by Amy Longsdorf

Painter-turned-actor Justin Theroux can’t begin to explain Mulholland Drive, and that’s just the way he like it. For him, David Lynch’s fragmented, hallucinatory thriller about identity-swapping, sex, drugs and Hollywood is all the more powerful for its mystery. During a promotional pit stop in Philadelphia last month, Theroux talked about what it was like entering the world of David Lynch.

Everybody who’s seen the movie seems to want to discuss it. So what’s your take on what’s been called “a schizoid nightmare”?

The beautiful thing about the movie is that you can infer anything you want. You can make it whatever you want it to be. There is no correct, final take on the movie. It demands you bring a part of yourself to it, and I think that’s great.

Do you have an opinion about all the weirdness that happens two-thirds of the way through the film?

David describes the movie as simply a love story in the City of Dreams, but I thin it’s about a weak-minded girl’s take on Hollywood. The first two-thirds of the movie is a fantasy of Betty’s, this girl who moves to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming an actress. She’s spotted by a hot director. She meets this woman, whom she treats like a dress-up doll. It’s like Nancy Drew on crack. But then it takes a hard dip into the real world. All is not what it seems, which is a classic Lynch theme.

Did you ever ask Lynch to explain the movie to you?

No, because I knew he wouldn’t do it. David and I were talking about Fellini the other day and David said Fellini once noted that there were filmmakers and un-filmmakers, meaning critics who deconstruct the film to the point that it’s boring. So David will never tell anyone what he thinks the film is about. He just says, “Look, you’ll come to the movie and have an experience.”

Forget about the bizarro plot twists. This is a picture that co-stars Billy Ray Cyrus and Ann Miller. How weird is that?

I know it sounds strange, but it isn’t. This was probably the most normal set I’ve ever been on in my life. David is not weird. Billy Ray is the nicest guy in the world. And Ann Miller is just a doll. When I saw the film, I was shocked at how weird it was. I felt like we were making Mayberry R.F.D.

We don’t want to hear that David Lynch is normal. Didn’t he do anything that was a little out of the ordinary?

The strangest thing David did to me was to put me on this insanely early flight the day I was going to meet him in Los Angeles. I was supposed to be able to go to my hotel beforehand, but instead I had to go straight to David’s house. My hair was a mess. I had on my glasses. I wound up having a great talk with David about movies and art. Afterwards, he said, “And I like this look of yours.” He ran and got a camera and started photographing me. And that’s the look we used in the film. Now that’s weird. My glasses have become part of the Lynch lexicon.