Photography by Annabel Mehran
Natasha Lyonne understands the cosmic joke that is her role in the new Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. Here she is, sober again and out of trouble with the law… but still in trouble with the law. As lesbian drug pusher Nicky Nichols in writer-producer Jenji Kohan’s follow-up to Weeds, she finds herself locked up in a violent, sexist women’s prison. With her stoner wisdom, Lyonne steals the show. But are you surprised?
Orange Is the New Black premieres July 11.
On Getting in Character:
“The show is sort of inherently funny in its pain and absurdity. Nicky goes through a lot, and some of it is definitely not funny. But I’m a pretty ridiculous person, so I’m sure that contributed somewhat.”
On Brushes With the Law:
“[Sarcastically] First of all, I don’t even know what you’re referring to. What was great was how little research I had to do for the role! Who’d have thought all those arrests would have been so terrific for my career?”
On Her Renaissance:
“There’s a great Albert Camus quote: ‘The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.’ When I first re-emerged, I was embarrassed to walk down the street. People would come up and say, ‘I heard you were dead!’ But I had to remind myself that a lot of the stuff I went through was pretty brutal. I’m definitely thankful that some of the rough patches are behind me.”
On Locked-Up Lesbians:
“These characters are human beings. If they’re gay, so be it! How many times do we need to see a Kinsey scale to realize that sexuality is fluid? I remember when I was in your magazine for But I’m a Cheerleader . I can’t believe how little shit has changed.”
On People Being Weirded Out By Woman-on-Woman Stuff:
I guess maybe it is growing up in New York or something but sometimes I don't even realize how rigid a lot of the country is. So I think it is a privilege to be working with like minded types. I don't really think of it that way. It is not like we are there everyday like: "Oh my God! My character is gay!" It's like: "Who gives a shit?" you know? My character is like this girl who's in jail who's had a drug problem who is trying to make the best of her situation.
On the Impact of Good Humor:
[My character] is really well written and when that happens, the impact should be heavy and funny at the same time. If you think about someone like Robert Altman—a movie like M.A.S.H. really tells you about the human condition but it is also really funny at the same time.
On When and Where She's Recognized:
It depends on the territory. Like, if I'm in Coney Island, I get a lot of American Pie. Mostly, I think there is a lot of Slums of Beverley Hills and But I'm a Cheerleader and American Pie. Not a ton of Pee Wee's Playhouse because I guess that's not really on people's radar anymore.
Watch a trailer for Orange is the New Black Below: