Walking into a suite in the Bryant Park Hotel, the first thing I saw, standing in the center of the room, was Ray Wise, the actor who played Laura Palmer’s father, Leland, in David Lynch’s beloved but short-lived television series Twin Peaks. The second thing I saw was a large bounty of Chipotle bags on the table.
“Come in, come in!” said Mr. Wise, 66. He has a distinctive look that has allowed him to become one of the more prolific character actors of the last half century. Mr. Wise smiled, and I could see why the charismatic actor is so often cast in roles like the Vice President of the United States (24), Secretary of State (X-Men: First Class) and Satan himself (Reaper). With smoothed back salt and pepper hair (unlike Leland, it’s never gone shock-white), he could pass for Sinatra’s weirder brother, all the way down to the blue eyes. He has 197 acting credits on IMDB (not including his Broadway or off-Broadway theater work), most of which are for guys that are bad, dads, or in the case of Mr. Palmer and Buck Marshall, his character on the new Hulu series, Farmed and Dangerous, bad dads. Chipotle underwrites the show, which explained the afternoon’s menu.
“Sit down on the couch,” he said, his friendliness not quite fitting with the roles he’s typecasted in, “take off your coat, get comfortable!”
In Farmed and Dangerous, he plays the head of the imaginary Industrial Food Image Bureau (IFIB), a nefarious PR firm specializing in corporately owned agriculture. In one representative scene, Buck’s daughter and best employee shill, played by Karynn Moore, appears on a morning show to debate, with corporate double-speak, the small-farming operation of Chip, a very thinly veiled stand-in for the health-conscious (for a fast food restaurant anyway) Chipotle restaurant chain. He works for the Sustainable Family Farming Association.
“People die from eating contaminated meat!” Chip claims, legitimately.
“Those people die from eating, not starving,” she replies. “That’s progress.”
“There’s gonna be billions of people in this world with mouths and they have to eat,” Mr. Wise said. “A large part of the world is starving. We’re rather fortunate here in the United States. We have a wealth of everything it seems. But even so, a lot of the people in the United States eat unhealthy diets. And that’s a real battle. All the issues pertaining to that are very real, there’s good and bad on both sides.”
Chipotle’s idea for the show is to eschew the traditional form of TV marketing in favor of something called “values integration.” That means instead of showing the burrito itself, Chipotle’s organic, free-range motto, “Food with Integrity,” is woven into the four-episode arc of Farmed and Dangerous. In the satirical series, Mr. Wise’s character Buck Marshall is the corporate flack reaching into the pockets of both big oil and big agriculture, tasked with selling the public on petrol pills for cows (which cause them to explode). What Chipotle has paid for, then, is a black comedy that shares a message with a popular American restaurant chain: Anti-factory farming, Pro-sustainability. It’s like a long infomercial, but with better actors and better writing.
“Chipotle, who are behind this series, they’re a great organization that had a very small footprint on the whole production,” said Mr. Wise. I’ll take a moment here to register my disbelief that I’d ever be talking to Leland Palmer about Chipotle. “It’s kind of a new model for a brand name,” he continued, “doing a theatrical presentation, and they’re doing it simply to get the message out to the viewers that they should know a little more about where their food comes from. So that everyone can make more informed choices about what they eat, what they ingest. I think that’s a very wonderful thing that Chipotle’s doing and without tooting their horn very much, you know. There’s no product placement in our show.”
“You won’t find a Chipotle burrito on our conference table,” he added, though technically, during the interview, there were at least three Chipotle burrito bowls on the conference table.
Mr. Wise, who said he doesn’t like to go a day without acting (he’ll be returning to his soap opera roots on a guest-stint on The Young and the Restless shortly) has carved himself a comfortable niche thanks to the new model of how we watch television: recognizable to a new generation of fans both thanks to streaming content that airs his old material—Twin Peaks was an early addition to Netflix subscribers—as well as his work on digital originals for sites like FunnyOrDie, where he starred in the skit “Satan and Jesus Discuss Peyton Manning.” (Guess which part he played.) As for how he started working in comedy: “People had been aware of me since Twin Peaks probably, when I played Leland Palmer. And they know that even in some of my saddest moments, Leland did funny things.”
“”Mairzy doats?” I asked. This was in reference to a very creepy scene where Leland performs an old nonsensical radio hit, shortly after murdering a man in a hospital bed.
“Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey,” he sang on cue, flashing that smile. “I did things on that show that I’ve not seen on television, certainly since. It was pretty groundbreaking, Twin Peaks. And this Farmed and Dangerous model is pretty groundbreaking too. These series made for the web, they’re being considered for Emmys and Golden Globes now.”
“Emmy-winning Chipotle series” has a funny ring to it, but if Twin Peaks taught us anything it’s that stranger things have happened.