought him to another level. And then his work with Howard Hawks, the speed and agility, you just don’t see that now. Most scripts allow for about a minute a page. They were getting through a Hawks’ script in half that time. That’s pretty remarkable. It forces the audience to pay attention and you never feel like things are dragging.”
Speaking of dragging, Kyle is hard pressed to remember a role in which he labored under so many inches of makeup. Though the effect is strangely seductive, it wasn’t the only challenge. His background is in the theater, and the tendency to use that approach in film, led to a dead-end on this project. “What I liked about this job was it was very technical,” he begins, “at certain angles I look a lot like Grant, but at others not at all. So I had to concern myself with that degree of shot composition and that’s not something I usually do. I usually try to forget about all that and disengage from the exterior. Disengage the exterior and work from the interior,” he repeats, almost wistfully. Then he must realize he sounds “actorly” because he laughs it off.
Still, one can’t argue with results, and the ones here are uncanny. There’s a shot of Kyle reflected in a plate glass shop window that looks so much like Grant it had to be CGI, but Kyle swears no effects were used in the film. So how to account for the uncanny resemblance? “If you get all the physical and vocal moments right you achieve this moment of transcendence,” he explains, “it’s almost a coasting that’s like surfing and you ride it for a while. There are a couple moments when I disappear and Cary comes through.” Aside from that explanation, the process is a mystery to him. “I like to watch the first couple days footage, but not much more than that,” he details, “my main concern was just capturing him as well as I could at any moment.” Then there was also the gamble he took on first-time director Ian Iqbal Rashid, but that paid off handsomely. “Ian is such a perfectionist and Cary Grant aficionado that I knew he’d be careful and I could relax into the part,” Kyle asserts. “We also found that the more manic and staccato Cary seemed to work a little better on film while the softer, more urban Cary was a little harder to capture.”
When it’s suggested to Kyle that it’s this “softer, more urban” role that’s going to finally vault him into gay icon land — as if Showgirls and real-life romance with supermodel Linda Evangelista hadn’t done that already — he’s quick to debunk the theory. “It doesn’t strike me as a gay film,” Kyle explains, “I mean, there are some issues in there, coming out to your family, but it’s also a lot about someone accepting who they are and learning how to be themselves. Alim eventually manages to put aside his imaginary Cary Grant and live fully with his lover.” And that’s not to say he wouldn’t sign up to play a gay film. In fact, that idea would probably not have much bearing on the decision. “It comes down to the story,” he explains, “if you can see the story when you read it, it’s worth doing.” Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. “Timecode was certainly about the idea,” he admits, “there wasn’t a narrative when we started. We created that as we went along. It was also a chance to work with Mike Figgis.”
“It’s interesting to look back at choices and rational,” Kyle muses, “you look at all the elements and try to weigh the quality of the material. But Showgirls, for instance, really looked like it wasn’t going to be good. It looked like a really hard-hitting expose from Paul Verhoeven. I loved Robocop, but then Showgirls was a disaster: a classic, but for all the wrong reasons. So you just never know.” Of the rest of his remarkably varied career, Kyle remarks, “Twin Peaks was a situation where it was just so eccentric you realized there was no way ABC was going to make more than just the pilot. We thought is wasn’t going to go more than two hours, but it was a chance to work with David Lynch.”
So might that be something he’s planning on doing again sometime soon? Kyle sits back and relaxes into his chair, exuding the calm of a man with no pressing commitments, but a film under his belt about to open a floodgate of possibility. “I want to do some traveling,” is how he answers the “what’s next?” query, “I’m looking forward to traveling with this film. I’m pleased with it. I’m proud that I got the flavor of his performance and captured something good. There are very few actors that have that power to plan, we’re just trying to the best we can with what’s out there.”