Natasha Lyonne on her Wild Past and Bright Future
The New York actress on her Netflix show, super heroes and sunglasses
Interview & Photo by NADJA SAYEJ
Russian Doll is a dark comedy on Netflix that might have you addicted. It stars New York actress Natasha Lyonne, who keeps dying and then returning to her 36th birthday party repeatedly. This bizarre loop takes Lyonne’s character, the tough-talking Nadia, through a series of personal revelations, from her noncommittal flings to her family relations and confronting addictions. After posing for photos at the Girls Club Spring Fling in New York City, we caught up with the star to chat about style, sunglasses and her love of 1970s comedy.
How do you feel about the positive reception of your new Netflix show, Russian Doll?
Natasha Lyonne: I’m moved and thrilled how it’s being received, I worked so hard on it for so long. Its deeply personal. I love that people are responding to the character, it’s very funny. She was based on Elliott Gould’s portrayal of Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. The female counterpart that I found was maybe Diane Lane in Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. I’ve always responded to this idea of ‘what is gender in the first place?’ and ‘why is it my job to figure it out for you?’ but my character can get some on her own.
She doesn’t even have to take off her sunglasses!
She does it her own way, and that’s how it is.
How did your Netflix show Russian Doll come about?
Amy Poehler and I created a show based on my life for NBC called Old Soul. When it didn’t get picked up, I started thinking about a Choose Your Own Adventure kind of party where you take home each different person from the party. You know? Take them home for the night. I would still end up feeling hollow at the end of it, somehow. I’d still be stuck with myself. This idea that we are starving to death with limitless choices but are stuck with our own broken selves until we kind of resolve what it is to have a meaningful life. What does any of it mean?
Your character Nadia is non-committal bachelorette who does drugs, parties hard and has a ‘bad’ attitude. Is this how women can act onscreen today?
It feels as though a woman must be actively fixing something or searching for the guy, but rarely is she searching for her own soul. That’s usually the luxury of straight, white men on film. It’s very Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. In my experience, we don’t get to explore that as women, but universally, we’re all stuck with ourselves.
Why are you always wearing a pantsuit and sunglasses in the show?
It’s important in life to have a uniform. Nadia’s look is the perfect combination of Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci’s character in My Cousin Vinny. She is a blend of female and male looks, in my opinion. A genderless character I find deeply female but also deeply human. She is more about existential conundrums and less about a need to settle down. Searching for ‘the one’ is a false concept put on by society.
Is there any direct connection to your own personal life in the character you play?
This show is heavily autobiographical. It’s also heavily fictionalized. It’s almost like a super hero version of me, a person I’d like to be. The person my character is at the end of the show is closer to who I am today. Who she is at the beginning of the show is closer to who I was 15 years ago.
What do you mean?
It’s like Richard Pryor’s autobiographical film, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling. It touches on his post-freebase fire, where he’s in a hospital bed looking back at his life. It’s about being so close to the end and saying ‘I’m going to get another round, what would I do differently?’ But also ‘What are the things that got me here in the first place?’
What is the core message in the show?
We’re all doing the best we can. I’m reading Michelle Obama’s memoir where she felt ‘I’m not enough.’ It’s easy to look at someone from a distance and say ‘Michelle Obama, you’re the ultimate of enough.’ The reality that we know it’s a universal feeling. It’s okay to be each other’s allies, instead of ripping each other to shreds. That’s the core of Russian Doll.