Rosie O’Donnell on Natasha Lyonne: ‘One of the Smartest Women I Know’

Natasha-Lyonne Rosie O'Donnell
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For Variety’s latest issue, we asked Rosie O’Donnell to write a tribute to Natasha Lyonne, one of 50 people to make our New Power of New York list. For the full list, click here.

I knew nothing of Natasha Lyonne when I saw her walking into the Westside Arts Theatre on Sept. 14, 2009.

It was the first day of rehearsal for the Off Broadway show “Love, Loss, and What I Wore.” I watched this big-haired, redheaded, charmingly awkward and quite stunning young woman introduce herself to the cast.

“Me,” she said, “I’m like a set of irregular sheets.”

Her self-deprecation seeped out through a Cheshire cat smile. She had me at irregular.

I went home and watched all of her films. I was blown away by her talent, her realism, her ability to just be on camera — quirky in the best way. She stole every scene she was in. In ”Slums of Beverly Hills,” she is sheer perfection.

I did a deep dive into her life. I Googled her highs and lows, and found her brutally honest tales of suffering and survival inspiring. We became fast friends — with Tashi, I am the big sister I always wanted to be. Watching her shine, both personally and professionally, fills me with something more than pride.

Russian Doll,” a project she has had banging around her brilliant brain for almost a decade, premiered on Netflix to rave reviews. Natasha’s portrayal of Nadia has been called pitch-perfect, profoundly original, fantastic and award-worthy. ”Russian Doll” went on to win three awards — outstanding production design, costumes and cinematography — at the Creative Arts Emmys and was nominated for outstanding comedy series at the Primetime Emmys.

Natasha is one of the smartest women I know. She is pure gold. Not so unlike Nadia, Natasha struts around the Lower East Side in a long coat and wild hair like she owns the place. ”Russian Doll” is a love letter to her neighborhood. She has a colorful tribe of longtime friends who are her family. She clearly knows something about living. It is a joy to have her in my world. I am thrilled for all of her hard-earned success and can’t wait to see what she births next.

Rosie O’Donnell is an actress, writer, activist and talk-show host.