‘Russian Doll’ Cast: Who Is Natasha Lyonne?

Natasha Lyonne | Mike Coppola/WireImage
Natasha Lyonne | Mike Coppola/WireImage

Natasha Lyonne is the star of maybe the most binge-able show on Netflix right now (the episodes are a mere 30 minutes each), Russian Doll. The show follows Nadia (played by Lyonne), a software engineer, as she mysteriously relives her 36th birthday party over and over again. There are a few other featured characters but the show’s focus is definitely on Nadia, a nuanced character that Lyonne brings a lot of color to.

Who is Natasha Lyonne?

Is she anything like her character in Russian Doll? As it turns out, Lyonne has more in common with Nadia than you’d expect.

Natasha Lyonne was a child actor

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She was born in New York City, New York to Ivette Buchinger and Aaron Braunstein, who, according to IMDB, is a talk radio host, boxing promoter, and race car driver. Her family is Jewish—her maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors. She and her family lived briefly in Israel, but she moved back to New York with her mother and brother upon her parents’ divorce.

Lyonne became involved in the industry at a very young age. At six years old her mother had her go out for Ford Modeling Agency. Shortly after, she was cast as Opal in Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Lyonne has since spoken about being a child actor.

“It instilled in me a real revulsion to fame, because I was so confused and perplexed by why a parent would do that to a child. In their defense, I probably would’ve wound up doing something similar anyway—I am sort of wired that way,” Lyonne said in an interview with Esquire in 2015. “But part of that wiring has to do with growing up in such an absurd household that by the age of ten, Scarface, The Godfather, and Rocky were my three favorite movies.”

Natasha Lyonne’s personal struggle with drugs and alcohol

It’s hard to watch a mediocre actor on screen pretend to have a drug problem, but it’s devastating to watch an incredible actor on screen recall their addiction for the sake of their art. Lyonne is of the latter variety. In both her roles as Nicky in Orange is the new Black and Natasha in Russian Doll, Lyonne portrays characters with drug addictions.

“In 2001, she was arrested for a DUI. In 2004, she was charged with mischief, trespass, and harassment of a neighbor (and the neighbor’s dog). In 2005, she was admitted to the intensive-care unit of a New York hospital for a variety of ailments, including a collapsed lung and hepatitis C,” reports Entertainment Weekly. “All of which is to say: Before we had Lindsay Lohan to kick around, we had Natasha Lyonne.”

It’s understandable, then, why there’s a gap in the actress’s career.

“I mean, I didn’t have a 28-day drug problem. I had a take-five-years-off drug problem. [Because of] “my well-publicized drug problem, there was many years I couldn’t get work… I mean, life is very short but life is also very long,” Lyonne’s reported saying on IMDB. “I don’t know that there’s such a rush. I think I also needed a break just in terms of the child actor in me was tired. I mean, I’d been working from, like, 6 to 24, pretty much nonstop.”

Natasha Lyonne today

In the last few years, you can see Lyonne in such projects as Honey Boy, Steven Universe, Animals, Corporate, and Portlandia. She’s producing and starring in content she loves and she’s “look[ing] forward to aging into full blown eccentricity.”

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