Did you also have an immediate vision of the Jack Dall character, who trains you for your audition?
To me, it was Ben Gazzara. So Vernon Googles Ben Gazzara while we’re talking. He died an hour before he Googled it. I think it’s possible the minute I said, “I think this is Ben Gazzara,” he dropped dead. I sent it to Jerry Lewis. We got a phone call from his personal secretary saying, “Jerry is not interested at this time.” We reached out to Woody Allen, who said, “I can’t contribute to this right now.” I got a really nice e-mail from Al Pacino. Martin Scorsese said: [Scorsese voice] “Louie’s terrific, I enjoy the program. I can’t be any part of this right now.” What I learned is that the level I’m at now I get polite nos. It used to just be nothing but silence.
How did you arrive at David Lynch?
I Googled [Francis Ford] Coppola to see if he had acted in anything. And on the page I was at: directors, David Lynch. I thought: “That would be really weird. It doesn’t make any sense.” I put him in my head and I read the script, and I’m like: “This is way better than any of those guys. This is the only guy that could ever do it. If I don’t get David Lynch, I’m not doing it.”
What was it like to direct him?
He knew the character so well. When we did the scene in the office where I dance around, it was really humiliating. It gave me a stomachache to do it. At one point, out of self-consciousness, I said, “This isn’t even funny.” And David said: “No, it’s not funny. It’s not supposed to be.” I got to hang out with him, smoke cigarettes with him, even though I haven’t smoked in a year. I love the guy.