As we prepare for BUST’s 25th anniversary, we’re bringing some of our favorite cover stories online for the first time. Here’s our cover story with Natasha Lyonne from our Summer 2001 “Living Single” issue.
Natasha Lyonne personifies the modern single gal. She is a woman with a vision. She knows who she is. She has romantic notions and she has realistic expectations. She knows what she wants, and she is determined to be as exacting as she can about it all. Plus she has a fabulous sense of humor.
She’s also a friend of mine. I met Natasha in New York City just after she had shot Slums of Beverly Hills and before she went on to do American Pie, way after she starred as Woody Allen’s daughter in Everyone Says I Love You. There came a point when I didn’t see her all that much because she was living in Los Angeles, determined to break some ground. She shot Detroit Rock City and But I’m a Cheerleader, and had a cameo in HBO’s If These Walls Could Talk 2. Now she’s back in New York City, wrapping up Kate and Leopold with Meg Ryan. Her star is rising, but she remains as opinionated and funny as she was when we first met.
When I asked her if she would do an interview with BUST, I was, quite frankly, worried that I was crossing the line. But as it turns out, Natasha was psyched. In fact, she went a step further and became very involved in setting up the cover shoot. She knew she wanted to use photographer Melissa Auf der Mar, former bassist of Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, and she knew who her stylist (Annie P., her best friend) and her makeup artist (Molly Stern, an entrepreneur herself) would be. But most importantly, she was very clear about her inspiration: the original “It” girl, Clara Bow. She even brought the Clara Bow biography book as reference for the mood of the photo. Because to Natasha, a BUST photo shoot just had to be a feminist collective—a bunch of gals getting together to do something for the ladies. And this is what I love about Natasha: She just gets it.
Before we jump into the single life, I just have to say that I was really impressed that you wanted to get so involved in setting up the cover shoot. Most people let their “people” handle all the details as long as they look purty, but you had a clear vision of what you wanted, and not in a star diva way.
Thanks. It was a somewhat organic idea that turned itself into some sort of vision. It’s so weird being in this business; there are all these creepy ideas about what women are supposed to look like, but who’s it supposed to appeal to? You know, with Maxim and Gear and whatever the hell they’re called now—these elevated forms of Playboy—it’s suddenly become okay for every woman who might even be talented to just completely expose herself. And you know, I didn’t start doing this to be approved of by tons of men and women. That was never the idea; the idea was just that I was a creative person who has lived inside my imagination since I was a child. And a photo shoot should be a creative thing where you can look good in a kind of fun way. It shouldn’t be about how many men are going to jerk off to my cover.
That’s not to say that I wouldn’t do the cover of Maxim. That’s not even the point. This is a really easy business to be forced to contradict yourself in. I think the idea should just be to have a certain level of integrity, and a certain desire to be creative, and have that be the one continuous current in your career. I mean, the end goal isn’t to be famous. The goal always has to be that you take your position and that power within this industry and you shove it in their faces. In other words, Julia Roberts should take her power and position to do mainstream things that count, to do mainstream things that make a difference. Not just to accept her Academy Award by saying, “Oh my God, this is my moment,” but to accept her Academy Award and say, “Thanks, Erin Brockovich.” She didn’t even thank the woman that gave her the Academy Award. I mean, the idea that a woman’s story is interesting because it involves cleavage and law is pretty scary. But nonetheless, at least its heart was in the right place.
So this photo shoot was me taking whatever little stance I can get, because I’m friends with the editor. It was my chance to say, “Hey, let’s do something original.” I wanted to do it with a bunch of real women whom I actually know, who are really all individually talented and in this business for the right reasons.
Okay, the single life. That’s what we’re here to talk about.
You know, I miss you not smoking; it’s very confusing. Whenever a friend quits, it’s very heartbreaking for me.
I have a baby girl now. It’s not like when I was single and I had the luxury of irresponsibility. I have to watch what I eat, because I’m nursing.
I know. You’re a bold human being who was ready to have a child. And I think it’s weird that our standards for appropriate female behavior have kind of advanced in certain levels, but have regressed at other points. Like, Madonna having a child at 40 means that she’s out of her mind, that she’s trying to make a statement, when in fact she’s probably just a person who’s had this huge life and has finally decided that there’s nothing more important than children. I think this is the real thing she wants to do, and she doesn’t care who the dad is. It’s not about that; it’s about her. Women these days are strong enough to say, “It’s okay for me to have this child because I want to, regardless of the father,” but the world and society are still not willing to accept that. It’s horrible that women are in a position where they’ve been raised that it’s okay to be independent on every level, until you get to that point and you’re supposed to say, “This is where I draw the line.” I mean, you can be independent and real and have sex with as many people as you want to outside of marriage, but then one day when you actually get pregnant and are ready to have a child, you’re supposed to stop and say, “This is too much”?
Exactly. So, I know you’re in a relationship these days, but did you like being single?
I like company, and because I hate going out—I hate leaving the house, period—if I meet someone I like, I am very likely to stay with him. It’s not necessarily intended to be some “long-term relationship,” it’s just spending a lot of time with a person I really like, watching movies and lying in bed. I have no real interest in getting dressed up and playing the whole singles game; meeting strangers and finding out about them is just not fun to me.
Are you and your ex-boyfriend, Eddie [Furlong], still friends?
Yeah. The way the press blow things out of proportion—I think for a lot of people in this business it sort of sucks, because people have real attitudes toward their relationships. Not everything is a huge blowout; not everything is this insane intense romance. So yeah, I am still friends with him; there’s no one else I lived with for a year and a half.
“The goal always has to be that you take your position and that power within this industry and you shove it in their faces.”
Do you prefer being alone?
What I most enjoy is my time with myself. I’ve always sort of been that way. I moved out at 16 and I went to a high school where I didn’t fit in, so it’s ironic that I ended up in a business that’s all about fitting in. I realized early on that my time with myself—listening to music and going to the park and not going to class—was the peak of my day. As I got older, it didn’t change that much. The only time when I don’t feel manic or out of sorts or discombobulated is when I’m alone reading or listening to music and just being there in the moment, as opposed to being in someone else’s moment.
Did your mother raise you on her own?
Yeah, until I was around 8 I lived with both of my parents. But somewhere between 8 and 10, the marriage was dissolving, and from 10 on, it was just me and her in Manhattan. That was definitely an interesting dynamic that kind of taught me the responsibilities of being a single woman, and especially a single female parent in Manhattan. To learn that a one-bedroom was enough, and a studio wasn’t. And at a certain point you don’t want to sleep in the bed with your mom anymore, even if it’s more practical in a small apartment. That point hits right around 10, 11, 12—you’re like, “This isn’t cool, no one else does this.”
That must influence how you feel about living alone.
My level of commitment to someone else is going to be very much like in the movie Annie Hall, you know? It’s like, “This is my island. Always keep your island.” And my apartment is my island in a lot of ways. I bought it when I was 18 years old and I am never giving it up. Even if I was living with someone else in the city, I would probably still keep my apartment. Because I know enough to know that I don’t ever want to be in a position where some natural force or fluke of nature could end up with me homeless and in the shit.
Do you eat better when you are single?
Eat better? Hell yeah. When I’m single I eat what I want to eat, when I want to eat it, as opposed to in the relationship I’m in now, where I eat six meals of Chinese food a day, and I don’t even like Chinese food. But I guess something about me has encouraged the man that I’m with now to start eating meat when I’m finally feeling like I want to stop eating meat.
But I think that during the courting period of being with someone, there’s a whole subtext to what you’re eating. I don’t know where all those fancy meals go once you get serious with someone. This guy I know, Harry the Horse—he got that name because he won the rodeo—I was asking him for some serious relationship advice, and he said to me, “You can never stop courting a woman.” And my response was, “And a woman can never start becoming lazy towards her man.” I mean, neither person should really stop courting the other at any point.
Yeah, people start taking their mates for granted. No matter how in love with someone you are, it’s so easy to get comfortable and stop appreciating the things that once meant so much.
I think that’s huge. I think getting lazy and getting comfortable really screws a lot of things up. It’s natural even within yourself; it’s easy to go through times when you’re sort of lazy and times when you’re taking care of yourself. It’s like you’re saying, “I was in a phase where I was going out and I hadn’t met you and I was wearing heels, but now that you’re here, those heels are awfully uncomfortable, so these are my slippers and I’m going to wear them out of the house today.” That’s when you know things are getting ugly. I mean girls in general, girls like me and you, at a certain point we stop trying. You know what I mean? Because we feel confident enough to be comfortable. And both parties are kind of really responsible for that happening, for the breakdown of attraction.
“We’ve burdened ourselves with the idea that monogamy is the only right, true way, and we’ve sort of screwed ourselves over now, because as sort of advanced enlightened modern people, we’re slowly finding out that that’s not the case.”
Speaking of responsibility and consequence, where do you stand on monogamy?
I think monogamy was created by men because of jealousy and their need for ownership, but now it’s viewed as the weak neediness of women, and that pretty much sucks for us. We’ve burdened ourselves with the idea that monogamy is the only right, true way, and we’ve sort of screwed ourselves over now, because as sort of advanced enlightened modern people, we’re slowly finding out that that’s not the case. I am a super loyal person with my friends and in relationships, so for me it’s not so much a level of commitment or monogamy as it is the fact that there are very few people I like on the planet. There are very few people I want to have anything to do with. It’s not that I necessarily dislike other people, I just like to make my friendships really special.
Do you have a lot of single girlfriends?
A lot of my girlfriends are single by choice because they want to live their lives, and they know they’re attractive and interesting and successful enough that they’re gonna meet a guy and he’s going to realize that he should be so lucky. It’s definitely a choice they make to be single. You don’t have to report to anyone, you have your freedom, you can take your twenties and your thirties to work and establish something for yourself. Then, by the time you do meet a man, you’re willing to be devoted to him and you’re willing to start a family without feeling like you’ve given it all up.
Well, you’re 22 years old. Ever think about marriage?
Do you expect me to tell you something really heavy? I don’t know—I think marriage requires a certain level of responsibility or reality that you don’t necessarily bargain for in the search for love when you’re single and stringless. There isn’t any kind of in-between state, especially when you’re 20, and you don’t know what it is you’re looking for because you don’t know yourself. Maturity is part of your search for life; it’s all these in-between stages. For the single girl who’s really on her own in the world, her maturity is at a different level because her search never stops. Instead of coming to some point where you recognize, Now I’m ready for children, now I’m ready to be married, now I’m ready—that point never happens, because you’re constantly evolving as an active working woman who is not resigned to a life of being married with children. It’s a very different compromise you make with yourself.
Does divorce go hand in hand with marriage these days?
When some insane number—like over 50 percent—of married couples get divorced, it puts your impression of marriage in a whole different place. You don’t want to get married to get divorced. And I think that’s what’s going to happen. My parents are divorced. Ultimately, I would like to get married; I would like to meet someone that I would spend the rest of my life with and have all my experiences with, and not to die alone. And the person that I choose to do that with is going to be very carefully picked, not some sort of flippant romance that feels like the real thing. I’m going to force it to go to a dark place before it comes to the light of marriage and togetherness.
It does seem as if a married couple getting a divorce is as casual a thing as a dating couple breaking up.
And I think that there will be a sort of backlash to all this divorce, where people will be saying, “Screw it, I’m not getting married until it’s perfect or I’m not getting married at all.” Which is why I think it’s smarter to get married when you’re both a bit older because when you’re both 30 or 40, you’re ready to say, “I’ve seen what’s out there and I’m not interested. It’s boring as hell. I’ve been with enough bimbos, I’ve seen enough dumb bitches bend over. I want to spend my life with you as a human being, and not get divorced, because divorce is really overrated and a big pain in the ass and far too common for you or me to want to be a part of it.”
So do you believe in true love?
Well, how many times have you been in love, and how many times have you really thought you were in love?
I don’t think love only happens once or twice. I think a person’s heart is big enough to love multiple times, like an orgasm. It’s sacred, but it’s pleasurable, so why not love?
Exactly. The only truth in love is true love.
Story by Marcelle Karp
Photos by Melissa Auf Der Mar
This article first appeared in BUST’s Summer 2001 issue. Subscribe now.
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