Natasha Lyonne Is Nobody’s Ingenue
It would be infuriating that Natasha Lyonne hasn’t fronted a major fashion campaign yet, except the one she finally landed is just so good. As the new face of COS, the actress / director / producer stares down a camera lensed by Mario Sorrenti and styled by Camilla Nickerson. In the images, Lyonne wears a black peacoat and fishnets, framed by a New York rooftop and not the least bit concerned that she’s got no pants. As the kids say: She eats.
As I imagine, she also actually eats, and drinks, and smokes, and creates, and has a whole life outside of this fashion racket, which—Lyonne assures me—is the whole point. “I think COS is great because the quality is very nice; very nice, but also, you can go to a store and get it. You can wear it even if you don’t have a stylist, or a lot of time to get yourself together. It’s like a shortcut to getting it right.”
Lyonne calls me en route to work—she’s shooting Poker Face, the TV series from Knives Out‘s Rian Johnson—and since she’s way more interesting than I am, I’m gonna get out your way and just tell you what she said.
You write, direct, act, and now model for COS. How are fashion shoots and a film shoots similar?
Oh, well if I’m lucky, I really enjoy myself on them. And I really enjoyed myself on COS. There’s a thing where when I work with really, insanely talented people in fashion or entertainment, I realize that the majority of people are not insanely talented.
Okay, I need more information.
What I’ve noticed, in both cases, is when you work with great people, there’s a comfort and an easiness there that’s not quite so stressed… If you’re doing it right, and if you trust your work, the stress in a work environment really goes away. It’s like the opposite of being unsure, wondering, “Did this actually come off the way it was intended?” And when you move with that kind of ease, you put everyone else at ease, too… At this point, I try not to wear stuff that makes me feel physically uncomfortable in my skin. Nobody benefits from making other people uncomfortable—definitely not in fashion.
You’ve had some pretty epic looks lately—the COS campaign, the Miu Miu dress at the Venice Film Festival…
Do you know, you have to get dressed up and then get on a boat? Once I realized that, I thought, “Okay, somebody must have thought this through—there must be a system for getting off a boat at the Venice Film Festival if you’re wearing heels. Sure enough, there is. It is insane.
Well. First you’re mostly just teetering, and then you do a quick prayer. Next thing you know, you’re inside a boat. And then the wind blows your hair and makeup upside down, right? And then they just kind of lift you out of the boat. And I’m looking at these other young actresses next to me who look like nothing just happened, and I’m like, “Guys, I do not know that you should be really blasé about this.” And they’re like, “Uh, okay ma’am, we’ve seen all this before.”
This might be a stretch, and if it is, just tell me. But do you think there’s a parallel between the way you land a joke onscreen, or land a scene when you’re directing, and the way you land a fashion look? Like, you must know when something is great and something is off, right?
Hmmm… no, I don’t think there’s a real similarity… actually… You know, I think [with both] I know it works when, again, I genuinely feel like myself, and not like an impression of somebody else, or an impression of an idea of what I’m supposed to be. Maybe that’s the similarity in a way: I don’t really like it when people seem like strangers to themselves. In fashion or film or TV, I don’t go much for an ingenue. It doesn’t take.
I find it to be pretty tedious that we’re still viewing women in that light. I’d much prefer to watch someone having a lively conversation about something real on the Dick Cavett Show to whoever the latest Johnny come lately is, looking like a deer in headlights, and everybody’s just projecting a reality onto her. Someone who doesn’t quite know their own personality or style yet, you know? And we’re all acting like, “Isn’t this fetus fascinating? They’re so not fully formed.” That’s not my thing, and I find it a little bit disturbing, frankly, that we’re so consistently impressed by the idea. I mean, I get it. I just think it’s weird that we sexualize it. You know what I mean?
It’s cooler to admire adults.
To me it is! And historically, I mean, we have a Marlene Dietrich, a Mae West, a Grace Jones. Adults who know what they like and who really have a sense of self. Even like, Cher! To me, that’s so much more fun and cool than someone who’s been kind of completely assembled by a tea and become a new construction… There’s something so creepy about it to me. I understand we’re forever fascinated by this idea of potentiality. But it seems like a holdover from other ideas, especially about women, that we’ve accepted as being totally over. And in fashion, onscreen, I do actually think there’s a similarity between wanting a character to feel like a real person. You want them to feel truly alive. That’s why you care about them, and why you relate to them… And I mean, let me say, I do enjoy aesthetics and images as much as anyone else. I just don’t really want to watch people who seem lost, you know? And I don’t want to look lost in my clothes. I rather greatly enjoy people who seem found.
Sure, do it.
Did you learn anything about fashion from appearing on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse?
Oh, the beatnik jazz puppets, their really cool black-and-white tees and their little round glasses. I heavily lean towards those. But I have always loved a uniform. A great peacoat, a great t-shirt, clothes that know who they are. That’s the way to do it. Oh wait!
I gotta go. I’m at the set. Are you all good? I gotta go to work!
“Her beauty and her brain go not together.” —William Shakespeare