Windom Earle is the absolute nadir of the original run of Twin Peaks. Mentioned when creators David Lynch and Mark Frost still gave a crap about the show, but not introduced until they wandered off and left the writing crew to their own devices, Earle is the worst case of narrative jazz hands as the writers desperately stall for time by giving him long, empty monologues to the hapless Leo. I’m perfectly happy to roll with long monologues that don’t really advance the plot – see my love for the Metal Gear Solid franchise – but they have to have, like, content in them. George Hearst’s monologue on gold in Deadwood articulates not just a particular strain of sociopathic inhumanity that capitalism encourages, but makes it pathetic, for example. Windom Earle’s monologues articulate nothing, throwing bluster and big words at the audience; I have particular contempt for his monologue on the afterlife to the party bro he murders, where he turns four words of content (“The afterlife is unknown”) into a thirty second speech. And yet – and yet – Kenneth Walsh is totally, 100% committed to Earle every single step of the way. He’s practically overwhelmed with glee at every syllable he says, filled with a joyful life and manic energy that the rest of the show couldn’t deliver anymore; his final words to Leo genuinely come off sincere as he thanks him for being a sounding-board and object of torture, as if he has actually developed a kind of affection for this hapless idiot. I particularly love the many gestures and facial expressions he brings to Earle, like an over-enunciated tick-tock he throws out at one point. Twin Peaks is a show that rewards campy, exaggerated poses in the acting (Richard Beymer as Ben Horne is a regular who pulls it off), and Walsh’s performance is in perfect lockstep with the tone of the show. In its own way, it actually makes the character even more irritating; you had a great actor who could do all this and you had him dribbling gibberish to a human thumb.
Who are some of your favourite actors who somehow managed to build great performances out of terrible writing?