I'm going broke, and need to move to a smaller place. I should be out apartment hunting, but instead, I'm ignoring financial woes and vacillating between delusions, denial and a screaming nervous breakdown. My rent is too high, but I love where I'm living, and moving is too much of a pain in the ass. I have to cut back somewhere. I've agreed to give up Netflix.
My neighbor plays ice hockey with mogul Jerry Bruckheimer and a skating klatch of Hollywood heavies. He has Netflix. We've started watching Orange is the New Black, and I'm hooked. There's the amazing Taylor Schilling, a great character called Crazy Eyes, a you-can't-keep-your-eyes-off-her meth addict/religious fanatic, Laura Prepon from That 70's Show, a hauntingly catchy theme song by Regina Spektor and the one and only Natasha Lyonne, who I've loved since she caught my eye in Woody Allen's 1996 musical comedy Everyone Says I Love You.
Natasha Lyonne is great in Orange is the New Black. Frankly, she's great in everything: The Slums of Beverly Hills, But I'm a Cheerleader, the American Pie films. She's even a great survival story, having slugged her way back from a hellish world of addictions, legal battles and dangerous health scares. Still standing, Lyonne hasn't stopped delivering kick ass work with a unique edge; a feeling that she's not taking herself -- or anyone else -- too seriously. With her trademark red mane and cigar-chomping New York accent, Lyonne's presence is as engaging as ever in her latest film G.B.F., a teen comedy in which a gay high school boy is pursued by three popular mean girls who all want him as their latest fashion accessory, a gay best friend. It's a funny and sweet film, starring the chick from Pretty Little Liars, featuring a nice turn by Megan Mullally and directed by the dude who helmed Jawbreaker.
I'm about to talk with Natasha Lyonne, but there's a little something troubling me. I've just spilled a large mug of organic coffee all over myself. The coffee stain is wet and dark and growing. It's most uncomfortable and, oddly, not the first time I've spilled a beverage on myself before talking to a movie star.
Years ago, somewhere along Sunset Boulevard, I accidentally dumped a glass of cabernet on my shirt, and had the intoxicated nerve to ask/beg Scarlett Johansson to have a drink or dinner with me. Scarlett good-naturedly passed, and I slunk away, dejected, yet proud of myself for actually going for it. To this day, I sometimes have the audacity to wonder if things would have turned out differently if I'd just tried another approach, if I'd only said the perfect thing. Maybe then Scarlett would have accepted? It's delusional. Writers think they can control the outcome of this kind of thing with proper wording. We can't. It's not how life works. Scarlett Johansson is going to do what Scarlett Johansson is going to do.
But back to Natasha Lyonne.
In G.B.F., Natasha plays a teacher, encouraging her students to keep an open mind and not judge fellow students by their sexual orientation. I ask Natasha why she wanted to get involved in G.B. F., and what she hopes an audience will take away from it?
"The script actually made me laugh," Lyonne says.
It felt like a brand new language. I think the purpose of a great film is to slowly chip away at and hopefully crack open people's minds. I grew up in Manhattan, and I've always had all kinds of people around me. I've always had a very 'live and let live' point of view. The idea that people are still suffering at the hands of homophobia is very intense for me. It's shocking. It's terrifying. It makes me lose faith in society. It's deeply disturbing that things like this still exist at this level.
"I think we all know by now that I'm clearly a bit of a weird one," Lyonne continues.
So obviously, I have a deep compassion for the idea that it's okay to be myself. The idea that anything 'other' is bad and wrong and broken is so wildly off base. There's something in our society that makes it seem like homogeneity is the goal in life. I think it's important to know there are many options in life, and all of them are okay. The fact that I'm still having to answer questions like: 'How do you feel about playing a gay character?' is shocking to me. The implication is that this isn't a human being. It really hits me hard.
Natasha Lyonne is a sensitive and caring soul. She wants the world to do the right thing, and is too pure of heart to accept anything less. I'm interested in getting to know her better, and I ask what matters to her, and what she thinks makes her such an exceptional artist?
"I think it's important, as a human being, to tell the truth," Lyonne says.
It's one of my defining characteristics, to my own detriment, and it's my responsibility at work. At the same time, I have a deep-seated inability to take things too seriously. I always see the absurdity in most situations. It's my experience of how life works. It's like The Denial of Death. We all know we're going to die, and yet, we are having this really exciting, amazing, what feels like a very important experience. It feels so real now that we're here and alive. It feels very high stakes. But there is a kind of underlying troublemaker inside of me that says, 'Hey, I know you think this is really high stakes, but you're going to die.' I think I like to bring that with me, because I don't know how to shake it.
"I think a lot of young people need to bone up on their references," Lyonne continues.
When I was a young person working, everybody was older than me, so I had to kind of keep up. I'd see every movie, and listen to everything played, and read all the relevant books. Being an actor, it's kind of your job to know what came before you and how big your feelings are allowed to be. The other day, I was listening to music in the car. David Bowie came on the radio, and I turned it all the way up. Maybe I'm a grown-up now, and maybe I'm not a troublemaking, self-destructive person anymore, but I still have those big feelings if I listen to a great song that loudly. I still can feel those big feelings and actually know where to put them. It's your job to take those feelings into work and see it all. The beautiful, painful thing of life.
Natasha and I start to wrap up. The coffee stain has soaked through my clothes, and tension over my impending financial doom suddenly invades my consciousness.
A couple thousand dollars would ease my troubled mind, and I wonder what would happen if I asked Natasha Lyonne for $2,000? It would mean the world to me, and -- with the staggering success of Orange is the New Black -- I'm guessing there's a chance she wouldn't even miss it. Maybe she'd write me a check? I know thoughts like this shouldn't cross my mind, but sometimes they do. Thankfully, I'm able to contain them. Thankfully, I'm able to see the light and drop this nonsensical way of thinking.
I know there are healthier ways of making ends meet than by depending on the kindness of Natasha Lyonne. I just have to muster up the discipline to find them.
G.B.F. opens in theaters on January 17
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