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Variety Studio: Actors on Actors – Natasha Lyonne and Maya Rudolph


Ramin: Emmy Award nominees Natasha Lyonne
and Maya Rudolph are not only good friends but also producing partners. On television both headline high-concept TV
series that play with ideas of time and space. On “Russian Doll” Natasha Lyonne stars as
a New Yorker reliving her 36th birthday over and over again. Nadia Vulvokov: Or maybe I’ve committed some
serious misdeeds, and you could come and talk to me about that. Tonight would be super hot, okay? For my birthday, tell me if I am a bad person. Okay, cool. Ramin: On the series “Forever,” SNL veteran
Maya Rudolph offers a portrait of a woman who is forced to continue a strained marriage
in the afterlife. June Hoffman: Oh, I got it. Massage. Oscar Hoffman: It’s risky. June: How come? Oscar: Because of the masseuse. Might get a talker. June: Ah. Oscar: “Yeah, you live around here?” June: Oh, no. Oscar: “Hey, wanna listen to some music?” June: Urgh. Oscar: “Oh, I love music.” June: Ew. Maya: Because I know you well, “Russian Doll”
is such a–why– I should say this. Why “Russian Doll” now? Because to me the show is so all encompassing
of you and everything that you do, but it’s interesting to me that you’re doing it right
now in your life, because I feel like if people don’t know you and everything that you are
capable of in front of and behind the camera, they may not– now they know. The secret’s out. Like, sorry, but your secret’s out. You’re fantastic. But why did you– why is it now? Or is it more or less like, “Finally”? Natasha Lyonne: Yeah, it’s a little of both. Maya: ‘Cause I understand it wasn’t overnight. Natasha: Frankly, it’s also– it’s a bit of
a challenge to kind of like receive so much positivity and almost ask myself, like, “What
took so long?” Because, you know, obviously we’ve known each
other for 20 years, and I’ve been wired this way pretty much the whole time, you know? úAnd I guess things just sort of appear on
their own timeline. Maya: Yeah, because I feel like I want to
even sort of– I mean, I’m asking, like, the universe why now, because we never know. But at the same time I almost wanna say, like,
in creating a show, sometimes as actors, we don’t think that we can do that. Not everybody gets the memo, like, “If you
build it, they will come.” Like, if you wanna do it, do it. Natasha: Well, I think it’s a new era, you
know? I mean, we’re women, which means 97 different
things. And also, though, I’d heard– someone told
me once that you need to develop the talent to back up the talent and– Maya: Amen. Hallelujah. Natasha: In many ways I think that that’s
why “Russian Doll” now and not five years ago or ten years ago. You know, yes, mortality and, like, you know,
the sort of inner panic of like, “Well, now that I actually am gonna get to make things,
and I don’t wanna run outta time.” But at the same time, you know, is it possible
that there sort of was no time before this one where I actually would have been able
to just show up for the good news of it, let alone the actual production? Why did you similarly choose to be interested
in a show about mortality and why now? Maya: I feel like now, so much more than ever
in my life, it is fascinating to me, and I feel like it’s an itch that I just wanna scratch. I wanna talk about it, I wanna know more about
it, and I– to be more specific, not just the idea of death, but the idea of what else
is there. Is there anything else? Is this it? I mean, on a great day I’m gonna say, like,
“What if we get to see our loved ones? What if there is something else? What if this is the beginning?” You know, how could we be here and experience
all this joy and pain and beauty and art and, really, just for what? Nothing? Like, absolutely nothing? We’re all gonna be gone. Natasha: And yet I would objectively categorize
both “Russian Doll” and “Forever” as being deeply optimistic shows about– yes, they’re
about the human condition. Yes, they’re existential in nature. Yes, life and death, but mostly life ultimately. Like, they use death as a way in to talk about
life and how much relationships matter ultimately, which I’ve heard you talk about with Alan
Yang, the showrunner on “Forever,” as being sort of key to yours and Fred’s interests. Maya: I feel like that’s what set– úI feel
like there is a lot more death talk going on in shows and that’s really exciting and
in entertainment, but I– and, by the way, I’m right there. Like, I can’t wait to see it, talk about it. I love it. You get to die and come back. I love it. Keep dying. Keep coming back. Keep, like, falling into manholes. I love it, but the idea that, like, no matter
where you go, there you are. Like, to me the comedy of “Forever” is the
fact that, like, they’re still in the banality of this marriage and you really think like,
“Or maybe I’m not so happy. I don’t know.” And then your husband dies, and you’re like,
“Wow! I really didn’t realize what I had. I had someone that loved me and I loved unconditionally
and, yeah, we had challenges, but if I put all my stuff in a pot, I would take all my
stuff back,” right? úBut then you’re with them really, like,
for all eternity, and you’re like, “Oh, this is a little boring.” Natasha: Well, and on a sort of deeper sort
of tangential but connected level, úI would say that for both of us also the experience
was I want it to mirror the true experience of the onset experience. I created a rationale with Amy Poehler and
Leslye Headland and the idea of getting to, you know, spend time in that way with Amy,
who had created another show prior to that, and it was in creating that other show that
didn’t happen that we were like, “We wanna spend more time getting to dig deep and kind
of make things together.” Maya: You’re very, very inherently funny. Natasha: Thank you. Maya: And I feel like it’s probably what drew
me to you before, like when we became friends, like I think it was ’cause I was like, “Oh,
oh, this broad gets it.” Natasha: Yeah, and I do get it. Maya: But you’re also deep. You’re very, very deep. Like, the majority of our time spent together
is very, like, life-affirming, deep conversations and then also just, like, the heavy hand in
which you guide your life in terms of, like, your choices and your– how you wanna go about
your day and how you take care of yourself is just, like, so together, really, just like
a true, true adult. See, I see you wincing. You don’t think so. Natasha: No, I actually– I do, and I love
that you see the truth in me in that way, and I think for– maybe one of the things
I admire so much is that we can be in the middle of the deepest, you know, heaviest,
what does it all mean existentially– on our TV programs we both chose to make very existential
shows, you know? But then I can watch you sort of flip. Like, if a waiter comes over and we’re eating
and we’re talking about it, and you can kind of, like, light up the room. That is so sort of loving and hilarious, with
such kind of seamless ease. That that flip in you of the performer is
innate and genuinely wants to bring joy, I think, and it’s– the way that you’re able
to kind of hold both so honestly is something I admire of you. I really admire it. Maya: It’s the tap dance. Natasha: Yeah.

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