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Behind the Fall’s Funniest Film

Natasha Lyonne on the deadly laughs of Addicted to Fresno

Something’s rotten in Fresno, California. Plenty of things, really. And in Addicted to Fresno, the sharp, dark new comedy from director Jamie Babbit, two down-on-their-luck sisters—played by Natasha Lyonne and Judy Greer—find that matters can indeed get worse when, in the course of working their jobs cleaning a local hotel, they somewhat accidentally become murderers. 

Here, Lyonne dishes on the unconventional research the role required and why she’s glad to finally play an optimist.

You and Judy Greer play sisters working together as hotel housekeepers. Did you research the position at all? 

We did go do housekeeping homework. We went to a hotel in the desert, somewhere in Simi Valley, and that was where we did our housekeeping research. We met with a housekeeper, we cleaned rooms and made beds together. We realized pretty quickly that we could study each other as real people to figure out what to base a character on. In many ways, I based Martha off Judy Greer and vice versa.

Are you making your bed with hospital corners at home now?

I am really known for my cleanliness and ability to keep a really excellent home. Also, my cooking. I am widely regarded for my dinner parties, and just how neat my towels are. They are all the things that most define me personally. 

OK! So, Martha’s a murderer but somehow she’s also the resident good guy in the film. What did you like the most about her?

Martha is a naturally funny person. Anybody who’s an optimist is automatically a very funny person, since it’s so uncommon and absurd. Anybody who has a positive outlook is automatically such a weirdo. She also felt like a world apart from my character on Orange is the New Black, who is definitely a weathered cynic. For Martha, everything is fine and even having committed murder, everybody is going to be OK. 

The city of Fresno gets blamed for a lot of the ills in these characters’ lives. Is it really so bad? 

No! Hopefully that people of Fresno will take it with a grain of salt. And, if it’s any consolation, the movie was originally meant to be called Addicted to Cleveland. Fresno should know that it could have been Cleveland.

This isn’t your first movie with director Jamie Babbit. How do you two work together?

Jamie Babbit directed But I’m A Cheerleader. We’re pals. I think she maybe just text messaged me like, “Hey, I have a new movie for you!’ And I was like, “Oh, yeah? Sure!” And then, she sent it to me and I got very excited. I was also very excited because I wasn’t playing the sex addict.

No, you’re a very nice girl. For a murderer.

Yeah, I like any role that demands research.  I said, “Of course, sure!” I was thrilled. And it was great, actually a fantasy of what filmmaking should be like. We had worked together before, and we stayed in touch over the years so it felt very meaningful to be able to have another go at it. And that everybody was doing well enough that 15 years after the first one it still felt right to work together. It was a very nice feeling that something right is happening in your life.