Hailey Gates inherited her artistic temperament and likely her dark sense of humor from her grandmother Joan Tewkesbury, the famed director and screenwriter of Robert Altman's 1975 classic, Nashville. But the writer, actress, sometime model and current host of Vice's States of Undress has never appeared onscreen in a project as hotly anticipated, nor kept so under wraps, as David Lynch's reboot of Twin Peaks, premiering on Showtime this Sunday. And yet Gates was unfazed by the sheer amount of security around the series during the production of its 18-episode first season, having reported from the unlikely fashion weeks that have sprung up in hotbeds of conflict like Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo for her Viceland TV docuseries, which returns for its second season June 8. "This is kind of my thing," as she said on set. Here, in a new interview with Lynn Hirschberg, Gates charts her strange path to becoming David Lynch's newest muse.
What was your first fashion moment?
Whoa. Um... I apparently had a deep aversion to wearing pants as a child.
Did you have a go-to outfit at that point?
I remember I wore these white cowboy boots almost every day, much to my mother's regret—with a dress. I don't know what was so limiting about pants to me but—
You didn't feel free.
I did not feel free.
Where are you in your family in terms of siblings?
I am the eldest of six.
Oh my word.
So you were in charge of everyone?
Indeed. My mom and dad had three girls in four years. And then they separated and my mom has a son on her side and my dad has two boys.
It was all girls and then all boys.
Did you read fashion magazines? Did you sew your own clothes?
I mean, I was doing plays as a kid and I studied ballet. And so I think a lot of it was about transformation and figuring out that I could make myself feel a different way if I wore different things.
And did you do ballet seriously?
Yeah I did. And then I shattered my knee cap.
Oh my god, dancing?
Yeah. Not on stage, but ... My grandmother is a woman named Joan Tewkesbury [a director and the screenwriter of, most notably, Robert Altman's Nashville]. I didn't find out that she was my grandmother until a little later in my life, but she also was a ballerina when she started. She shattered the same knee.
Is it the right or the left?
And did you think about repairing it or did you just take it as a sign?
Yeah, it was a sign. I was ready to—it was not fulfilling me. I was 16 or 17.
Oh my god, so you had been with it for a while. How old were you when you went en pointe?
I was 12 or 13. But I was mostly acting at that point, doing plays, but yeah it was still a part of my life.
What was your first audition for anything?
We did a play of Frog and Toad at my elementary school. And I'm not sure if this is part of the book or it was something that we made up on our own, but I auditioned to play the black hole, which somehow makes sense to me.
What did you wear as the black hole?
Well, actually we created this kind of trifecta. So there were three kids and we made holes in this giant black fabric. We stretched this piece and then we glued all sorts of disgusting bits and things on the black hole as if it was eating whatever was in sight.
Did you think that you wanted to become an actress?
I’m not sure. I was writing a lot even as a kid. I was like a really embarrassing, precocious child. So I think it was just about making a world.
When did you become aware of what Joan Tewkesbury had written?
It was really strange to meet her later in life. I think I was 13 when I met her and we were really working in the same wheelhouse. So my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandmother both grew up in Los Angeles. And they're completely different. One of them is Joan and she lives in Santa Fe and only drinks tequila and she's of this Altman era of women who don't give a f---. And then my other grandmother is sort of prim and very proper and sort of WASP-y. A lady. And I found out that apparently they both dated the same lifeguard down at Santa Monica beach whose name was Roger Moore—not the Roger Moore.
Not the Roger Moore but a Roger Moore.
Yeah. And apparently his wooing tactic was to pop out his glass eyeball. That's how he got the ladies.
So at what point did you decide to move to New York?
I was miserable in high school and I was writing.
Did you go to your prom?
Oh no. No, no, no. My senior prom I went to Dan Tana's and I had a Helen steak and a margarita.
That's cooler than anything I've heard all day.
But I was underage so don't tell them. I was writing plays, one-acts about Warren Jeffs and like doing them at lunchtime for three people. I was interested in cults. I was interested in docudrama. Which I guess now sort of makes sense considering what I'm doing. And it was depressing, you know, because I hadn't found my people.
So that took you to New York.
Yeah, and then I found that I could study experimental theater, which my parents were very stoked about. Yeah, incredibly lucrative choice. I actually studied in Paris with this experimental theater ring before I moved to New York and started doing that pretty seriously.
And how did you get from there to documentary?
I finished school. I wrote a couple of plays that I put on which were about other family history. I've become kind of the family scribe, um, of the more unsavory events. Then I started working at The Paris Review, which was great and sort of strange. And Vice approached me and said that they wanted to make a show.
We talked about a bunch of different ideas for shows.The one we sort of landed on, we're going to places where you wouldn't necessarily imagine a fashion week would be held. And so it meant that I would be able to go to all these places that I'm not supposed to go to, or maybe would never have the chance to go to.
What's been the most surprising thing about doing it?
Hmm. I don't know what I thought, but what turned out to be the most surprising is that there was this conservatism on the rise everywhere I went. And it wasn't something I expected because I expected that the internet would sort of flower this kind of liberalism—that everybody would be wanting to live more like each other.
It's interesting, yeah. So were you a David Lynch fan growing up? You would have been a child when Twin Peaks came out.
I did know Twin Peaks. This is so stupid—my mom taught me how to tie a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue. I was a kid.
She thought that would come in handy.
Well, you know, it's like you hang out with WASPs. You have to learn bar tricks or something to entertain people. There was nobody else my age, so I had to keep up. So I learned how to do that and obviously there many an Audrey Horne joke made. I had no idea who that was at the time.
But being this kind of awful, precocious kid I insisted that in the summers I take a writing class with people that were older than me. And so I would take these like hilarious UCLA extension classes where I would be a teenager, you know, writing about whatever pathetic grievance I had. And Sherilyn Fenn [who played Audrey Horne in the original Twin Peaks] was actually in one of those classes with me. And so I was very star struck because I had been hearing Audrey Horne my whole life.
So how did you hear about this version of Twin Peaks that we don't know anything about yet?
There was no audition. I just got a call to come in and talk, just a conversation kind of like this. Which, I feel like if I were a director I would also prefer that. I think you get a better sense of people when they have to use their own words.
And what did you wear?
It's so lame. Like, a really '70s funky dress that I thought was so cool. I always struggle auditioning actually because I'm so obsessed with era-appropriate clothing. In all the plays that I've done, I've always been really intense about wearing era-appropriate underwear. It changes your gait and the way you hold your body. And, you know, I'm very into physical discomfort.
And where do you find these era-appropriate garments?
There's an amazing place on the Lower East Side [of Manhattan] that's run by Hasids. You can just walk in and they know your size on sight, which is very impressive.
But yeah, I didn't hear from [the producers of Twin Peaks] for months. I was like in Pakistan and, you know, in the Congo. I think I came back from the Congo and shot, you know, this thing that shall not be named. It was pretty funny because there was so much security. It was so secretive and I was like, "You know, guys I'm kind of used to this. So who's going to throw the bag over my head and drag me to set? This is kind of my thing."
Do you have a David Lynch film that you're particularly fond of, or is it the TV show?
I love Twin Peaks. I love Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive. I think I've always been really interested in interpersonal female relationships.
So you like the dark and the light?
Yeah. And just that sort of really complicated space of a kind of tender competition that women have. Almost all of the plays that I wrote were between two women.
Interesting. So who is your girl crush?
My girl crush, oh. Isabelle Huppert. Did you just see Elle, it's so good. Who else do I love ... Charlotte Rampling. I'm very attracted to older women. I have body dysmorphia and I think that I like look like Mrs. Robinson, or something. That's how I imagine myself doing things. When really, I look like a weird child. When I was in the Congo I visited a witch doctor. And she was doing all these ceremonies on young girls who thought that they had this thing that called masque vieille, which is like mask of the old lady. And they go through this kind of exorcism ceremony to extract the old lady demon, because they think that their face somehow looks older than they are and that men are not attracted to them in that way. So they have the old lady taken out of them. And I was like, "This is funny because I have the opposite problem." When I was really young, I just always wanted to be older. I learned to speak before I could walk. My parents were so terrified of me.
I love that. Where was your first kiss?
My first kiss was with a girl. On a playground. I was really young.
And were you freaked out at all that your first kiss was with a girl?
No, it was all my doing. She was my age, but I was always trying to like get rid of firsts. I'm not really into ceremonies of firsts. I'm into ceremonies of lasts. I'm more of a funeral person than a wedding person.
I actually agree with you. I think weddings are really depressing. I avoid them like the plague.
It's my nightmare. I've been in, like, all of my parents' weddings. I was recently the maid of honor in my mom's wedding. My mom is from L.A. and she's blonde and very beautiful. And she has this penchant for constantly being barefoot which really drove me crazy as a kid because she can get away with anything because she's just so lovely and full of life and wonderful. And if I did things like that people would be like, "Put some shoes on, child." But I've been in Paris with her and she's got her shoes in one hand, in the street, barefoot. So I made her take her shoes off and hit a piñata.
Hit a piñata?
Yeah. Tiny forms of embarrassment are important, I think.