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Natasha Lyonne’s Resident “Evil”

Natasha Lyonne’s Resident “Evil”  (photo)

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President Obama may know that Lindsay Lohan is in the clink, but although Natasha Lyonne says her heart goes out to the blighted actress, she is trying not to think about it. Five years after her own meltdown made headlines and was mercilessly picked over by Gawker jackals, she is working, relatively content and a total scream to talk to.

Lyonne is following up her role as Deborah (that’s Deh-BOR-ah) Tennis, a deranged theater manager-turned-director of stylish snuff films in “All About Evil” (a horror romp directed by San Francisco camp guru — and drag queen — Joshua Grannell), with a couple of theater gigs, one an eight-month stint, the longest commitment she has ever made. “Knowing that I’m going to be able to show up is insane to me,” she says, adding that she’s hoping that she will emerge from the New Group production of “Blood From a Stone” (also starring Roseanne Barr) as “a real actor.”

Those are humble words from someone who has been in the business for 25 years, but Lyonne is not so much modest as finally open to the possibility. I spoke with her about falling back in love with acting, the tragic absurdity of silent movie queens, and battling the proverbial Angie Harmons of the mind. [Spoilers ahead.]

07302010_NatashaLyonneAllAboutEvil4.jpgHow did you meet Joshua, how did you hear about this project?

Tom Richmond — who is my favorite DP, the guy who shot “Slums of Beverly Hills” — was going to be the cinematographer on “All About Evil,” and that was how I ended up signing up for it. Since he was doing it and it was in San Francisco, I developed an open mind. My concern was just, the idea of how you flesh out this person, how you make her a human being. Once I spoke to Joshua, I found out we had a lot in common and we started to visualize it, and it started to seem like it was going to be a real filmmaker experience — like one of these indie extravaganzas that are right up my alley.

There was also this woman that I knew — I had this brief stint in Miami, before the DUI, actually — her name was Doris Wishman. She was the first female exploitation filmmaker, and she was incredible. I was this kid who had been raised in New York, and now all of a sudden, my mother decided that she was a Jewish divorcée and therefore she should be living in Miami Beach. I was totally lost out there, but somehow wound up making friends with this 80-year-old woman. And Joshua actually had a history with her — she’s since passed away — she was one of Joshua’s idols, this interesting, epic lady, and we started talking about this idea of my character, Deborah, as a Doris Wishman-esque kind of person.

I’m also obsessed with a lot of old movies — I spend a lot of time at Film Forum — with that whole era of women in film, Norma Shearer and Barbara Stanwyck, Lombard, all those jams. That was something Joshua and I had in common. Because to be honest, the whole slasher, B-movie genre… even though I make a ton of B-movies, I don’t think it’s that intentional — it’s more circumstance than anything else [laughs]. That wasn’t really what held me. What got me was the idea of how ego can be so all-consuming and all-corrupting.

07302010_NatashaLyonneAllAboutEvil5.jpgAll of those themes are trapped in me, and I wanted to explore them through the eyes of somebody who had grown up in a movie house, who had seen those movies for years as a chubby shy girl, fantasizing and becoming more and more delusional — if only I could be a screen idol. In general, our culture has become so disturbingly obsessed with that idea: like, if only I get famous. Yeah, but then what, dude? I liked the idea of exploring that stuff in a very strange comedy — doing it with a hammer is boring and reductive to me. I’m somebody who believes in funny things, and laughing, but I do like for them to come from a place that addresses the human condition.

It felt like an interesting cross between a campy horror flick and a very dark comedy — part of that darkness was this implied critique between audiences who can’t tell the difference anymore — and maybe don’t care — between what’s real and what’s not on screen. Deborah’s patrons are so turned on by the “gritty” realism of her short horror films (in which she’s actually killing people).

Joshua’s a very smart guy, and there are a lot of layers to it. Why is realism so exciting? This is when I begin to feel really outdated, as a person with a certain aesthetic, but I have to say: Cassavetes. [His films] are what got me so amped on the idea of acting anyway. But somewhere along the way the idea of realism — if it were ever meant to be positive, or could be — got lost in, what’s the word from “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof”? Mendacity!

07302010_NatashaLyonneAllAboutEvil6.jpgBut I do like the juxtaposition of the reality thing mixed with her doing throwbacks to people like Joan Crawford: it’s like that mixture is her version of the truth. In trying to find some logic in the character, I broke down scenes based on which movie star she was pulling from her Rolodex of insanity at any a given moment. I wanted her to start as Lillian Gish — now, none of this actually registers in the movie [laughs] — and end somewhere past Joan Crawford and into Tim Curry in “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

That scene where I’m in the projection room, and I kill my mother — I don’t know if you’ve seen Clara Bow’s first talkie, “Call Her Savage,” and she’s still acting like she’s in a silent film, but she actually has words? It’s insane, and there’s this legendary scene where’s she’s trying to pet a Great Dane, but she’s so overzealous in her acting that she seems to be, like, humping the Great Dane? For that scene, I thought Deborah should have the reaction that a silent film actor would have to the murder of her mother. I knew stuff like that would keep me occupied, you know?

You’ve said that you don’t watch your movies — have you not watched this one with an audience? It seems like that experience is a key part of the film.

I saw bits of it in San Francisco — I’d like to work my way up to seeing the whole thing, eventually. But pretty much as a rule I try to catch them late at night, on cable, seven years after the fact.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.