Rian Johnson's 'Poker Face' Puts Natasha Lyonne Head-to-Head With Everyone From Benjamin Bratt to Judith Light

Watch a new trailer featuring the guest stars of 'Poker Face.'
by Danielle Turchiano — 

Natasha Lyonne in 'Poker Face'


When Rian Johnson was coming up with the concept for Poker Face, Peacock's new road trip murder mystery series starring Natasha Lyonne, his original idea was to do "a truly episodic case of the week mystery show, like the kind of stuff I used to watch when I was sitting in front of the TV as a kid," he said during a Television Critics Association press tour panel for the series.

Then, he was watching Columbo, the original Magnum P.I., and The Rockford Files, but in reruns, so he had "no idea what order they're in and that was part of the pleasure they're in."

But of course, the television landscape and viewing audiences have both changed greatly in the years since then, and as his Poker Face plan evolved, he added in "connective tissue" toward the end of the series so that you can't watch these episodes in truly any order, the way you often had to if you were catching old mysteries in reruns. And, that means Lyonne's Charlie has an important evolution and arc that takes her from Las Vegas in the premiere episode across the United States, stumbling across many suspicious deaths that she feels the need to get to the bottom of, even though she is just passing through the towns.

The first one is in Vegas, of course, which is where she encounters Cliff Legrand, who is played by Benjamin Bratt and who is a core piece of connective tissue throughout the season. Cliff, as the actor described him, is "the beautiful soldier. He's got a military background, he's given the legacy of protecting the Frost Casino...and he'll do whatever it takes to succeed at that job." 

"In the pilot he's tasked with going after Charlie and that provides the ticking clock to keep her on the road," he continued.

But Charlie is mostly a lone wolf, and Lyonne, who also executive produces, admitted that "life as a lone wolf is always tricky." Like Johnson, she, too, was highly influenced by Columbo and Peter Falk as the titular character in that previous "how-catch-em" series. ("I would love to go on Finding Your Roots and discover that Peter Falk was some sort of deep, distant relation," she said.) But so was Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye: "floating above a situation, trying to crack a riddle of some sort but also an every man and has their nose to the grindstone and is trying to figure out the sound of the streets."

Charlie is not a trained detective, but she does have a keen lie detector and street smarts. She also deeply cares about the truth, which Lyonne said is something she cares about too and therefore was an easy connection point to the character.

Although the show is set on the road, production actually took place in Upstate New York, with Johnson saying they found pockets that could stand in for a variety of rural, small towns.

As each episode travels to a new place, it spends a lot of time getting to know the people who in habit that world outside of Charlie's influence in order to understand why the murder occurred, and then follows Charlie as she unpacks what she sees as suspicious about the death. (Hence why it is a "how-catch-em" instead of a whodunnit.)

The guest star list includes Bratt, Adrien Brody, Angel Desai, Audrey Corsa, Brandon Micheal Hall, Charles Melton, Chelsea Frei, Cherry Jones, Chloë Sevigny, Clea DuVall, Colton Ryan, Danielle MacDonald, Dascha Polanco, Ellen Barkin, Hong Chau, Jasmine Aiyana Garvin, Jameela Jamil, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Judith Light, Leslie Silva, Lil Rel Howery, Luis Guzmán, Megan Suri, Niall Cunningham, Nicholas Cirillo, Nick Nolte, Reed Birney, Rhea Perlman, Ron Perlman, Rowan Blanchard, S. Epatha Merkerson, Shane Paul McGhie, Simon Helberg, Stephanie Hsu, Tim Blake Nelson, and Tim Meadows.

"If we're inviting these people in to be guest stars, it's really going to be their episode," Johnson said, noting that the joy of the episode becomes watching them "go head-to-head with Natasha." He also noted that this storytelling structure allows for "infinite stories" to tell in potential future seasons.

"As people watch more and more episodes and realize how distinct each one is," Johnson said. "There's endless possibility."

Poker Face premieres with its first four episodes Jan. 26 on Peacock and then streams a new additional episode weekly on Thursdays leading up to and including the finale on March 9. Watch a new trailer for the series, which highlights the guest stars who play the killers and victims of the week, below.