In ‘Poker Face’, Natasha Lyonne Is TV’s Best-Dressed Drifter
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.
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.
Lyonne easily inhabits the lived-in drifter style native to rest stops, one-horse towns, dive bars, and otherwise rough-and-tumble settings she finds herself in. While the looks are very Lyonne—nostalgic and hip, but always in an offbeat, playful way—they also morph to match the distinct (and distinctly American) locale of each episode.
In one episode, we find Charlie working in an arcade near a race track. Her uniform is cut to look like the sort of shirt a mechanic in a pit crew might wear. She pairs it with black jeans, black boots, and—the thing that pops out the most—a black western-style leather belt you could see Waylon Jennings wearing while singing a duet with Willie Nelson.
One of the more memorable friendships Charlie strikes up on the show is with a grizzled special effects genius (Nick Nolte) living alone in the middle of the woods. Charlie’s look in the episode? A unique blend of woodsy hippie and Film Twitter hipster: vests over t-shirts, shorts, brown boots.
And then there are the accessories she wears throughout the show, like a sun burst ring and family heirloom-like gold necklaces.Her watch—a basic, timeless gold digital Casio—was Johnson’s suggestion, Gigi Fried says.
The Casio encapsulates Charlie’s look: ultra-casual but very put-together, and pulled from some indeterminate point in the past. After all, the show itself is a callback to rabbit-ear TV classics like Columbo and Murder, She Wrote. But Charlie wouldn’t be one of the best-dressed characters on television right now if the person playing her didn’t have enough charm to make dressing out of your car seem effortless.
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