March 19, 2019

How the Stars of Russian Doll, Shrill, and Top Chef Get It Done

by The Cut on Tuesdays

Natasha Lyonne, Greta Lee, Padma Lakshmi, Aidy Bryant, and Hope Solo tell us how they tackle rejection, imposter syndrome, new job stress, and get it all done.

Transcript

 <<THEME IN>>


From the Cut and Gimlet Media, this is the Cut on Tuesdays. I’m your host, Molly Fischer.


<<THEME OUT>>


On today’s show, Natasha Lyonne, Padma Lakshmi, Aidy Bryant and other women who make stuff we love… are telling us how it all happens. In other words, how they get it done. 


<<MUX IN>>


On the Cut, we’ve got a column called “How I Get It Done”--it’s basically our excuse to call up women we admire and ask nosy questions about how they do what they do. Like... when do they wake up? What do they eat for breakfast? And how often do they check their phones? It’s about satisfying our curiosity when it comes to those little things, but also about the bigger questions that come with success. Like how to find the people who will make you better…how to deal with rejection…and how to handle all the uncertainty that comes with doing work you really care about and offering it up to the world.


A few weeks back, we invited a bunch of those women to get together and share their routines and advice with us. And on today’s show, we wanted to bring you some of the best parts of those conversations.


We’ll start with Natasha Lyonne and Greta Lee. They’re friends in real-life, and they’re also friends on screen in the new Netflix series Russian Doll. Natasha plays a woman celebrating her 36th birthday; Greta plays the friend who’s throwing her a party.


“SWEET BIRTHDAY BABY” 


So far, so festive. But before long, it becomes clear that something is not right. The birthday girl’s found herself stuck in a time loop--she’s living the night of the party over and over.


Greta: Sweet birthday baby! 

Natasha: I gotta go Max. The party's been grand but I've got to go check on a guy. 

Greta: What the fuck? 

Natasha: Natasha: Look I think a guy gave me a haircut yesterday may have died tomorrow and I don't know how tomorrow just work when it's yesterday again I mean is he in yesterday. Doesn't he even exist? I just don't know how these deaths works for other people OK. And this is fundamental stuff Maxine so I really need to know. OK. 

Greta: Sounds important. What a cunt. 


Greta’s greeting becomes a nightmare refrain. Everytime Natasha hears it, she knows her night’s starting over yet again. 


<SWEET BIRTHDAY BABY NIGHTMARE SUPERCUT> 


The show was 2019’s first big hit--it was a binge watch that arrived at the exact time of year when nobody wants to leave their couch. If you haven’t seen it, probably someone’s told you that you should. So we wanted to talk to Natasha and Greta about how it came together. How do they get Russian Doll--and everything else that they do--done?


They started with the basics.


Natasha: You gotta leave the house in this life, right?


Here’s Natasha.


Natasha: I always find that I'm dreading, dreading, dreading leaving the house. I'm like, "Please don't ask me to do anything ever. I'm begging you." Leaving the house is a crucial element of participation in life that is very instinctual to want to resist. If you give me a day off, my dream is to stay in bed all fucking day with nobody around. 


So, if you’ve successfully left the house: well done. The next step is getting used to rejection.


Natasha: Listen, Russian Doll was the big achievement, but prior to that, Greta and I had also done together a different show that I created with Amy Poehler at NBC that actually got rejected severely.


Greta: Yeah, and actually denied. Dead in the water.


Natasha: And that show was called Old Soul, where also my character Nadia, who I always use as my sort of alias in pictures, in my imagination based on Nadia Comaneci, my favorite gymnast from the '80s. So it was also-


Greta: Again, so accessible.


Natasha: And that's the thing, you want to make sure it's going to connect. After that show didn't happen, Poehler turned to me and she said, "Hey, what's the show we would really want to make if there were no rules, if there was no network, if it was just anything, what do we really, really want to say?" And that became the early ideas of the formation of what would become the show we created a together called Russian Doll.

  

Natasha said that, at this point, she’s glad that first show was rejected. It was liberating. 


Natasha: Rejection is God's protection. Like in the truth of the matter was, we had no way of knowing at the time of that in fact we were going to end up making something that was far, far greater just in terms of, on an integrity level of the things I really want to say in this life, being an opportunity and a forum to be able to sort of speak whatever our own version of the truth is without sounding too grandiose.


Greta: Thank God, Old Soul didn't get picked up.


Natasha: It's almost like a relationship where it's like, yeah. I mean, it's not that this guy wasn't great. It's this, thank goodness they didn't have a baby with them. 


It’s easier to say that in hindsight, of course--to shrug off your failures once you’ve had a huge success. But the idea that you have to suck it up and keep going even when the world tells you no--that was something that Natasha and Greta kept coming back to. 


Greta: It’s classified as like a male thing, right, this idea that you can just fake it till you make it and you kind of just figure it out as you go along and hope no one notices? That sort of gumption to do that sometimes gets gendered into like a male thing, and from my experience it feels like for women that’s something that has to be learned more, to do it and just trust yourself, you know? It’s so easy


You HAVE to “trust yourself,” if you’re going to be the one telling the story. And the more kinds of people can do that, the more kinds of stories get told. 


Natasha was thinking about all this when she got to work on Russian Doll. In her mind, it was a specifically female story--it was about mothers and daughters, and all the emotions wrapped up in those relationships. But that didn’t mean that it was necessarily a story About Womanhood. It was just a story about a person who happened to be a woman. And Natasha wanted to tell that story in a way that made it feel natural. To do that, she had a specific idea of who she wanted behind the scenes.   


Natasha: For Russian Doll, I put together with great intention an all female writers room and all female directors team. On this specific project, I knew it was a deeply personal thing that was going to get into like babies, mommy issues, etc., et cetera, my dances with death and all this stuff that there was kind of a risk of misunderstanding what that meant to me. Like how much it didn't need to be the main event of this person and the story I was trying to create, that this was sort of the fabric of her sort of environmental stressors in a way that was kind of a light touch. Like I'm always dealing with this shit. All right? Like that's what it's like being a person.


Greta’s dealing with something similar on K-Town, the new show she’s developing for HBO: It’s about Korean Americans, but it’s not just a story about an identity. And Greta found that it’s still hard to get a show like that made. 


Here she is explaining the biggest battle she’s had to fight for her work. 


Greta: Having a show at all about Asian people. I mean, it's amazing that, that in it of itself, we're not even there yet. I mean, we're so far from that. It really is mind boggling how much of a complete desert it's been in terms of having a bunch of Asian people on TV, was very frankly, frightening. It's a lot of pressure. I mean, we never set out make like one of the first Asian American chill whatever on cable. That's not a real fun creative place to live in. I'd be lying if I said it didn't freak us out. But I think that our approach is we were never setting out to tell an identity story.


I think with the big trick is people assume, okay, if you're telling like a female story or a black story or a Mexican American story, then everything you do, the characters you see my character. Like I'm taking my Asian hand and reaching into my Asian purse and grabbing my Asian metrocard as I get on to train as an Asian woman, which is not how I live my life. So that's the constant battle that we have to do creatively in improving like I am a human person first, believe it or not. And that identity and things like those themes are very real and valid, but they can exist in it, in a bigger, and just like the structure of a story.


As for Natasha, she said she spent a long time trying to fit the conventional version of what Hollywood wanted. It wasn’t until she finally stopped that she had her big breakout success. 


Natasha: It kind of frees you up to accidentally make things that are truly in your own voice because you have no other choice. It's been incredibly overwhelming and life affirming to have something so personal connect with so many people has been radical. That's been the weirdest part of it, in a way, is reconciling the amount of, sort of a wasted years that I spent sort of trying to be like, shrink myself down to what I thought was going to be a palatable size for this industry, the world at large, whatever. Like, as a writer, as a thinker, as it director, let alone as a fucking actress in Hollywood. I mean, it was like how blonde and how skinny and how, sort of like wall flowery can I pretend that I can be, even though I'm so clearly never going to be that. 


Once she realized she wasn’t going to satisfy other people’s expectations, she felt like she could just go ahead and do the stuff she actually wanted to do.  


That was the truth? That was the thing you guys were in into? Well, fuck it. I could have been doing that for 20 years, motherfucker.


Also, I should say: During this conversation, while Natasha and Greta were onstage talking with the Cut’s Allison Davis, Greta was HUGELY pregnant. She spent part of the panel lying down on the couch with a pillow between her knees and her head in Natasha’s lap. Which made me think of some advice I’ve heard from a lot of other successful women: When it comes to things like changing jobs or having babies, there’s never a perfect time. You just have to go for it and then figure it out. So, all the more reason not to wait 20 years to be the weirdo you want to be… go out there, Get It Done, and make sure to have friends who don’t mind a head in their laps.


After the break, more women who are Getting It Done--including Aidy Bryant on how doing shows for drunk men on cruise ships gave her the strength to rise to the top.


You made it through a man wearing no shirt eating a chicken tender, you can make it through a respectful group of people who are excited to watch a TV film.


 <<MIDROLL>>


Welcome back to The Cut On Tuesdays. On today’s show, we bring you the voyeuristic pleasure of hearing successful women explain the minutiae of their lives, and also the sweet relief of realizing that they have problems, too.


Stella Bugbee, the Cut’s editor-in-chief, sat down with Aidy Bryant of Saturday Night Live, champion soccer player Hope Solo, and Padma Lakshmi of Top Chef. They covered everything from new job stress to impostor syndrome, and Stella started off by asking about a topic you may recall from the first half of the show: Rejection. No one, it turns out, can avoid it. NOT EVEN Padma Lakshmi.

 

Padma Lakshmi: Most of my job is dealing with rejection. I have gone from being ignored to being wrong to being “we have to have her” to being the flavor of the month or saying, "Well, she's been on TV a long time. Who's new?" I mean, I am a 48-year-old woman on TV so I am a depreciating asset as I sit here. It's like a car that you drive off the lot. The way I shake it off is just to say, you know you want to do this so this is the necessary evil of your job. It just is.


Padma joined Top Chef in 2006, during its second season. Since then, the show’s been nominated for 27 Emmys and attracted millions of fans. Padma’s the face of the franchise--she’s become an archetype.


Padma Lakshmi: It's pilot season now and my agent said, I think you should audition for this. I said, I'm not auditioning for acting jobs anymore. And she said, "No, no, they want a Padma Lakshmi type. I'm gonna send you."


Aidy Bryant has also become something of an institution. She’s been on Saturday Night Live for seven seasons now, which makes her one of the senior members of the current cast. 


Aidy Bryant: It's interesting because people since the day I got hired at SNL, they're like, "What's next?"


Padma: What are you working on?


Aidy Bryant: Yeah, it's like, "Where are you headed?" I'm like, "I guess right here. I just got here. I'm so stressed to be here." I always felt like I wasn't super I don't know, angling to get out.


Aidy Bryant: Especially SNL's a really hard place to work. It takes a long time to get comfortable there and so I really just was like, put my head down and tried to figure out what I was doing and do my work.


Aidy Bryant: When I got on SNL, I had never been on camera before in my life. I'd been doing comedy, stand-up and improv in Chicago. I didn't even know where the hell I was. I thought I was like on Mars.


Stella Bugbee: When you first started and you were super stressed out and you were panicking just to be there, how did you deal with that stress?


Aidy Bryant: Crying on the floor. No, I mean, I feel like it was a mix. There were moments when I was crying on the floor, but there were other moments where I found myself often reaching back to my prior experiences and being like, you know what? You used to do shows for sun-burned, drunk men on a cruise ship who were eating chicken tenders and did not want to see you perform. Now you're at Saturday Night Live. You can handle this audience. You know what I mean? You made it through a man wearing no shirt eating a chicken tender, you can make it through a respectful group of people who are excited to watch a TV show film.


Aidy Bryant: I just found myself reaching back to my horrible shows that I had done and being like, if you made it through that, you can make it through this, and this is actually a luxury. You know?


I really love SNL and I feel like I finally, in the past couple of years, feel really comfortable there and I can not work as hard a little bit. I can cut corners because I'm not cutting my teeth there anymore.


And there's a great joy and comfort in being like, yeah, I'm one of the senior cast members here now and I worked my fucking ass off to stay there and do that, and that 

I'm really enjoying that time.  


Aidy’s approach to enjoying this newfound free time has been to add another enormous project to her schedule. She’s writing, producing, and starring in the new Hulu show Shrill…. while also keeping her job at SNL.  


Shrill premiered last week. It’s based on the book by Lindy West, and it follows a young journalist--played by Aidy--who decides to stop feeling bad about her body.


Aidy Bryant:  I don't know that I was searching for what my next big thing was. But I heard that Shrill had been optioned and I loved that book, and I was like, oh, if anything, that's like my story and I know how to write that and I know how to produce that and I know how I wanted that story to be told, because I longed for it as a teen you know and basically, while I was at SNL, I found out that the show had been not just picked up from ... we weren't gonna just make a pilot, that we turned in a script thinking we'd get asked to make a pilot. They were like, no, we want to go straight to series, which is a major step and it's really scary because you don't really get to do a practice run. You go straight into it. Right away, we wrote six episodes, shot six episodes and the day I finished shooting, I went to the Emmys and the next day, i was back at SNL.


So Aidy’s been busy. Fortunately, though, she has some strategies for chilling herself out.


Aidy Bryant: Sometimes I'll have a day where I'm executive producing Shrill or whatever, but I'm also at Saturday Night Live and that is a full time job and like trying to find a way to get through those two pieces of my brain and also have a husband and have a life.


Stella Bugbee: And a really nice dog.


Aidy Bryant: Yeah, and a really nice dog. And eat or sleep, all those things. I feel like for me, what helps me a lot is instead of running through the list, try to return to the physical even if it just means washing my hands and putting on hand cream, which I know sounds like ... but just little things that are gonna bring me back to myself and make me feel like a human being again. It always helps me just like be like, okay, this isn't gonna ruin you. Nothing's gonna destroy you. If you mess up, people understand. Just to take some of the pressure out of it and let it be like, who gives a fuck?


But it can be hard to let yourself say “who gives a fuck” when you’re surrounded by people who doubt your abilities.


Take Hope Solo: She’s one of the most successful women in soccer. She won gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic games, plus the 2015 World Cup. Since retiring as a player, she’s become a soccer commentator, a job where she’s often the only woman on a panel of men. And in the male-dominated world of sports, she says it can be hard to assert yourself...even when you’re a gold medalist.


Hope Solo: I know soccer like the back of my hand. I've won a World Cup. I've won Olympics. But now I'm commentating with these old men who think that they know everything there is to know about the game of soccer, even though they've never been on the field. But they have the accent and I'm scared. I'm like this younger woman that they don't respect as much, even though I've won a World Cup, even though I'm a better player than any of them ever, ever were.


Aidy Bryant: Yes.


Padma Lakshmi: Next time just wear your gold medal. Wouldn't that be great if she just showed up ...


Stella Bugbee: Oh, excuse me.


Padma Lakshmi: That would be your long necklace. Just be like, "yeah, what up?" I bet they would shut up.


Padma learned on the job how to claim that authority. She’s written two cookbooks and knew a lot about food, but when she started on Top Chef, she still felt insecure--she’d never worked in a professional kitchen.


Padma Lakshmi: I was really nervous that someone was gonna find out that I didn't know how to work a sous vide machine or something dumb like that, and I hate sous vide meat, so it's fine.


Padma Lakshmi: But then I slowly started realizing that I don't need to be exactly like them. The reason I'm sitting in the chair that I am is because I'm just supposed to elicit articulate sound bites from those people. I bring a different set of skills and knowledge to the job. And I really, really didn't get comfortable in my position until I would say I was a good three years in.


Stella Bugbee: It sounds like from what you're saying, you do a lot of talking to yourselves, rationalizing or whether it's remembering a bad experience or figuring out ways to let it go in the moment or finding the courage to speak up to someone who's disrespecting you in the moment. Is there an internal dialogue? Are there people you turn to in your life to get that support? How do you find that courage in yourself?


Padma Lakshmi: I think now that I'm experienced enough, the question I ask myself is what action will produce the goal you want and that's really, really hard to do in the moment. Your anger gets you. Or you feel intimidated and that takes over.


Padma Lakshmi: I think what you have to remember is that especially in professional life, this is a job. You can't take it personally. You really can't internalize what feedback you're getting, whether it's positive or negative. 


Stella Bugbee: I have a philosophical question. You're all describing stress and you're also describing accomplishments. Is there ever a moment when you think, it isn’t worth it? This, what I'm going through is not worth it. Obviously you guys have overcome a tremendous amount of stress in order to be here, even today, but what do you do when you feel that way?


Padma Lakshmi: I used to think, why don't I just get off this wheel? This thing? You know but I think that’s just how I am hardwired.  If I wasn't working on the pitch, I would be alphabetizing my essential oils. That's how I'm made, you know? 


Aidy Bryant:  Gosh, I feel like of course there are moments where I'm like this is not worth it and I want to stop. But now, i feel like I take comfort in those moments in a weird way because I've really stopped and been like, this isn't worth it and I want to stop. And then I'm like, okay, what would my life be if I really did stop? If I truly left this and I went and did something different. When I think about that, I'm like, that doesn't seem that bad either. There's value in that too and that seems really nice too, like living in Chicago and maybe teaching or writing or doing all these things. I'm like, yeah, that seems like a nice life too.


Aidy Bryant: I find that there's a little bit of comfort in that, that if I come to a point where I start to feel like it's not worth it, then like I can deal with that too and I'm open to both, if that makes sense.


It’s good to remember that there’s life beyond whatever work situation happens to be stressing you out at the moment. The human experience, after all, is rich and various. As one woman reminded us, during the audience Q&A.


Audience question: What about intimacy in your lives? Love? Sex? Where is it in your life?


Padma Lakshmi: I'm having really good sex.


Aidy Bryant: And so am I. Thank you.


Hope Solo: Amen.


That’s it for this week’s show… We’ll see you next Tuesday.


And! We want to hear from you. We’re working on an episode about sex… specifically, what we thought sex WAS when we were younger. I’m talking about middle school or so… when the first stirrings of horniness are paired with a total lack of useful information. What were the rumors, secrets, and misguided lessons that you believed? What were the private fantasies you harbored. 


So tell us: How did sex work, according to you? What was sexy, in your mind?

And please--be very specific! Our number is 413-247-4698. Again: 413-247-4698




CREDITS


The Cut on Tuesdays is produced by Sarah McVeigh and Olivia Natt.


Our senior producer is Kimmie Regler.


We’re edited by Stella Bugbee, Nazanin Rafsanjani, and Lynn Levy.


Mixing by Emma Munger and Andi Kristins, our music is by Haley Shaw and Emma Munger. Our theme song is PLAY IT RIGHT by Amelia Meath, Nick Sanborn, Molly Sarle, and Alexandra Sauser Monig. 


Special thanks to Lauren Starke, Tara Reilly, Courtney Given, and Emily Levin


The Cut on Tuesdays is a production of Gimlet Media and the Cut.