In the immortal words of Blues Traveler, “The hook bring you back”—and the hook of Rian Johnson’s “Poker Face” is Natasha Lyonne and Benjamin Bratt.
Lyonne plays the charming and irreverent Charlie Cale (whom he describes more as “Big Lebowski” than “Russian Doll”) in the murder mystery “howcatchem” born out of his conversations with Johnson and performed as a mix of their voices. Bratt plays the menacing Cliff LeGrand, tasked with hunting her down and bringing her back to Sterling Frost (Ron Perlman). Charlie spends the 10-episode series on the run, solving murders across the nation while dodging Cliff’s clutches, only to get caught in the crossfire between him and Sterling during the finale.
“I was blown away,” Bratt said of the experience of reading the ending and learning more about her character. “Cliff suddenly became this weird, really idiosyncratic weirdo. Yes, he’s dangerous, and yes, he’s good at his job, but he also has special interests, I would say.
Bratt and Lyonne sat down together as part of IndieWire’s Spotlight series to talk about their characters, rejoice in their friendship, and enthusiastically praise Johnson’s creativity and intelligence. Their favorite scenes together included Charlie’s coffee-fueled monologue from episode 1, the mosh pit from episode 4, and the boat fight below decks in episode 10.
“It’s very helpful to be like a director, a writer, a producer type person because you have a lot more empathy for yourself as you embarrass yourself,” Lyonne said. “Like when the fuck ring fails and keeps going off and the whole crew has to surround you to please, swap your fuck ring, you just have a little more empathy for the process.”
Bratt had nothing but praise for Lyonne both as a performer and as a person, pointing to her “pattern, inherent intelligence, wit, the kind of easygoing humor that arises” when he got to know her.
“Rian comes in with a very specific tone and even cinematic vision of what he wants to execute, and he’s pretty definitive about that. I always think of a pretty spectacular ending,” Bratt said. “She put all of that into one page that’s kind of a happy marriage between this totally unique character and the person I’ve grown to love … so now he’s officially a wizard.”
In true “Poker Face” fashion, both Charlie and Cliff face unexpected twists in the finale, setting up the upcoming second season and showcasing Johnson’s sharp writing. Every pursuit needs a killer villain, and Bratt has gotten to build his character incrementally throughout the season, finally going toe to toe with Charlie.
“At the end of the day, we’re characters who are substantively antagonistic, but who actually have respect for each other,” said Lyonne. “It almost felt like there was this genuine moment at the end where maybe they really were going to run away, not like starting a romance, but just more like, ‘We can get out of this together.'”
No detailed spoilers, but that’s not exactly what happens. Charlie and Cliff may not be out of it, but “Poker Face” viewers can expect the hook when the series returns.
Watch the full Awards Spotlight conversation between Bratt and Lyonne in the video above.