Lara Flynn Boyle shot to fame with the cult TV show Twin Peaks in the early 1990s. Subsequently, she was everywhere over that decade – she starred in The Rookie, Wayne’s World and Red Rock West among other things. But these days, she’s gone from the movie posters, and she wasn’t in the Twin Peaks revival. So what on earth happened?
Boyle’s early career was the stuff of dreams. The actress attended the Chicago Academy for the Arts, and by the time of graduation she already had her SAG card thanks to a tiny, deleted part in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Then immediately after Boyle finished school, she moved to Los Angeles and started getting roles.
Boyle’s success made her peers envious, although she was also one of the popular kids. Her acting teacher Matt DeCaro told Chicago magazine in 2007 that Boyle “was such a good time, people just liked being around her. Of course, people get incredibly jealous, but that was their problem.”
DeCaro recollected how quick Boyle was. He said, “For one assignment, I was trying to help the kids be a little more disciplined in their approach, and I demanded each come to class with a three-minute monologue memorized. If they didn’t do it, I was going to give them a failing grade. Lara did this amazing monologue about a witness on the witness stand. It was funny, it was moving, it was poignant; it triggered tears.”
DeCaro went on, “This was an extraordinary piece of work for a 15- or 16-year-old. But I couldn’t place the play or movie it was from. I questioned Lara about it, and she did a little prevaricating, and then she said, ‘I just made it up! On the spot! I got ya!’ But, you know, I was always such a softie, I gave her an A anyway.”
In those early years Boyle appeared in the miniseries Amerika and she played a main character in the 1988 horror flick Poltergeist III. That film was a commercial and critical disaster, but it still marked one step forward for her. Subsequently, Boyle received a small role in Dead Poets Society, but unfortunately her scenes were cut.
After that came Boyle’s big break. She was cast in David Lynch’s new television show Twin Peaks as Donna Hayward, who is the best friend of the murdered Laura Palmer. When the show first started airing in 1990, it was an immediate hit and got nominations for no less than 14 Emmys.
In 1990 Lynch himself spoke to Details magazine about why Boyle won the role of Donna. He said, “Johanna Ray did the casting and she tells me if people are good, you know, or not. So I met Lara and, see, she’s my idea of the girl next door, the same way that Laura Dern was in Blue Velvet. She’s smart and sexual but has, um, high moral fiber.”
However, before too long cracks started to show. On the set of Twin Peaks Boyle was dating her co-star Kyle MacLachlan, but her character Donna was supposed to be involved with James Hurley, played by James Marshall. She told Detail, “It’s very funny because sometimes I’ll have, like, this huge kissing scene with James and, like, Kyle’ll be sitting in the trailer like this, you know?” She impersonated a person in pain.
The interviewer asked Boyle, “He doesn’t understand that you’re just acting?” She then answered, “Oh, we do. I understand that, he understands that, but, still, I don’t like somebody else touching my boyfriend and he doesn’t like somebody…” She trailed off. And allegedly, the Boyle-MacLachlan relationship would spell disaster for Twin Peaks.
After Twin Peaks resolved the death of Laura Palmer, the relationship between MacLachlan’s Special Agent Dale Cooper and Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey Horne was supposed to form a major storyline going forward. But according to people who were there at the time, Boyle and MacLachlan demanded that the plot be changed.
In 2014 Fenn spoke to The AV Club about Twin Peaks. She said, “… It was a silly thing that Audrey Horne and Agent Dale Cooper didn’t stay together, because that’s what should’ve happened. It happened organically, without anyone making a plan for it to happen. But they had to stop it because people got mad and jealous and… it was just stupid.”
As a result, the interviewer then asked Fenn what she meant. The actress responded, “What happened was that Lara was dating Kyle, and she was mad that my character was getting more attention, so then Kyle started saying that his character shouldn’t be with my character because it doesn’t look good, ‘cause I’m too young.”
Fenn went on, “Literally, because of that, they brought in Heather Graham – who’s younger than I am – for him and Billy Zane for me. I was not happy about it. It was stupid.” As things turned out, Twin Peaks was cancelled after season two. Indeed, its ratings had declined significantly since the Palmer killing was resolved.
Boyle split up from MacLachlan in 1992, but her romantic relationships continued to garner interest. In 1996 she married music executive John Patrick Dee III, but the marriage lasted a mere two years. After that she became linked to some very famous men, and it kept her name in the papers.
As the ‘90s went on Boyle became involved in a headline-grabbing love triangle with David Spade and Jack Nicholson. It took until 2015 for the full story to come out; Spade himself spilled all the juicy details to the aptly named Details magazine. And Boyle, for her part, didn’t really come out of the story very well.
Spade explained, “Nicholson asked Lara Flynn Boyle out in front of me while we were all smoking a doob somewhere. She got mad because I didn’t stick up for her. I said, ‘I’ve been in this town long enough to know when I’m outranked. You’re either gonna go out with him or you’re not.’” She said she wouldn’t; but, as it turned out, she did.
Furthermore, Spade said he only found out about the relationship via the media. According to him, “The funniest part was, they got caught in a car crash, and she crawled out of the sunroof and yelled, ‘I have a boyfriend! I can’t be here!’ Like, ‘Oh, now I’m your boyfriend?’ I got a call from the National Enquirer. That’s how I found out. She and I didn’t talk too much after that.”
Boyle gained a reputation as a “bad girl,” a title she gave herself in a 2001 interview with Vanity Fair. She told the publication, “I’m the kind of woman who, when she walks into a party, all the other women leave the room… I think I’m scary to people.” And she added that she was happy to be known as a “star-f***er.”
In the same interview, Boyle confessed to stealing from the White House when she’d visited it with Nicholson. She admitted, “They had a toothbrush holder that held, like, 20 brushes, that had ‘The White House’ written on it. I took all the brushes out. Cleaned out my evening bag. Put it in.”
Elsewhere, Vanity Fair asked Boyle about a potential romantic relationship she’d had with Harrison Ford. She’d been photographed with the star while he was in the process of splitting from wife Melissa Mathison, leading people to think Boyle was the one responsible. In response, the actress told the magazine, “That was so blown out of proportion.”
Boyle said, “I sat down in a booth with Harrison Ford at a party and talked to him for five minutes… well, maybe six. People really think I’m a home wrecker. That I’m difficult. That I’m crazy. That’s the part of fame that’s like The Wizard of Oz on acid.” And she would repeat these sentiments again the following year.
Boyle tackled her newfound reputation in a 2002 interview with the New York Times, just as her new film Men in Black II was about to come out. She said, in what the interviewer noted was a raised voice, “There is nothing wrong with me dating men. I’m not a home-wrecker, I’m not dating married men, I’m not a glutton for punishment.”
In the interview, Boyle mused on the strong women she embodied in films and TV. She explained, “It’s so easy to think that I’m the role I play. And that role is me a little bit: ‘I’m in charge; you can’t break my heart.’ But I’m also the girl who drives home in tears. I do feel defeat, but I don’t believe in showing defeat.”
That same month, Boyle gave an interview to Film Monthly in which she discussed her work as an actress. On movies she said, “I never look for things higher profile. I’ve always looked for things I thought were cool.” But about the celebrity aspect of her career, she seemed to have very mixed feelings.
The interviewer then asked about how tabloid magazines had been focusing on Boyle’s weight. In response, Boyle said she didn’t want “young girls to even read about the topic.” She went on to say that although she tried to ignore the celebrity factor of her job, “I’m usually pleasantly reminded somewhere down the day.”
In 2005 a disturbing rumor then began spreading about Boyle. According to the U.K. press, she had been on a British Airways flight to London when she had started behaving extremely erratically. Reportedly, she staggered around plane, flashed her naked chest and attempted to climb into an onboard bed with a man she didn’t know.
There were also reports from alleged witnesses that Boyle had been taking drugs on the flight. A spokeswoman for British Airways confirmed that something had happened, but named no names. They told the Daily Mail in January 2005, “First-class passengers on board Flight BA 282 from Los Angeles to Heathrow reported that a female passenger in the cabin was behaving strangely.”
Perhaps that was on Boyle’s mind when she spoke to Cosmopolitan magazine in April that year. She said, “Look, I love being famous. I’m not one of those people who feels like, ‘Why won’t they leave me alone?’ If I care only about the craft of acting, I’d be doing dinner theater in Iowa. But the attention on you gets to a point where it’s beyond invasive – it’s scary.”
But in recent years, it seems Boyle’s star has faded away. Men in Black II was a commercial success but got bad reviews from critics, and Boyle was even nominated for a “Worst Supporting Actress” Razzie. And after that came various movies which were quickly forgotten, including Land of the Blind and Baby on Board – which spelled her name wrong in the credits.
Boyle had slightly more luck on TV throughout the ‘00s. She played Helen Gamble on The Practice until 2003, and her performance was acclaimed. But once the show was over, she seemed to be at a loose end. She popped up on Ally McBeal and in a few TV movies, but her last television appearance was way back in 2008.
However, if things had gone a little differently, Boyle might have been able to make it in reality TV. In 2010 Deadline reported that Boyle and her second husband, real estate investor Donald Ray Thomas II, were being considered as stars for a new reality series. A pilot was even greenlit; but alas, nothing came of it.
Things then got worse for Boyle in 2013, when the media started to speculate on a change in her looks. E! News wrote that year of her “dramatically altered appearance” and claimed, “the actress’ puffier face is prompting speculation the former Twin Peaks star may have gone overboard with cosmetic procedures.”
The following year, Boyle’s looks were still a subject of curiosity. The Daily Mail wrote of the actress in November 2014, “The Emmy nominee’s once sharp features have been transformed over the years thanks to a number of obvious plastic surgery procedures.” And even worse, an anonymous source was speaking to the National Enquirer about her.
The unnamed person told the publication that Boyle was “desperate” to appear in the upcoming revival of Twin Peaks. They claimed, “She really wants to return. She desperately needs the career boost. David [Lynch] and Mark [Frost] have some bad memories of working with Lara, but I still think their plan is to bring her back on the new series. They just seem to want to make her sweat a little.”
But as it turned out, the Twin Peaks revival excluded Boyle and her character entirely. In May 2017 TVLine asked Lynch about her absence, and he answered, “These days people love strange Hollywood side stories that have nothing to do with the film. You can go talk to Lara Flynn Boyle. This is a story that takes place without her.”
Boyle herself also did an interview in 2017; she spoke to the Hollywood Reporter about the #MeToo movement. It was a rare public appearance for her. The journalist asked, “Were you ever mistreated in your career?” Boyle then answered, “Oh, all the time. All the time! It happens all the time.”
The interview asked Boyle how she handled the harassment. She answered, “I looked at it on two levels: do I want to flip burgers, or do I want to put up with someone not being appropriate with me? I chose the other side.” And the actress added, “You still remember things that were not quite appropriate, but you move on and that’s all you can do, I guess. I support all the actresses [who] have come forward.”
In October 2019 Deadline announced that Boyle would be starring in a new drama film, Death in Texas. Playing a character called Grace, she would be starring alongside Bruce Dern and Ronnie Blevins. Not long after the press release hit, the movie began shooting in Las Cruces, with an aim to finish in November.
So there’s a chance that Boyle may be due a comeback, and perhaps Death in Texas might be the conduit. But though her career is definitely not what it once was, there’s a possibility that she simply decided to move away from the intense spotlight which used to be on her.