Nastasha Lyonne is my new favorite person in the world. Less than 10 minutes after the two of us started talking, I already knew she was the greatest, warmest, funniest, smartest and friendliest celebrity I could ever hope to speak to. The only downside? She has spoiled all future celebrity interviews for me—because, c’mon, who else is going to discuss everything from "not being one of those Gisele people" to Cool Hand Luke to Fran Lebowitz to Tide pens to Shia LaBeouf’s method acting to the soul-sucking effects of Botox, all in one half-hour interview? I am convinced that she really needs her own talk show, because all of us (young girls especially) could really benefit from her no-B.S. viewpoints on fashion and feminism. At the same time, Lyonne (who we all know from such films as American Pie, Slums of Beverly Hills and But I’m A Cheerleader) isn’t one of those takes-themselves-too-seriously types who doesn’t also appreciate the fashion industry—and it would be hard not to be somewhat enthalled with it when your friends include Marc Jacobs, Chloë Sevigny and Alexander Wang.
Read on for my free-flowing conversation with Lyonne, as she gets ready to make her TV premiere in a prison jumpsuit for the new Netflix original series Orange is the New Black (debuting July 11). The show, about a hipster Brooklyn wife serving time for her role in a drug-smuggling ring, is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir Orange Is The New Black: My Year In a Women’s Prison, and casts Lyonne as Piper’s (Taylor Schilling) mouthy cellmate.
Lucky: Describe your typical day working on your new show.
Natasha Lyonne: So a normal day looks like, you know, shower, put on the same jeans, the same tattered Gucci loafers I got at the thrift store, white socks, and my t-shirt and my very beat-up Helmut Lang blazer. I’m in the exact same outfit every day. Sometimes I mix it up with slight variations, but sometimes if I wear blue jeans to work instead of black jeans, I feel like my day goes sour. I’m really only going to be wearing it for an hour at most, so I feel like I like to leave the house knowing who I am, because what’s going to happen is they’re slowly going to take away any sort of—you know that RuPaul quote, "We’re all born naked and the rest is just drag?” The process begins, I’m just stripping away any sort of cool-guy pretense I may have deluded myself into thinking I had. I mean, I’m not one of these Gisele people or something. I’m not to be confused with Natasha Henstridge in Species, where I just emerge out of the weird alien womb looking amazing. I really rely heavily on my black outfits and my gold chains to give me sort of a thing.
At least you’re starting off wearing Gucci and Helmut Lang!
Listen, if you were going to have a uniform, it’s important to invest in like three pieces. That’s the thing you wonder as you grow up, what am I going to do with all this ragtag clothing? I’d rather wear things a lot and have them be high quality. You’re just going to spend eight times as much money if you’ve gotta keep replacing things. Anyway, so then I get there and they begin to just demoralize me and break my spirit and then I put on my tacky uniform and then I spend some time trying to roll up my sleeves, trying to make myself be more like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke and less like me. It doesn’t work. I give up. Hair and makeup takes a total of, I don’t know, 20 minutes, 30 minutes maximum. The longest part of the makeup is applying my fake tattoos. I’m always just like, why do the fake tattoos get so much attention when there’s so much work to clearly still be done on my face?
How do they apply the fake tattoos?
They alcohol-swab your skin, they put the fake tattoo on, and then put water on it and it sticks. And then they powder it and then it inevitably cracks and it’s a nightmare. I always want to have some Shia LaBeouf episode where I’m like, “It’s not going to look real, man!” I want to be a rebellious, passionate teenage actor who thinks I have integrity, when really I’m just full of fear. Not to attack him personally or anything, I’m just speaking from my own experience of being a teenager and being so hooked on integrity and telling the truth that it was very hard for me to process anything phony, like I didn’t want to give an inch. But I think I can trust the people I’m working with—if it wasn’t looking good, they would tell me. I don’t have to do battle daily on my own. It’s supposed to be a collaboration!
Natasha takes a quick call on her cell.
I have this friend at Marc Jacobs and he just messengered me clothes because I have to go do this Women’s Wear Daily thing at 4 o’clock, last minute. I’m so lucky that I have this friend. It’s pretty sick. I’m like, I have to do this thing in like an hour, can I get something to wear? Without this man—I mean, If you could see me now, I’m not very Women’s Wear Daily ready. I really don’t know how I’m going to pull this together.
I’m sure you can do it.
You know, it’s aging. It’s no big deal. What’s the worst thing that can happen? But listen, the aging process is totally minimizing. Life in general is pretty minimizing because you have a lot of big ideas and you have to battle the mistaken delusions and instability that come with youth. And then watching that just wither away as you become more of a realist is a harrowing experience for any human being. I just think you gotta have a good f*****g attitude. What are you going to do? Like good luck with the Botox; you’re not fooling anybody. I happily would do it if it would make me look better, but I don’t have the nerve to do it.
I worry something would go wrong.
Yeah! It’s intense enough having to look in the mirror without then being like, oh, there’s my plastic surgery mistake on top of it. I would rather look like a person than a weirdo. I mean, there’s the shame that we put on aging naturally as a society. But the shame of plastic surgery gone wrong is something else. It’s really awful in the sense that it becomes this kind of direct window into how broken a person’s soul is. You’re not seeing the signs of life experience, but rather the signs of a person’s insecurity right on their sleeve.
How did dressing for the premiere go for you?
The white dress—let me just say, it was fine. I enjoyed it more when they stopped taking pictures, as the night went on. It was sort of like spandex-y and this form-fitting material, so I was enjoying kicking out my hips and stuff—stuff I’d never do in front of a picture because I’m not J Lo. I don’t think I’m going to wear white again for the rest of my life, though. I don’t know if that material wanted to catch stains or what, but that dress involved a Tide pen that was such a nightmare throughout the evening. So panic-inducing. Not once in my life have I had that level of drama wearing black clothing. It was such a high-stakes number for a very low-stakes evening.
Well, it looked really good. Who made it?
Let me go look at the label. I think I’m going to wear a dress like it on a talk show, too—in black, though. Le Petite Robe Di Chiara Boni. I’m guessing it’s a newer designer, probably? It looks fancy enough.
Last time I saw you, you told me it had Chloë Sevigny’s approval.
Yeah, Chloë was into it. She said, “I’m very glad you didn’t wear the necklaces. I think it was the right move.” I mean, you know, I think that for us it’s just always funny whenever I put on anything fancy. It feels more like an inside joke or something than it does a real achievement.
Were you more into fashion in your younger years?
I’ve always had a similar take with it. Speaking of Chloë, Humberto—the guy who does Opening Ceremony—I was sitting next to him at the Alexander Wang fashion show and I would just lean over after every outfit and say, “I can’t wear that, I’m five feet tall,” or “That I can f*****g wear. That one I want!” He was very amused because he’s such a significant fashion character and would never really think of fashion that way. It’s all about what’s incredible and what’s not—but for me, it’s all about what’s practical and what’s not. Like, I want to look cool just as much as the next guy. I want to be attractive and have people sleep with me. I very much want people to sleep with me! I want as many people to want to sleep with me as possible all the time, and fashion is a big part of that.
Well, that’s one practical reason to care about clothes.
I’m a grown-up. It’s going to look ridiculous if I can’t walk in my heels and I end up in a situation where I have to hail a taxi. I’m not a drunk 17-year-old who is going to look cute while twisting my ankle and falling down on the pavement while I’m hailing a taxi. So that becomes a big fashion concern. Can I find cool shoes that are also comfortable? I think that even as a teenager, I liked keeping it simple. At the time, I had a pretty good relationship with Chanel and Marc Jacobs and I would sort of just use the two of them mostly, and have them send me stuff. Now I’m like that with Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang. For me to go outside the box is kind of a rare event. I love it though. If I was a bajillionaire, I would spend a lot of time at Barneys just buying all kinds of great things all the time. I would have so many black cashmeres it would be out of control. I like the way nice things feel very much. Frankly, I think I was born in the wrong body. Like if I had a Tilda Swinton vibe, I’d be very into fashion. If I was David Bowie, I’d be super into fashion. I’d think of it as a worthy investment. If I was Grace Jones, I’d be super fashion. But like, I’ve always admired Fran Lebowitz as a style icon, that’s much more where I’m coming from. Just somebody who really seems like herself and can walk through any situation.
I may have to have to explain who Fran Lebowitz is…every generation has their thing.
I do think if those references are lost, it’s really tragic and a bigger sign of what’s wrong with the times. We don’t exist in a vacuum as people. We’re all picking up constantly on those who come before us. Most of the bands I listen to are very heavily influenced by The Velvet Underground, even if they’re newer bands, and I feel like if you’re a fan of the newer bands you should know why they sound the way they sound. It’s similar with fashion. There’s a picture I recently saw of a very young Jodie Foster in her Gucci loafers and jeans and I was like, surely I must have seen that picture at some point as a kid and that’s why I now like these. Everything is derivative to a certain extent. One would think the creative arts would highlight individualism—but now the big prize in succeeding is looking exactly like your peers to the point of mass confusion. I think that’s a very depressing change in the times.
There is much more money in that now, though.
Helena Bonham Carter has sort of been a beacon of light in all this. She really harkens back to the time when there were individuals in this industry. Everybody just sort of knows to step aside and let her do her thing, because she can really deliver when it comes to the role. She happens to be an exceptionally stunning woman, naturally. She’s a great example of somebody who’s seemingly escaped playing any sort of Hollywood game and still manages to have a really incredible career where she gets to do all kinds of different roles in the Hollywood system. I think that one of the great things, about getting older is that hopefully we’re in a time where there’s a bit of a revolt toward all of this same-sandwich business. As we get older, we sort of give up the fight a little bit more and wear our self-consciousness on our sleeve and are just more forced to submit to the fact that of this is who we are. I think that often that can feel appealing, especially in the face of such oppressive homogenization. Someone like Helena really shines bright in that capacity. She’s being rewarded for that because once upon a time she was a sort of just a gorgeous ingénue, and now she’s aged so fully into an individual. Wasn’t there just recently a magazine cover, even though it was airbrushed, where she was just stunning?
You still get airbrushed even when you’re 20 years old.
I mean, you have to—the wrinkles! I think that’s what’s so exciting about Orange Is the New Black; it’s very much going to feel like a breath of fresh air. Almost like a sigh, an exhaling, and relief for women. And even for men—it must be very confusing for men that they’re supposed to now be attracted to this prepubescent ideal when they’re naturally wired, scientifically, to be attracted to all different types. That’s how evolution happens. Evolution doesn’t happen because two skinny white people freak together. That’s not really how you build a great world, a great, diverse, complicated world where I’d want to live. That’s what’s so great to be working with a proven pioneer like Jenji Kohan. I mean, there are so many different kinds of women on the show and we haven’t seen anything like this forever and they’re so talented. It’s a very inspiring environment to work in, especially in this industry, which is essentially creating a warped aesthetic that rewards anorexia as a cultural achievement. I don’t even think it’s subtle anymore. That’s the message of fashion, the bulk of movies and certainly the message of just walking down the street in New York or Los Angeles or going into a store and trying to look good in something. It’s always just like, am I skinny enough? It’s like, wow, look how the dress hangs over those bones. It’s really, deeply and damagingly warped. Speaking as an ex-drug addict or whatever, I feel like the statistics are even higher for death from anorexia. It’s really intense. I’m not sure about those statistics. I’m just saying.
Photo: Annabel Mehran
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