‘Poker Face’ Finale: Showrunners and Natasha Lyonne on Charlie’s Family Reunion and Season 2 Plans for New Guest Stars
SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from the “Poker Face” Season 1 finale, “The Hook,” now streaming on Peacock.
“Poker Face” revealed more about the personal life of protagonist Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) than viewers learned throughout the first nine episode of Rian Johnson’s Peacock howdunit series, with the introduction of her sister Emily Cale (Clea DuVall) when Charlie needs a place to hide out after she’s accused of another murder. This is when we discover that Charlie has had a rough history with her sister, and hasn’t seen her in so long that she’s never even met her young niece, Shasta.
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In a show packed with A-list guest stars, filled wi good friends and longtime collaborators of Johnson and Lyonne, DuVall landed the role of the most significant person to Charlie — a person who despises her sister’s lie-detecting talent because of the effect it had on them and their family growing up — because of the emotions she could bring out in Lyonne.
“For Clea and I, there’s this instant thing when you have a built-in backstory relationship that happens, we could just look at each other in that kitchen, and she just breaks my heart,” Lyonne told Variety. “For her to look at me and be disappointed in me, it’s so easy to drop into. I just love her so much that it just becomes so much more complex in a much more organic sense. You don’t have to go hunting for it in the same way.”
“Poker Face” was fortunate to get an early Season 2 renewal, but that luck means that Lyonne, Johnson and showrunners Nora and Lilla Zuckerman don’t yet know whether Emily will appear again on the series. Lyonne is glad, however, that they’ve set themselves up for a great return, if she does.
“Clea, she’s such a fucking heartbreaker. I mean, she’s devastating, she’s such a great actor,” Lyonne said. “Who knows if we’ll ever see that person again, but whether it’s Clea or Benjamin Bratt, this is not the kind of show that has baked in DNA for a lot of recurring characters.”
With so many guest stars on in Season 1, there’s no telling what new faces will pop up in Season 2. However, Lyonne has at least one person in mind, because that actor has specifically let her know they are very interested.
“The only one that is coming to mind right now is Samira Wiley,” Lyonne said. “Samira came to the premiere and then we went out with friends after and it was just me and her and a few other people. And she was like, ‘Just so you know, I would do one of these.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah?’ She was like, ‘Yeah, I know sometimes ask me to do things, maybe I don’t, but just so you know, this, I would do one of these.’ And I was like, ‘OK, Samira!'”
Read Variety‘s interview with “Poker Face” showrunners Nora and Lilla Zuckerman — for the purposes of clarity, called by their first names — about the finale and plans for Season 2 below.
How did you come up with and orchestrate Cliff’s big gun swap that led to Charlie being on the hook for Sterling Frost Sr.’s (Ron Perlman) murder?
Lilla Zuckerman: That’s the kind of mind-bending puzzle that we do all the time on “Poker Face,” where you’re sitting in the room and somebody usually just gets up on the whiteboard and draws two guns and it’s like, “Let me get this straight, so Gun A and Gun B.” And then you understand the mechanics of what happens in real time, but what’s really fun is we dole it out in little pieces and not necessarily in a linear fashion. But we do have to do a lot of gut-checking to make sure it makes sense.
Nora Zuckerman: The cool thing about the gun swap is it also gave us that opportunity, when they’re in the car, when Cliff tells Charlie to take the gun out of of the glove box and gives her a moment where she can shoot him. And she can’t, because she’s Charlie. That’s not who she is. But it becomes such a lovely, frustrating moment for Charlie, but also it’s very illuminating of her character: Even after everything she’s been through, she’s not going to kill this guy.
What’s the story behind Rhea Perlman’s casting as new big bad Beatrix Hasp, who we don’t see in the finale, but just hear over the phone? How involved will she be in Season 2 compared to Ron Perlman’s Sterling Frost Sr.? He first appeared as only a voice over the phone in the series premiere, and then showed up in person in the finale.
Nora: We certainly wanted a voice that you would immediately recognize and know.
Lilla: She’s such inspired casting, and I think so much of the casting of this season is inspired because you get somebody that is beloved and famous for playing a certain type of role, and then we get to see them reveal a totally different side of themselves and play against type. And Rhea Perlman playing the head of the Five Families, an absolute killer, a sadistic cold-blooded hunter — I can’t wait to see what that looks like in Season 2. I don’t know what it looks like yet, but I can’t wait to write it.
(Lilla and Nora noted that with Rhea Perlman appearing in the finale after John Ratzenberger was in an earlier episode this season, “Poker Face” is now two for two on “Cheers” alums and is coming for Ted Danson next.)
Do you have anything worked out for Season 2 yet after getting an early renewal?
Nora: We certainly have ideas. There’s a lot of stuff we wanted to do in Season 1 that we kind of put aside and said, we love this, but we’ll wait. The details are still being ironed out. It was such an early pickup, I don’t think anybody expected it so soon. So it’s a real exciting prospect.
Lilla: We’re so much more educated now on how to write this show and how to innovate on the form that I think when we go back and take a look at some of those worlds or characters or murders that we set aside, we might find fresh ways in. And we’ve seen this kind of formula works, messing around with different tones works, meeting new dastardly characters every week works. So I think we can go into Season 2 with a lot of confidence and a lot of creativity.
I think you should take it international in Season 2.
Nora: “Le Poker Face” has been a joke that we talk about, because Rian is a Francophile. And we did discuss in the room, if Charlie hears somebody lie in another language, but doesn’t understand that language, does her ability work?
Lilla: Maybe we’ll find out in Season 2.
Nora: Or Season 5!
Was the decision to set Charlie on the lam once again in the finale, this time because Beatrix Hasp is trying to get revenge on Charlie for the damage she’s now done to the Five Families, mean that Charlie always has to be on the run for the premise of “Poker Face” to work?
Lilla: I don’t know if she necessarily needs to be on the run, but we always pictured her on the move. We knew that at the end of Season 1, she wasn’t going to be laying down roots anywhere. That didn’t feel quite right to us. I love the idea that she has this new threat that is propelling her forward. We always felt like Charlie Cale is like a shark, she’s always moving forward. And so it felt really satisfying to see her climb in that Barracuda and jet across the highway at the end of the season.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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