CLAIRE SULLIVAN, STYLE
MATT BENNS AT CLM AGENCY, HAIR
DOTTI AT STATEMENT ARTIST USING MAKE UP FOR EVER, MAKE-UP BRANDON JONES, PHOTOGRAPHER’S ASSISTANT
MARIS THOMPSON, STYLIST’S ASSISTANT
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Growing up in New York, we’ve seen that the city’s always changing. How would you describe the evolution of the city over the years, and how it feels now?
NATASHA LYONNE — I always think of this Elaine Stritch quote: “The city’s always been changing. It’s the city. That’s what it does. It changes.” Ever since I heard her say that, that’s how I see things. Do I experience a modicum of nostalgia? Who doesn’t? Goddammit, we’re gonna die. But it’s pretty factual what she’s saying. Like, where have all the horses and buggies gone? But aren’t we glad they’re gone? And did we really need all that cobblestone? There are too many cars in the city. And this is unpopular, but I’m not sold on bike lanes.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — [Laughs] Oh, yeah?
NATASHA LYONNE — Sure, I’m happy for the environment, and I want to see us somehow make it out alive. Each day, the traffic is like a crazy Mad Max ballet, but we navigate it. I think I feel that way because I’m from New York City, and everybody else from New York City feels exactly the same way.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — As long as we’re all in sync, it’s less about the pace. What else don’t you like about New York?
NATASHA LYONNE — The rats! I would like to spend a lot of time talking about the rats. The rats are fucking disgusting. And they really overwhelm the landscape. They’re definitely the size of raccoons, and I heard that they’re trying to hire a headhunter for $170,000 a year. It’s a new, heavily salaried position that the city is offering. But, you know, I will never be so New York that I’m comfortable with a giant rat just leaping over my loafer. It’s too much.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I think I saw that press briefing where they’re saying: “The rats are going to hate this news, but the rats don’t own the city. We do.” [Laughs]
NATASHA LYONNE — And it’s funny, but it’s true. It’s like, “Thou doth protest too much.” And even rats, illiterate though they may be, know that article came out, and Papa Rat read it. So, I think there’s probably a little rat village, like The Secret of NIMH, and they’re there right now reading those articles aloud to each other in their little bunkers with their rat caviar.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — So, if they were reading this, what would be your message to them?
NATASHA LYONNE — I’d say: “Guys, why don’t you be more selective about people? Go ruin the apartments on 5th Avenue. Leave us alone downtown.”
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — That’s the right message to the colonies of rats.
NATASHA LYONNE — “Go to doorman buildings on the Upper East Side. Get all the snacks you need. Make their lives a living hell. Help us bring down the price of real estate so we can all live better and not work quite so hard. Be a part of the community. Be a part of New York City. I’d say, “Rats, rats, rats, rats.” I guess maybe these are just such high-quality, high-cuisine foodie rats.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Michelin rats!
NATASHA LYONNE — They probably are really enjoying a certain caliber of snack — and while it’s still warm. Anyway, I could go on and on, but I see their point, now that I’m putting myself in the rats’ shoes. It’s hard for me to make a case that they shouldn’t just take over the whole city and that we should leave.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah. A lot of people want to come here, and why wouldn’t the rats want to get in on the action?
NATASHA LYONNE — And they’re probably going to NYU. They’re taking classes! They’re mad that St. Mark’s Bookshop closed.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Seeing theater… They go to the Strand Book Store now.
NATASHA LYONNE — They’re like: “Baby, baby, baby. We’re New Yorkers.”
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Okay, I do have questions that don’t pertain to rats.
NATASHA LYONNE — But I say, “Fuck it, kill ’em.” I said what I said. I hate violence. And I feel bad saying this, but it’s gone too far. It’s disgusting.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Well, bouncing off death, obviously… I loved Russian Doll, your genius brainchild, and that deals a lot with death again and again. But I’m curious about a couple of things. One, that show feels very New York to me. It’s like a love-hate letter to New York, in a way. I’m curious about how you weave that into the characters and the story development. I’m also interested in your beliefs about death — in writing and working on that and making it.
NATASHA LYONNE — Yeah. So, in season one, the question was: how do I stop dying? Which naturally led to season two’s question: how do I start living? And I guess I always do see it in the title — it’s a Russian doll. I feel like we have this weird job when we’re in our 20s, which is to stop being self-destructive. Or, at least, in my experience, that’s what it was — “I don’t feel right in this world or comfortable in my skin or understand the games people are playing that seem so interesting and crucial to them. I’m a participating member in this game, so how do I self-destruct my way out of here?” And, really, that is the question of season one. Ultimately, by the end of that season, they sort of find each other and start to have a safe haven — ultimately that’s all any of us really have.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Do you believe in God?
NATASHA LYONNE — I would say that, on some level, that’s my personal version of God, for lack of a better term — that when two people are really connecting, it feels like a third space gets created in which we’re suddenly safe. To be truly seen and truly honest, to feel free from judgment, and to feel unconditional love that’s not based on any exchange of anything beyond wanting to see each other win. There’s something very pure about it, and that’s also where jokes and ideas can live so freely.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — How did you conceive the second season of Russian Doll?
NATASHA LYONNE — In season two, I was really interested in this idea of, “Okay, now I’ve decided I’m going to be a participating member of society.” But how does somebody who comes from this previous place go about doing such a thing? That requires a shit ton of excavation and really facing these unpalatable truths about oneself and where we come from and even who I think were the villains in my own story. The brutal reality of growing up is that suddenly you find yourself your parents’ age, and you’re like: “Oh, I see. I don’t have it all figured out yet, either.”
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Would you say that Russian Doll is about dealing with trauma?
NATASHA LYONNE — I begin to understand how to humanize my parents’ experience, such that it changes a view of my own experience and creates more space in this idea of forgiveness of them and therefore a self-forgiveness of what I view as my own injuries as a flawed human being. And why I have sort of a stream of negative self-talk, a self-criticizing mind that’s out to get me that affirms a narrative that is far from pleasant. So, really, that was my question in season two: what is the epigenetic footprint? The character Ruth, played by Elizabeth Ashley, says “trauma is a topographical map written on the child.” It takes a lifetime to heal. Russian Doll is a show that’s obviously very much about trauma and mortality and being self-destructive, but it’s also a show about triumph and hope and survival and a chosen family.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Is Russian Doll also a psychological portrait of the city?
NATASHA LYONNE — It’s deeply a show about New York City. Like, nowhere, to my mind, as New York City do you find the poetry of the double-edged sword of that as beautifully and as compact and in all moments. New York City is a real petri dish of a case study of various forms of existence. No matter where you’re at, the city will meet you there. If you want to meet the city as just jokes and cool outfits and whiskey and cigarettes, Godspeed. And if you want to get in there and get down deep, the city will support you. There’s no shortage of brains and souls that can go there. And if you are just decimated and just got the fucking worst news of your life, and you are broken on the inside, you can walk around and see all those buildings, and you remember that there are all these lives, that love is so much bigger than your experience, and it kind of grounds you. You’re looking at these other crackly faces, and it’s just like, “Oh, holy shit, I’m not alone in my misery.” The city just has a crazy way of doing that, you know? I love that about New York — it’s both the sexiest and most inspiring city and the most disgusting and depraved and hopeless.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I was really excited when I first heard about you starting a production company, Animal Pictures, and formalizing the different connections that are part of your community. How are you feeling about that part of your multi-legged career?
NATASHA LYONNE — Well, as a centipede…I started Animal Pictures with my dear friend Maya Rudolph and Danielle Renfrew Behrens, who’s Maya’s friend from school. And it really has been incredible because, for example, one of the shows we’re making right now for Amazon is called The Hospital, and the creator is Cirocco Dunlap. And, of course, I know Cirocco because she was one of the writers on Doll. Cirocco’s helped me so much in the room on both seasons and is just a few years younger than me, and all of a sudden now, we’re getting to create her show and bring her vision to life. And her vision is fucking sweeping. I mean, it’s outer space, and it is insane. It’s so funny. It’s an animated series. It’s really moving and joyous to see that. So, it’s also the idea that we’re building this community where we get to support each other in making things, and that’s a really beautiful thing.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — So, it’s all about helping each other and participating in each others’ projects?
NATASHA LYONNE — Absolutely! Like in the way that Amy Poehler supported me in making my first thing. This is the idea when you put together a great team. This year, there was a beautiful writer on the show, Alice Ju, whom I adore. And she also went over to the Poker Face writers’ room, which is another show that we’re producing. And then, Alice and I got to write an episode of Poker Face together, and I directed it, and she wrote another episode that Rian Johnson directed. And Janicza Bravo came, and she directed an episode of Poker Face, and Clea DuVall guest-starred in it. And Chloë Sevigny, who’s like my sister for life — we work together on Russian Doll.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — What are your next projects?
NATASHA LYONNE — I’m working on a new show with Alia Shawkat. And she’s going to be interviewing the filmmaker Rita Baghdadi, who directed a documentary about a Middle Eastern, all-girl metal band.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yes, Sirens, I’m really excited to see that one!
NATASHA LYONNE — That documentary’s incredible. I’m so proud that we produced it. It’s sort of like watching this community spring up and grow. Watching it sort of extend out from itself. It’s so inspiring to have ideas come in and get to work on them. I think something happens as you get older — you get a little bit less interested in yourself and more interested in other people. It’s just a natural evolution of aging.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Did you have any bad experiences working in the film industry in New York?
NATASHA LYONNE — I remember auditioning for the remake of Lolita in New York City, and they asked me to eat a banana. And I just gave them Gilda Radner’s version of eating a banana because I was like: “I’m not playing a fucking suck-your-banana-dick game on an audition. I’m, like, fucking 15. Fuck you. You think I was born yesterday? I grew up in these streets, bitch.” That said, if I’m playing a fash- ion game in little outfits and short shorts and tight numbers, that’s my choice, and it’s fun to look slutty. It’s not because there’s a projection on me of some- body else’s vision for me as a rental proxy girl — that is not a game I want to play.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — The industry is evolving, with the help of people like you, not taking shit.
NATASHA LYONNE — We’re watching the times catch up and the times spiral backward constantly in the same moment. It’s an expanding and contracting universe. To watch it is devastating and so moving. We finally have an awareness that gender is an outdated concept. Congratulations. However, we’re going to take away abortion because we’re in- sane, so we just want to play both sides of this coin. You’re really being yo-yoed, just ping-ponging back and forth through emotional space-time.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — What’s your state of mind these days?
NATASHA LYONNE — Very positive. I feel much more comfortable as an autonomous person who’s a creator, who gets to write, who gets to direct, who gets to produce, who has a production company, who has a home base, who has my tight-knit circle that isn’t going anywhere, and we’ll have each other’s backs till the end. And everything else is kind of gravy. Like, if someone wants to send me a great movie to act in, I’m delighted. I’ve been doing this for 35 years. But it’s still a brutal game. I just feel so grateful to be somebody who gets to have enough weight to throw behind the people I believe in. I’m very moved by that.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Do you think it’s easier for young people today?
NATASHA LYONNE — I’m excited for young people who, because of their smartphones and social media, get to make things regardless of somebody getting to decide if they’re worthy or not. The great shit floats to the top either way. So, ultimately that’s what it’s about…
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — It feels so good to see you in that place of autonomy, making exactly what the fuck you want to make, with the people you want to make it with. And not asking for permission.
NATASHA LYONNE — Yeah, it’s a lucky time and a crazy time.
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