Natasha Bianca Lyonne Braunstein, better known as Natasha Lyonne, is an American actress. She is best known for her role as Jessica in the American Pie series and her appearances in the films Everyone Says I Love You, Slums of Beverly Hills, But I'm a Cheerleader, and Blade: Trinity. She currently portrays Nicky Nichols in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.
Lyonne was born in Manhattan, New York, the daughter of Ivette Braunstein (née Buchinger) and Aaron Braunstein, a boxing promoter and radio host who is a distant relation to cartoonist Al Jaffee.
Lyonne's mother was from France. Both of Lyonne's maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Lyonne sometimes darkly jokes that her family consists of "my father's side, Flatbush, and my mother's side, Auschwitz". Her grandmother Ella came from a big Hungarian family but only she and her two sisters and a brother survived, which Lyonne says was credited to their blonde hair and blue eyes. Lyonne's grandfather, Morris Buchinger, had a watch company in Los Angeles. During the war he was in the underground.
Lyonne grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household. She spent the first eight years of her life living in Great Neck, New York.
When Lyonne was 8 years old, her parents moved to Israel, where Lyonne spent a year and a half. Her parents divorced, and Lyonne and her older brother Adam returned to America with their mother. After this move back to New York City, Lyonne attended Ramaz School, also known as The Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein Upper School of Ramaz, a private Jewish school, where Lyonne said she was a scholarship kid who took honors Talmud classes and read Aramaic. She was expelled for selling pot at school. Lyonne said she grew up on the Upper East Side and didn't feel like she fit in; felt like she was an outcast.
Her mother then moved the family to Miami, where Lyonne graduated from Miami Country Day School.
Lyonne is estranged from her father, who lives on the Upper West Side and in 2013 was a Republican candidate for City Council for the 6th District of Manhattan. Lyonne has said she is not close with her mother, and has essentially lived independently of her family since age 16.
When she was 18 years old, Lyonne used the paycheck from her work on the Woody Allen film, Everyone Says I Love You, to buy a small apartment near Gramercy Park. She attended New York University for a very short time, studying film and philosophy.
As a young child, Lyonne was signed by the Ford Modeling Agency.
At the age of six, she was cast as Opal on Pee-wee's Playhouse, followed by film appearances in Heartburn, A Man Called Sarge, and Dennis the Menace. On working as a very young child actor, Lyonne said: "I didn’t have the best parents. I don’t think they are bad people. Even if they were ready to have children, it is kind of a wacky idea to put your child in business at six years old."
When she was 16, Woody Allen cast her in Everyone Says I Love You, which led to appearances in almost 30 films over the next 10 years, including starring roles in the independent films Slums of Beverly Hills and But I'm a Cheerleader. Lyonne's other films include Detroit Rock City, Scary Movie 2, The Grey Zone, Kate and Leopold, Party Monster, and Blade: Trinity. She has also made television appearances on shows such as NBC's Will and Grace. In what is perhaps her most well known role, she appeared as Jessica in the American Pie film series.
Lyonne made films The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle and Goyband. Since then, Lyonne has worked steadily in the New York theatre scene, as well as in film and television. Her newer film appearances include All About Evil, 4:44 - Last Day on Earth, Girl Most Likely, The Rambler, and Clutter.
Lyonne made her New York stage debut in the award-winning New Group production of Mike Leigh's Two Thousand Years.
Lyonne was in the original cast of the award-winning Love, Loss, and What I Wore, a play written by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron and based on the book by Ilene Beckerman. She received rave reviews for her performance in Kim Rosenstock’s comedy, Tigers Be Still at the Roundabout Theatre Company: "a thorough delight in the flat-out funniest role, the grief-crazed Grace, so deeply immersed in self-pity that she has cast aside any attempts at decorum."
In 2011, Lyonne was in Tommy Nohilly's Blood From a Stone, from the New Group.
Lyonne participated in New Group's benefit performance of Women Behind Bars.
On working in the theater: "There’s something about theater that squashes the self-critical voices because you have to be in the moment. I’m glad that I didn’t do this before I was ready, before I was capable of showing up every day. That is not a skill set I had before."
Lyonne has made guest appearances on the series Weeds, New Girl, and Law & Order Special Victims Unit.
In late 2012, Lyonne was reported to be developing a TV series for Fox Television about a young girl, who, fresh out of rehab and committed to starting a new life as a sober, responsible adult, is forced to move in with her conservative brother and young family.
She is currently starring as Nicky Nichols in the critically acclaimed Netflix original series Orange is the New Black, for which she has received positive reviews. The role is Lyonne's first television show as a series regular.
As part of the 2014 pilot season, Lyonne has been cast in Amy Poehler's NBC comedy pilot, Old Soul. The pilot also stars Ellen Burstyn and will be directed by David Wain, written/exec produced by Poehler.
She guest starred on Season 4 of HBO's Girls.