Old friends Natasha Lyonne and Melanie Lynskey have lots to reminisce about, having first forged a bond during the filming of the 1999 Kiss-inspired movie “Detroit Rock City.” But their most memorable on-screen pairing was in another movie that premiered that year — director Jamie Babbit’s queer cult classic “But I’m a Cheerleader.”
A quarter century into their friendship, Lynskey and Lyonne appreciate that both of their careers are peaking now that they’re in their 40s. On Showtime’s “Yellowjackets,” Lynskey plays Shauna, a reckless New Jersey housewife traumatized by her experiences in the wilderness as a teenager. In the Peacock howdunit “Poker Face,” Lyonne portrays human lie-detector Charlie Cale, who solves crimes as she traverses the country while on the run.
NATASHA LYONNE: Welcome to my soundstage. I told you I bought one.
MELANIE LYNSKEY: I was surprised at that choice, but it’s beautiful.
LYONNE: You know that had always been a dream of mine ever since my teenage years — to buy a soundstage — because that’s how long we’ve known each other. When did we meet?
LYNSKEY: When I was 21 and you were 19. On “Detroit Rock City,” a classic.
LYONNE: I don’t think that’s true, because of “Heavenly Creatures.” I was so obsessed with you prior to “Detroit Rock City” that in my mind, we already knew each other.
LYNSKEY: That’s sweet.
LYONNE: You’ve always had a stronger handle on reality, and it’s coming through yet again. How did we end up in the back of a limousine on our way to a Kiss concert with Clea DuVall and Jamie Babbit and Michelle Williams and —
LYNSKEY: No Michelle Williams.
LYONNE: I have photos. I did not recall that she was there until I saw the photos. I’m assuming this is leading into “But I’m a Cheerleader,” but we’re on our way to a Kiss concert.
LYNSKEY: We had to go to the Kiss concert, contractually, as people who had been in the Kiss movie. I was supposed to accept a rose when they sang the song “Beth,” because my character was named Beth. And I said, “Please, let another lady have the opportunity.”
LYONNE: And you didn’t accept the rose? You would not excel on “The Bachelor.”
LYONNE: Neither would I. You were Beth in the Kiss picture. I was Christine. We had wild times in Toronto, and then we brought that train ride back to Los Angeles.
LYNSKEY: And you suggested me for “But I’m a Cheerleader.”
LYONNE: I wanted you to be in all the movies. And, of course, Clea DuVall had put me in the movie because the script for “But I’m a Cheerleader” was on the floor of her car, and I was in the passenger seat. So I picked it up and I said, “What’s this movie? What’s my part?” She said, “You can’t play this part, because you’re not this type of person.” And I said, “Excusez-moi, ‘Girl, Interrupted.’” We went over to Jamie’s house, and boy, did we show her. “Watch what I can’t cheerlead,” I said.
LYNSKEY: Well, you did an amazing job.
LYONNE: Thank you. It’s a cult classic. It feels like a John Waters movie.
LYNSKEY: At the time, nobody liked it, and now everybody likes it. I do feel like the movie was very ahead of its time. Did you have any hesitation, I guess, telling that story about somebody who was in conversion therapy?
LYONNE: I was not hesitant at all. I’m consistently shocked by the things we consider shocking. I find it very patronizing when we say something like, “Oh, did you see that this straight male actor is playing gay? Bravo.” And it never crossed my mind to not try to use the arts to tell the truth about what’s going on. When Clea and I were on the cover of Out magazine, it just seemed so weird to me that people would care. It felt like what you’re supposed to care about is the conversion-therapy part. And we’re supposed to try to stop that. And I would say my biggest beef with the world is how insane it seems to me that certain people think they have a God-given right to tell other people how to live. And you’re seeing all these crazy things happening now about — we’re going to remove facts from books. I’m never not struck by how dark and weird it is that we’ve indemnified a certain totally arbitrary group of people with the power to actually impact other people’s human rights. I remember Clea and I were at Sundance with “But I’m a Cheerleader.” And Sundance is in Utah, which is a notoriously open-minded place. That’s a joke, Melanie Lynskey.
LYNSKEY: I get it.
LYONNE: These kids would be crying and saying, “Thank you for putting out the film.” And I remain so proud of “But I’m a Cheerleader,” and so genuinely confused that we’re in such deep future. Prince could only conceive of 1999.
Just to segue organically to a show called “Yellowjackets” — Shauna’s an incredible character. This morning, and most mornings, I was thinking about the joy of a double life and how I miss having one. Right now, I have a single life. I don’t mean that I’m single, I mean that I miss vices. I was thinking about Shauna, and she has multiple lives going.
LYNSKEY: I did not think I’d be, at this point in my life, getting to play someone who’s this complicated and interesting and difficult and funny.
LYONNE: The way you play her is so specific. Selfishly, I think it’s very fun to watch you shine this hard, this consistently, over the past few years. It’s such a nuanced and rare thing: the way you hold a gun, or the way you enjoy a murder, even as you know that it shouldn’t be happening. Is that baked into the DNA of the scripts?
LYNSKEY: Yeah, there’s a lot of things in the writing where they’re expressing a lot of different emotions at once. It’s fun to get to play saying something and feeling another. How much were you involved in creating the character?
LYONNE: It’s been a good time for us, and I’m grateful. It hasn’t always been this way — let’s be honest. There’s been times where we’ve been at auditions in rooms and weird buildings walking around with little pages, and both knowing that we’re not going to get it. In creating Charlie Cale with Rian Johnson for “Poker Face,” we basically did a lot of steak-and-french-friestogether meals. So we would meet up, and I was very tight with his wife, Karina Longworth. Are you familiar with Karina?
LYNSKEY: Yeah, she is a genius.
LYONNE: Karina and I were friends. And so Rian and I ended up sitting at a book signing of hers, and next thing I knew we were cooking up this idea. I think he’d seen “Russian Doll,” and I’m never very far from Peter Falk or Elliott Gould in “The Long Goodbye” — I try to keep them close. Rian had this idea for doing this one-hour, and I remember us pitching, and the reaction was sort of like, “A procedural? Are you crazy?” And what was so profound and moving to me is that he actually wrote it and sent it to me, and we actually made it.
LYNSKEY: How did you feel when you read that pilot?
LYONNE: I’m just a real softie that way. I’m so moved that somebody who is that much of a giant would actually stop what they were doing and say, “I want this for you so we can make this show together that will go on hopefully for many years, so we can keep going to dinner and keep texting casting ideas, and keep dreaming about fun episodes together.” Do you like knowing what is going to come next with Shauna — the mysteries of where she’s headed? Or what’s happening to teen Shauna?
LYNSKEY: I like knowing ahead. It’s helpful for me to have the history. But I also don’t want them to have to commit to a story that they’re not sure of 100%. Do you like to be surprised?
LYONNE: No. I would say part of what I love about being in the writers’ room is knowing everything that got cut. I really saw it on “Russian Doll.” For me, knowing stuff much more from the inside out, and even being a part of crafting it, has really helped me to accidentally be playing sort of a larger scope of that person’s internal world, even when it’s not on the page. I really enjoy knowing the most.
Set Design: Lucy Holt; Production: Alexey Galetskiy/AGPNYC