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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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