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[This story contains spoilers to Poker Face‘s third episode, “The Stall.”]
By the third episode of Poker Face, viewers get a better understanding of Natasha Lyonne’s special skill.
In the Peacock series created by Rian Johnson, Lyonne plays Charlie Cale, the show’s protagonist who anchors the howcatchem standalone stories that will play out across 10 episodes. (Four episodes released at launch, followed by one a week on Thursdays.)
The first episode set Charlie Cale on the run from Las Vegas, after introducing her as a casino waitress who landed her job after out-playing the house, thanks to her ability to identify lies. Her human-lie-detector skill helps her unmask Adrien Brody’s casino owner and his henchman Cliff (Benjamin Bratt) as the murderers of her friend (Dascha Polanco), putting a big target on her back. So, she hits the road. The second episode, “The Night Shift,” saw her coming upon another murder that she also ultimately solves, introducing viewers to the show’s murder mystery-of-the-week format.
And the third episode, “The Stall,” written by Wyatt Cain and directed by Iain B. MacDonald, tests Charlie’s ability. After coming across a very bad dog (who is only calmed when listening to fascist talk radio stations), Charlie pulls over at a Texas BBQ joint where she meets the Boyle family, brothers Taffy (Lil Rel Howery) and George (Larry Brown) and George’s wife, Mandy (Danielle Macdonald).
Charlie spends time with George while cooking in the pit, until he is found dead by suicide and she begins to investigate his death as a murder. Viewers already watched Taffy pull off the near-perfect fratricide and, as Poker Face‘s structure tends to do, the episode travels back in time to see how Charlie spots the lies and solves the crime. When Charlie calls “bullshit” on Taffy, Howery reveals himself in a darker turn as a threatening villain. But Mandy, who assisted in her husband’s murder, tests Charlie’s skills by evading answers that would reveal a lie. (If a person believes they are speaking the truth, Charlie can’t clock the lie.)
Ultimately, with an assist from local radio emcee Austin (Shane Paul McGhie), Charlie secures a confession and both Mandy and Taffy are set to go down for their crimes, which involve murder and fraud. The episode makes no mention of the show’s over-arching cat-and-mouse chase between Charlie and Cliff, and instead focuses solely on the Boyles’ BBQ joint, effectively centering Howery as Poker Face‘s next big bad.
“It’s just a crazy, twisted triangle. I hope everybody enjoys the ride,” Howery tells The Hollywood Reporter of his episode. “I like that they show the murder ahead of time, and you’re watching Charlie figure it out. That’s what makes it a fun show because you’re wondering, how are you going to piece it together? I’m such a TV nerd that if I wasn’t on this show, I would be as hooked as I am now.”
In a chat with The Hollywood Reporter below, the Get Out star talks about how his departure casting as the villain — a “shit-kicking psycho,” as Charlie calls him — is a preview of forthcoming roles to come, while sharing behind-the-scenes stories from “The Stall,” his advice to other artists and his thoughts on Jordan Peele-followup Nope (and its Oscars snubs).
Since the first four episodes of Poker Face dropped together, “The Stall” has been out since Jan. 26. What has the response been?
It’s been a great response. We only knew our own episodes, I believe. I only knew mine. It’s the only script they sent me. I didn’t know anything else about anything. So to watch this show with the audience along with seeing my episode? It’s such a good show. The pilot is amazing. I’ve been getting a lot of love. I love seeing my name in credits, with the old-school lettering. But I really enjoyed watching it myself and I can’t wait for the next episodes. Is it weekly episodes? I don’t even know what they’re doing! Now I’m just a fan.
You play the villain, which is a departure from what we typically see from you. Do you know what made Rian Johnson think of you for the role of Taffy Boyle?
That’s a great question for Rian. I don’t know. And I should have asked, actually. Me and Rian have met one time before, when they were casting Glass Onion [the Knives Out sequel]. We talked about me potentially being a part of that. And that didn’t happen. But he didn’t forget about me. And when this project came along, he brought me in. I appreciate him. That means somebody kind of saw my potential.
What excited you about playing the bad guy?
It’s so funny, I was telling my team, this is one of the projects going into the next few things you’re about to see me in this year that are all different. I’m playing around a little bit. This is my dream job. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid because I love TV. I love film. I’m a TV and film nerd. I watched everything growing up on the big screen, on the small screen. So there’s been interest where I’ve been able to pick some really random things where it feels like I’m actually high-fiving 12-year-old me. Poker Face is that. The way it looks. The way it’s shot. Being a villain. And there are a few other projects [coming up] where I’m at this cool place where I want to impress little kid me.
You were threatening in this. I was scared for Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) for a minute. Who did you base Taffy on, or go to for villain inspiration?
I loved the script. This is what I did: I put the clothes on, and I became Taffy. I threw the accent on. I didn’t practice it. I’m a character comedian. If anyone has ever seen a live show with me or my stand-up, I break into character in a heartbeat on stage. So, that’s all this was: playing dress up. I don’t think I even asked to do the accent, I just did it! (Laughs.) I wanted him to be an evil but likable person. By the time you got to me and Natasha talking one-on-one in the office, it gets dark. That was so much fun to do.
There are a lot of fun reveals in this episode. First, have you seen Okja?
No, but I’m going to now! I’ve been watching my episode. I tend to watch my stuff. The first time watching it, you feel bad for [George]. The second time, I started laughing hysterically. Charlie had a trunk full of videotapes, like Charlotte’s Web. And Okja was the one that brought him to his knees. It’s so good! There’s a good story there, too. I read the other day that Rian Johnson knew Bong Joon-ho and that’s how he was able to get it cleared to use.
Have you heard anything around Bong Joon-Ho’s response to the episode?
Rian would know, that’s his boy. I think he had to like it, I guess!
[Editor’s note: In “The Stall,” Charlie lends George the Bong Joon-Ho movie. The BBQ cook has a transformational viewing experience, vowing to become vegan before his apparent suicide. After the episode released, Johnson tweeted his thanks to the director for “letting us use the Okja image, and for trusting me that he’d like the reason we were using it,” with a pig emoji.]
Who do you personally identify with more: BBQ lover Taffy, or pit master turned vegan George? Considering there was a lot of BBQ expertise in the episode, like the magic of cooking meat (aka “the stall”) and the wood-tasting sequences, what kind of BBQ experience did you and the cast have?
When I tell you, some of the best brisket I’ve ever had in my life was on that set [from Bearded Boys BBQ]. It was maybe the second-to-last day, I ate brisket that whole day. It was melty. It was so good. That was a real kitchen, so they were making the food. I’m telling you, I get happy thinking about it.
The character Austin (played by Shane Paul McGhie) ends up tying the entire episode together. It’s his voice who lured Charlie and her dog to Boyle’s BBQ in the first place and then, once he’s revealed to be posing as all of the radio personas, he helps Charlie secure the confession by impersonating Taffy on the phone with Mandy (Danielle MacDonald). What did you think of that reveal?
First of all, the fascist dog is hysterical. It’s so funny, just so funny. And even the brilliance of Austin doing Taffy’s voice. Shane really figured that out, and that was really cool. One random day, he just wanted me to say stuff to him. It was kinda weird! But it was fun. I was wondering, “Why is he following me?” (Laughs.) My kids do a really good impersonation of me, but to have someone outside of my kids do a version of me was really fun. I thought that was a great reveal in the show. Charlie threw Taffy under the bus.
How was working with the dog?
He was a sweet dog. The crazy part was when I had to run across that field [before hitting the dog in the scene]. They said they filled in all the ditches, telling me, “There are no holes anywhere. I’m telling you, you’re good.” We shot it in the dark. One of the takes, I’m running full speed. And I literally fall into one of the little holes. It was so crazy. I guess the cut we show is the slower version. Because the first time I ran full speed. I hurt myself a little but, I’m okay!
You have a lot of upcoming projects, like you mentioned. Did this Poker Face experience inspire you to take some different acting swings?
It was a part of the plan. Poker Face came around at a time that there were a couple of things I decided to do. I just finished a film that should be announced soon [Hulu’s sci-fi thriller The Mill] that is probably the most mentally physical thing I ever had to do, but it’s in that realm where no one is going to expect what they see with that, too. One of the things about doing something that is your dream job, I always tell other artists is: Don’t let nobody put you in a box. Your agents. Your manager. The casting directors. This is your dream. So whatever you want to do with it? Do it. Just because something makes you money, don’t make it about that. Always make it about the dream, for real.
Is there another project that’s been announced you’re really excited about?
I’m excited about playing Santa Claus, that comes out later this year [with Disney’s Dashing Through The Snow]. It was so much fun to actually be Santa. Then Vacations Friends sequel Honeymoon Friends is nothing like the first one. So if you enjoyed the first one, this second one is even crazier. I love when a sequel is done right and I believe we did it right, so you won’t be able to predict what this next one is going to be; and it’s even funnier. Reunion I have coming out that’s really dope; Paw Patrol 2. And I have a Pixar show that I’m on that I don’t think has been announced yet that I’m really excited about. It’s so good, so heartfelt. I’ve been working!
What did you think of Get Out sequel Nope, and are you and Jordan Peele in any chats to do more together?
I told Jordan at the premiere that, it’s time to bring me back, man! I know you have 14 scripts, you’ve got to have one more me! But seriously, I love Nope. I’m very surprised that it was snubbed with the Oscars. I don’t understand at all that Keke [Palmer], who had an amazing performance, wasn’t nominated for anything, or even the Nope cinematography. One of my favorite moments at the Nope premiere was meeting up at the afterparty. Me, Jordan and Daniel [Kaluuya] were just standing in a circle, hugging each other. What’s interesting when you go on a ride like Get Out is just watching everybody’s progression from that. I’m so proud of those guys. And I’m so thankful for Jordan Peele even giving me the opportunity. He told me while he was editing Get Out, “Alright, get ready. Your phone is about to ring off the hook.” I was like, “Alright, brother. We’ll see.” And, he was right.
I saw you were engaging on social media in the conversation around the Oscar snubs for Black films, which included Nope as well as The Woman King and Till. What kind of change would you like to see?
It’s so interesting. We keep saying the members are diverse. I keep hearing this. And, I cannot believe that. I think we should start phasing out some of the members who have been around way too long who only know how to see movies one way. You can’t tell me that Viola Davis, who is in her 50s, the physicality, the acting [in Woman King]… that’s not a best actress nominee? And, that movie is brilliant. It also speaks to Hollywood being uncomfortable and — just what I’m seeing — when you have something run by all Black women, from director, producers, stars. Danielle [Deadwyler] with Till was great, Keke with Nope. So many great performances. And they were all different. I was actually in shock. To see Angela Bassett get her nomination was beautiful. To see Brian Tyree [Henry]? That’s my man. Yes.
I’ll say this last thing about Woman King. I went to the theater with my girlfriend, her daughter, my kids. Everybody was in tears. Everybody felt the energy. They all left that movie theater empowered. That’s what movies are supposed to do. And it made money! So, what’s the excuse?
Bringing it back to Poker Face, now that you are continuing the season as a viewer, what do you hope happens to Charlie Cale at the end of this season?
I don’t know. The son [played by Adrien Brody] is dead and [Ron Perlman’s character] is mad about it. Even though it wasn’t her fault. I remember yelling at the TV in that pilot episode, because it was so casual [when Brody’s character walked off the balcony]. You didn’t expect that. And he said it earlier in the episode, where you knew that if he didn’t get this right, he couldn’t stand the criticism and was already on edge. So, I don’t know. I have no idea what else is happening!
Anything else about the Poker Face experience?
It was just so much fun. Also, reuniting with Danielle [Macdonald]. We did Bird Box together. That was really cool, because when we did Bird Box, whenever you died in the movie, you just left. That was a wrap. They took you right to your trailer and you couldn’t say bye to anyone. So you really felt the deaths, which was crazy. I have never experienced that. We didn’t see each other until the premiere and we were like, “Yo, are you good?” (Laughs.) I remember BD Wong was one of the first deaths in our little group and it was sad, because then we didn’t see him again. They had us stay in the house during lunch, which is why all of us got close. That was actually one of the last movies, outside of this last movie I just did, where I had to take some time to kind of get out of it a little bit, because it was messing with me. And then, COVID happened.
Is anything still sticking with you about Taffy?
You know what made Taffy tough to play a little bit? I love my brother so much. I love the way we cut it, but when we did the scene of the last conversation between my character and George, it was a little bit more emotional for both of us. I played it a little more emotional than what it was, because I knew what I was about to do in that moment. That was tough.
Interview edited for length.
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