In ‘Poker Face’, Natasha Lyonne Is TV’s Best-Dressed Drifter

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By Amit

No one on television looks or sounds like Natasha Lyonne, with her raspy, 1940s-bartender voice,  big curls, andNew York-specific sense of cool. So distinct is her presence that it inevitably bleeds into her work on-screen, including in her roles as Nadia on Russian Doll and Charlie Cale on the winning Peacock mystery-of-the-week series Poker Face, which just aired its season one finale—and showcased the versatility of her sui generis style. 

Poker Face kicks off with Charlie, a casino waitress who is drifting through life, becoming an actual drifter, on the run from some very dangerous people. The show’s costume designer, Trayce Gigi Fried, explains that “we were going with a different vibe” from Russian Doll, in which Lyonne’s character, dressed for a downtown Manhattan party being thrown in her honor, wears a chic, all-black NYC uniform and a head of Orphan Annie-red curly hair. 

Gigi Fried was very specific about how she wanted to dress all the Poker Face actors, including guest stars. Ellen Barkin’s evil actress in episode six is always decked out in perversely purity-signaling all-white, while Adrien Brody’s look as a shady desert casino boss pulls from Casino and old Vegas sleaze as the inspiration. But Charlie was something of a challenge. Every episode finds her in a new place. She was already a pretty relaxed person when the show started; bouncing from place to place taking low-wage jobs means she’s probably living out of a suitcase or pulling stuff out of the lost and found.

Natasha Lyonne’s Charlie Cale in Poker Face is one of the best dressed characters on TV.Courtesy of Peacock

Gigi Fried started with a mood board that included a lot of “1970s meets Western meets desert,” classic rock stars, shots from 1974 Robert Altman classic California Split, and plenty of pieces from smaller brands with limited runs, something Gigi Fried says was important to her. And while some stars might give no input or—possibly worse—too much to say about their styling, Lyonne was instantly sold on Gigi Fried’s vision. And Lyonne pulls off the looks—which Gigi Fried says incorporated a mix of new and vintage, from brands including YSL and Banana Republic—like she’s wearing her own clothes.

“I always come from a place of wanting [looks] to be as authentic and genuine as possible,” Gigi Fried says. When the show’s creator Rian Johnson gave her the script and explained the character and her story, he told Gigi Fried that Charlie would start out wearing t-shirts and jackets she has tossed into her 1969 Plymouth Barracuda. Gigi Fried’s job was to build the wardrobe that could evolve with the story. She says Charlie’s eyewear was a starting point: the character favors oversized aviators or Elvis glasses. “She may have gotten those at the gas station,” Gigi Fried says. The shades, particularly their size, represent one of the many ways you can see Lyonne’s personal style bleeding into the character: They call to mind the Gen X slacker-cool 1990s era when Lyonne started making a name for herself.

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