Lesbian actress Rebecca Henderson plays best friend in overalls Lizzie in new Netflix hit series Russian Doll.
Created by Henderson’s wife Leslye Headland, together with Amy Poehler and Orange Is The New Black star Natasha Lyonne, Russian Doll is what you would get if cult movie Groundhog Day went to therapy. And more.
Tough, cynical and sweary protagonist Nadia (Lyonne) is forced to relive her 36th birthday all over again.
As she dies repeatedly only to wake up each time at the lavish, quirky party her two best friends have thrown for her, she tries to figure out what is wrong with the universe. In order to break the cycle, she will need to process a long-buried childhood trauma.
Lizzie is a caretaker
Henderson plays Nadia’s sidekick and BFF Lizzie, a lesbian going through a life crisis and currently dating a 20-year-old.
‘Does she know what 9/11 is?’ asks Nadia.
‘Does anyone?’ replies Lizzie.
Short blonde hair, massive glasses, and dungarees, Lizzie strikes viewers as some sort of cartoonish character. But she’s also one to count on, always looking out for her friends.
‘Lizzie is a real caretaker of Nadia. This is something I do with my friendships in my life,’ Henderson tells GSN.
She explained that although some people might call it being codependent, she likes ‘to describe it as caretaking’.
‘I really related to that. I’ve known Natasha for several years and I do think this is a little bit our dynamic as Rebecca and Natasha.’
The best friends trio is completed by Greta Lee, who portrays Maxine, host of the wonderful party and chicken connoisseur.
The chemistry among the three is so palpable that the audience is left wondering how much of the dialogue is improvised.
‘I was very respectful so I let Natasha lead the way,’ reveals Henderson.
‘We had very clear scenes where she was definitely improvising, that’s something she does very well.’
She furthermore adds: ‘Greta is also hilarious in improvising. I just watched something the other day when we were walking into the bodega for the first time and Greta said, “Oh, here, this is where I got the chicken,” which was definitely not in the script.’
Russian Doll vs. Groundhog Day
The actors were able to add to the script because, unlike Groundhog Day, the world in Russian Doll doesn’t stay the same but is decaying, slowly but steadily. Therefore change is key to find a way through.
‘This is what definitely the show is about, changing who you are, a little bit like Groundhog Day, but I think for Nadia is more about escaping the trauma loop of her childhood,’ Henderson says.
‘I haven’t seen Groundhog Day in a long time although I do love that movie but, from what I understand, the world around Bill Murray’s character is unchanged. He wakes up and the world is exactly the same. He just lives the day over again. And then this has actually more to do with different timelines. I’m different in every timeline, I don’t do or say the exact same thing.’
Henderson also adds: ‘When I first watched the whole series through, that’s what really spoke to me. This is about addiction, trauma and mothers and daughters and basically, breaking free of that.’
The relationship between Nadia and her late mother Lenora, played to disturbing perfection by Chloë Sevigny, is one the secrets viewers are left to unveil.
Working with amazing women, including her wife
The show also stars Charlie Barnett, Yul Vazquez, Ritesh Rajan, and Waris Ahluwalia, but it strikes the audience as a powerful female-driven narrative.
‘With this show, what I noticed the most is when there was a man on set, we were kind of like “ah,”’ says Henderson.
‘Everyone was on board with having a great time and Natasha is so much fun, but I think that the men were kind of like “This is different, I’m playing the roles that the women usually play”. So watching that was really fun.’
Henderson also reveals that working with her wife Leslye was incredible. The two tied the knot in 2016.
‘I’ve definitely visited her on set before so I knew that she was focused and energetic,’ she says.
‘I’ve always found very sexy to see my person doing great at what they’re doing. That was true when I was working as well. We really understand each other, we get along really well. It was like having my favorite person at my job too.’
Henderson explains she has always worked with amazing women on set.
‘I tend to work a lot with female directors, I don’t know why I’ve been so lucky. I have worked with a lot of really powerful women, very driven women,’ the Canadian actress says.
She reveals: ‘I just did a film with Annabelle Attanasio, who is an actress and also now a filmmaker. She’s 26 years old, she’s incredible.’
Attanasio directed Mickey And The Bear starring Henderson among others. The movie will premiere at South by Southwest in March.
‘I also worked with Desiree Akhavan, so I feel like weirdly, I expect there to be women everywhere when I go to work and I’m kind of surprised when there’s a bunch of men, which definitely yields different energy.’
‘I have loved representing lesbians’
In 2014, she played lesbian Maxine in Appropriate Behavior, Akhavan’s directorial debut, released four years before The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
‘Personally, I have loved representing lesbians,’ she laughs.
She also weighs in on the neverending debate about straight actors playing LGBTI roles and vice-versa.
‘Representation is very important. It was very important to me when I was young to see an actual lesbian on TV,’ she says.
‘Ellen DeGeneres was the first person I saw. She was the first for a lot of us and she had a huge impact on me.’
Henderson further explains that she understands the commercial reasons behind casting famous straight stars in gay and bi roles. However, an effort needs to be made, she says.
‘The most recent film is Can You Ever Forgive Me with Melissa McCarthy. I totally understand having Melissa McCarthy in a film like that, in a role like that,’ Henderson says.
‘It was also important to get the film seen and made because she has financial power. There’s a smaller lesbian role in that played by Dolly Wells and I was like, “Oh, there’s an opportunity where they could’ve cast a queer actress in that part’.
‘I love Dolly Wells, by the way, I think she’s fabulous, but I do think that making an effort whenever possible is important.’
Henderson on reliving the most important night of her life
Back to Russian Doll, Henderson has no doubts on which moment of her life she would like to relive, just as Nadia does in the show.
‘What would be a great day to relive twenty times? Not my wedding day, that was stressful,’ she says.
‘A day that I would love to relive over and over again would be just a day that I come home and Leslye is here, we both relax and we cook a meal, and we snuggle up with the animals and watch a Netflix show, you know? But if I’m thinking of one of the most amazing moments of my life to relive over and over again, it will probably be when Leslye proposed.’
Headland had rented a room in a NY restaurant for Henderson’s birthday, gathering all of their friends. What Henderson thought was going to be a birthday dinner turned into the most special night of her life.
‘At the end of the meal she had a sunglass box on her lap. I thought she had bought me a pair of sunglasses that I wanted. And she started to give a little speech and I was like, “No, boo! No speeches!”
‘She was like, “No no no, I just wanna say I love you and you told everyone here that we were gonna be together before we were even together and I just wanna say that you were right and you will always be right”. And then she opened the sunglass box and inside was the ring box and I just blackout. I was completely speechless.
‘It’d be fun to look around and see what my friends are doing. I have some videos of the night, but I don’t remember it, it was so overwhelming. But I do remember hearing some of my friends screaming. I know I had one friend there who was going through a divorce. She was just sitting there with her arms crossed.’
Russian Doll season two
Might this be a possible plotline for Russian Doll season two? Netflix hasn’t confirmed a renewal yet, but the show’s huge success could help secure a deal over the next few weeks.
‘It’s been such an incredible response. It is, in some way, such a complete story. I do wonder what they would do for season two,’ Henderson says.
‘Would they continue on Nadia’s story or would they do a completely new story? Also, [would they be] following the rules of the universe in terms of time and space?’
Would she want to put Lizzie’s overalls back on?
‘Oh my god, I’d be thrilled to come back.’
Russian Doll is available to stream on Netflix.