Summer tends to be the season of the teenager—on the streets, at the movies, in your memories. Back towards the end of our teenage years, Natasha Lyonne landed a series of roles in summer flicks (Slums of Beverly Hills, But I'm a Cheerleader and The American Pie movies) that marked her as a teen that seemed a little bit off the beaten path. Not long after that, she would begin making headlines for a personal life that took her even further off that path, so far that many wondered whether she would make it out of her twenties.
Natasha did just that, cleaning up her act and turning 30 this past spring. She has quietly been putting back together a little career for herself: an off-Broadway play here, a role in an upcoming Mickey Rourke movie there. Tonight she'll be at 92Y Tribeca, introducing her new movie, The Immaculate Conception of Little Drizzle, a sci-fi thriller described as one of the strangest and most oddly charming films to come out of Sundance this year. She talked with us about the point in which eating grilled cheese all the time stops being funny, how turning your nose up at the East Village is nothing new and the lasting shadow of your teenage years.
So what's this for? A blog? Yeah, since people don't read the newspapers anymore, they come to us. I swear to God. I mean, what have these times come to? You know what I mean?
They've changed really quick and we're adapting as fast as we can. You should see the size of this cell phone! Like I still use the old-timey one.
You mean the Zack Morris ones? (Laughs) Yeah...
Are you a Saved by the Bell fan? I kind of wanna say no to be really honest with you, but then again I was born in '79. I didn't really have much choice in the matter, ya know? Before I really defined my tastes.
Oh puh-leez! Well, you need to check out Mark-Paul Gosselaar doing the Jimmy Fallon show recently where he did the whole interview as Zack, big phone and all—one of the strangest things I've seen on TV. Oh wow, good for him. Is this yet another classy resurrection or something? A whole 'nother wave of careers or something.
Yeah, classy. Exactly what I was thinking. Well I mean classy with a 'K.' I mean, let's be honest. The guy's always gonna be—oh, I don't wanna be mean. Sometimes you feel like maybe famous people aren't real, so it's okay to make fun of them. But the way you make it sound, he's probably reading Gothamist right now. I don't wanna hurt his feelings!
So you're living in New York these days? I'm from New York. I live in New York. Down in the East Village. I just got my coffee.
Oh, do you go to Ninth Street Espresso down there? Yes, in fact I do. Now Mark-Paul Gosselaar knows where I live and is gonna come to my house and beat me.
And now you can go to the one on Avenue B if you don't wanna walk all the way over to C. But then you can't really sit. Well they have a bench at the one on B. And stoops—stoops are very happening. Stoops are making a comeback. They're big in the summer.
Do you have a favorite spot around town? The Film Forum. Yesterday I happened to see Food, Inc. but what's probably more interesting is the day before that. I saw In a Lonely Place, that Nicholas Ray movie with Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. The only reason I say that it's more interesting is that old movies are usually the kinds of movie I go see there. But that Food, Inc. movie was sad. I mean, I was crying. There's something really fucked up about the state of affairs, the audacity of the system.
It's hard not to feel helpless. I think what's difficult is that it's hard to understand that it's really a personal responsibility because that seems like so much more effort.
So you're a Film Forum member? Yes. Someday I hope to be rich enough to have my own placard, my own seat.
Do you have any favorite "Only in New York" moments? Well I remember when I first got back to New York and I was doing that Mike Leigh play that Scott Elliot directed. I was staying in midtown so I'd be close to the theater. And I would walk around listening to my iPod. I'd be walking around with all the big buildings listening to "Back in a New York Groove," that Ace Frehley song. That would feel very New York—looking at the buildings, riding the subway. Oh yeah!
You turned thirty recently. How's the new decade treating you? I hear your thirties are supposed to be good. I heard you come into your own and relax a little. We'll see. I made it—that was the first surprise of thirty. And that was also the first bummer of thirty. (Laughs) It's kind of exciting to re-evaluate. If I'm gonna become a grown-up, then I wanna make a little life for myself. I recently got some stuff out of storage and I was really a teenager back in my twenties. Like I have a whole bunch of Lenny Bruce and Kierkegaard and Surrealism and The Velvet Underground, ya know? And who am I now? I haven't really worked up some adult character yet.
Stuff like, I may wanna become a cook or something. I may wanna take a macrobiotic cooking class. Whereas before it was hilarious ordering in grilled cheese and fries and once in a while being like, "Hey let's scramble up some pasta!" or "These eggs taste weird." If we're really gonna do this thing, you really wanna make a full-body delight for yourself.
I just wanna make a sauce. Yeah, or just sauce.
I was watching a Sex in the City rerun recently and Mr. Big was having Carrie taste the sauce he made. And there's something about having your own sauce worth tasting. I wanna be a part of that. Hey, is it a bit of a setup that you keep referencing Sex in the City and Saved by the Bell? That puts me in sort of a fucked up position! (laughs) I don't mean like it matters. But if I respond, I'm forced to talk about Sex in the City.
This is how I talk. This is how I interact with the world. It's how I connect with people! Billy, we might have an issue to discuss—about your viewing pleasure, about what you're into. (laughs) I'm just saying that your thirties are coming and it may be time to rearrange your priorities. I'm just putting it out there. You might wanna think about a little Bergman.
All right, fine. Here's something—as you gained a bad reputation and people knew about your exploits from the press, did you see a change in the types of roles you get offered? Am I being offered to play drug addicts regularly? The answer is no. What changed is that I didn't wanna work. I didn't care. Obviously behaving badly doesn't do wonders for your career in any profession, more just on a responsibility level. But more importantly it doesn't do wonders for your soul.
Have you been getting to work a lot lately? Yeah, it's been really nice. It feels like that stuff is behind me. Time is going by and it feels like I'm going to be all right. It's kind of amazing, ya know? I could have been really screwed. It's kind of amazing to be given the chance to make a living at it again and do good work again after the self-destructive mission I put myself through. And it's kind of amazing that I wanted to do it all again. I went from being a person that didn't wanna live to being a person who's cleaning out my storage space and maybe even taking a macrobiotic cooking class.
So now maybe I don't even know the kind of career I wanna have. But it's pretty cool that I get to figure that out. I was a child actor, which is not something that I'm proud of—aside from the fact that I'm on Pee-Wee's Playhouse, which I'm proud of. But obviously it wasn't like that was a choice. It wasn't like that was my career move as a six-year old. "Oh, I wanna be in show business!" I wasn't fucking Shirley Temple. And I doubt that she wanted to be. So that by sixteen when I was cast in this Woody Allen movie, right after that I was really angry that I wasn't given the choice to go to college and be a philosophy major. I never had time to figure out what I wanted to do with this life. I just bumbled along from one job to the next. It was really great, a lot of it. But I don't think I understood that I had a choice. So it's really good that I got take a self-imposed break and now I get to do it from a place of choice.
So when you took this break, did you consider doing something that wasn't acting since that was so tied up in your past? Yeah, but then I tried to picture myself at NASA and as I tried to explain everything to everyone there, they'd be like, "Oh look, it's the girl from American Pie." So I thought that that would not get me as much respect in the boardroom as I was looking for. But yeah, I write—I have a writing partner, my friend Adam Roth. We hang out and write some funny stuff. I kind of saw myself producing stuff and maybe that's down the line. But to be honest what I'm working on is developing a quality of life that's fucking awesome. And then a job just becomes another element of that, but it's not the center of it. It's not the goal.
Are you doing anything special for the tenth anniversary of American Pie? No, I didn't know that it had happened. Congratulations.
Congratulations to you. No, congratulations to youuu. No, I haven't done anything yet. But it's weird cause I don't plan to. I'll get Tara Reid to lose her virginity for the tenth anniversary. No, I know that she lost it in the movie.
It's hard to do these interviews when you're trying to control your mouth a little. It takes the fun away. And these phone interviews are tough.
Next time we'll have to do it in-person. I actually think we used to go to the same bar sometimes—McManus on 19th Street? Oh yeah, near the Upright Citizens Brigade. You hang out there?
Well I used to back when I did improv all the time. Look at us, we're two people trying to be funny and failing.