You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Natasha Lyonne and Maya Rudolph on Mortality — and the End of the World

Natasha Lyonne and Maya Rudolph sat down for a chat for Variety’s Actors on Actors. For more, click here.

Natasha Lyonne and Maya Rudolph are two of TV’s funniest stars — and this year, both confronted mortality on-screen. In “Russian Doll,” co-created by Lyonne, the actress dies over and over again, trying with each reincarnation to finally overcome past trauma. Rudolph dies only once in “Forever,” but it’s hardly conclusive: She spends her afterlife thinking through what she really wants. Between them, the two made the comedy season darker, and vastly more thoughtful. 

MAYA RUDOLPH: This is going to be casual. Because I know everything about you that I need to know.

NATASHA LYONNE: And I’ve been Googling you for six months straight. So I feel caught up. I would say that you safely know every single core thing about me, more importantly, even if some details are missing. But I feel, still, in awe of you.

MR: Yeah, you say that. I think you think I have my shit together. I don’t know where you get that impression. I think you think that because I’m a parent, I have my shit together, when in reality I’m still making it up, just like everybody else. I feign professionalism. That’s what being a comedian is. 

NL: I think maybe one of the things I admire so much is that we can be in the middle of the deepest, heaviest, “What does it all mean existentially?” on our TV programs. We both chose to make very existential shows. But then I can watch you flip, and you can light up in the room. For me, I need to go outside, I need to smoke a cigarette and then I need to reassemble before I can shift from heaviness.

Natasha Lyonne photographed by Shayan Asgharnia in Los Angeles, CA on April 27, 2019

MR: I personally think it’s just a matter of blood sugar. You can figure it all out with blood sugar.

NL: I have another theory, which is that because of “SNL” and, first, The Groundlings, that there’s a deep training ground in there that’s very real. You give them what’s really a very formal education: Under all conditions, the highest of stakes, at the most pressure in the world, deliver.

MR: Yes. Very much so. Also a manual: “Here’s the language of comedy or improvisation. These are the rules of improvisation because if you use these, then things will move forward.” I like a road map. 

NL: I really enjoy inhabiting a more surreal, nebulous, mercurial space and then getting in there and moving things around. I enjoy it in the murkiness a bit. 

MR: Well, you like a lot more chaos than I do. Why “Russian Doll” now? It’s interesting to me that you’re doing it right now in your life, because I feel like if people don’t know you and everything that you are capable of in front of
and behind the camera, now they know. The secret’s out. Sorry, but your secret’s out. But why is it now?

NL: Speaking frankly, it’s a bit of a challenge to receive so much positivity and almost ask myself, “What took so long?” Because obviously we’ve known each other for 20 years, and I’ve been wired this way pretty much the whole time. And I guess things just sort of appear on their own timeline in a way.

Maya Rudolph photographed by Shayan Asgharnia in Los Angeles, CA on Aprill 27, 2019

MR: In creating a show, sometimes as actors, we don’t think that we can do that. Not everybody gets the memo, “If you build it, they will come.” If you want to do it, do it.

NL: That’s what’s so radical about it. 

MR: And what took me so long to figure that one out? I feel like I was telling myself, “Oh no, you can’t. You can’t create your own stuff.” And now I’m like, “F–k it. I don’t care.”

NL: Well, I think it’s a new era. I mean, we’re women, which means 97 different things. And mortality and this inner panic: I’m going to actually get to make things, and I don’t want to run out of time. Adulthood, inevitably, it only goes in one direction … the end. Why did you similarly choose to be interested in a show about mortality, and why now?

MR: It’s an itch that I just want to scratch. I want to talk about it, I want to know more about it — the idea of what else is there? Is this it? On a bad day, I’m going to say, “This is fu–king it. This is bulls–t.” And on a great day, I’m going to say, “What if we get to see our loved ones? What if there’s something else? What if this is the beginning?” You f–ked me up so good the other day because you sent me a YouTube video. 

NL: It’s a time lapse about the end of the world.

MR: And you’re really looking at the end of the universe.

NL: But the real end, the black hole end, end-end. But we’ve got lots of time.

mR: We’re going to be fine.   

More TV

  • THE BLACKLIST -- "Katarina Rostova (#3)"

    ‘The Blacklist’ Bosses on Delivering the 'Really Intense Family Drama That We've Been Promising for Seven Years'

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Katarina Rostova,” the midseason seventh season finale of “The Blacklist.” Since “The Blacklist” began it has been building towards a confrontation between Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) and her biological mother, Katarina Rostova (Laila Robbins). That promised confrontation was front-and-center in the seventh season [...]

  • REEF BREAK - "Pilot" - When

    'Reef Break' Canceled After One Season at ABC

    “Reef Break” will not be back for a second season at ABC. The series debuted back in June on the broadcaster and aired 13 episodes, with the finale airing on Sept. 13. It starred Poppy Montgomery as Cat Chambers, Ray Stevenson as Jake Elliot, Desmond Chiam as Wyatt Cole, Melissa Bonne as Ana Dumont and [...]

  • Jeff Shell NBCUniversal

    Jeff Shell: Who Is the NBCUniversal Heir Apparent?

    Analytical, decisive, loyal, fair, empowering. Those are just a few of the choice words industry insiders who have worked with incoming NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell — set to succeed current chief exec Steve Burke, as Variety exclusively reported — use to describe the longtime media exec.  On Universal’s North Hollywood lot, many insiders who work [...]

  • Reese Witherspoon Kerry Washington Little Fires

    TV News Roundup: Hulu Reveals 'Little Fires Everywhere' Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, Hulu announces a premiere date for “Little Fires Everywhere” and Variety exclusively obtains a first look at this year’s Christmas episode of “The Simpsons.” DATES “Little Fires Everywhere” will debut March 18, Hulu announced. Produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, Kerry Washington’s Simpson Street, and ABC Signature Studios, the show [...]

  • Watchmen Regina King Tim Blake Nelson

    How 'Watchmen' Pulled Off One of the Best TV Seasons of the Decade

    The first time Damon Lindelof realized that “Watchmen” — his adaptation/remix/continuation of the groundbreaking 1986 graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons — might actually be a hit was after the pilot debuted at New York Comic Con in October. In the following panel, the 46-year-old writer-producer could tell the audience was connecting with [...]

  • 9-1-1: Angela Bassett in the “Christmas

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of Dec. 2: 'The Good Doctor,' '9-1-1' Top Gainers

    “The Good Doctor” on ABC and “9-1-1” on Fox were the two biggest gainers in the Live+3 TV ratings for the week of Dec. 2. The pair benefited from the absence of NBC’s “This Is Us,” which to date has shown the largest gains across all scripted shows after three days of delayed viewing. “Good [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content