Natasha Lyonne has a new series on Peacock called Poker Face. It’s a dark comedy, which isn’t a surprise. That’s kind of Natasha’s thing. I haven’t seen it yet but that’s just because I forget the name of it when I have a free minute to watch TV. But now that I’m writing this, I know I’ll remember. Natasha plays Charlie Cale who’s running from a “powerful and mysterious casino owner” – so mob boss, right? – after she uncovers horrible things about him. Yeah, sounds like a hoot. Except that it was created by Knives Out mastermind, Rian Johnson. And the premise involves a revolving cast with amazing guest stars every episode. So yeah, it probably is very funny in a very clever way. Natasha said was sold on the show reading Rian’s script because the man is “brilliant.”
Imagine having the innate ability to tell when people are lying. Would you go around calling your friends’ bluffs, catching scorned lovers in their lies, or posting up at the poker table of your local casino? Your initial answer probably isn’t to piece together unsolved murders — that is, unless you’re Charlie Cale in Peacock’s new dark comedy, Poker Face, starring Natasha Lyonne (best known for her roles in Orange Is the New Black and Russian Doll).
“Rian [Johnson] had this idea about [Charlie’s] uncanny ability to sort of sniff out the truth,” Lyonne says over Zoom against a backdrop of her character’s beloved Plymouth Barracuda. “I love that idea because it’s so great to have a character who fights for injustice and the little guy and believes that the truth must come out, no matter what. I often played city slickers or self-destructive types, and here was an opportunity to be somebody who was a little bit of a desert rat, sun on their face, likes people, open to ideas, and just really likes a Coors Light.”
Lyonne admits that working with a new group of actors for each episode comes with its own unique set of challenges, but according to her, Johnson’s ability to succinctly develop the show’s tone helped the A-list guest stars — including Adrien Brody, Chloë Sevigny, Judith Light, Jameela Jamil, Nick Nolte, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and more — to quickly catch on.
“Actors are funny. They’re a bit like musicians, so even if everybody is incredible at playing their instrument, you just have to see if you guys are in tune together,” Lyonne says. “I would say that was pretty much the case. It was like they were trying to hear, ‘Where does it fall in the pocket? What key are we playing it in almost? Is it a comedy? Is it a drama?’ [Johnson] sent me a script that was beautiful. It’s so well-written, and he’s so brilliant. He’s a master craftsman and so funny.”
The idea of the show, to clarify further, is each episode takes place in a new place because Charlie is on the run. That’s why there’s a whole new cast except for Natasha. It sounds like the shows from my childhood. They would get big stars because they only had to commit to one show so they’d do it for a lark. And Natasha can pull this concept off. So can Rian. I like that they both stepped slightly outside their usual comfort zone but are still playing to their strengths. I would think it would be terribly fun to invent a new world each show but also amazingly difficult. I’m intrigued by Natasha’s description that the show dances the line between comedy and drama. When a thriller gets that formula right, it’s glorious. The first season of Russian Doll did, so this is a great fit for Natasha. I’m excited to see her working Rian’s material. And to see her with the new cast each week. Even though it sounds like some of those guest stars were more challenging than others (reading between the lines), I think watching Natasha work herself into the new setting will be fun. So far, from what I’ve seen of his work, I agree that Rian is very good at his craft. Apparently, Natasha really wanted to bring Columbo back with this role. If I wasn’t sold before, I am now.
Holy moly, they got John Ratzenberger to do a live-action role for this thing!
Another reason I will be watching Poker Face ASAP – *swoon*
Photo credit: JPI Studios/Avalon, Jeffrey Mayer/Cover Images
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