Legendary actor Kyle MacLachlan on his new gay dad role, reaching LGBTQ youth and his bear-loved rosé
In Giant Little Ones — which opens in Dallas on March 15 — actor Kyle MacLachlan plays a gay divorced dad named Ray Winter parenting a distant teenage son, Franky (Josh Wiggins), who’s grappling with his own sexual identity. Throughout his storied career, the 60-year-old actor’s range knows no bounds, inhabiting diversified worlds and traversing genre, from comedy to drama, from soapy to supernatural. He’s played an alien (The Hidden), an unlikely revolutionary (Dune), Fred Flintstone’s boss, Riley’s dad (Inside Out), a coffee-obsessed FBI agent (Twin Peaks) and a small-town kid into kink (Blue Velvet).
But his queer appeal runs especially deep. In his three decades in TV, film and theater, MacLachlan has also played a city official based on first big-city openly gay Mayor Sam Adams (Portlandia), the guy who fucks Nomi Malone in a swimming pool (Showgirls), Bree Van de Kamp’s husband (Desperate Housewives), a sexually dysfunctional mama’s boy (Sex and the City) and — because why the hell not — Cary Grant’s ghost (Touch of Pink). Now starring in writer-director Keith Behrman’s Giant Little Ones as Helpful Gay Dad is a warm hug of a role he deeply feels is important. One that, as a parent himself, even hits close to home.
Here, the actor talks about raising his son, Callum, much like Ray Winter does, gay fans who slip into his DMs and bears who love his rosé.
— Chris Azzopardi
Dallas Voice: You’ve played dads before. But what about Ray spoke to you differently? Kyle MacLachlan: He had a journey in this as well, which I liked. It was really about the connection with his son, and at that age it’s very difficult and made even more challenging by the fact that the parents are separated. Under the circumstances, Franky just doesn’t know what to think or what to say, and I like that [Ray] really hung in there. I think in the original draft he was maybe a little more demanding, and so we kind of softened that a little bit. There are still those issues, but it was really important to me to feel like Ray was there, and he wasn’t gonna go anywhere and to remain as non-judgmental as possible.
His presence is always felt, but he’s able to give his kid space at the same time. I appreciated that he tells his son to focus on who you’re drawn to and not what to call it, essentially letting him know that sexuality is a spectrum. How did that resonate with you? That was a really nice piece of writing on Keith’s part, I thought — again, trying not to judge. Especially at that age, I remember for myself just kind of trying to find where you fit in, what you’re good at, what you’re not good at, who’s your group. There’s lots and lots of questions and insecurities that are masked by a false sense of identity or control or “I don’t want to hear what you say, I’ve got it figured out myself.”
The idea of just being present, it’s the way I approach the relationship with my son, the not judging. I’m not going at it trying to make him into something he doesn’t want to be.
You were the stepfather of a gay son, Andrew Van de Kamp, on Desperate Housewives. Who does the better job parenting a queer kid: Orson Hodge or Ray Winter? [Laughs] Orson, bless his heart. You know, he had good intentions, and there was an understanding there at attempting to connect. I don’t think Orson was ever comfortable in that role. I think Ray is more conscious and he’s a champion, in some ways, for anyone who’s being judged. In this particular case, it’s “hang on a second.” He’s sort of about turning the page: “Let’s look at this and what’s really happening here.” I liked that. And he does it with an inner strength and a firmness, but it’s not without a wry sense of humor, and that I liked about him, too.
When were your eyes first opened to having an LGBTQ following? I think it was probably with Blue Velvet. Thematically, it expected so much of the audience and it told a story that was so unusual and so true. That sort of started it, but I think with the advent of social media, suddenly it’s really obvious and present. And it’s great.
How has it become obvious through social media? Just through comments, and it’s fun to read and great to feel the support. And then because so much of it is built around David Lynch, there’s a real shorthand just in terms of terminology and phrases, and because of David’s visuals and his images and his dialogue, of course.
I have a friend who says Blue Velvet was responsible for his sexual awakening. Is that what gay fans tell you on Twitter? [Laughs] Maybe not quite so personal! But you know, that’s film. Film is all about experiencing something and having your eyes opened, and I think that film in particular was about that; the exploration of it and the themes of it were so interesting, and they hadn’t really been dealt with that much.
What kind of attention did Showgirls get you from the LGBTQ community? I don’t think it found its camp niche until a little bit later. It had to go through the “Oh my god, this is perhaps one of the worst films ever made” reaction … and then people sort of said, “I think it was, in a way, a guilty pleasure.” Then that began to grow, and there’s a true hardcore following of it and that’s really fun. I’ve never said, “Oh yeah, in fact, actually, that was the intention,” or, “Oh yeah, it’s a great film” — it’s not a great film. But it succeeds at a level that I think is still entertaining and fun. And why not? That’s our business.
I was at a gay bar once and they were showing Showgirls on all the TVs. When you shot that film, did you expect for it to live on as camp like it has? I think we all entered into the film — certainly I did — looking at the creative side of it. So you had really talented people — [director] Paul Verhoeven, obviously — and I think his intention was to do something that was sort of hard and cutting-edge and exposé and I think it kind of got away from him a little bit and became something else that was unexpected. But at the same time, we’ve all embraced it and said, “This is where it went,” and I gotta say, the film was probably gonna have a much longer life because of how it ended up than if it hadn’t. If it was a film that we intended to make, it would’ve been great and fine and OK, but now, it will live on forever.
Particularly at gay bars. At least there! And midnight showings!
For 2004’s rom-com, what was special about portraying the ghost of Cary Grant who gives advice to a gay Muslim man? It was really fun. First of all, just the research alone was great. Getting to watch all the films, reading up about him, who he was as a person and the business side of things in Hollywood and how he really, really created this persona, which I think he tried to get away from but it was what he was known for. So I loved the research of it.
And the director, Ian [Iqbal Rashid], whose story this actually was, was so lovely and I see him occasionally when I’m in London. He’s just a terrific person and a very, very talented director, and I was flattered. He had actually seen me on the stage doing a new play with Woody Harrelson and I don’t quite know how he got there from that performance [laughs], but he thought I’d be perfect. So that’s a pretty big mantle to try to take on, and so we sort of softened that a little bit and said he’s more the spirit of Cary Grant — he’s not exactly Cary Grant. But I enjoyed stepping in those shoes and trying out that language and that kind of attitude and that whole thing. And it’s got a beautiful message, and just the ending when he has to let go, it’s very touching, I think.
In 2018, you were honored with a Dorian acting award by GALECA, the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, for Twin Peaks: The Return, and in 2009, Desperate Housewives received outstanding comedy series award from GLAAD. Is there something special or distinct about having your work acknowledged by LGBTQ audiences and organizations? Yeah, those stories — if they can speak to a community and there’s a resonance there — that’s the goal of this. They should be universal, but I think that if there’s a relationship that can be created then we’re doing a good job; something that’s worthwhile that creates an emotional response and a connection, that’s really what you want. I mean, that’s what I want.
Your role as the mayor of Portland in Portlandia: Do you think that character would make a good mayor of Twin Peaks or Wisteria Lane? [Laughs] He wasn’t a really good mayor, but he was incredibly enthusiastic! I think that was the fun of it: He always got things a little bit wrong but they kind of ultimately ended up OK, with the help of Fred [Armisen] and Carrie [Brownstein], certainly. But, oh god, at least it would be a lot of fun to have him as a mayor of any community, I think.
Why haven’t we seen you in more openly gay roles? It’s a good question! You know, the work just kind of comes, and it’s one of those things where once it sort of filters through a little bit of whatever it does in Hollywood it finds its way into my inbox and you take a look at it.
Have there been gay roles you’ve turned down? It’s always about the quality of the material, so if it there was, it just wasn’t worth telling.
But then you read something like Giant Little Ones… … And you know that it is a beautiful story. I had the reaction that everyone had: This is a story that needed to be told, and for any kids out there who are having this kind of “I don’t know, I don’t know” and they don’t have anywhere to turn, it’s like, well, we’re not the answer, but we’re at least an experience to say, “You’re not alone.”
And a reminder to your own son that his dad is OK with whomever he becomes or wants to be. In fact, he attends a school in New York and it’s all about that. It’s all about the acceptance of everyone, and it’s a wonderful thing to watch because that wasn’t my experience growing up. Public schools, small town, very conservative. Not unlike the situation of Franky, there was a lot of “however tough you are” and “whatever sports you play,” those are your identifiers. It’s nice that he’s having a completely different experience.
In your spare time, you are a winemaker. Are gay men some of your most loyal rosé buyers? [Laughs] I should hope so, for god’s sake! Rosé is one of those crazy things: It just keeps expanding and people love it and now it’s not just for summer anymore, it’s not just for the Hamptons anymore. It can be year-round and, yeah, it’s been really fun. And yeah, very supportive.
In a queer context “bear” means a hairy, chubby gay man, so it can’t hurt that “Pursued by Bear” is the name of your brand. You know, I was really going after the Shakespeare play, obviously, but yeah, not unaware and I thought, that’s kind of funny. There’ve been occasions where I’ve met a few guys — bears, you know — and they’ve said, “Oh yeah, I’ve got this in my cellar.” And it cracks me up! I’m like, “Fantastic, I’m glad you like it.” It’s good wine and it should be enjoyed!