Mere months before her breakout role as Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn in Mulholland Drive, Naomi Watts played another L.A. actress in fellow MD alum Scott Coffey’s short Ellie Parker, which premiered at Sundance in January 2001. In the four years since, EP grew to a 95-minute feature—and Watts’s career blew up.
A clumsy spoof of Hollywood, EP always roots for its hapless heroine. But where this trifle fascinates most is in its connections to David Lynch’s masterpiece. With the sunny, can-do attitude of Betty Elms, Ellie dons a lavender hoopskirt to impress the dissolute Russian producers during her callback for a risible Civil War pic. And like abject Diane Selwyn, Ellie is sexually betrayed, catching her boyfriend (Mark Pellegrino, who played the hit man Diane hires to kill Camilla Rhodes in MD) in bed with a low-level casting assistant (Jennifer Syme, who died in a car crash and to whom Lynch dedicates MD).
But the hyperlinks don’t end there. In a fleeting shot, Ellie walks past a movie theater with Play It As It Lays—yet another Hollywood-set nightmare—on the marquee. Maria Wyeth, the heroine of Joan Didion’s eviscerating novel, has a guest spot on a TV dud called Interstate 80; Ellie’s audition tape features a clip from the daytime soap The Tides of Passion. Ellie, like Maria, lives in her car, shuttling from audition to therapy to home on the endless freeway—recalling Diane’s nocturnal journey on Mulholland Drive. “Don’t play it for real until it gets real,” the bizarre director instructs Betty in MD. Substitute “reel” for “real,” and his imperative becomes the best way to enjoy Ellie Parker.