"I think this movie is about a dream," opines actress Laura Elena Harring of Mulholland Drive. "The question is whose dream?"
Clearly that of visionary writer/director David Lynch, the twisted and brazenly original mind behind Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, and Twin Peaks. But Harring is more specifically referring to the pair of characters played by herself and Naomi Watts, who share a surprising, steamy lesbian affair during the film.
Naomi Watts as Betty and Laura Elena Harring as Rita.
Harring plays a raven-haired beauty stricken with amnesia when an execution...hers...goes wrong thanks to an automobile collision. Completely disoriented, stumbling through Hollywood, she ends up in a vacated apartment, where she's soon joined by amicable actress wannabe Betty ( Watts ) . Adopting the name Rita ( which she appropriates from a movie poster ) , this mysterious woman and Betty become fast friends, the latter determined to help figure out her past...and why she's carrying a bag of loot and a bizarre blue key. As Rita's identity unravels, and their friendship grows more intimate, so do a number of threatening scenarios for the gals and other folk, including a hot young director ( Justin Teroux ) in search of a lead actress. Add numerous horrific, humorous set pieces, supporting characters ( including a mulleted Billy Ray Cyrus ) , and sudden drops down the rabbit's hole and you have a Lynchian classic.
Mulholland Drive was originally conceived in 1999 as Lynch's return to television series land, a reunion he was looking forward to because of the medium's deep, open-ended storytelling. And like he did with Twin Peaks, Lynch could mix the eerie and bizarre with darkly humorous on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, ABC rejected Mulholland's $8 million, two-hour pilot once produced ( supposedly execs found it too slowly paced and violent ) .
Happily, destiny intervened after a number of false re-starts. A pair of Pierres stepped in with French financing, Lynch reconceived his work as a feature film, added 18 pages worth of fiercely guarded, top-secret material, and again contacted the anxious Harring, who describes Mulholland's two-year journey from planned TV series to theatrical feature as a "roller coaster ride."
"David said 'you call Naomi and tell her this is the last time, it's really going to be made into a movie,'" Harring recalls. "And [ when I did ] Naomi said 'if it doesn't come true this time I just can't deal with it emotionally!'"
Both actresses soon convened at the director's house, where he reassured them Mulholland Drive would finally see the light of day ... with a few modifications. "David held out his hands and said 'Mulholland Drive is going to be an international feature film, girls,' and there's going to be nudity,'" Harring adds, laughing.
Indeed, Mulholland Drive contains some deliciously sexy moments between Rita and Betty, whose lives may or may not have been previously romantically entwined depending on how one interprets Lynch's Alice in Wonderlandesque twists to the narrative. "If you see it a couple of times, which you have to, you get it," Harring insists. "There's a linear story there. In fact, I've already gotten two or three."
Harring was born in Mexico, moved to Texas at 10, and attended boarding school in Switzerland. Fascinated with precious stones since childhood, this aspiring gemologist's ( grandfather was a miner ) life took an artistic detour when she was spotted during a beauty pageant, subsequently landing a role opposite the late Raul Julia in The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory. Appearances in Little Nicky, Exit to Eden, and the not-quite-critically acclaimed TV movie The Elian Gonzalez Story followed. "I remember a lot of the critics were expecting cheesy," she admits of the latter project, "and the only problem with that movie was that it wasn't cheesy enough."
The opportunity to work with Lynch, whose affecting The Elephant Man "opened my heart more than anything else," Harring says, was met with enthusiasm. And her impression of the edgy, often absurdist auteur, who on the set of Blue Velvet once picked up a gory prosthetic ear and started yelling "Hello!" into it? "To me he's the most normal person," she affirms. "More normal than normal. But when he starts talking and says 'I'll be ding-danged!' you think he's making it up. He's not! He's trapped in a different era. I believe he still thinks we're in the '50s."
Harring says that Lynch used a "lot of metaphors and similes" whilst directing her. "Coming out of the car accident, he said 'walk like a broken doll,'" she recalls. "I would pretend I was hurt, but he wanted a broken doll."
As for his technique while directing the love scenes, "it was kind of cute," Harring confesses with a grin. "One time he went 'don't be afraid to touch each other's breasts now.' Other than that he kept it rolling, he wasn't very technical."
Rita is deemed a mixture of light and dark by Harring, and she smilingly admits to identifying with more of the latter quality. "Playing a bad girl is always so much fun," she chirps.
As for playing a lesbian, Harring insists she actually doesn't regard either Rita or Betty as Sapphic sisters.
"The love scene just happened in my eyes," she opines. "Rita's very grateful for the help Betty's given [ her ] so I'm saying goodbye and goodnight to her, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, I kiss her and then there's just an energy that takes us [ over ] . Of course I have amnesia so I don't know if I've done it before, but I don't think we're really lesbians." An acknowledged heterosexual in real life, Harring nonetheless acknowledges having experienced intimate brushes with female friends, and therefore could relate to her not-necessarily-de-facto-dyke character's sexually bonding with Watts'.
"I know that feeling of intensive love," she affirms. "I did have one girlfriend, she was much older than I was, really beautiful. One time she got very, very drunk, and whispered in my ear, in Spanish, 'I'm going to teach you a little decadence.' She said it real close, she kind of slobbered on my ear. I went 'omigod, is she making a pass at me?' It [ didn't become ] sexual, but I'm sure that when you're best friends with someone it can."
Of course, being able to experience the other sides of life is one reason Harring enjoys her current thespian occupation. "I can live all of this," she glows. "You can play meanies, explore these sides of yourself, and you get paid for it. Normally you [ endure ] consequences [ for your actions ] , but in moviemaking you don't."