Two decades before her turn as the gruff-voiced, sardonic Nadia on the existential dramedy “Russian Doll,” a teenage Natasha Lyonne played DJ, the
chirpy narrator in Woody Allen’s 1996 whimsical romantic-comedy musical “Everyone Says I Love You.” Lyonne’s name first appeared in Variety on Dec. 2, 1996, in a review of the Allen film.
In the next few years she went on to star in a number of raunchy teen comedies, including “American Pie,” “But I’m a Cheerleader” and “Scary Movie 2.”
She recently wrapped up her role as Nicky Nichols (aka Junkie Philosopher) on the final season of “Orange Is the New Black.”
“Russian Doll,” which she stars in and co-created alongside Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland, has 13 Emmy nominations and is set for a second season.
When you look back at teenage Natasha Lyonne in “Everyone Says I Love You,” what do you see that’s changed?
I was attending Yeshiva. I was a teenager and a stoner, and I was superstitious. Two of those things are no longer true. I was sent to Woody Allen’s office. I wore an ankle-length khaki skirt and Rollerblades. I’ve since heard the rumors you weren’t supposed to talk when meeting Woody. When he asked me how I was doing, I launched into a monologue about my parents getting divorced and moving to Israel to salvage the marriage, and it was a scam, and studying Talmud was a real nightmare on my psyche but I enjoyed it, and the kids were real scumbags, and then Rollerblading was hard but a good way to get around. Forty minutes later, [he said]: “This makes sense that it would be mine and Goldie Hawn’s over-talking daughter [in the movie].”
I think I was expelled [from Yeshiva] for selling weed and booking the Woody movie. I had this incredible tutor, Karen Cooper. She spent most of our time teaching about surrealism. She was into me studying André Breton and Salvador Dalí. Those were the three big events that shaped this bizarre twist from a child actor struggling in Minute Maid commercials. All of a sudden I was No. 1 on the call sheet with all these incredible legends.
All that went into a saucepan with a healthy amount of pot smoking and LSD, and that became a formative time. I remember dressing Natalie [Portman] up in Oakleys and my rave outfits and having her do this bizarre photo shoot in the room. And doing this final rebellious act of ordering bacon from room service in front of Gaby [Hoffmann] and Natalie to show off how tough I was — going to break Halakha law and eat pork for the first time.
Was acting your idea or your parents’ idea?
It was my parents’ fantasy to materialize their very own Shirley Temple; that was going to pay the bills. Sadly the money was spent. My big dream was doing enough commercials to get a Lamborghini someday. I’ll tell you how many Lamborghinis I have: zero.
Now as a director, my language for sets and crews is so woven into the fabric of my being. The horrors of a lifetime are paying major dividends in terms of ease and comfort as an architect and a creator and director. It’s 35 years of experience. There’s plenty of print on the ways in which I got waylaid, but it’s funny to find myself in many ways where I left off as a 16-year-old kid with big dreams. In some ironic adult-person way, now I’m just fine with how it all went. I forgive my parents for the weirdness of having me suited up with a briefcase as a 6-year-old. If you asked me that at 25, when times were tough and lean, I would think it was a pretty crazy idea on their part.