‘I’m going to start a cult. That’s the long game!’ Natasha Lyonne on crime, crosswords and Macaulay Culkin | TV crime drama

Part of the pleasure of watching Natasha Lyonne in Poker Face is the sneaking suspicion that she is but a whisker away from actually being Charlie Cale, amateur sleuth and the show’s rascally heart. Lyonne could probably solve crimes, even without Charlie’s party trick: a preternatural ability to tell when someone is lying. (Her catchphrase: “Bullshit.”) Like Charlie, Lyonne could probably drive a Plymouth Barracuda around the US, catching killers in nursing homes and truck stops. “Well, I do love solving a case, in a way,” she says. “I do love a puzzle.”

Specifically: crossword puzzles. The 44-year-old is such a fanatic she was once invited to construct one for the New York Times. On set, the Poker Face creator Rian Johnson and Lyonne would take breaks from solving crimes to solve puzzles – crosswords, Wordle, even Duotrigordle (32 Wordles at once). During the recent actors’ strike, she raised money by auctioning off the chance to have a “15-minute existential conversation with Natasha Lyonne and her dog, Rootbeer, while doing the Wednesday NYT crossword puzzle”. Someone paid $6,300 for the privilege. “We had a great time!” Lyonne says. “Turns out crossword lovers have a lot in common.”

I have 30 whole minutes with Lyonne over video and I didn’t pay a penny, though we are sandwiched between an afternoon of meetings and some kind of evening event; she briefly turns on her camera to reveal her smiling, makeup-free face. Somewhere, a bark. “That’s Rootbeer,” she says. “My dog, not the drink.”

Conversation with Lyonne is, in the best way, like herding cats. When she finds out I live in Melbourne, she says: “I once hooked up with a gentleman in Melbourne! He went by the name The Butcher. He was a musician. I think I met him in a graveyard. Or a bar. A graveyard was involved at some point.”

Lyonne and Cale’s Plymouth Barracuda in Poker Face. Photograph: Peacock/Evans Vestal Ward

Last week it was announced she has been nominated for a Golden Globe for Poker Face, which goes alongside her Emmy nomination. “When you’ve had a long ride – as I have – you are deeply grateful for the wins, because it hasn’t always been that way,” she says.

There’s a little hiss of aerosol. “That’s hairspray,” she says. “Not the movie starring Divine.”

“Natasha is always the coolest person in the room,” Taika Waititi wrote when Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people of 2023. The brassy New Yorker with the big red hair and famously raspy voice has songs written about her by Rufus Wainwright, and a whole Instagram account dedicated to pictures of her smoking. She is cool. Her coolness is why Poker Face was “completely cut to measure for her,” as Johnson has said: we want to hang out with Charlie – or Lyonne – as much as we’d like to hang out with Columbo or Magnum.

Among her friends she counts a cohort of former co-stars – Chloë Sevigny, as well as Melanie Lynskey (Yellowjackets, The Last of Us) and her fellow American Pie cast member Jennifer Coolidge (The White Lotus) and Colman Domingo (Euphoria, Rustin, The Color Purple), all of whom are reaching new heights of fame after decades plugging way.

“We are a club of marathon men,” says Lyonne. “Melanie and I were laughing yesterday that none of this could have happened 20 years ago, back when I had the pep in my step for a series of nights out in high heels. “It’s a collective win for the journeymen! Suddenly, you’re a 35-year overnight sensation.”

“And I say that with so much gratitude,” she adds, “because I stopped being upset about it like a decade ago. It’s much healthier than being a teen star. I always worry about those kids – they don’t have a chance to process anything.”

Lyonne was a child actor from the age of six, appearing in Pee-wee’s Playhouse and a Woody Allen film. By her teens, she was estranged from her parents. “I had to become coherent and a businesswoman at six,” she once said. “By 10, I was a jaded professional. By 16, my youth was over and my goose cooked.” In her 20s, she was barely surviving heroin addiction, hepatitis C, a heart infection and a collapsed lung, all while the cut-throat gossip websites of the early 00s watched on with glee. A brief break – and then her performance as Nicky in Orange Is the New Black caught the attention of everyone who missed her in films like American Pie and But a Cheerleader. When the ingenious Russian Doll, which she wrote, directed and starred in, arrived on Netflix, she was proclaimed a bona fide genius.

When her close friend and fellow child star Macaulay Culkin recently received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Lyonne gave a very funny and loving speech. “There is a very rare, unspoken language that happens between child actors who make it out alive,” she said, turning to him and adding: “Granted, you were Shirley Temple and I was Paul Giamatti.”

“As you transition out of being a child actor into being an adult, you’ve got to stake your claim to autonomy over your personhood,” Lyonne says now. “The thing I’m most proud of, for myself and people like Mac and Melanie,” Lyonne says now, “is that we’re all just as weird as ever. It wasn’t ironed out of us in the way that it can be when the landing is too soft. It is a special thing to be celebrated for who you are.”

Much of her teen years were spent “being confused, trying to figure out what people wanted from me”. “I’ve got other problems now, believe me,” she says. “I’ve got no shortage of existential troubles, but they’re not really in the realm of, who am I? It’s more, why am I here?”

skip past newsletter promotion

Finding fame in her 40s suits her. “You become softer over time, you know?” she says. “Back then, I was only interested in being a real cool kid – which is, by definition, cold. Now, I want to be a warm kid.”

Poker Face was ‘cut to measure’ for Lyonne … Rian Johnson.
Poker Face was ‘cut to measure’ for Lyonne … Rian Johnson. Photograph: Peacock/Sara Shatz

Charlie is the definition of warm: no matter how many murders she stumbles on, she still talks to strangers in bars, remains open to the world. She’s seen the worst of it, but none of it has made her hard or cynical. “She is someone who’s always got the sun on her back. She’s way more Jeff Bridges than Lou Reed,” Lyonne says.

Some of Charlie was shaped simply by the need to differentiate her from Nadia, Lyonne’s character in Russian Doll. “Nadia is chain smoking to suck the pain away and Charlie is smoking because it’s nice to take in the breeze once in a while,” Lyonne says. “They’ve got very different attitudes about things.”

Poker Face is not a whodunnit, but what Johnson calls a “howcatchem”: a crime-first, solution-later structure in the vein of meat-and-potatoes procedurals like Columbo – except in Poker Face, the guest star of the week could be Nick Nolte or Sevigny. When Johnson and Lyonne were pitching the show, some networks thought a new procedural was a deeply, unappealingly retro proposition. Just last week, one US network announced it is returning to “light, frothy character-based procedurals” because of huge audience appetite for shows such as Suits and Monk.

“It’s funny – I’ve now been involved in quite a few waves of television,” says Lyonne. “Orange Is the New Black seemed so radical until everybody tried to duplicate that. Or Russian Doll – people like Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Bill Hader have also been doing that kind of auteur TV, but nobody wanted to buy them until suddenly everybody wants another one. And Poker Face – everyone was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s crazy! We don’t make procedurals any more.’ Now we’re watching everybody say, ‘What we need is another procedural!’” She finds this more funny than frustrating: “We are lunatics! People don’t want more of the same, we want an original idea!”

Poker Face ends with Charlie back in the Barracuda. Season two is a while away, but Lyonne hopes the first will draw in more actors and directors to work on it. “We’re so proud of what we’ve made. And we knew that if people liked it, maybe they’d want to come hang out with us. And then Rian and I are going to start a cult. That’s the long game.”

A Golden Globe nomination, an Emmy nomination – and now No 5 on our best TV of the year list. “That is exciting!” Lyonne says. “Somewhere, I am pretty sure that The Butcher is reading this going ‘Wow – she made it from the graveyard allllll the way to the Top 5.’”


Denial of responsibility! Elite News is an automatic aggregator of Global media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, and all materials to their authors. For any complaint, please reach us at – [email protected]. We will take necessary action within 24 hours.
DMCA compliant image

Leave a comment