Natasha Lyonne, So Much More Than ‘the Girl’


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Natasha Lyonne

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Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Natasha Lyonne, who started acting as a child on “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” spent much of her youth on film sets, and the people she worked with became close friends. Now she’s starring alongside Chloë Sevigny and Clea DuVall, the best of them.

In “Antibirth,” Danny Perez’s body-horror film opening Sept. 2, Ms. Lyonne is Lou, a stoner who finds herself peculiarly pregnant, with Ms. Sevigny as her only slightly less hard-partying sidekick. In “The Intervention,” directed by Ms. DuVall and opening Aug. 26, she’s Sarah, half of a couple joining with friends to end another couple’s tempestuous marriage.

“There’s something really profound about promoting two movies with my two best friends in the world of 20 years,” said Ms. Lyonne, 37, whose character Nicky on “Orange Is the New Black” took a harrowing backslide into heroin use in Season 4. A decade after climbing back from rock-bottom drug addiction herself, she is “basking in the hallucinatory absurdity of how great things had worked out against all odds,” she added.

In a recent interview in New York, the hilariously bawdy Ms. Lyonne talked about women in Hollywood and tapping her troubled past onscreen. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

You were at Sundance with Clea in 2000 and with Chloë in 2003. What was it like returning with both this year?

We were like three hardened soldiers pushing 40 and finding ourselves having moved successfully behind the scenes — and that felt huge. Bette Davis will have you know that showbiz is a lonely life, when in fact the experience was quite the opposite. Here we were, all in this thing together, and it was the least lonely I’d ever felt in this business.

You have a producer credit on “Antibirth.”

“Antibirth” is really my baby, because Danny wrote it for me and Chloë, and I put it together and am helping to get the movie out there. It’s a very different thing to be in this much more macho seat of “we got to get the financing.” The idea of women getting to be that way is a blast.

So it’s better when women are in charge?

I’ll tell you the conversations that did not come up on “Antibirth” or “The Intervention” or “Orange Is the New Black”: Does everybody look pretty enough? Are people skinny enough? That planet is so far removed from my experience that it’s hard for me to imagine it’s still happening, even if the statistics don’t add up. Getting to work on “[Inside Amy] Schumer” and “Girls.” Having Carrie Brownstein direct me in “Portlandia.” Just these power figures everywhere.

You’re an ex-addict, yet still play one.

I was only a drug addict because I identified so wholeheartedly with the experience of being one. What I mean is that you can take the drugs away, and thankfully that’s been working for me. But feeling like the only way to claim my independence is by determining my own destiny, even if that means being self-destructive, is something I still understand.

You’re also a lesbian icon, but straight.

Mind you, when I say I’m not gay, it doesn’t mean that I’ve never tried sleeping with women. Of course I have. I’m not a dumb-dumb.

I never want to feel like I’m taking ownership of an experience that’s not my own. But it seems like a lot of the female experience is in response to men. And when I play a lesbian character, it means that she’s on her own ride. I love men. I want to sleep with as many as possible. But I don’t want my whole life, and certainly my creative experience, to be in response to always just being “the girl.” Like, who needs it?

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