Natasha Lyonne on 'Poker Face' Season 1 finale: Show's 'lazy' feel requires hard work

At the end of the first season of “Poker Face,” intuitive super-sleuth Charlie Cale was once again on the run.

That’s bad news for Charlie and great fun for the rest of us.

“Knives Out” creator Rian Johnson will continue his ode to classic ’70s and ’80s shows such as “Columbo” and “Murder, She Wrote” in a second season of the Peacock series (now streaming), as his protagonist (Natasha Lyonne) solves a different crime each episode while playing off top-shelf guest stars.

We caught up with Johnson and Lyonne, who riffed on the first season’s thrills and challenges, which guest stars made them the most nervous and why this throwback format may be just the comforting ticket for our frazzled times.

Charlie Cale, played by Natasha Lyonne, loads up her vintage car in a scene from the first season of the Peacock series "Poker Face." The show was created by Rian Johnson as a tribute to his favorite episodic TV shows from the '70s such as "Columbo" and "Murder, She Wrote."

How did ‘Poker Face’ wrap up?

If you haven’t made it through Episode 10 yet, avert your eyes. If you have, you know that Cale was double-crossed by Cliff (Benjamin Bratt), the henchman for a Las Vegas casino magnate who has been chasing her since the series premiere. 

In the season's final moments, we learn that Cliff, who was secretly working for an Atlantic City casino crime family, is in the FBI's custody. But Cale gets a phone call from the head of the Atlantic City casino saying that there’s nowhere she can hide. And off goes Cale in her rickety but trusty 1969 Plymouth Barracuda.

Of the finale, which Johnson wrote but did not direct, says he loves the way Bratt's LeGrand finally get his due after stalking Cale mercilessly throughout the season. "The way that was handled was perfect, and it was so rewarding to see Benjamin's character set up like that," he says.

Benjamin Bratt plays Cliff Legrand in "Poker Face." Legrand is a henchman for a Las Vegas casino boss who is on the road chasing Charlie Cale, played by Natasha Lyonne. At the end of season one, Legrand finds himself in the clutches of law enforcement.

Why did Natasha Lyonne agree to do ‘Poker Face’?

“Rian is an artist at the peak of his powers, so working with him was something I wanted to do,” says Lyonne, 43, who previously starred in Netflix's “Orange Is The New Black” and “Russian Doll.”

Lyonne says Charlie “aligns with my ideals for making art, in that she’s a lone wolf whose existence makes people feel less alone. What Peter Falk did (in “Columbo”) and Angela Lansbury did (in “Murder She Wrote”) and what we’re trying to do is say, 'Come on this ride with us, come on the adventure.' No one is ever having such a great day, so if we can bring you some relief, well that’s the greatest gift you can hope for as an artist.”

Will Charlie ever have a real love interest?

In Season 1, Charlie is only once seen in love (or perhaps just lust) with a shirtless mountain man hunk, in the ninth episode. Lyonne says her character is no different from her on-the-run male sleuth equivalents and has no interest in being tied down.

Natasha Lyonne stars as Charlie Cale in "Poker Face," a series that finds her super-sleuth character solving a murder mystery each week, alongside guest stars such as Nick Nolte and Ellen Barkin.

“To me, that episode just represents the love interest that we got to see, but it’s within reason to assume she’s been hitting the bars with off-camera hookups,” she says. “I see her character connected to the lineage of (Raymond Chandler detective) Philip Marlowe. So if you’re talking about him or Peter Falk or Jack Nicholson, we’d just assume they weren’t being tied down. It’s just baked into the noir model.”

Is Lyonne having fun playing Charlie Cale?

You’d be surprised at her answer. “To be honest, I’m not having fun,in the sense that I’m working really hard to make it seem very lazy and back foot,” she says, citing a music reference. “To feel that lazy on screen, you have to be unbelievably prepared.”

Natasha Lyonne (left) and Stephanie Hsu (from the hit film "Everything Everywhere All at Once") appear in episode 9 of "Poker Face," a particularly gruesome chapter in the life of Lyonne's on-the-run character, Charlie Cale.

Lyonne says that on top of “memorizing 60 (script) pages a week,” she is also often “storyboarding, scouting and working hard to make sure the special guests feel welcome and get the tone of the show.” She likens their appearances to a musical ensemble. “Acting with people like Nolte and Ellen Barkin, I’m like a session musician. Wow, here comes the Beatles and the Stones. Maybe that’s the fun the camera picks up on.”

What was it like for Lyonne to direct Nick Nolte?

In Episode 8, “The Orpheus Syndrome,” Nolte plays a grizzled veteran of the movie special-effects world facing down a former colleague, played by Cherry Jones. It is the only episode Lyonne directed, and she felt pressure to deliver for her guest stars, especially screen veteran Nolte.

“I was very intimidated” about meeting Nolte, says Lyonne. “But he quickly let me know we were birds of a feather, historical troublemakers, and he was game for whatever. We had a great time. Watching him and Cherry on the monitor was like watching a master class.”

Film star Nick Nolte guests on episode 8 of "Poker Face" as a grizzled veteran of the movie special effects business. The episode was directed by series star Natasha Lyonne, who says initially she was "intimidated" at the prospect of giving Nolte acting suggestions.

What can we expect from the next season of ‘Poker Face’?

Both Johnson and Lyonne respond with a bit of a, well, poker face. “Next year, we’ll figure out a way, like this season, to make it all fresh,” says Johnson. “Safe to say, it won’t be a repeat of Season 1."

Lyonne just laughs. “I mean, I can’t tell you anything because it doesn’t exist yet. But it’ll be very important to both of us that the quality of the work stays high. No one will phone it in.”

So expect more of the same from Johnson and Co. "We know structurally that we want to very much keep this all in episodic case-of-the-week world," he says. That means Cale is once again on the lam, driving from town to town and solving cases as she goes thanks to that twitch in her eye that indicates when someone is lying.

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