encounter

Who’s Afraid of Dasha Nekrasova?

Can the podcast provocateur turned Succession actor go mainstream with a horror film about Jeffrey Epstein?

Photo: Marie Tomanova
Photo: Marie Tomanova

Dasha Nekrasova is hungry, and she’s not interested in patiently waiting her turn. It’s after 3 p.m. on a Sunday, but the West Village restaurant Bar Pitti, where she has asked to meet me — it’s not so far from her apartment — is still swarmed by brunchers. So she suggests Fanelli Cafe, the Soho see-and-be-seen stalwart, on the other side of NYU territory. As we walk, like a bored tour guide with a map to the stars in her head, she points out all of the New York notables who live along our route. Hilton Als over there. Mark Ronson and Chloë Sevigny over there. And that way, J. Smith Cameron, currently her co-star on HBO’s Succession. Between that show and her upcoming horror film inspired by Jeffrey Epstein’s death, The Scary of Sixty-First, which she co-wrote and directed, the delicately beautiful, brutally intelligent 30-year-old Nekrasova, already niche famous (or niche outrageous) as co-host of the button-pushing podcast Red Scare, might find her way to a more mainstream fame. Last year, Interview called her a “Dimes Square socialite,” and the cool-kid lockdown newspaper The Drunken Canal predicted, “DASHA will become the new and better Chloë Sevigny.” It’s time, as her PR-strategist Succession character might put it, to take Dasha to scale. Assuming enough of us get the joke. And assuming there is a joke to get.

“I watch you on television!” a man screams when we arrive at Fanelli, as if to prove the up-faming point. Nekrasova issues a friendly hello, then turns around to tell me it’s all a joke. He’s an artist she knows, and she’s just playing “fake nice.” Sensing she’s eager to sit down as she fidgets with the neck scarf under her camel coat, I tell the waitress we’ll settle for the unheated table on the sidewalk if we don’t have to wait any longer. We both order cheeseburgers and martinis.

The Scary of Sixty-First, which she spent quarantine editing, is a very on-brand project. An homage to Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut — she says it’s in the “same cinematic universe,” but you’ll have to watch to find out what that means — the movie tells the story of two young women who move into an Upper East Side apartment formerly owned by Jeffrey Epstein. Nekrasova plays “The Girl,” an amphetamine-addicted self-appointed detective searching for the truth behind Epstein’s death. (“This is our 9/11,” her character says, something you might expect Nekrasova to say on the pod and not be sure how much she means it.) In part, the character is something of an avatar for herself, having been obsessed with the story and personally connected to it through a friend who was a Jane Doe in the case. “I was probably in the throes of something like mania, to be honest,” Nekrasova says. “The movie channeled that mania, that energy, into something productive.” Laughing, she adds, “I was having some problems with my medication.”

Nekrasova is a child of showbiz. She was born in 1991 in Minsk, just as the old Soviet Union collapsed. Her father was an acrobat with the Moscow Circus and her mother a gymnast. When she was 3, her father got a job with Cirque du Soleil. “I spent a lot of time in greenrooms as a child. We moved a lot. We lived in Atlantic City and then back to Vegas,” she says, impatient with my attempts to find meaning in her past. “I guess you could say that’s probably why I’m drawn to the other entertainment industry.”

She attended a performing-arts high school in Las Vegas and graduated a year early. Next was Mills, the private all-girls liberal-arts college, where she majored in philosophy. Sticking around the Bay Area afterward, she was considering going to graduate school for aesthetics and politics but instead decided to pursue acting.

It was when she was promoting a film called Wobble Palace — a rom-com about a millennial couple trying to save their open relationship that she co-wrote and co-starred in with Eugene Kotlyarenko, who directed it — at South by Southwest in 2018 that she found her breakout role: herself. Dressed in a sort of sailor outfit, she was accosted by an Infowars reporter outside a talk by Senator Bernie Sanders. “You people have, like, worms in your brain, honestly,” she says, looking unbothered between sips of an iced coffee. She was soon dubbed Sailor Socialism, and John Oliver and others ate it up.

“I know people remark on my nonchalance in the clip,” she says. “But I think I was really just sublimating a ton of tension and fear.”

That same year, Nekrasova launched Red Scare with fellow Russian émigré and Camille Paglia fan Anna Khachiyan. It channeled the same high-Trump-era cultural energy as dirtbag-left bro-casts Cum Town and Chapo Trap House, dancing along the various you-don’t-say-that third rails of progressivism of that moment. But it was made all the more compelling for being hosted by two women willing to dunk on Me Too. Nekrasova has very strong beliefs and a solid sense of justice, but she’s disdainful of piety.

Photo: Marie Tomanova

Three years later, the podcast is still going, even if it feels less urgent in the Biden doldrums. Still, it did more than attract a devoted listenership; it created an aesthetic, even reportedly providing the inspiration for the two Gen-Z girls on The White Lotus. Say “Red Scare girl” to a 20-something, and they’ll know what you mean. “Lo-fi” and “abject” and “Gen-X-y” are three descriptors Nekrasova throws out. They probably love Lana and voted for Bernie, and maybe they posted a selfie in their Red Scare thong last summer.

They’re certainly nothing like the short-haired middle-aged women Nekrasova glances at, at the table behind us, passing around a Simone de Beauvoir book from McNally Jackson. “Oh, wow. We have some bibliophiles in our midst,” Nekrasova says archly. An n+1 columnist once described her voice as the “world-weary drone of post-ironic predisappointment … the voice of a generation — in tone at least.”

While we’re sipping our martinis, I ask about her influence on people. Does she take her responsibility seriously as a sort of informal thought leader for a generation? She laughs loudly, like I’m making a stupid joke. “When I was that age … I distinctly remember having this feeling like I didn’t know what kind of woman I wanted to be, and I felt like there weren’t any models for femininity that resonated with me at all. Which is part of the thesis of Red Scare,” she says. “Not that I want to consider myself a role model, but I do find it gratifying, even though the archetypal Red Scare girl is a kind of nightmare. Sometimes I’m like, Wow, I really spawned a monster. But at least there’s an alternative.”

Does she think her anti-woke podcast play — she loves to say “retard” and has interviewed Steve Bannon and rolls her eyes at the nonbinary — has helped or hurt her career? “Both.” Does she have any regrets? “No, no, no. It’s all kind of going according to … God’s plan,” she says. She’s a practicing Catholic, but with some nihilism thrown in. “Our culture and society is in decline,” she says wearily. “It’s all interesting even if it’s depressing and decaying.” Then she quotes Mao: “Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent.”

This is one of those moments when I stop and wonder how often this whole shtick is edgy for the sake of being edgy, and how often does it say something about her politics, or politics in general, in these ironic, deliriously suspicious times we live in. At some point, Nekrasova relaxes a little and shows me pictures of a boyfriend she’d earlier in our conversation denied having, and asks me, almost out of nowhere: “Do you think we could get Alex Jones on the pod?” before impersonating his growl. I laugh, unsure if she’s being sincere or just trying to troll me.

Turns out, she meant it: A week later, when the new Red Scare drops, it’s a two-hour-long interview with Jones, accompanied by coquettish photos with him on her Instagram holding guns on his Texas ranch. She and Khachiyan don’t exactly hold Jones to task on the episode. Jones bemoans his deplatforming, defends Kyle Rittenhouse, goes on about how the “New World Order” was committing a “mass culling” via COVID, and deflects responsibility for engaging in wild-eyed conspiracy theories about how the Sandy Hook massacre was a “false flag” operation carried out by “crisis actors” — despite being found liable in lawsuits brought on by the victims’ families. Nekrasova tosses him softballs, asking why he thinks he’s been “assassinated” by everyone from “the regime to corporate media.” It’s exactly the kind of can’t-help-herself behavior that would surely send her Succession character Comfry into a crisis-management tailspin.

Waiting on a check, Nekrasova stands up, a little abruptly: “Do you mind if I go?” As she walks away, two curly-haired, nose-ringed fans stop to say they love her — “Dasha?!” — and she basks. “I actually don’t have an HBO subscription,” one of them confesses after she’s gone. “But Succession is the reason I’m looking to steal one from my friends.” Just then, Kanye West strolls past the restaurant, surrounded by a posse of masked men, and everyone turns, trying to snap a photo. The girls behind me can’t believe their luck — Soho is simply enchanted with stars this afternoon: “Dasha and Kanye?!”

Photo: Marie Tomanova
Who’s Afraid of Podcast Provocateur Dasha Nekrasova?