A trip through time and space with the first time director.
So, imagine my excitement when I find out I’m the first person in the entire world to interview Natasha Lyonne about Cabiria, Charity, Chastity, her short film created in collaboration with Kenzo. We sit in a posh Knightsbridge hotel, separated by microscopic sandwiches and cakes too delicate to touch and she unleashes the first monologues on her debut directing effort onto me, while I try and keep up with her brash stream-of-consciousness speeches. She makes me squark, laughing every other sentence, references directors I’ve never heard of and I hang onto her every word so closely, I don’t look at the questions I’ve prepared once.
I get up to say goodbye, embrace her entirely uninvited and realise, I am in fact in love with Natasha Lyonne. Leaving, I’m wholly satisfied with my day’s work and text at least four friends who I know watch Orange Is the New Black religiously, so I can send smug anecdotes about our lovely afternoon.
Then the phone that I’ve recorded our interview on is stolen by one of London’s finest moped muggers.
(LEFT) Dress KENZO LA COLLECTION MEMENTO, bag PROENZA SCHOULER, sunglasses GENTLE MONSTER by TILDA STINTON, jewellery NATASHA’S OWN
(RIGHT) Jacket and trousers KENZO LA COLLECTION MEMENTO, jewellery NATASHA’S OWN
“That’s what they call irony,” Lyonne barks down the receiver when we reconnect a couple of months later. “Now you’re the last person to interview me.” Call it irony. Call it karma. Either way, we both know it’s a rather fitting twist in the tale that runs parallel to the surreal themes of Cabiria, Charity, Chastity. “Ultimately the film is about the incoherence of eloquence; the eloquence is incoherent, how we also misunderstand the things we understand,” Lyonne explains in sentences that spill over each other. “Or even just the absurdity of this interview, being the first interview and it gets stolen in a Vespa theft! You know, the world is such a chaotic place, where what we think is a guarantee is absolutely unsure and vice versa at all times. Nothing means anything and everything means everything!”
Cabiria, Charity, Chastity (which you can watch here), flickers between English and pure gibberish as Chastity, a club singer played by the inimitable Maya Rudolph, falls through parallel universes to La Strada School for Clowns. Chastity runs into an all star cast of Macaulay Culkin as a spectre, Matt Lucas and James Ransone as studying clowns and Fred Armisten as their teacher in the sombre classroom. The short is soaked in Italo disco faded glamour, with streamer curtains, neon lights and the perfect amount of pizazz in the impeccable costume design by Arianne Phillips.
“I was really taken by the idea that Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity was something of an homage to Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria and Giulietta Masina is probably my favourite actress of all time, then it was Shirley McClaine in Sweet Charity,” Lyonne explains. “I liked the idea of Maya being an extension character of those two women… I have such deep respect and love and awe for Maya, I think she’s brilliant and that she’s so heartbreaking and so hilarious and truly extraordinary. This strange idea emerged, ‘What if she was a response character that would function in this strange world?’”
Jacket and skirt KENZO, T-shirt STYLIST’S OWN, jewellery NATASHA’S OWN
Lyonne briefly attended Tisch film school at 16 with direction in mind, but dropped out when she realised she was expected to pay tuition fees despite her fledgling age. Consequentially, the desire to direct has been brewing in her for a lifetime. “It’s all been percolating since childhood,” she explains, “so by no means is it an improvisation.” Now given a platform by Kenzo — having met creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim through mutual friend Chloë Sevigny — the ideas were years in the making, Lyonne just had to verbalise them. “Articulating all the logic behind it to strangers was very much an exercise in its own absurdity,” she cackles. “What is language? And what are words? And thank god for all those years doing LSD, because you can kind of understand how to navigate that many people at once who are looking at you like you’re in charge!”
“I’m sure that many people won’t like it and that’s perfectly fine,” she continues, before hunting for a quote from Tallulah Bankhead. “Say anything about me darling, as long as it isn’t boring.” But with a cast so talented, a director who’s been planning her debut for decades and the mighty weight of Kenzo’s in uence in fashion, who couldn’t fall for Maya Rudolph speaking in tongues, wearing a bowler hat?
“Great to talk to you a second time,” Lyonne laughs before we say goodbye. “I would suggest just throwing this recording in the garbage and then why don’t you give me a call tomorrow and we can go through this all again a third time?” She jokes, but after experiencing the riveting journey into Lyonne’s mind, not only on screen, but in conversation twice, I’m half-tempted to chuck my dictaphone and take the trip again.
Taken from the Autumn 17 Issue of Wonderland; out now and available to buy here.