1. It started as a TV pilot.
Director David Lynch actually got the name for the film when he was planning to create a different pilot, a Twin Peaks spinoff with Mark Frost. Eventually, Lynch was inspired to create a new Mulholland Drive for ABC. It was very elaborate and many elements were similar to the film; it even had over 50 speaking parts. The show was eventually rejected by ABC, with whom Lynch was already having a rough relationship. Apparently, an executive told Lynch that he almost fell asleep while he was standing up and watching it. Lynch has even claimed that no one even told him that ABC had no interest in airing the pilot. The French company Canal Plus bought the pilot as a film. It was then re-edited with 50 minutes of new footage.
2. Many of the actors were lesser known because it was going to be a TV show.
Had Lynch been planning to make a film for the entire process, Naomi Watts may have not even been considered for the lead role. Because Mulholland Drive was originally going to be a television series, Lynch and his casting directors had to pick actors and actresses who would sign contracts for a long-term television series as opposed to a shorter film job. In Lynch’s words, “You swim in a different pool when you are picking actors or actresses for a TV series that may go on for a long time.” He did go on to emphasize that she was “right for the part.”
3. Most of the ideas for the film came from Lynch’s transcendental meditation.
Lynch practices transcendental meditation, which he describes as a way to “expand consciousness.” When the film version of Mulholland Drive was finally greenlit, he had no ideas and hadn’t even been thinking about it. The day that he needed to put ideas on pages, he meditated and that’s when “all the ideas came, all at once.”
4. Lynch didn’t audition any actors.
Before being cast, Naomi Watts merely had a 30 minute conversation with Lynch, which is similar to how all of the leads were chosen. During a press conference in 2001, Lynch said, “When you meet the person, I don’t know what it is. I never make anyone read a scene because then I want to start rehearsing—no matter who it is. I just get a feeling based on a conversation. It’s something in the eyes. It’s some sort of feeling in the air. And I know that this person can do that role.”
5. Laura Elena Harring got into a car accident on the way to her meeting with Lynch.
Harring was very excited to finally be at a point in her career where someone like Lynch’s casting agent would call her. That excitement distracted her and she rear-ended another car. Luckily for Harring, it was the car of another actor on the way to an audition. So they left the scene of the accident. She learned at the meeting that her character, Rita, gets into a car accident in one of the first scenes.
6. Harring also predicted the Mulholland Drive movie.
Even though Lynch told her that the pilot for ABC was no longer happening, Harring held out hope. She once said, “I kept dreaming about Mulholland Drive becoming a movie. And I kept telling [Lynch] that I was seeing omens: Rita, which is the character name, all over the place, and I just saw ‘Mulholland’ everywhere and I said, ‘You know, I just feel that it’s going to go forward.”
7. Billy Ray Cyrus was cast because of his music.
According to Lynch, “I was listening to Billy Ray Cyrus, even though he wasn’t on the list for this particular role in Mulholland Drive, and I said ‘Hey, that’s Gene the pool man right there.’ So there are beautiful, happy accidents.”
8. The character of the cowboy just appeared to Lynch.
He explained, “Sometimes an idea presents itself to you and you’re just as surprised as anyone else. I remember when I was writing Mulholland Drive, the character of the Cowboy just came walking in one night. I just started talking about this cowboy. That’s what happens—something starts occurring but it wasn’t there a moment ago.”
9. Lafayette Montgomery, the first Cowboy, was the co-producer of Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks.
Strangely, in the other projects, Montgomery is credited as “Monty” whereas he’s “Lafayette Montgomery” in the Mulholland Drive credits. A cowboy shows up again at the later party scene, but it is not Montgomery.
10. The film intentionally draws parallels between acting and amnesia.
The film features Betty, the actress, and Rita, the amnesia victim. Lynch sees a connection between those two. “Amnesia somehow ties into acting,” Lynch once explained. “A great actor or actress, they give up themselves and they become somebody else. And everybody, myself included, sometimes wants to get lost and to find themselves in a new world and film gives you that chance to get lost completely in another world."
11. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
Not only that, but the film’s funders from Canal Plus saw it for the first time there.
12. David Lynch is cryptic about its meaning.
Lynch is notorious for his refusal to discuss interpretations of his films. For example, this is how he described Mulholland Drive: “Part one: she found herself inside the perfect mystery. Part two: a sad illusion. Part three: love.”
13. But he calls it a love story.
Lynch said, “It’s strange how films unfold as they go. There may be a noir element in Mulholland Drive, and a couple of genres swimming around in there together. For me, it’s a love story.”
To many, the film is undoubtedly a mystery. But Roger Ebert denied that idea shortly after the film was released. He believed that “Mulholland Drive isn’t like Memento, where if you watch closely enough you can hope to explain the mystery. There is no explanation. There may not even be a mystery.”
14. Promotion for the film involved clues.
Luckily for Lynch fans, he was asked to create a promotional campaign of 10 clues. Clues included “Notice appearances of the red lampshade,” “Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup,” and “Where is Aunt Ruth?” The rest can be found at Mulholland-Drive.Net.
15. Naomi Watts has her own interpretation.
In an interview with James Lipton, Watts stated that she saw Diane as real and Betty as a figment of Diane’s imagination. She told Lipton, “I saw Diane as being the truth and she imagined this Betty character because she was the one who was the actress and getting all the attention and all the light and, you know, her friendship with Camilla, it was the other way around.”
16. Watts’s tears in the masturbation scene were genuine.
“David wanted utter despair and I was so humiliated by doing the scene that I did cry a lot and I couldn’t stop crying,” Watts said. “He didn’t want me to cry because that would seem that I’d arrived at a place of emotion. What he wanted was that I was reaching, that I was absolutely, desperately trying to connect with something I’d experienced and I wasn’t reaching it. Because I was so mortified by, you know, sitting in front of a film crew with my hands down my pants, I just kept crying. I would say, ‘David, I can’t do this. I can’t do it.’ Crying, crying, crying. And he was like, ‘That’s okay, Naomi, that’s okay.’ And I was thinking, ‘Okay, so he’s going to call cut.’ But he didn’t. And I would keep going. And I—just breaking down, and it was like, I said, ‘Fuck you, David! Fuck you!’”
17. Lynch lives near the actual Mulholland Drive.
He called it a “beautiful road.” But he also noted, “It’s a mysterious road with many curves in it. It’s really dark at night and, unlike so many other spots in LA, it has remained pretty much the same over the years.”
18. Rebekah Del Rio sang “Crying” four minutes into her meeting with Lynch.
Del Rio singing “Crying” at Club Silencio is one of the most iconic parts of the film, but it was very spontaneous. She showed up to a 10am meeting with Brian Loucks and John Neff, who were working on the music for the film.
Lynch explained, “Rebekah just wanted to come over for a coffee and sing in front of us. She didn’t want to record anything, but she came in and four minutes later—I think before she’d had her coffee—she’s in the booth. And the one take that she sang, four minutes off the street, is the vocal that’s in the film. THE ACTUAL RECORDING!”
19. There are some subtle references to Sunset Boulevard.
Sunset Boulevard is one of Lynch’s favorite films. In Mulholland Drive, a Sunset Boulevard street sign can be seen in addition to a very similar shot of the Paramount Gates that’s in Sunset Boulevard. Lynch even tracked down the same car from Sunset Boulevard to include in the shot of the Paramount Gates.
Plus, Lynch recognized that Norma Desmond and Betty are “both experiencing some of the negative sides of acting.”
20. Lynch had specific directions for theater projectors.
When the Mulholland Drive film was sent to theaters, Lynch included a personal note for projectors. It read “I understand this is an unusual request yet I do need your help.” Among the requests are for volume to be 3db hotter than usual as well as a smaller amount of headroom (the black strip above the screen) than normal.
21. The nude scene is blurred for the DVD release.
The scene has been digitally altered and blurred from what moviegoers saw in theaters. On his website, Lynch explained, “We did that blurring for the DVD on purpose as we knew that pictures of Laura would be everywhere if we didn’t ... If the shot is timed correctly you should not be able to tell one bit if Laura’s pubic hair has been blurred—this probably means some viewers are experimenting to see Laura’s pubic hair and more ... This is why the picture was blurred—I promised Laura that I would try to protect her as much as possible.”
22. It has inspired a nightclub.
In 2011, Club Silencio opened in Paris’ Grands Boulevards District. Lynch himself designed the club, which is obvious when you browse through the pictures on its website. The club contains a 24-seat movie theater, an art library, and a reflective dancefloor. You can become a member at Silencio for €840 a year. It has a 3.5 star Yelp review average.
All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted.