BACKSTORY: An Irish actress who lives in the moment but carries her characters in her heart—and her heart on her sleeve—prominently enough to catch the eye of iconic auteurs
FROM: Malahide, Ireland, just outside Dublin
YOU MAY KNOW HER FROM: The Irish indie film scene, where she first grabbed the public’s attention in Cowboys & Angels in 2003, and more recently in the 2012 horror movie Citadel
NOW: Forever entering the mythology of Twin Peaks, the third season of which hits Showtime May 21
Long before Amy Shiels received an invitation to enter the haunted woods of a small town in the Pacific Northwest, she called the green hills, crashing coast, and looming castles of Ireland home. “Ireland has always been a mystical place, a land of storytellers,” she elaborates, recalling its evocative twilight that seems to hold “anything you can imagine.” Still, she never imagined being a performer until she stumbled across a showcase in Dublin one night and swapped her young dreams of becoming a jockey for taming an even more difficult beast: an acting career. “The job is a constant rush of rejection and adrenaline,” she says. “There’s rarely a middle ground.” Peaks and valleys, one might say.
On the set of one of her first films, the coming-of-age tale Cowboys & Angels, co-star Michael Legge introduced her to David Lynch and Mark Frost’s iconic TV sensation, the soap-mystery-horror-comedy hybrid Twin Peaks, and she instantly joined the cult. “I fell in love. I was laughing, crying, terrified—a rainbow of emotions in one show,” she says.
“In TM, you’re given a mantra for life and you never tell anyone. The land of Lynchian art is built around secrets like that.”
Years later, a guide would manifest unexpectedly to bring Shiels into the series’ long-awaited third season—the beginning of a fittingly peripatetic journey to a show informed by dream logic and surreal cosmic occurrences. A screen test for a part she didn’t receive fell into the hands of casting director and longtime Lynch collaborator Johanna Ray, who worked on the original run of Twin Peaks. Ray reached out to her and became her mentor. Soon Shiels was flying across an ocean to meet Lynch in person and join the veteran cast for the season, playing one of the only new major characters.
As for who exactly that character is or how she fits into the tiny mountain town, you’ll have to tune in and see—everything is shrouded in secrecy, right down to her character’s name. “I don’t even know what it’s about! I only know the scenes I was in. But it’s almost like meditation, in a way,” she ventures, drawing a personal parallel to Transcendental Meditation, which both she and Lynch practice. “In TM, you’re given a mantra for life and you never tell anyone. The land of Lynchian art is built around secrets like that.”
Though closely guarded secrets make for long waits, Shiels is eager to share one behind-the-scenes detail: the joy of working with Lynch and Frost. “Lynch is the safety net. He is the godfather to everyone, and he makes you feel so safe. When he directs you, you feel like an instrument of his art. It floods through you. And Frost always gets a positive message across. They’re so inclusive, encouraging, [and] supportive… People feel that they can release their inner weirdness because they know there’s no judgment.”
The safe space Frost and Lynch crafted for their actors proved vital to populating a town that’s anything but safe. Afterwards, Shiels says, “I thanked David for lending me this character they let me embody for this short time. I will carry this character with me forever.” She’ll be carrying a crowded slate of international projects as well, ranging from animation voiceovers to an Irish drama alongside Stephen Dorff. Beyond acting, she’s producing a documentary about race relations in America called The Dark Dollar and developing directorial projects inspired in part by her time with Lynch.
As fellow Twin Peaks fans eagerly anticipate their introduction to her character in the show, Shiels reflects on what home means to her now. “I don’t see myself as coming from one place,” she says. “I’ve been so welcomed by America. I’ve been rejected, but also supported. I have a different emotion about what [success] means every day, but I’ve come to realize how universal our problems are. We all just want to go home at night.” Considering how welcomed the show’s creators, collaborators, and fanbase have made her feel, Amy Shiels will always have a home in Twin Peaks—where the nights are long, mysterious, and hold “anything you can imagine.” FL
[Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Shiels is in all eighteen upcoming episodes. The exact number of episodes she appears in has not been revealed.]