You may know Natasha Lyonne from Orange Is the New Black, or American Pie, or the 50+ films she has appeared in over her long career. But most recently she’s in her best role yet: Nadia in Russian Doll, a Netflix comedy she co-created with none other than Amy Poehler. The premise of the show is delightfully wacky: Nadia keeps dying after her 36th birthday, only to come back to life at the same moment earlier in the night.
So far, it’s received rave reviews.
“Lyonne is such an idiosyncratic screen presence — not to mention so distinctly New York/Jewish/aggro — that most of the roles she’s played, particularly as an adult, have barely bothered to delve beneath the surface of that persona,” writes Alan Sepinwall in Rolling Stone.
Let’s dive into what makes Natasha, well, Natasha, with 18 things to know…
1. Born Natasha Bianca Lyonne Braustein, she was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family. They lived in Great Neck, Long Island, the Upper East Side, and Israel.
2. Israel, for Natasha, was an “idyllic moment” in her childhood – after they moved back to the States, her parents got divorced.
3. Growing up as someone who observed Shabbat, she became a big reader. “When you’re in a house on a Saturday and [can’t] turn on the TV, you end up becoming a reader. I sought a lot of solace in literature as a child, and it’s definitely stuck with me,” Natasha explained.
4. Her dad was a boxing promoter, and her mom was the daughter of Holocaust survivors. She explained, “He’s a proper Flatbush, Brooklyn, Jew from a very black-hat family. He was the eccentric black-sheep figure of that family, with big ’80s dreams. His father’s button business was quite successful, but he became a race-car driver and a boxing promoter and met my mother, who was this Hungarian redhead. Her parents were Auschwitz survivors who had moved to Paris, where she was born.”
5. She got expelled from Jewish high school Ramaz for selling marijuana. Natasha later explained it “was an atrocious high school environment. Organized religion was in direct correlation with wealth and status. Rabbi Lookstein was my arch nemesis. I got cast in a Woody Allen film before I got kicked out and then I appeared on Letterman. They were horrible to me but, after Letterman, they asked me to come back.”
6. Yom Kippur is her favorite Jewish holiday “because it’s the most fun.”
7. She began her acting career at the age of 6, in Pee Wee’s Playhouse. As she said, “I had so much excess energy, I was dying to entertain people.”
8. She is frustrated with her parents for pushing her to be a child star: “I was kind of put into this business by my family, by my mother. To be fair, I think she thought it was the right thing, and I definitely responded to it. I was an outgoing child. But I don’t know if it was something I would have done by choice.”
9. In 2005, she was admitted to the ICU at Beth Israel Hospital in New York for hepatitis C, a heart infection, and a collapsed lung. She stayed for five months.
10. She’s been open about her struggles with addiction; “It definitely felt like I was on a mission, and working was not high on my priority list. I just did not foresee myself being an actress when all was said and done.”
11. If she wasn’t an actress, she would like to be a car service dispatcher. “I would be a great car service dispatcher — like, ‘Hey, where are you? LaGuardia? Alright, we’ll have a car there in ten minutes.’ I think it would show my personality well, although I’m not sure if it’s a profession that’s still in play. So I guess maybe a radio dispatch person in New York, but ideally in the ’80s. I couldn’t stomach being an Uber driver. I think I’d be bad if people had attitudes and thought they knew directions better than I did, you know?”
12. For Russian Doll, she surrounded herself with all female writers and female directors.
13. She’s currently dating comedian Fred Armisen.
14. Her dog is named Root Beer:
15. She’s become known for her roles as a queer woman in But I’m a Cheerleader and, obv, Orange is the New Black (which features a great Jewish episode about her character). “I take great pride in having the appreciation of the LGBTQI community,” Natasha said. “It really means a great deal to me. You know, I wonder if my queerness is actually that I just sort of identify as male in a way. And I wonder what that would mean if I were a young person, because in a way the language for that is only being defined now. The thing that I find most offensively egregious and devastating is this idea that anybody thinks that they have the right to dictate whether another human deserves the right to the same basic human rights. The idea that it’s even up for discussion is something that really breaks my heart.”
17. We just had to include this amazing Tablet cover of her cosplaying as Yentl:
18. On her iconic curly hair: “My hair is like wearing a sable coat, in the middle of summer, at all times.”