Russian Doll: Natasha Lyonne’s Most Underappreciated Roles

Natasha Lyonne is incredible in Netflix Russian Doll, but she's been doing sterling work for years.

Russian Doll is brilliant. But you probably know that by now. Natasha Lyonne absolutely shines as Nadia, the hard-living, guilt-stricken star of Netflix’s newest must-binge existential comedy drama.

We’ll say no more to avoid spoilers, though there’s a slight spoiler in the final paragraph of this article (and here’s our spoiler-free review)but if you’ve seen it, here’s what we think the ending is all about, and here’s what we’d expect from a second season.

However, Leonne has shone in a whole range of TV and film roles, and often these are indie projects that might have passed you by. So if, like us, you adored Russian Doll, miss it and wish you hadn’t watched all of it in one go so there’d still be some left to watch, check out these seven other classy performance from an underappreciated talent.

Vivian Abromowitz – Slums Of Beverly Hills (1998)

Although barely making back its budget upon its release in the late ’90s, Slums Of Beverly Hills has become a cult classic, and a lot of that is down to Lyonne’s central performance as Vivian, a girl growing up in near-poverty in one of the richest and most glamorous places in the world.

As they move from one cheap apartment to another, hoping that their precarious existence doesn’t fall apart on them for good, Vivian’s family are almost all in various stages of decay and uncertainty in their lives, while she has to cope with growing up without a mother to help her through the standard things a girl has to deal with in her teens.

It’s testament to Lyonne’s natural talent and inherent watchability that she steals almost every scene she’s in, even when she’s standing next to the likes of Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, and Carl Reiner.

Megan Bloomfield – But I’m A Cheerleader (1999)

Lyonne teamed with writer/director Jamie Babbit who directed three episodes of Russian Doll for this sharp comedy satire. Lyonne plays Megan Bloomfield, a high school cheerleader who’s sent to a conversion therapy camp when her family and friends suspect she’s a lesbian, where she meets and falls in love with Clea Duvall’s Graham Eaton.

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This was Babbit’s first film (she’s since gone on to be one of the most interesting TV directors around, exec producing Silicon Valley, and working on everything from Santa Clarita Diet and Brooklyn Nine-Nine to Girls and many many more top shows) and it’s become something of a cult classic with a great cast including RuPaul (out of drag) and Melanie Lynskey, though it’s Lyonne’s performance that sits at the heart of the movie.

Crystal “White Girl” Van Meter – Freeway II: Confessions Of A Trickbaby (1999)

Matthew Bright decided to follow up his critically adored – but financially unsuccessful – low budget crime story, Freeway, with this fast sequel that was ultimately ignored or forgotten by just about everyone. Where the first movie was loosely based on Little Red Riding Hood, the follow-up film had a Hansel And Gretel vibe, and in this one, Natasha Lyonne and Maria Celedonio play two desperate sociopaths on the run from hefty jail sentences.

Confessions Of A Trickbaby is an exploitation movie and a half, and it’s ripe for rediscovery. Lyonne puts in a completely off-the-chain performance here as Crystal, and the plot supports it – spree killing, necrophilia, cannibalism, prostitution, binge-eating and messy, drug-fuelled benders all manage to feature in what could be referred to unobjectively as 97 solid minutes of utter celluloid madness. Brown Bunny boy Vincent Gallo popping in for the last third of the film as a BDSM-loving witch/cult leader/pimp/child murderer is only just barely the weirdest thing in this lost Lyonne classic. Try to track it down if you get the chance.

Jessica – American Pie (1999)

As she tells it, Natasha Lyonne turned down the part of Jessica in 1999’s American Pie multiple times before coming aboard. While she credits the teen franchise as a paycheck that helped to launch her indie film career, its suburban frat comedy wasn’t her bag.

That didn’t stop Lyonne showcasing her laidback wit as East Great Falls High’s voice-of-experience. As the group’s sole non-virgin, Jessica acted as the Masters and Johnson of her graduating class. She gave sex advice, rolled her eyes, and pretty much herded pals Kevin and Vicky into bed together by running around barking at them like a sex-sheepdog in a ’90s bucket hat.

Sarah – The Intervention (2016)

Lyonne reunited with her old pals and But I’m A Cheerleader co-stars Clea DuVall and Melanie Lynskey for this smart comedy-drama, which was also DuVall’s directorial debut. She plays the girlfriend of DuVall’s character – one of three couples who invite their bickering mates (Cobie Smulders and Vincent Piazza) away on a weekend break in order to stage a marriage intervention.

Further Reading: Russian Doll Ending Explained

Sound like a typical Sundance movie? Well, that’s because it is one – The Intervention premiered at the Utah film fest back in 2016, and picked up plaudits for its ensemble cast’s likeable chemistry. Not least Lyonne and DuVall, who cast her mate after they played lovers in Cheerleader. Their onscreen history and real-life friendship “really lent itself to be able to play girlfriends in a way that felt authentic,” DuVall reckoned in an interview.

Lou – Antibirth (2016)

Lyonne co-produced and stars in this extreme psychedelic body-horror which seriously pushes the boundaries of grossness for anyone not comfortable with gore. And also anyone who is. Lyonne plays Lou, a hard-drinking, drug-addled woman who wakes after a party experiencing symptoms akin to pregnancy, though she insists she hasn’t had sex in almost a year.

Conspiracy theories, experimental drugs, human trafficking, space travel and some seriously freaky dreams collide in this odd punk rock exploitationer but they don’t begin to describe the nuclear scale messed-up-ness in store. Lyonne is never less than committed.

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Nicky Nichols – Orange Is The New Black (2013-present)

Lyonne’s “Junkie Philosopher” Nicky Nichols is an easy character to like on Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black. Sarcastic, sexy, and quick with a dark joke in almost any circumstance, she’s also been through hell with a heroin dependency, an addiction that saw her land in jail and go cold turkey in the show for an extended period.

Nicky’s history is complex compared to some of the other inmates in OITNB, in that she was born into wealth and opportunity, but having been raised by a nanny instead of her neglectful and spiteful mother, she’s always chasing a high to fill the hole left by absent love. She feels a lingering sense of guilt at having wasted her chances at a better life when she could have made better choices, although she’d rather die than be seen as weak by her peers.

Further Reading: What Will Happen in Russian Doll Season 2?

A sliver of what makes Lyonne’s recent Russian Doll character, Nadia, so compelling could arguably be sourced back to her OITNB role, at least for fans of that series. Lyonne’s powerhouse portrayal of an existentially lost woman at the depths of addiction is also a possible path often hinted at in the various nixed timelines of the streaming service’s most recent showcase for the actress, and Lyonne’s own issues with addiction have no doubt served her performances well in both roles. Knowing what she’s been through in real life has us rooting for her on screen as both Nicky and Nadia.

Russian Doll is available to watch now on Netflix.