“I’m surprisingly sensitive for all the black clothes I wear,” says Natasha Lyonne. The star is calling from a late-night commute back to Upstate New York, where she is filming her forthcoming project, Poker Face.
It’s nearly 10 o’clock at night, but she’s full of the piss and vinegar one would expect from such a veteran of eccentricity. And though I’ve never met Lyonne in person, her raspy smoker’s voice comes through the line like an old friend—soothing in its familiarity, even when she’s gone off on a tangent about the area’s roadkill problem. “They’re known for their prisons and Lyme disease,” she says flatly. “I know a lot of people love it, so I am questioning my friends who live up there. I don’t know what’s wrong with them!”
Shirt by Louis Vuitton; bracelet, stylist’s own.
Despite her proclivity for staying within the city’s bounds, the 43-year-old native New Yorker has been doing the bridges and tunnels a lot lately. It’s all for good reason, though—she describes her role in Poker Face as one she’s always wanted to play. The 10-episode mystery series is set to arrive on Peacock in 2023, and though details on the project are few and far between, it’s already stacked with a stellar cast that includes Adrien Brody, Ellen Barkin, Judith Light, and frequent Lyonne collaborator Chloë Sevigny. Poker Face is the first television effort from Rian Johnson, the writer–director behind mega-success Knives Out, so it’s easy to understand her enthusiasm. Lyonne also serves as executive producer on the series via Animal Pictures, a production company she founded alongside Maya Rudolph. “My deep hope is that we get to be really bold with making it, and that I become Angela Lansbury or something,” she says.
Poker Face is just the latest in a long list of achievements for Lyonne, who began acting at the age of six with a stint on the ’80s-tastic Pee-wee’s Playhouse, but lately her career seems to be in rapid acceleration mode. The show Russian Doll—which she co-created, stars in, executive produces, and sometimes directs—received widespread critical acclaim, earning 14 Emmy nominations and three wins for its psychedelic yet poignant take on the human condition. In Russian Doll, Lyonne plays Nadia, a woman who is caught in a time loop—at her 36th birthday in season one, and then two days away from her 40th birthday in season two. Season two, which premiered on Netflix in April, sees Nadia travelling on a liminal 6 Train that goes back to 1982 New York City, where she soon discovers that she is trapped inside the body of her mother, played by Sevigny. By travelling even further back in time to Second World War–era Germany, Nadia tries to change the course of her family’s history, encountering mystery and generational trauma along the way.
Sweater by Valentino.
“Russian Doll is a lot to hold on your shoulders, so to have somebody like Chloë there to feel that genuine ‘I love you, I got you, you’re my friend for life’ is [incredible].” Sevigny and Lyonne have been the closest of friends since back in the ’90s, when the two filmed Detroit Rock City in Toronto. “There’s something to be said for that chemistry and lived-in familiarity between actors—the camera really enjoys it because it makes everything more real,” she says of their frequent collaboration.
Sevigny was also on hand when her friend hosted the season finale of Saturday Night Live in May. “I was maybe the happiest I’ve been in my whole life while I was there,” Lyonne says of the experience, which had her shapeshifting from a ’50s sportscaster into an aging hippie. “SNL is like the arts on steroids: everything is happening [at once]. It’s almost like you’re going to get pushed out of a helicopter to go skydiving. There’s nothing else to do but sort of laugh maniacally because the whole exercise is insane.” Hosting the sketch show has served as a long-standing rite of passage for Hollywood stars. “There was something about SNL that felt like an official marker of me not being able to claim the [underdog] spot anymore,” she says. “I think I might just be actually doing this for a living at this point.”
Vest, skirt, hat, and gloves by Kenzo; shoes by Giuseppe Zanotti; sunglasses by Celine. RIGHT: Dress by Schiaparelli; boots by Alexander McQueen.
During the July weekend when we chat, another of Lyonne’s projects, the animated film DC League of Super-Pets, is number one at the box office, a feat she marvels at. “There was a solid decade in there where I was definitively the last person you’d cast in a mainstream family film. I’ll never lose perspective around that,” she says. She’s referring to a stretch of the aughts when she struggled with substance abuse. “It’s wild, but I’ll tell you this: they didn’t make it f–cking easy. It’s definitely the opposite of an overnight sensation over here, so I don’t know that I’ll ever lose that bit of New York chip on my shoulder of, like, ‘Took you guys a while,’” she says. “It’s been a lot of years and a lot of work, but the bigger side of that double-edged [sword] is the truth, which is: holy s–t, I’m so grateful.”
For those who came of age during the ’90s, Lyonne has always been here, whether it was starring in a slew of cult classics like Slums of Beverly Hills and But I’m a Cheerleader or the blockbuster American Pie franchise, which made her a household name alongside early aughts stars like Tara Reid and Mena Suvari. Nostalgic millennials often resurface her work, specifically But I’m a Cheerleader, which deals with sexuality and gender norms through its satirical take on conversion therapy. “We all have a desire to contribute to people’s lives or happiness or ease their suffering or feel like their reality is being reflected onscreen, and without question that’s the movie that people come up to me and say changed their lives,” she says.
“What’s funny about being consistent of character is that, sometimes, you’ll be on the right side of the wind and other times you won’t, but as it continues to swirl, you’ll find your way because you stayed steady.”
Jacket by Dior; bra by Jean Paul Gaultier; skirt by ASHLYN; ring by Tabayer.
Back in 1999, Lyonne starred on the cover of Interview magazine. In the feature, she says, “I’m definitely a flawed person who wears it on the outside. I don’t expect people to like me, and I don’t expect people to think, Wow, she’s so simple and great. I think I’m a weirdo who wears it with pride.” Reflecting back on this sage sentiment, she says, “If I had words of wisdom for young people, it would really be to pick your player and stick with it.” She laughs. “What’s funny about being consistent of character is that, sometimes, you’ll be on the right side of the wind and other times you won’t, but as it continues to swirl, you’ll find your way because you stayed steady.”
Photography by Lea Winkler
Styling by Britt McCamey
Makeup by Kabuki
Hair by Jimmy Paul (Susan Price NYC)
Manicure by Shirley Cheng (See Management)
Production by Adam Cohen for Hyperion LA
Tailoring by Ying Chu
Styling Assistants: Gerardo Uzcategui, Chanti Walker
Photo Assistants: Nigel Jones, Justin Leveritt