When Natasha Lyonne really opens up to you, with that smoky pulse-and-throb of New York City in her voice and that unmistakable “I’ve worked with Woody Allen AND Pee Wee Herman, I’ve partied like Amy Winehouse, I’ve done five movies this year, and I’m not quite sure where I am right now,” air about her, you just kind of have to stop and think, Jesus. This woman read my diary. She is the dark and blossoming star I secretly am in my head.
Who is Natasha Lyonne? When I think of Natasha Lyonne, I think of these things: Woody Allen (she played his daughter in the musical Everyone Says I Love You when she was a but wee lass), “Brooke” (the porky chick with dreadlocks from Party Monster), and American Pie (sassy Jessica), smoking too much, drinking too much, and peculiar scenes of alleged dog molestation. None of her roles were huge in these things, but I remember her in them all. But when I really think of her, I really think of Big Apples, and that singular type of New York City famous that is really quite so very different from LA/Hollywood/Anywhere Else-types of famous—the type of famous that has cab rides and saxophones and pizza-at-3am in it and you better not give-it-any-bullshit—a type of famous that scares me a little and fascinates me a lot. It's a vibe that comes off of her in waves.
So we’re sitting in the W Hotel, and it’s just a little awkward. She is in town for just twenty hours to attend a SIFF screening of The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle, a Seattle-filmed movie that also has Sean Nelson in it for a minute. I am here to talk to her about it...
I am of course far too seasoned in the whole famous-person-meeting thing to be star-struck (because, like, I’ve met almost all of them), and never by anyone with star-wattage less than a Jolie-Pitt. And God knows, she's no Oscar Winner or anything. But I am completely enraptured by her anyway, I refuse to justify myself. Her mere presence is very magnetic, in the way only a natural-born celebrity’s mere presence can be. She’s kind of distracted, she seems a little nervous (which is quite surprising), and she’s finishing up a text message on her not-an-I Phone. I resist the impulse to to jump up and lick the back of her neck—like a psychoactive toad—just, you know, to see what would happen. She finishes texting and looks at me.
“Yo, Adrian.” She looks at my socks. “Can I tell you something?” Um, no. Don’t be absurd. “I always said that all I wanted was a man with Argyle socks and a sense of humor.”
She looks lovely—just-off-the-plane harried, indeed, but totally together. Her handbag and her sunglasses are enormous. She’s so completely her. We talk about my socks for a minute. She wants to know why mine don’t match. (It always comes up.) I explain my whole philosophy: if one has the time, interest, or inclination to bother matching up one’s socks, one should reevaluate one’s priorities. She agrees with me in principal. “I’ve always been a big fan of people who brush their teeth in the dark.”
I adore her.
We talk about a lot of things. She mentions at least four books she’s recently read, and a list of old movies. She wants to know if I’ve ever seen Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains with young Dianne Keaton (or maybe Dianne Lane) and Laura Dern. I haven’t. She tells me about it: Young Laura Dern and Dianne Keaton (or maybe Lane) form and all-girl punk band, madness ensues. It’s from 1981. I ask her about Little Dizzle. She doesn’t know much. She hasn’t seen it yet! “Tonight will be my first time,” she confesses, referring to the screening at the Egyptian. She says she’s a little anxious about it. (Negro, please. As if the city that spawned the Space Needle and Courtney Love could do anything but adore her.)
Natasha has had quite a decade, which has included a fair amount of time in the tabloids for various substance-addled manias and some serious life-threatening issues. But these days, "Life is all about NOT making a splash," she says. And she has had quite a professionally prolific year to prove how much of a splash she's not making—she’s done five films, including Dizzle. “I’ve done ‘em, yes, but let’s see if they ever come out. That’s another thing,” she jokes. Plus, she really doesn’t like watching her own movies. “Who needs the suffering?” But when I bring up one movie—the Woody Allen movie—then she really gets going.
“Growing up Jewish in New York, Woody Allen was like a God…I was 16, I was a nervous wreck, I was rebellious, and Woody Allen isn’t exactly a nurturer…”
“I have pretty big self-esteem issues, Adrian, I’m not even going to try to hide it,” she tells me. I confess myself that if I ever looked too closely in the mirror, I’d never leave the damn house. She says that she knows exactly what I mean. She confesses that she’s near-sighted, and that she goes out without her glasses sometimes, just so there is a nice buffer between her and the world, and she doesn’t have to focus on the details. I do the exact same thing! If she weren’t Jewish as a box of lox, I’d begin to wonder if we weren’t separated at birth...
She worries that she is getting herself into trouble when the conversation meanders into sordid, gossipy territory like Lindsay Lohan (I ask her if she thinks Lindsay is a real lesbian or if she’s faking it—she says she doesn’t care), or living in Alphabet City with “her people” (ie, addled street freaks), and/or being “A child star cliché,” and she keeps peeking over at her manager to make sure she’s not in trouble. The less gossip, the better. She talks about professionalism, and learning to be a professional, and about her love for making movies, and Barbara Stanwyck. “Yes, I’m a child-star cliché,” she says. “It’s widely documented.”
“But I’m a happy cliché.”
Our hour together rushes by. We ride the elevator out together. She finally puts her big sunglasses back on, clutches her huge handbag, and makes for the exit, taking New York-vibes and delicious scandal with her—and leaving a glittery, apple-shaped hole in my smokeless heart.
And the rest is silence.