Kiss of Fame

Natasha Lyonne aspires to the American cinematic dream: She is seeking a big-budget, action movie with plenty of explosives that actually includes real acting, like that in independent movies. Bad scriptwriters need not apply, she receives plenty of poorly written scripts already. But with her big-screen appearances in American Pie and the KISS homage film, Detroit Rock City(Gene Simmons), her fortune may have changed for the better. See how this aspiring 20-year-old who's too busy for school began her acting career ("Pee-Wee's Playhouse"), describes the perks of celebrity and seeks a competent director for upcoming projects (Scorsese?).
Natasha Lyonne: So, I was out until 5 in the morning last night at the Black Sabbath concert.'s Andy Jones: And how was it?

Amazing. It was epic. It was huge.

Had you seen Ozzy before?

No. I had never seen him before and we also got to see White Zombie, which was a total surprise... I was with Eddie (Furlong) and Jimmy (De Bello) and the lead guitarist recognized Eddie or something. I mean, I'm not that hip or anything.

Have you been into hard-core rock before you did this movie?

Oh, yeah. But I kind of like have my staples that are like more Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and The Beatles and that's one thing, but those bands all kind of fall around there. I think Black Sabbath is definitely one of my favorite bands after seeing them last night, though, for sure.

We hear you're now a big KISS fan.

Well, yeah, of course. But always before this, also. That's why I was so excited to do it. To, like, bring those classic songs to life and that's a serious gift they gave me. I mean, to me, that was, like, really cool.

Did you ever attend any of those concerts before?

No. I did see them on Halloween this last year at the Hollywood Bowl and that was a great show, too. What are they? Pyrotechnics? Those are really funny. Last night they had so many fireworks.

What appealed to you about this role?

There's "Christine Sixteen," a classic song off [KISS'] album and it's getting to be like a part of the rock 'n' roll, KISS history, right? And on the other hand... the script is, like, jam-packed and so is the movie. Kind of really, really bold and tight and characters everywhere all over the place and just her character in particular, just really kind of popped off the page to me, and I just heard her voice and I always thought it would be kind of funny to play a character that was like that. She's not really wisecracking so much as like a spitfire. I mean, like a spitfire, you know, a brassy disco chick with tons and makeup and stuff. I'd never done anything like that and I just thought it would be kind of funny, anyway.

Do you like disco?

No. I don't think so.... I mean, the thing I like best about disco is that movie Saturday Night Fever -- that's probably as close as I get to disco, and I watched that a couple of times. And then I had to watch that other movie, Thank God It's Friday. I won't be checking that one out again real soon. And then there were like a bunch of bad disco compilation CDs that were really painful.

Did you ever sneak into a concert?

Well, last night. Didn't I say that already?

You didn't say you snuck in.

Last night, at first, I didn't have a ticket. Jimmy and Eddie had tickets and then they got me a ticket, but they were all on the field. There were 50,000 people at this concert and probably over 40,000 of them are in the field. And I was talking, and somebody went, "Oh, yeah, American Pie." You know, in a place that hard-core, you do not want to be like apple pie. Cool. Of course, with Eddie, they were all going, "American History X, you're our man, you're our leader." So, I was like, "Thank God they respect you," because they were all recognizing him, but they were like, "We got your back." So, it was getting a little intense being in an open field and an open space like that. We ended up sneaking into the seats. And then somehow Jimmy disappears for an hour, we didn't know if he had gotten his ass kicked or something and he comes back with a porn star and, like, VIP passes. And then the next thing you know, we're in the front row and then out of nowhere, Eddie's brother appears, which was like really random, of all people. And now we're all in the very front row. We're like in Ozzy Osbourne's face and the next thing you know, we're backstage and the guy from White Zombie is like, "Oh, Eddie," and pulls us into the tent. And then the next thing I know, we met Ozzy Osbourne. So, it was kind of like Detroit Rock City-ish.

Did you and Eddie know each other before the movie?

No, we didn't. We all ended up [becoming] friends, which is really cool. I think, also, it had a lot to do with us being on location in Toronto and that we didn't really know anybody else, you know? So, we were all in the same hotel and I just remember, like, playing the piano late at night and running around with, like, BB guns trying to shoot the concierge and stuff. You know, doing anything in our power to get kicked out and deported and it was just kind of fun.

What do you look for in your roles?

I think that people are kind of forever changing, so it's like my taste in what I want to do keeps changing. I mean, I just turned 20, so I'm still just kind of feeling it out and trying out different pictures and seeing what they feel like. It's like most movies that I get sent to me suck and so instantly [my choice is] smaller, because there's not that many decent things out there. And then it's kind of like whatever inspires me at the moment. There's two independent movies that I did after Detroit Rock City that are going to go through the festivals first. One's called Confessions of a Trickbaby and the other one's called But I'm a Cheerleader. And they're like total opposites and they've got nothing to do with anything I've played already. And they're both kind of lead roles, and I don't know if they'll ever see the light. But, you know, when I play this crazy killer convict who's bulimic, and that's Trickbaby, and the other one is this Christian cheerleader whose parents send her to a camp where she falls in love and becomes gay and she's really naive and a cheerleader and really peppy.

How has going to school changed your career?

Well, basically, I was enrolled almost two years ago and I haven't been able to finish a semester yet because it's been really crazy. And I'm just trying, going with the wave, because it goes in, like waves. You know, it will come in, it will come out. I guess when it goes out, then I'll go to school and then hopefully it will come back in again. Or I'll just go to school and learn something and write my own movie and make that, you know? So, whatever. It's nice having school there and knowing that I'm already enrolled and accepted. So, that way, whenever I'm ready to go there, I can.

You've said that you love seeing movies and that's what attracted you to this biz. How did you actually break into the movies?

Well, I guess when I was 6, I kind of did with "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" and that was never serious. It was always just kind of fun and something we did after school.

What kind of memories do you have of doing that?

Just really positive kind of kid memories. You know, sitting on Chairy and that kind of thing and running around. And he only slipped out of character once to my memory. He said, "There are not really ants in my pants and I cannot do this dance." And I was like, "Pee-Wee, calm down. Calm down, Pee-Wee, don't throw a star fit Pee-Wee." But I hope he gets Tim Burton to direct that third [Pee-Wee movie]. That would be amazing, because, you know, the first one's amazing. But maybe there is a part for me in there. Maybe I could be his little sidekick, like Opal.

So, what's next after "Pee-Wee's Playhouse?"

I guess I consider my starting point when I was 16, when I did Woody Allen's movie and that was just so out of the blue. You know, I didn't really have a career, I was starting to take it seriously and let me just finish school and move on with my life, you know? This is silly. And then out of nowhere, it was just like this meeting to go and the next thing I know, I got it and to be chosen by Woody Allen to play his daughter, it was so kind of heavy for me. I mean, I didn't actually get much from that movie. There were so many movie stars in that movie, I was really intimidated by the whole thing. So, I probably didn't do as good a job as I could have as far as just being free in front of the camera and being myself, which I think was what he wanted. And I think I was kind of intimidated by the whole thing, which was unfortunate. But, to me, it was such a huge thing that someone like Woody Allen, who is obviously such a hero to me, would choose me for something...just to play his kid, you know? And it was a really big part, too. It was the narrator of that whole thing and to put faith in a total unknown just 'cause definitely gave me the confidence to keep going and keep trying for it, because maybe there will be another opportunity like that.

Maybe I'll be older and wiser and maybe more ready to handle it. 'Cause when I see that movie, I see such a half-version of myself; I see such an edited version of myself. And I think that I was just confused 'cause he wanted me to be like Park Avenue, which I've never been and I had gone to school with girls from Park Avenue, and that was what I was using, but they all hated me and I hated them. But Park Avenue people are so boring that I guess I almost did too good of a job or something. And it's almost like I can't watch myself, you know, I talk like they do in it and I'm acting like they do just because I had so many obnoxious role models to do that with. But his direction sticks with me, like it will just kind of pop up. "Hey, be funnier. Don't put the audience to sleep." You know?

Do you keep in touch with Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee)?

Well, we ran into each other about a year ago at Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Somebody picked me up and started spinning me around going, "Opal, Opal!" And then he gave me this sort of, like, orange Paul Reubens business card. And it's printed on orange with his phone number and his name and then we went out to dinner and stuff. And now he sends me Christmas cards and things like that. He's really, really cool. I was so excited that he was even being nice to me and stuff. I'm going to go see that Mystery Men movie now 'cause he's in it and stuff. I think he's amazing. I think he's great.

How difficult was it growing up and doing "Pee-Wee's Playhouse?"

Well, it wasn't like, "Diff'rent Strokes" or anything. It wasn't like I was growing up and going to school and not going to school. I was, like, 7 and 8 years old. So, I was growing up with preschoolers, first grade or something. It was pretty easy then. No big deal or anything, it's like a hobby or something. It's like going roller skating in a sense to me. It was just fun. I didn't know. I don't think I realized I was on camera except for the fact that on Saturday morning, I'd watch myself on TV all the time.

Are you already looking for material?

Absolutely. I would love to do something that was really kind of original, just something that nobody else really cared to make. I mean, like, there's independent movies and then there's kind of like big-budget movies. And the problem is that sometimes the independent movies are kind of boring and unwatchable because nothing ever happens except people talking to each other and then there are action movies, you know, all they do is have action. And so the people never talk at all to each Star Wars. There were some great actors in that movie and they don't do anything, which is kind of a bummer. If you had seen any of their other movies, all they do is act and some of them are even unwatchable for that reason. So, I think it would be great to be able to make a movie that was kind of somewhere in between. Like, you know, Taxi Driver, for example, you know, Raging Bull, those are movies that there seems to be a lot of action going on and still there's so much dead-on perfect acting.

That's Martin Scorsese.

Yeah. I mean Scorsese. I think [he] is someone who really kind of knows how to power-pack a movie with both elements. I would like to do a full-blown action movie with good acting. That would be really random. That would be so silly... just do something that ridiculous. Like jumping on trains, but crying. You know? Like you've got to be silly.