The Secret Inside Natasha Lyonne’s ‘Poker Face’ Horse Disguise
Among many other things, this week’s episode of “Poker Face” gave Dungeons & Dragons nerds a great visual for what a Nat 1 stealth check looks like in action. (Non-D&D nerds, don’t worry: You’ll still love the episode.) During a stint at a special effects company as one of her cash-paying odd jobs, Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) dons a partial horse costume designed by Arthur (Nick Nolte) to prove that he was murdered to keep a decades-old on-set accident quiet.
The episode is full of creature heads and alien tentacles from Arthur’s work as a special effects artist, as well as sequences that mimic the indie film stock and color of the 1970s, snippets of stop-motion animation, crime-solving via a Steenbeck machine, and a bravura ghostly horror sequence that may not turn Cherry Jones into a Scream Queen but comes pretty close.
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Lyonne co-wrote the episode with Alice Ju and directed it, assigning herself the task of executing the visual challenges and tonal shifts within “The Orpheus Syndrome.” The comedic high of the episode is probably the coverage Lyonne gets of herself cantering through a 40th-anniversary gala, the horse’s head looking both frightened and inquisitive as Lyonne swivels wildly. But it fell to costume designer Trayce Gigi Field to create the wearable punchline.
Courtesy of Trayce Gigi Field
“[The horse] might be one of my favorite costumes because it was the episode Natasha wrote and directed,” Field told IndieWire. “She’s like, ‘Hey Trayce, I need you to build a horse.’ And I’m like, ‘What? A horse?!’ She had such a good time playing around in that suit and [embracing] all the physicality in it.”
The physicality came courtesy of the lightweight foam Field sculpted into the shape of a giant horse head, with faux hair for the mane and painted palm strips for the tail, which explains the pleasing bounce of both as Charlie tries to run stealthily through Laura’s SFX studio headquarters. The head also had a secret flourish worthy of Arthur’s creature-maker expertise: “We installed a working fan inside the horse’s head to keep Natasha cool,” Field said. “It’s all movie magic!”
It was a nice change of pace for Field after keeping Charlie’s wardrobe restricted to what she could justifiably have had in her car or thrifted from a Goodwill off the Interstate on her travels. But even the horse head is a subtle match for the Charlie Cale aesthetic, working perfectly with the black jeans, black Western shirt, and black cowboy boots that Field and Lyonne put her in for the episode.
“Even when she has to don these uniforms, there’s still some element of Charlie in them,” Field said. “She’s just a no-bullshit kind of person and she just is who she is, and I feel like Charlie just comes through. As the costume designer, you want to make sure that you’re helping sell that in whatever way possible.” The looks Field chooses for Charlie are slightly Western in style, classically vintage, but still tailored to Lyonne. The clothes never swallow her — even when “Poker Face” turns Charlie Cale into an actual dark horse.
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