“You should just leave. Don’t even pay.”
It’s seven o’clock on a muggy August night in New York, and Natasha Lyonne is advising me to dine and dash.
I had only arrived at the Lower East Side diner where we were meeting a couple minutes before Lyonne did, but I’d already ordered and started drinking an iced coffee by the time I saw her hard-to-miss, leonine-maned head pressed up against the restaurant’s windows; it was clear she was looking for me and clear she couldn’t, for some reason, come inside.
Leaving my iced coffee and the book I was reading in the booth, promising the waiter and the hostess I’d be right back, I rushed outside to find Lyonne and a little toffee-colored fluffball of a dog, Root Beer, waiting for me.
“I wasn’t going to take her, but...” Lyonne said, gesturing toward Root Beer.
“That’s okay. I love dogs. We should walk around with her. I just have to go in and pay.”
This is when Lyonne suggests making a run for it, and even though starting off a profile with an actual crime, however petty, would make for a great story—or, at least, a much better one than what actually happened, which was: I went back inside and asked for the bill, and the very kind waiter told me it was on the house—I really wanted my book. So I grabbed it and told an impressed Lyonne that it was all taken care of (“They didn’t make you pay for it??”) and off we went into the evening air, soup-thick and conveniently smelling like that diner-staple: clam chowder, the red kind.
For 30 years now, there hasn’t been a time when Lyonne wasn’t at least in the periphery of the spotlight, even if not always for career-related reasons. The native New Yorker started acting as a young child, making appearances in everything from the Mike Nichols’ adaptation of Nora Ephron’s divorce novel Heartburn to the cultishly beloved Pee Wee’s Playhouse before moving, as a teenager, into not only indie-prestige films (Slums of Beverly Hills,But I’m a Cheerleader), but also broad, mainstream comedies (American Pie and sequels, a guest spot on Will & Grace).
After a much publicized multi-year struggle with drug addiction, during which she was notably absent from the screen, Lyonne returned with a splash in 2013 thanks to a prominent role as heroin addict Nicky Nichols on the Netflix hit Orange Is the New Black. Appearances on other beloved TV shows (Portlandia, Girls) and small-budget movies, like Sleeping with Other People, since then have only solidified Lyonne’s much-deserved comeback, giving her longtime fans much more to eagerly await.