What You Didn't Know About Natasha Lyonne

Whether you are a fan of popular movies and buzz-worthy shows or prefer somewhat out-of-the-mainstream productions, there's a very good chance that you've seen Natasha Lyonne doing her thing on the screen. For example, you likely saw her appearing in the American Pie movies when she was younger and in 1999's Detroit Rock City, as well as But I'm a Cheerleader, which came out that same year. She has also popped up on acclaimed series like Portlandia, Russian Doll, and Orange Is the New Black. Granted, there's much more to this star than what you see from the characters that she plays.

In the entertainment industry "since she was six," The Guardian notes that she "first [acted] in adverts 'for dolls that don't exist anymore,'" before facing years of both opportunities and downfalls. Eventually, "having slowly worked her way back into the public eye" by landing some notable roles, "she rose again." When it comes to what she's faced and the ways in which her life arguably got off track, she explained, "I had to forgive myself for wasting so many years, instead of punishing myself for this... misshapen life."

The fact that Lyonne refers to her life as "misshapen" is surely understandable when you find out about the twists and turns that she's encountered as well as the obstacles that came up along the way. That includes the following untold truths about this star that make her the fascinating famous figure that she is today.

Natasha Lyonne grew up in Long Island but spent time in Israel

Natasha Lyonne's accent may give away her American upbringing, but there is more to the story when it comes to her background. The star explained to Tablet that her family "lived on Long Island for six years and then Israel for two years." She added, "By the time I was 10 we were back in the city full-time." When asked about her time in Israel, she admitted that what prompted the big move was "tax evasion," however, she also explained, "It was an idyllic moment in my childhood, because it was the last time my parents were still together."

Apart from her father's iffy financial situation, it was his dream to be a big-time boxing promoter, which was another motivation for the move. The actor told NPR, "He wanted to be like a Don King figure and bring Mike Tyson to the Tel Aviv Hilton when we lived in Israel." She also mused to The Daily Northwestern, "As a young girl in Israel, for some reason we only really had Rocky, Scarface, The Godfather, A Fish called Wanda, and It's Alive." She added that she "watched all those movies on a loop constantly," saying that she "really liked those 70s tough-guy kind of movies," which is why, in turn, it "was the kind of acting [she] wanted to do."

The star appeared on Pee-wee's Playhouse

At just six years old, Natasha Lyonne popped up as Opal on Pee-wee's Playhouse, the popular offbeat kid's show starring Paul Reubens. The quirky series, which ran from 1986 to 1990, featured a fair share of notable celebrities, including Leslie Jordan (from Will & Grace and American Horror Story) as well as Laurence Fishburne (who you'll surely know from Boyz n the Hood and The Matrix). Lyonne told PeopleTV, "Nothing makes me feel legitimately cool quite so much as the fact that I was on this show."

If you want to track down Lyonne on the show, she appeared on six episodes back in 1986 as part of the Playhouse kids. She later recalled her time spent as the loveable Opal while talking to Vulture, joking that it was "the only good memories of [her] childhood!"

Lyonne also reminisced about one particular moment on the set that involved the children eating "ice cream soup," which left her more than a little disappointed. "I guess it was a prop, and I didn't quite understand why that was, because I don't think I understood that I was acting so much as I was like, 'Where's my ice cream?'" It turns out the mystery substance was some kind of chalk disguised as ice cream and young Lyonne was not thrilled, "This does not taste good," she remembered thinking and explained to Vulture, "It was a good lesson in acting, I guess. It was a terrible lesson in ice cream."

She was expelled from school for selling weed

Natasha Lyonne may have faced issues with addiction as an adult, however, it turns out that drugs started to get her into trouble even earlier. In her teens, the star was "kicked out of Ramaz, where she was on scholarship, for selling weed," according to Tablet. She also "got kicked out of Chetz V'Keshet too."

While high school can be rough for a lot of people for various reasons, being part of Hollywood apparently caused friction between Lyonne and her teachers. She told Tablet, "[Ramaz] was an atrocious high school environment. Organized religion was in direct correlation with wealth and status. Rabbi Lookstein was my arch-nemesis." She later recalled the bitterness that she faced when she found success, saying that after she was given a role in Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, she was "kicked out," which was followed by an appearance on David Letterman's show. She claimed, "They were horrible to me but, after Letterman, they asked me to come back." She told them "no."

Beyond that, she talked to Gothamist in 2009 about some of her frustrations at that time, explaining, "Right after that I was really angry that I wasn't given the choice to go to college and be a philosophy major. I never had time to figure out what I wanted to do with this life." In the end, Lyonne took a positive spin on the situation, telling Tablet, "I'm very educated for a high school dropout."

You may have done a crossword puzzle created by Natasha Lyonne

Natasha Lyonne is seriously into crossword puzzles and spoke to The New York Times about her "obsession," sharing, "I feel a deep transparency about how true my love of the puzzle is; I feel very clean about it." She added, "I spend all of my time with the crossword, like an obscene amount of time. If you see me on set and you think I'm texting or something, I'm using the puzzle as a coping mechanism. It's a great joy in my life." The star is such a fan of the brainy game that she has been known to share her accomplishments on Twitter, and in 2018 when she was name-dropped as a clue as "'Actress Lyonne of Orange Is the New Black, seven letters," the Times notes she "'immediately' had it framed."

That's why she was surely thrilled to be able to create one of the beloved puzzles. According to crossword columnist Deb Amlen, she spent a good "10 to 15 hours in person" with Lyonne on the process, "plus many more texts" while "the pair agreed on a theme, brainstormed clue ideas, and worked on filling in the puzzle." While other stars like Jesse Eisenberg, Isaac Mizrahi, and Weird Al Yankovic have all created crosswords for the publication in the past, puzzles editor Will Shortz revealed that Lyonne "took this more seriously than almost anybody else."

What Lyonne came up with included clues such as, "Poehler vortex of funniness?: answer: AMY."

Natasha Lyonne was evicted by her landlord, Michael Rapaport

In 2004, Natasha Lyonne was living in a townhouse in New York that was owned by actor Michael Rapaport. Rapaport had originally met Lyonne in 1997, and told the Daily News, "She really was one of the smartest, most insightful people I have ever known." However, according to Entertainment Weekly, Lyonne ended up being "arrested for harassing neighbors (as well as [a] dog) and destroying property."

According to an article called Evicting Natasha Lyonne that Rapaport wrote in 2005 for Jane Magazine (via the Daily News), he recalled, "It remained very peaceful until the fall of 2003 ... Reports [from other tenants] kept coming in ... People were going in and out of the apartment, [one of the tenants] was telling me about the late-night parties, and 'random dudes sprawled out on her sofa at all times.'" Beyond that, when another neighbor was hosting guests, Lyonne "was screaming up at them throughout the party."

Years later, in 2012, Lyonne recounted some of the events with Entertainment Weekly, saying, "At the time I didn't understand, but now it's like if I owned a nice brownstone — and [someone] was constantly moving pianos while listening to Richard Pryor CDs, and trying to figure out how to play 'Easy Like Sunday Morning' on the piano for days at a time — I would potentially be pissed too." She smiled while noting, "It's the fallout of shenanigan-based behavior."

This famous figure is best friends with Chloë Sevigny

Good friends are hard to find, but when you've found that certain someone to share all of your feelings with and have there for you no matter what, you hang on for dear life. In the case of celebrity besties Natasha Lyonne and actor Chloë Sevigny, their friendship has been going strong for over 20 years.

The two friends first met in Toronto, Canada, where Lyonne was filming Detroit Rock City and Sevigny was shooting A Map of the World. The latter star admitted while interviewing Lyonne for Harper's Bazaar in 2014, "I fell in love with you at first sight, and I thought, 'Oh, my God, Natasha and I are going to be isolated together in Toronto. We're going to become best friends!'" The stars went on to not only form a close friendship, but have also mixed business with pleasure by working on various projects together including Antibirth, #horror, Party Monster, and Russian Doll.

Beyond that, the two have relied on each other in other ways. For instance, they help each other in the style department. Lyonne explained why chatting with Sevigny, "My answer to all things fashion is to just ask you what to do." She added, "My entire life is me calling you and being like, 'Chlo-Chlo, I got a crisis.'" She also told InStyle that "Chloe is the single most loyal person you'll ever meet in your life. It's actually almost over the top."

Natasha Lyonne is in a relationship with Fred Armisen

Not only are Natasha Lyonne and Fred Armisen an item, but they happened to have been introduced by Lyonne's close friend and fellow star Maya Rudolph. As for the couple's first meeting, according to Glamour, "Rudolph and Armisen came by Lyonne's apartment and found her swanning around in a long silk robe, sunglasses on, chain-smoking." She recalled, "I pulled out a copy of [Legs McNeil's oral history] Please Kill Me, autographed it, and was like, 'Welcome, kid. Fred — what a name. Happy birthday. Enjoy the book.'" She grinned while adding, "He still has it."

The couple went semi-public with their relationship in 2014 when they "attended the Variety and Women in Film Emmy Nominee Celebration ... and were spotted having a super intimate conversation with one another" while being "very flirty and talking very closely,'" according to a witness who spoke to Us Weekly. Around the same time, Lyonne was filming a guest appearance on Portlandia, a show that Armisen created and starred in. He posted a picture of her on Instagram with a caption calling her "beautiful and brilliant."

Since then, the couple has been spotted at plenty of events together while being their quirky selves. Lyonne told Variety about one Emmy red carpet appearance, saying, "We did Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and went in a hearse." This couple obviously knows how to have fun which hopefully means that this is a love that will last — unlike Armisen's quite brief marriage to Elisabeth Moss.

Jewish heritage

Natasha Lyonne (whose full name is Natasha Bianca Lyonne Braunstein) has opened up about her Orthodox Jewish upbringing in the past. She told NPR, "My lineage is dark survivors. I come from real Auschwitz stock [Lyonne's grandparents are Holocaust survivors]. So Hitler was a big player in my childhood." She continued by saying that "it was this mentality of surviving and no matter what sort of horrors life throws your way."

Lyonne's Jewish identity makes itself present in her life in other ways as well. For her cover story for Tablet, "she chose to cosplay as Yentl" (via The Jewish Times). In Orange Is the New Black, she played Nicky Nichols, who was seen "at her bat mitzvah, ... express[ing] frustrations with her parents' lack of love in front of the entire congregation," according to The Jewish Times.

On top of that, in Russian Doll (the dramatic comedy that Lyonne co-created with Amy Poehler), there are plenty of nods to her Jewish upbringing in her character Nadia Vulvokov. The Jewish Times noted that "Lyonne's character keeps resurrecting in a building that used to be a yeshiva. This leads her to investigate the original synagogue, where she ends up praying for her life in Hebrew with the rabbi's assistant." She is also heard to say "Chag Sameach" or "Happy Festival" and "keeps repeating her 36th birthday — a significant number in Judaism." It's clear that Lyonne has found success by portraying characters that are true to herself.

The performer had open-heart surgery

In 2005, Natasha Lyonne was hospitalized "with hepatitis C, a collapsed lung, and an infection that required open-heart surgery," according to Glamour. It was so life-threatening that she "had appointed her best friend Chloë Sevigny executor of her estate." She told Entertainment Weekly, "It's weird to talk about. I was definitely as good as dead, you know? A lot of people don't come back."

In Lyonne's role as Nicky on Orange Is the New Black, her character is hospitalized because of extended heroin use and has open-heart surgery performed on her which was "a similar operation [to what the actor had], just over five years after she kicked her addiction issues." In fact, when Lyonne's character can be seen with scares as a result of the procedure, what viewers were seeing was the star's real scars. Lyonne told People (via Hollywood.com) about how difficult it was to relive the experience, saying, "By no means was that an enjoyable scene for me to play. I had to call on memories of painful feelings. And it was tricky because my experience was so similar but yet so far removed."

After getting clean and healthy with the help of her friends, Lyonne told Gothamist, "It feels like that stuff is behind me." She added that she "went from being a person that didn't wanna live to being a person who's cleaning out [her] storage space and maybe even taking a macrobiotic cooking class."

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health, please contact SAMHSA's 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Natasha Lyonne is a lesbian icon, despite being straight

In the 1999 indie cult film But I'm a Cheerleader, Natasha Lyonne played the role of Megan, a "lesbian high school cheerleader, whose parents send her to a conversion therapy camp to cure her homosexuality," according to Variety. The star recalled the impact the film had on others, telling HuffPost, "I remember Clea [DuVall] and I went to Sundance together and a lot of the Mormon girls were coming up to us ... Clea and I would be crying because it was so moving that they had come out because of that movie."

Granted, in 2016, Lyonne felt the need to explain her "straightness" to The New York Times, saying, "When I say I'm not gay, it doesn't mean that I've never tried sleeping with women. Of course, I have. I'm not a dumb-dumb."

The star also explained her feelings towards playing lesbian characters, telling the outlet, "I never want to feel like I'm taking ownership of an experience that's not my own. But it seems like a lot of the female experience is in response to men." She noted that when she plays a character that is not interested in relationships with men, it "means that she's on her own ride." Lyonne added, "I love men. I want to sleep with as many as possible. But I don't want my whole life, and certainly my creative experience, to be in response to always just being 'the girl.' Like, who needs it?"

This star has money in the bank

Natasha Lyonne has enjoyed a lengthy acting career that dates back to 1986, however, it's the star's later roles that were responsible for both rejuvenating her career, taking her acting to the next level, and likely bringing in the biggest paychecks. For example, Lyonne's role on Orange Is the New Black, which "began as a guaranteed three-episode arc" and "turned into a run of seven seasons and extras such as a 2014 Emmy nod and opportunities to direct," helped put Lyonne back in the public eye. The star explained to Capitol File that while she has a newfound success, her motivation is no longer just to make money. "[I] reassembled my relationship to my profession," she said. "No longer was I acting because my parents or anybody else needed me to. This was becoming my own dream in a new and healthy adult way."

In turn, Lyonne has also expanded her skillset (and money-making ability) by "writing, directing, and starring in the hit Netflix comedy series Russian Doll, which ... received 13 Emmy Award nominations," according to The Guardian. She also has a production company with long-time friend, actor Maya Rudolph, called Animal Pictures, and Capitol File reported they were "developing new series projects for Amazon Studios."

Thanks to Lyonne's lucrative combo of acting, writing, directing, and producing has earned her a net worth of $5 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.