The chance to play legendary American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one big reason for Kyle MacLachlan to sign on to Atlantic Crossing. But it was the story of the young Norwegian Royal Family at the heart of the miniseries that made him commit to the role. MacLachlan explores Roosevelt, Agent Dale Cooper and wine with lifelong Twin Peaks fan, MASTERPIECE Studio host Jace Lacob.
Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt has winged his way to an unprecedented third term in office, but the political master has more complicated personal matters to battle at home and abroad.
Martha What keeps you from dropping out entirely?
FDR The war.
Martha Can’t you leave that to a successor?
FDR Unfortunately there is no viable alternative candidate in our ranks. As for Wilkie, it would be a catastrophe to leave this with an amateur.
Jace Roosevelt’s relationship with Norwegian Crown Princess Martha is more than just friendly — but the Crown Princess is hesitant to exploit that connection in order to help her war-torn country right itself in the face of Nazi occupiers.
Martha Would you please meet with the Norwegian Ambassador?
FDR So you do have an agenda.
Martha I am sorry I must ask…
FDR Oh Martha, I understand, But I have to decline. Lots of European ambassadors have been lining up to meet me lately, and they all pretty much want the same thing: “Please, sell us munitions”. But the Neutrality Act forbids the sale of armaments to nations at war.
Jace Playing a real-life figure as iconic and instantly recognizable as President Roosevelt would be a challenge for any actor, but Atlantic Crossing star Kyle MacLachlan brings a surprising playfulness to his portrayal.
Missy Point of order! What happened to the No-Politics-During-Cocktail-Hour bill?
FDR Well, I will use my presidential authority to grant an exemption to that rule – but only for me.Jace As a lifelong fan of Twin Peaks, I’ve been waiting to interview MacLachlan for nearly 30 years — so I’m thrilled to welcome him to our podcast to talk Roosevelt, wine, and Agent Dale Cooper, among many other things.
Jace And we are joined this week by Atlantic Crossing star Kyle MacLachlan. Welcome.
Kyle MacLachlan Thanks, Jace. Nice to be with you.
Jace Atlantic Crossing takes the familiar — World War II — and transforms it into something unfamiliar by focusing on the relationship between FDR and the Norwegian Crown Princess Martha. Was that part of the appeal of signing on to the project, the fact that this was a World War II story that hasn’t been told until now?
Kyle I think part of the appeal absolutely. So many there have been so many films about World War II. They all have a different perspective. This one was particular because it really centered on the family, the Norwegian royal family and their escape from the Nazi onslaught and then kind of how they held held not only their family together, but their country together during the years of the war with the Crown Princess and her children in Washington, D.C., and then her husband, the Crown Prince, and his father, the king in London. And you really see the sacrifice that they made, both personally and also just as the rulers of Norway in this story, which I really liked. You know, the other wonderful thing about it was the opportunity to play FDR.
Jace To me, FDR is an almost classic Kyle MacLachlan character: sunny on the surface, exuding charm, but hiding some darkness and painful secrets. What do you make of that duality — the pain beneath FDA’s facade?
Kyle That — the pain between beneath his facade was something I was very interested in digging into because I think it makes the it explains why he is so upbeat and and appearing to be so carefree in the series. And I think, you know, you’ve got to remember that the polio disease that he was afflicted with happened to him when he was 39 years old. So, you know, well into his middle age and the impact of that and the way he had to deal with it, transformed him, I think for the better, to be honest. I think prior to that point he was, I think, a little more callow. I don’t think I mean, he was certainly well into politics and in his political career, but I think having gone through what he went through, gives him a perspective and a humanity that may or may not have, I don’t think it was there prior to that. I don’t know that much of the early, you know, because most of my research and focus was on the period of time when when he was in office. But I and I took my cue really from the way the script was written, and in it he and Martha have so, so much fun together. I mean, there’s also there’s difficult times as well. But I think she really provided a means for him to escape and kind of forget about the tough part of the job being a President. And so he could really completely just sort of drop that and engage with her and engage with her family in a way that I think was really refreshing.
Martha What would you do if you could choose freely? If you weren’t the president?
FDR Run through the field and topple over, lie in the grass and stare at the sky. Climb a mountain, take in the view. Feeling…free. But I’m chained to this chair from morning to night.
Jace You mentioned Martha. How familiar were you with Sophia Helin ahead of time? Was there an awareness of her turn as Saga Norén on The Bridge before you signed on to Atlantic Crossing?
Kyle Not before, but certainly after, I watched it, and she’s really powerful. And I think her transformation from that character to the one to of Crown Princess is really amazing. She really inhabited the role and I think was able to project all of those qualities, the challenges that she felt, the pressures of being in her position — she was stretched so thin. And at the same time, she was able to, I think, portray a woman who was on a journey, you know, a journey of self discovery and finding her voice. And I think she just did a marvelous job.
Jace You’ve played a real-life figure only a few times across your career. Thomas Edison in Tesla, Ray Manzarek in The Doors. Is it a challenge or a unique opportunity to play a real-life figure such as FDR?
Kyle It’s both, you know. Sort of a challenge. But I love having a template from which to work. So I really dig in to the person, and it’s fun to chase all of the different qualities and track them down., kind of. It’s almost like you’re a detective, in a way. You’re looking at what you perceive as a man who is very, very capable, very in control, very powerful. And so I want to know what the opposite of that is and where that came from and how it was developed. And what were the challenges along the way that brought him to that point? And that, when you have a real person like that, you know, you’ve got historical documents, really, that you go back to. And there was a few sources that I turned to time and again, including the director Alex and other writer, Laura, just because they had done so much of the research and they knew the more personal stuff, you know, the letters and things like that. And that was something that I relied on heavily.
Jace We meet FDR in the first episode and get a glimpse into his marriage to Eleanor when Martha and Olav visited the White House on their goodwill tour of America.
FDR Eleanor, please. Give the man a break. They’re two on holiday!
Eleanor Excuse me, I must go see what’s cooking in the kitchen.
FDR Oh, I hope it’s food!
Eleanor Besides, I have heard Franklin’s jokes a couple of times before…
FDR Poor Eleanor. Brilliant mind — capable of anything except relaxing.
Jace What do you make of Roosevelt’s relationship with Eleanor?
Kyle You know, it’s a complicated one, of course. And Harriet Harris, who played Eleanor was phenomenal. And she’s such a good actress that we were able to convey, I think, you know, what it was like to have been spent years together, even though we’ve only only been together for a few weeks, years together, in just the looks and the tone of voice and, you know, the attitudes between us. She was so great. And I think in terms of the real relationship, there was you know, it was complicated. They were, I think, ultimately friends, you know, and I think had a strong meeting of the mind, I mean, I think they relied on each other. They really depended on each other. I know Franklin did on Eleanor, as you know, she was kind of, as he said, his eyes and his ears and his legs really when out in the world. And she would report back to him what she saw when she would tour through America. And Franklin was very interested in what was going on, particularly in some of the poorer regions. And I also think that she was in some ways kind of his moral voice or his moral conscience for things and encouraging him to think of the person who needed help. And so it was in some ways a political marriage. I think they had a fondness for each other, I think had a great respect for each other, even though there was a lot of bickering in between and disagreement. They were very good partners, I think. Very good political partners.
Jace As soon as FDR gets wind of the fact that Germans plan to invade Norway, his first thoughts are of Martha and the royal family. Why have they made such an impression on him after their sort of one visit?
Kyle Oh, you know, I took it to be just the he saw the love between them, a young couple, the children obviously, he was very infatuated with them. And I think I think that he also had a curiosity and it comes out a couple of times with the idea of royalty and what that is and what it is to be born into that kind of responsibility. When he meets the King, the little young King for the first time, I remember speaking with Alex about it, he has a certain kind of curiosity about what that is. So I think all of those elements come into play. And he is a man who connects with people, you know, and I think he felt great compassion towards them and concern for them.
Jace He does send a ship to smuggle the Crown Princess and the children to America, a dangerous scheme that could, in fact, put America’s very neutrality at jeopardy. Why does he risk so much to bring them to the U.S.?
Kyle You know, I think he likes high stakes. I think that he was that kind of a guy he was a little bit of a gambler, I think, in that way. You know, he was a guy who was powerful. And I think he he he knew it and he used it to his advantage. I don’t think he thought much of Hitler. And I think in some ways it was kind of thumb your nose at them. And I think that I think it was also a good hedge. You know, I think the fact that war was not declared between the two countries. So there was a very good chance that there was going to leave them alone. I think Roosevelt felt like Hitler didn’t want to at that time engage in the power that America was. And so I think he was you know, it was a good bet.
Jace Episode three begins with a scene in which FDR pulls himself out of the swimming pool, and with Missy’s aid, into his wheelchair. This is the second time you played a character in a wheelchair, the first being Orson in Desperate Housewives. How challenging was this to film with the physical limitations that FDR was experiencing? And what did you do to sort of approximate the physicality of the role?
Kyle I watched a lot of footage of him moving through space, what was available to me, standing. And recognized that he had absolutely no ability to support himself with his lower extremities. His legs just did not work. They just dangled there. So immediately saw that the upper body strength that he possessed simply because he had to. I did research on the mechanism that he used in order to stay erect when he was orating, giving speeches and how he did that. I read about the precise and the practice that he did so that he could walk, you know, the last 10 or 12 feet to the podium erect and obviously with the support of a cane and usually holding on to another stout fellow. And he got it down to where you just sort of didn’t even really think of him as being in a wheelchair because most of his public persona was, you know, speaking and being filmed when he was already standing. The challenge in the wheelchair, of course, was to give the illusion of spindly legs. And we had a couple of tricks that we used and aided tremendously by the cinematographer who always kind of told me where he was framing. And we always tried to hide the legs a little bit behind a piece of furniture or just just cut the frame just slightly above the legs. There are a few occasions when that can’t be helped, but they go by pretty quickly, so we really, really spent a lot of time trying to, you know, give the illusion that his legs weren’t, you know, as substantial as mine are.
Jace FDR invites Martha and the children to Springwood and they rush out in a car together, in fact, to get away from the Norwegian ambassador and ditch the Secret Service. It’s a moment of profound freedom for both of them. Is this something that that actually brings them closer together at this moment?
Kyle I think so. I think they both need a little break from the pressures that are around them. And I, that was always my take on what those consequences were about. First of all, FDR, as you know, he in control of his destiny, so to speak, you know, behind the wheel of a car. And he can go at a speed that he wants to go at. And he’s he’s a bit reckless, stories are told, of him driving with other heads of state in real life and that no one would ever ride with him twice because he was really a pretty, pretty casual driver, some might say reckless. So we tried to get a little bit of that across in our. And what a fun car to drive. Oh, my gosh. That was great.
Jace Even Missy can see there’s something developing between Roosevelt and Martha and she doesn’t like it. She says, ‘I swear, Franklin, why don’t you collect stray dogs like other normal people, instead of stray royals?’ What did you make of the complex web between Roosevelt, Eleanor and Missy? Do you think that FDR and Missy did have a sexual relationship?
Kyle You know, I don’t know, with Missy. I think there was there was certain things going on. And FDR seemed to be really quite at home with all the, you know, the twists and turns of of the the inner workings of the White House and the relationships almost to the point he seemed to encourage it. I you know, in some ways I wonder if perhaps all of that was just, again, a distraction for him to not have to think about his condition and the pain that he was in constantly. I think there was something maybe something to that because, you know, he loved having people around. He loved entertaining. He loved having his five o’clock, you know, drink with friends. And Churchill would come visit and stay for weeks at a time and they would stay up really late drinking whiskey and smoking cigars. And I think just anything to take his his mind away from his his situation, the physicality. And and that I think holds true for for running the country as well and really, really focused him. It really worked his mind. But I think so much of that was was most likely related to the fact that he was in a chair and he couldn’t he couldn’t couldn’t move, you know, freely.
Jace There is this really complex power dynamic at play here — Martha is entirely reliant on Franklin, Norway needs the help of the Americans, Martha is trapped between American neutrality and her own country’s invasion. Does Franklin see how fraught Martha’s situation is? Or is he blinded in a way by his own sense of benevolence and generosity?
Kyle I think he’s certainly aware of it, and he’s got compassion for it, on one hand, I think on the other hand, he’s holding the political reins of his career and of the country and recognizing that you can’t always do what you want to do when you want to do it. And I think it’s I mean, that’s just the nature of politics, isn’t it? It’s just, you know, you may believe and want to do something, but if you do that, then you put so many other things at risk. And so it’s a delicate balancing act, which he happened to be very good at, I think. But it was not without him feeling for her. There was there were moments there where the empathy needed to be there for her situation, which I I think was there.
Jace Martha appeals to Franklin to circumvent the neutrality law to help Norway in a similar fashion that the US did with Britain. She tells him the story of the fire at their house and the risk people took in order to be good neighbors, but the fact that it was also smart, because fires spread. Does this moment change the way FDR sees Martha? Does it push her into a different light?
Kyle I think he definitely watches her grow into the politician that he mentions in the car. I think later on he says you’re becoming more and more political. And I think he encourages that and appreciates that. I think part of the attraction between the two of them was that they had a common goal and they had a common foe as well. And they both knew what needed to be done. I don’t think in that moment Martha is saying something that is that Franklin hasn’t thought about a thousand times or is not working towards, but I think what happens is you see her, you see her find her voice to be able to say it. And I think that was an important moment for her and for their relationship.
Jace Ultimately, Eleanor and Franklin do argue over the Lend Lease Act, and Martha.
Eleanor I strongly dislike this changes, Franklin. And now, so soon after the election!
FDR The timing might not be the best, but unfortunately, I cannot dictate world events.
Eleanor You’re mad about her. That’s what this is about!
FDR Nonsense! Nonsense!
Eleanor Don’t you think I can recognize that look in your eyes?
FDR Are you jealous, Eleanor?
Jace Is FDR’s decision about what’s right, what what’s absolutely necessary or about Martha?
Kyle You know what I think he is looking for any way that he can help, to be honest, and this seems like a good way to do two things, you know, he can help Martha and help help her country. And you can also start involving himself in the War as much as possible, and I think it’s both of those things, I think it’s two pronged.
Jace Before this next question, a brief word from our sponsors…
Jace Rolling Stone years ago described you as, quote, ‘The boy next door who spends a lot of time in the basement.’ Do you feel that informed a lot of the roles you chose over the years? A sort of facade of gentleness, hiding some darkness?
Kyle I don’t know. I know that was a long time ago. You know, it’s that kind of thing where I’m so lucky to have had the career that I’ve had and some of the larger, more recognizable roles have come with my work with David Lynch, of course, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. But there’s been so much that’s also come that are other types of characters. I’m hoping that the other characters that I play have, you know, the positive and the negative. And you can sort of see in there, in there who they are thinking, of course, of not only FDR, but of Thomas Edison and, you know, the demons that drove him and who he was as a person. I think those are the rich characters to be able to explore.
Jace The darkness of the mayor of Portland, of course.
Kyle So you have to have the dark with the light, you know, there. I don’t know about the mayor of Portland, how much darkness is in there. He’s pretty enthusiastic. But certainly certainly the work with David had had some of that.
Jace I mean, you and David both grew up in the Pacific Northwest. You both had similar childhoods. Was there a sense that you were kindred spirits from those early days on Dune together?
Kyle I think so. I think we shared we shared a lot of things in common. You know, he was I hadn’t done that many films I’ve done with my first film just starting out of my career. We, you know, kind of similar upbringing, small town. He moved around a little more than I did. But, you know, just the experiences of kind of palling around with your buddies, riding your bike, shooting B.B. guns and doing things like that, there was a lot of commonality and then a similar sense of humor. I think, you know, and David is is pretty stubborn deep down. And what he wants and I’m kind of similar that way. We have yeah, we share we share some some some qualities and also some, I guess some upbringing history.
Jace He gave you a very pivotal bottle of Chateau Lynch-Bages, I understand, on Dune. How did that transform your life and how did that lead to the Shakespearean named Pursued by Bear?
Kyle You’re right. So that was the first he delivered a bottle of Lynch-Bages or had delivered a bottle of Lynch-Bages to my hotel room after my first screen test for Dune as a thank you. And I think also just as a you know, ‘I hope this works out,’ he was he was one of the decision makers for me for that role. But the others were the De Laurentis family and it all worked out. But was my first Chateau Lynch-Bages and bordeaux and the first bottle of Chateau Lynch-Bages. You know, I loved wine all my life. And, you know, ultimately it led to my involvement with a winery making my own wine in eastern Washington. And I called it Pursued by Bear from the stage direction, from Shakespeare’s play, The Winter’s Tale. And it’s been a really fantastic journey. I started in 2005 and we’re still making wine and we have five wines now and it’s going pretty well. And I’m heavily involved.
Jace You posted this morning on Instagram that it was Dale Cooper’s birthday. What is your relationship with the character of Dale Cooper after all of this time, having played him in the original Twin Peaks, then playing various versions of him in the return? How do you look on Dale Cooper at this point in your life?
Kyle With so much fondness. You know, I think initially after finishing Twin Peaks in ’89 and ’90, I wanted to branch out. Of course, I was young and wanted to try the things and sort of distance myself, I think, from that character in that world and just go into other places. And as I’ve gotten older and and my appreciation has grown, I look back and really embrace that time and embrace the character and and the fans as well. I think they have been absolutely amazing. And they’ve you know, I point to them as the reason why Twin Peaks returned after 25 years. They just were not to be denied. And fortunately, David and Mark were able to recreate something that was pretty special and and and is will be for me, you know, always just just cherished. And I hope I you know, I hold on to hope that I’ll be able to recreate him again someday. And hopefully David will come up with something at present there’s nothing really in the works. But I really enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to return to the second installment, which we did a couple of years ago, and. And be able to step back into the suit, along with the other characters that I played along the way, which were really fun as an actor, of course, but to have that Cooper together again was pretty special. The only thing that was missing really was just I mean, I would love to have had Mike Ontkean on for the ride because I think that relationship was as pretty special and really helped to define both of them, I think. But that was the only thing
Jace Do people ever expect that you hold some hidden secret key to unlocking and understanding of Twin Peaks or David Lynch’s work? Do they say, ‘What happened in that final scene? Can you can you tell me?’ Is there expectation?
Kyle I think I think they used to. I think everyone has sort of given up on me at this point because I usually I just say, you know what? I have some thoughts about what it is, but I don’t ask David. He wouldn’t tell me even if he knew. I’m not quite sure he knows. You know, he has his reasons, and he has said the same thing, ‘It’s like really, it’s the viewer’s interpretation. You know, you you have to think of what it is. How you interpret it, you know,’ so and I I am I am the kind of person that always does feel the responsibility, the obligation to try to to tell people. Well, I think it is. And make them feel better. But in fact, I don’t know. And I’ve stopped attempting that. And I just said, ‘You know what? I’m going to you just have to figure it out because I am not the oracle,’ you know.
Jace instead, you’ve you’ve reached social media stardom with short form videos like The Tomato Mystery, a Fleetwood Mac lip sync, Barry Tales and other tongue in cheek vignettes. Why are you so drawn to Tik-Tok and Instagram these days? What is it about social media that is exciting you?
Kyle Well, I think, you know, you have to be. I think in some ways you have to keep up. First of all, and this is and I also look at it as a really fun, short, short form creative opportunity to do something hopefully interesting and layered. So I, I treat it as such. Most of the time, it’s not just sort of a one off kind of here’s me eating a bowl of Cheerios. There is a reason and an intention behind it. I remember when Twitter started, I loved the fact that there was it was so restricted to what you could say. And I felt like that really made me have to almost become poetic, you know? I mean, because you got to say a lot with very little, which I enjoyed. So I’ve always approached it like that. It’s as much fun for me as hopefully for the fans. And and I. I think it’s through. I don’t do it lightly.
Jace Normally you’d be out and about, probably promoting Pursued by Bear. Obviously the the pandemic has sort of slowed things down on that front when things start to open up. What’s what’s next for you?
Kyle Well, you know, I’ve been able to do a lot of Zoom tastings, which is a kind of a new thing. And that’s been from the comfort of my little dining room here and reach out and communicate to a lot of people to talk about the wine. You know, the other thing is just for our show, Atlantic Crossing, I’ve been able to do a lot of press, you know, just again, from the comfort of the home, which is sort of nice. It’s you know, we’re looking for the next thing that I’m going to engage with, there’s a couple of opportunities, some things that I’m actually developing myself and I’ll be posting occasionally about the progress for that, it requires a little bit of a physical change, and I’m embracing that, which is really fun. So, yeah, it’s been a quiet year, but it’s been a busy year and I look back on this experience and the amount of time I’ve been able to spend with my family, with my son in particular, as a real blessing, and I know that’s not always been that way for everyone, but I kind of embraced it. And I’m grateful to have had the forced home time, I guess.
Jace No, I mean, it’s very strange watching Atlantic Crossing as a sort of historical document while living through what will be historic times. There is a sense of people sort of overcoming a lot, as you say, and there is a sort of sense of sympatico spirit there, I think, to be found in sort of the struggles of people during World War and what we’re going through now. Did you feel in sort of looking back at the project that it would resonate so clearly with viewers right now? Was there that sense?
Kyle You know, I don’t know if I was conscious of that. I know that I thought the strength of the story was really the family, following the family and the struggle to keep the family together, the family, the Norwegian royal family, speaking of, because the way the story is structured, you feel so much for them because you you meet them in such a happy time, in the very beginning, and you root for them, you know, and you and you want that unit to stay together and somehow succeed and when I was reading it, that was kind of my first like, ‘Oh, I like I like this approach. ‘And then and then it was also, ‘Hey, I have a chance to play FDR! That’s pretty cool, too,’ you know, but it was those elements that I thought that made this particular film stand apart.
Jace What can you tell us about what’s coming up in the back half of Atlantic Crossing the final four episodes?
Kyle Oh, you know, they get even closer there, the relationship. And we always said that they certainly had a very strong emotional connection. The physical connection we don’t know only we can only speculate. But let’s just say we move closer in that direction between the two of them. And, yeah, we tease a little bit of that.
Jace Kyle MacLachlan, thank you very much.
Kyle Great pleasure. Nice to speak with you.
Jace There’s still four thrilling episodes to go of Atlantic Crossing — but we’ll be taking a break while war rages in Europe and beyond.
Martha Time is the one thing we don’t have! People are suffering and dying every day!
FDR There’s a difference between sitting in opposition and taking the lead in a situation. Why don’t you do something yourself?
Jace Come back to the podcast on May 23 for new interviews with series creator Alexander Eik and leads Sofia Helin and Kyle MacLachlan as they break down the war-torn finale and offer their final thoughts on the relationship between FDR and the Crown Princess.
MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob, and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Susanne Simpson.
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