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All hail mayor of zany town

Kyle MacLachlan's 'Portlandia' leader is a bit wonky, with a touch of Boris


by: COURTESY OF SCOTT GREEN/IFC - Kyle MacLachlan (second from right) plays the Portland mayor on 'Portlandia,' a role that he says doesn't mimic Sam Adams, rather it relates to the quirkiness of the city.The part of the mayor on “Portlandia” wasn’t designed with Sam Adams in mind and, thus, the third season of the IFC show won’t include any odes to the city’s departing leader.

Rather, Jonathan Krisel, the show’s creator, co-writer and director, had an idea of what he wanted the mayor to be and, after he met Kyle MacLachlan in a New York elevator, he had found his man. Krisel admired MacLachlan’s work as Special Agent Dale Cooper in “Twin Peaks,” an influence for the mayor-type in “Portlandia.”

“I’m a huge ‘Twin Peaks’ fan,” says Krisel, about the short-run but popular TV show of the early 1990s. “What I loved about Agent Cooper was he used a fantasy aspect to his logic. And that’s what I wanted for the mayor, somebody who had such positive energy.”

MacLachlan has taken the role and run with it, as one of the main guest star collaborators on the show that stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein and their madcap adventures spoofing everyday Portland.

The 53-year-old actor has played roles in such cult movies as “Dune” — his first major role in 1984 — “Blue Velvet,” “Showgirls” and “The Doors,” while also being featured in TV shows “Desperate Housewives” and “Sex and the City.” In starring in “Dune,” he established a relationship with director David Lynch, going on to work with the director on several projects and becoming good friends.

When given an opportunity to work on “Portlandia,” which could be deemed a cult classic of its own, airing on IFC, he liked the idea.

“Fred and Carrie have a wonderful perspective, a wonderful point of view on Portland,” says MacLachlan, a native of Yakima, Wash., who attended University of Washington and still has many ties to the Northwest. “They have a real appreciation for the types of people who tend to gravitate here.

“The approach is very creative, kind of silly. I rely heavily on whatever Fred and Carrie are doing, and Jonathan fits heavily into the equation. He’s ultimately watching what we’re doing each take and editing it in his head as we go along. For my character, I let my imagination run wild.”

Goofy, silly, zany, eccentric, enthusiastic, omnidirectional with ADD — all aptly describe MacLachlan’s mayor character.

Who can forget the season two scene, where he paddles a kayak to brunch? In a way, MacLachlan sees not similarities to Adams, but more so with London Mayor Boris Johnson, who infamously got stuck on a zipline during a promotion before the Olympics.

“He’s very innocent, which I really like, it really works for his character,” Armisen says of MacLachlan. “He’s a mayor who doesn’t have a bad agenda. He does remind me of Portland, because Portland is so sweet. I love your city.”

Most of his roles have been serious, so relaxing and working in improvisation next to Armisen and Brownstein has been a thrill for MacLachlan.

“Fred and Carrie, they’re naturally funny, but they’re also very welcoming,” he says. “I felt immediately I could come and play in their playground. That often isn’t the case. I also think we’ve found that there is a similar sensibility and sense of humor that we all share, which is slightly absurd. One of the elements of good improv is it’s always a positive to whatever comes up — no blocking or deflecting or saying no. So you keep advancing. Sometimes the advancement can lead you into some brilliant areas, sometimes into some silly areas. Wherever you go, that’s the ride you’re on in the moment. When it’s humming along, it flows really well.”

MacLachlan has had some conversations with Adams , another guest star on the show.

“It seems like he lives, eats and breathes everything about Portland,” he says. “That aspect of being a mayor has helped me do what I am doing. Your city is your family, so you’re going to do the best you can for your city.”

With Adams exiting the mayor’s office, Krisel says the character might be recast for season four, but MacLachlan says “maybe in the fantastical world of ‘Portlandia’ the mayor will remain.”

MacLachlan says he spent some time in the Portland area growing up. One set of grandparents lived in Vancouver, Wash., another in Gleneden Beach and then Tigard/King City. His brother played in a band in Portland for years.

So, he has witnessed changes in Portland, as well as Seattle; his brothers live in Renton and Sammamish.

MacLachlan also has business in the Northwest, as he’s a co-owner of Pursued by Bear winery in Washington’s Columbia Valley. As the story goes, actor Fred Savage suggested the name, which comes from the stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear” in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.”

MacLachlan has been married to Desiree Gruber, an executive producer of “Project Runway,” for 10 years, and they live in Los Angeles and New York.

Krisel also spent time in Oregon as a youngster, with a grandfather who lived in Welches and his father’s aunt in Hood River. He remembers visiting OMSI and Pioneer Square. “It was a normal city,” he says, although he remembers fondly the “24-Hour Church of Elvis.”

Krisel says MacLachlanbrings a lot of himself” to the role. He says collaborators such as MacLachlan, as well as local actors, have been very valuable to the show’s success. “Portlandia” was nominated for two Emmys, for writing and directing (it didn’t win).

“You couldn’t make this show as good in Los Angeles and New York,” says Krisel, a writer on “Saturday Night Live.” “Because you remove the shine and polish; people who can be themselves are so important to a scene. If Fred and Carrie are being crazy people, there is still a voice of reason from local characters. They ground it so much. It’s crucial.”

Armisen’s schedule in September has been a little more hectic this year because of the additional “Portlandia” episodes. Unlike the past two seasons, this year “Portlandia” is filming 11 episodes — 10 regular shows and a holiday special that will be broadcast in December.

Armisen says he films in Portland during the early part of the week and jumps on a plane to be in New York City by Thursday to rehearse for the upcoming “Saturday Night Live,” which launched its new season on Sept. 15.

The show’s producer, Lorne Michaels, understands about the hectic pace, Armisen says, because his Broadway Video also produces “Portlandia.”

Armisen says he lives in the here and now, but he clearly knows that the next several shows of “SNL” will feature skits with him playing President Obama during the election season.

Unlike the improvisational “Portlandia,” the “SNL” skits are all scripted with cue cards because of the time restraints. “You can’t mess around,” Armisen says. “They’re both fun for different reasons.”

Krisel was disappointed to hear that Eileen Brady, the New Seasons co-founder and former mayoral candidate, wouldn’t be voted in to replace Adams. It’ll be either Charles Hales or Jefferson Smith.

Brady spoofed the spoofing in running a television ad with faux Fred and Carrie characters, with an ode to “Put a Bird on It.”

“It is insane,” Krisel says of the ad, still on YouTube. “It definitely seemed like she was into the show. ... I don’t think the two candidates are as excited about the show. That’s what I hear.”

“Portlandiacertainly delves into everyday life of the city’s citizens, which Krisel believes is sort of a lost art.

“It’s exciting being in the present,” he says. “You’re always reading emails, talking about the future, looking at pictures on Facebook of the past. But living in the present? It’s almost a dead medium. I almost want to do a sketch about being in the present.”

One sketch Krisel promises for season three? The changing newspaper industry.