SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains mild spoilers for the first four episodes of Peacock’s “Poker Face.”
Rian Johnson’s new series “Poker Face” gives its audience a tutorial in protagonist Charlie Cale’s (“Russian Doll” star and creator Natasha Lyonne) remarkable lie-detecting ability — don’t call it a “super power” — over its first four episodes, which launched Thursday on Peacock.
But we can’t blame fans who still might need a little more clarification on exactly how Charlie’s gift works, given that Johnson, Lyonne and the “Poker Face” team spent quite a while setting the specific laws surrounding her talent.
“We had to define this really clearly for ourselves and the rules that we landed are, she can tell if someone says something out loud that they know is an intentional lie,” Johnson told Variety. “If someone says something that’s untrue, but they think that it’s the truth, that will read as truth to her. It’s entirely just if someone says something that’s a lie. The interesting obstruction with that is, how do you do a mystery series where someone has that gift and the show isn’t over in five minutes?”
Lyonne and Johnson, who created “Poker Face” and wrote and directed on the series, also had to work through the physical response Charlie has once she hears a lie — something that she more often than not wants to conceal.
“We certainly toyed with the idea that, oh, every time it’s a twitch or a flicker or a close-up or something,” said Lyonne, who executive produces “Poker Face” through her Animal Pictures banner and directed an episode of the first season. “And it just ultimately seems sort of, not so much silly, but potentially short-sighted. If this was a character that was going to live in all situations and, arguably, if she’d been this way ever since she was a kid, she would have figured out a way to almost hide it. If somebody bites their nails, they sort of figure out how to hide their fingernails or something, they put their fingers in their fists, or you don’t see them on the table. In that way, I think Charlie would have learned how to circumstantially navigate it in all situations, but just sometimes really still can’t help herself or just kind of says it and calls it like she sees it because the stakes aren’t that high. Or, she sometimes finds that she says it in a situation where it was really bad that it was a reflex.”
As for whether or not you will see Charlie stumped in the upcoming remaining episodes of “Poker Face” Season 1, the firm answer from Johnson is “no.”
“We haven’t done that. We’ve tried to stick very closely to, if there’s a lie said out loud, she’s going to clock it,” the “Knives Out” and “Glass Onion” director said. “The one thing that we’ve thought about, but have not done this season, but we might do down the line, is some version of a person who’s like kryptonite to her. Someone she can’t read at all and she’s conscious of the fact that she can’t.”
However, what Johnson says you will see in the first season — at least by the finale — is a little bit of Charlie’s origin story and a look at her life before the series premiere, when we first meet her working as a waitress at a casino after originally scamming the house with her power. With Charlie on the run from the casino owner’s righthand man Cliff (Benjamin Bratt) ever since that gig ended very poorly, we haven’t had much time to get into her feelings over her best friend’s death, let alone her back story.
“By the end of the season, you get a glimpse into her life and her past,” Johnson said. “That’s something that we’ll explore judiciously along the course of the show. I think it’s something you have to be careful of because you don’t want it to become just a deep dive into them. At the same time, I’m torn because it’s a little bit kind of like ‘Columbo,’ where you don’t want to actually meet his wife. But it’s also a little bit like ‘Magnum P.I.,’ where they did do that one episode that had flashbacks to his dad going off to war and it was really powerful. I have a feeling we’ll come to more of her back story as we go along. And there is a bit of it in the finale, when we get to it.”