In 1999, Natasha Lyonne rose to fame in American Pie. Six years later, she was as 'good as dead'.

It’s safe to say that Natasha Lyonne has almost reached household name status, whether you know her from her childhood on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, her wild youth starring in American Pie, or her more recent work in Orange is the New Black, Russian Doll, and the Stan Original Series Poker Face. 

The actress has been in the business for a long time, but it hasn't always been a good time as often is the case with child stars.

Watch the trailer for the Stan Original Series Poker Face here. Post continues below. 

Video via Peacock.

Lyonne had her start on television at just six years old, playing Opal on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. 

Lyonne’s parents divorced when she was eight years old, leaving her mother to raise her on her own, an experience that left a lasting impression on her.

"That was definitely an interesting dynamic that kind of taught me the responsibilities of being a single woman, and especially a single female parent," she told Bust Magazine. 

While Lyonne went from living in a large family home with both of her parents to living in a studio apartment with just her mother, her stints on television afforded her some opportunities when it came to education.


"Suddenly, I had a single mum and was on scholarship going to this private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan," Lyonne recalled.

It wasn't until she had a play date with another student that she realised that she was different.

"She went back to school saying, 'Her apartment is so small, and she sleeps with her mother,'" she told Bust Magazine. 

"I thought I was special because I was a child actor. I didn’t think I was some freak. She made it really clear that there was something wrong with me."

This moment in Lyonne’s life became a catalyst for a feeling that stayed with her longer than she would have imagined.

"[Young girls] go from being perfectly strange creatures happy in their little imaginations with their hopes and dreams and their little weirdo outfits, to having a keen awareness or feeling that there’s something wrong with them," she shared.

"We then spend a lifetime in dysmorphia and bad relationships and bad late-night situations and confusion in the workplace and there’s just this warped sense of self."

This outlook eventually led Lyonne onto a darker path in life.

Clea Duvall and Natasha Lyonne in But I'm a Cheerleader. Image: Lionsgate Films.


Despite snagging some large roles in the 1990s including American Pie and But I’m a Cheerleader, the actress fell into a downward spiral.

"The track record of child actors... statistically it does not go well," she told The Guardian, "And I would say I definitely fell in that pile."

The actress soon developed a serious addiction to alcohol and drugs.

The early 2000s saw Lyonne's lowest points plastered across tabloids, from driving under the influence to being charged for harassment to ending up in the intensive-care unit of a New York hospital in 2005.

The actress was admitted and diagnosed with Hepatitis C, a collapsed lung, and a specific heart infection also known as heroin heart, because it's caused by prolonged heroin use. 


Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, the actress discussed why she was willing to take it so far and 'ruin' her career. 

"Listen, I did not think I was coming back... so I didn't really care. When you go as deep into the belly of the beast as I went, there's a whole other world going on and something like show business becomes the dumbest thing on planet Earth."

She added: "I was definitely as good as dead, you know? A lot of people don’t come back. That makes me feel wary, and self-conscious. I wouldn’t want to feel prideful about it."

Whilst Lyonne has come a long way since 2005, "Isn't everyone entitled to an existential breakdown in a lifetime?" she joked with The Guardian, that near-death experience wasn't enough of a wake-up call for her.

Chloë Sevigny and Natasha Lyonne. Image: Getty.


The actress credits getting clean to her long-time friend and fellow actress, Chloë Sevigny, who never gave up on her.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Sevigny opened up about the difficulties she faced with Lyonne. 

"It was hard to stand by and not be able to help when it was down and dirty," she shared.

"I tried to forgive whatever bad behaviour she displayed because she wasn't herself. She wasn't in her right mind."

Sevigny was with her friend every step of the way after Lyonne was forced to attend court-appointed rehab and finally got clean in 2006. 

She even helped her get back into acting by vouching for Lyonne to the director of Mike Leigh’s play Two Thousand Years on Off-Broadway.

"[The play] really got me back on my feet," Lyonne told Entertainment Weekly.

Chloë Sevigny and Natasha Lyonne. Image: Getty.


While there’s a decade-long gap on her resume when she fell off the grid, it’s only been up and up for Lyonne since she got clean.  

Her big 'comeback' was on a little show called Orange is the New Black.

Lyonne was cast to play Nicky Nichols, an inmate who struggled with heroin addiction. 

Natasha Lyonne as Nicky Nichols. Image: Netflix


In 2017, she spoke to Daily News about the challenges the role created. 

"It can be problematic for me to play those scenes because I do know them so intimately," she explained. 

"Of course, I have so many of the same feelings; maybe the violence in which I used to act out in terms of self-destruction has gone. So I sort of have to get back to that feeling in a real way."

In more recent years, Lyonne has starred in the hit series Russian Doll, which she also wrote, produced, and directed.

"I've been writing versions of what would become Russian Doll for at least 10 years," she told Elle

"In the last five years, it started crystallising more and more. It was always a story that I wanted to tell."

Image: Peacock


In early 2023, Lyonne's latest project, Poker Face, was released on Stan. 

The series follows Charlie Cale (Lyonne), a casino worker on the run who entangles herself in several mysterious deaths of strangers along the way. 

It received critical acclaim and has since been renewed for a second season.

This article was originally published on February 4, 2023 and has been updated since with new information. 

Feature Image: Universal Pictures.

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