In Netflix’s Russian Doll, Natasha Lyonne’s grumpy, curly-banged East Village heroine Nadia keeps dying — again, and again, and again. Some of her deaths are brutally violent, such as when a taxi plows into Nadia in the middle of the street, while others are more funny and surreal, such as the time Nadia nosedives into an open sidewalk cellar. Though a handful of Nadia’s deaths happen off-screen (or with the camera quickly cutting away from Lyonne), most were done by Lyonne’s stunt double, Becca G.T., who had to pull off all of that on-screen falling — and even drowning — while maintaining the particular tone of the show.
What G.T. had to “dance around the whole time with all the deaths,” she told Vulture, was making them both funny and unsettling at the same time. “Yes, it is a dark comedy, but it has to be realistic enough that people would buy that she’s actually dying.” How did she and stunt coordinator Christopher Place achieve that, exactly? To find out, G.T. walked us through the acrobatics, padding, and wig-work involved in all those Russian Doll death scenes.
The Taxi Collision
This cab stunt was a pretty simple one, according to G.T.: “[I’m] basically just standing there thinking, What is wrong with me? before being hit by the car,” which was driven by stunt driver Mike Burke. “You trust your training, tuck your chin, watch your head, and trust your driver and trust your instincts, and that’s really what goes into it,” she explained.
G.T. says it was accomplished in one take — she actually dented the hood of the car, but the majority of the smashed windshield was created with special effects in post-production – and credits two specific details that worked to her advantage: the wardrobe and the wig. Co-creator Leslye Headland insisted that the wig be a perfect match for Lyonne’s Brave–esque red curls, and Nadia’s big winter coat provided ample room to hide padding. “I was able to slide some pads in there, ‘cause sometimes the way that we’re dressed as women, it’s very skimpy clothing and you’re not able to really throw any pads,” G.T. said. Nadia’s wig, which covered so much of her face, made it easier to mistake her for Lyonne, which in turn meant that Russian Doll could use more footage of G.T. without viewers noticing. “When you have a wig that was actually so perfect and so well-matched, there [are] so many places [where] they were able to use the entire clip instead of having to cut back and forth,” G.T. said. “Natasha and I have a pretty similarly shaped face, so we could get away with so much more.”
The Cursed Staircase
The Russian Doll team spent a full day trying out different ways for Nadia to die falling down the stairs: In an early gag montage, she keeps trying to leave her apartment, only to perish each time she reaches the staircase, so they needed each death to seem distinct from the others.
“Especially when you’re wearing the same wardrobe every time, you really had to do something different to make it distinct,” G.T. said. “There was one time I put my hand on the railing, another time I bumped into someone, so those little nuances make it stand out.”
To cushion herself from the falls, G.T. padded her wardrobe and also made sure she always had enough momentum. “It’s like Sonic the Hedgehog — if you keep rolling, chances are you’re not gonna go like a block of wood down the stairs,” she said. “Chris [Place] definitely took some precautions and padded the stairs a little bit, just because we were gonna be doing it so many times.” Her favorite staircase shot came at the end, when Nadia flips over a bannister, “because it looks so funny and it looks so brutal.”
The Cellar Door
In order to pull off this stunt, G.T. had to make sure to hit the metal door just before catapulting into cellar, where the crew hid a crash mat to catch her out of frame. “You couldn’t jump over it, it would look stupid,” she explained. “You couldn’t just run into it, because you’d face-plant right down onto the metal and not go into the hole.”
In the end, G.T. found the balance of comedy by spinning in the middle of her pratfall, while still making it look like a believable death. “That has made so many people email me and text me,” she said of the cellar door stunt. “All New Yorkers, they’re like, That is my biggest fear.”
Drowning in the East River
In another very nightmarish New York death, Nadia falls off a railing on the East River Promenade and drowns in the murky waters below. The stunt was accomplished in two shots: First, with G.T. falling off the railing at low tide with a mat hidden below her, and then, in a pool in which the stunt team artificially made the water look dirty.
“The water was pretty cold, and we did a lot of different shots that obviously didn’t make the final edit,” G.T. said. “But they had a lot of material to work with.” As to the idea of actually jumping into the East River: “I don’t think you’d want to, really … ” she laughed. “That’d be a heck of a stunt.”