Fun Facts About Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall’s Friendship

When it was announced the Florida Film Festival would be doing a special 25th anniversary screening of But I’m a Cheerleader featuring a Q&A with Natasha Lyonne, I told my wife to buy tickets now. A few weeks later, Clea DuVall was added to the event after some scheduling things got sorted. Posters popped up around town, Natasha Lyonne as a teenager in the bright pink dress from the film gracing the windows of shops along the street where we walk most mornings. I snapped pictures of almost every one I saw. It’d be difficult to describe to my past self exactly what this felt like. I wouldn’t have given the posters much time or thought when I lived other places. I may have even skipped out on the pricey event, despite the film being an all-time favorite and despite being a self-appointed scholar of queerleaders in film and television.

But the fact that this would be happening here, in Orlando, in a state that used to have a conversion therapy ban that was ultimately struck down (some Florida cities and counties have their own local bands, but Orange and Seminole County which encompass Orlando are not one of them), made me look forward to the event as if it were a world premiere of my own film. Jamie Babbit’s campy conversion therapy comedy from the 90s was one of the first lesbian films I ever saw, a pattern that turned out to be true for a lot of the local dykes who showed up for the screening based on my conversations in line and the cadence of the audience Q&A. And it wasn’t until the start of the screening, when Lyonne herself pointed out the similarities between the film and works of John Waters (an obvious comparison, I know!) that I realized just how much of an impact it had on the kinds of queer film I tend to gravitate most passionately toward.

Inspired by Drew Burnett Gregory’s recent recap of a Go Fish screening, I took obsessive notes during this special Florida-based But I’m a Cheerleader screening and Q&A. Here are some of the event’s standout quotes, moments, and fun facts about their long friendship and artistic collaboration, based on my notes:

Lyonne walked DuVall down the aisle at her wedding.

“I genuinely am totally in love with Clea,” Lyonne said after a rather rambly, tangent-ridden response (a theme to the evening, and one I genuinely appreciated) to a question about being part of iconic lesbian film canon. “I like being clear and honest. And it has been from the moment that I met her. Just whatever that is. I mean, it’s so funny that young people have all these terms for it, but I was definitely at Clea’s wedding. Did I walk you down the aisle?” DuVall confirmed that yes she’s pretty sure she walked her down the aisle, though it wasn’t a traditional wedding. “You were definitely the dad,” DuVall said. “So I’m the dad,” Lyonne agreed.

“Natasha’s the dad, Melanie’s the mom,” DuVall said, referring of course to other fellow But I’m a Cheerleader castmate and longtime friend Melanie Lynskey. How do I apply to be adopted by this family????

Doing But I’m a Cheerleader was one of the most meaningful parts of DuVall’s career.

Multiple times, DuVall emphasized just how much it meant to play Graham, a character she says she brought a lot of herself to. “It was really meaningful, and it is still one of the most meaningful things I’ve gotten to be a part of in my entire career,” she said.

DuVall and Lyonne’s friendship actually predates making But I’m a Cheerleader.

They met at the audition for Girl, Interrupted. DuVall booked the role obviously, and Lyonne did not. She was up for Brittany Murphy’s role.

On that note, DuVall and Lyonne’s off-screen friendship is very real and meaningful.

I tend to black out from secondhand embarrassment and frustration during most audience Q&As, because I’m a control freak who can’t stand awkward or silly questions, but this was a rare event where I was actually very much into everything being asked, especially because I could see just how much this movie means to so many people, 25 years later. One audience member asked a very sweet and unexpected question that was ultimately about adult friendship, asking DuVall and Lyonne how they’ve managed to stay friends through all these years even as their careers have taken off and led them in other directions and as they’ve gotten super busy with work.

DuVall then talked about how she has certain relationships that transcend friendships and become family roles, and she considers Lyonne to be among them. “Neither one of us has family in the traditional sense, so we really are very important to each other,” she said. Throughout the Q&A, their status as chosen family for one another was clear. But I’m a Cheerleader doesn’t seem to have merely had lifechanging impacts on so many viewers of the film but on the people who made it, too. I mean, DuVall is out here literally calling Melanie and Natasha mom and dad.

“If Clea didn’t exist, it would kill me, I would be dead,” Lyonne also said.

DuVall filmed The Faculty and But I’m a Cheerleader the same year, and the experiences were…quite different, as you can imagine.

In 1998, DuVall was in the alien horror movie The Faculty, in which she plays a character Stokely woh is so coded as gay that other characters actually tease and ridicule her for seeming like a lesbian. Her queerness is played only for jokes, and she ends up with a guy at the end of the film. DuVall noted that she filmed The Faculty and But I’m a Cheerleader the same year, the former in the summer and the latter in the winter. She emphasized that she really loved working on The Faculty and how fun it was, while also acknowledging it was weird in the sense that she was still closeted and only some people on set knew she was gay. It wasn’t a negative experience for her, just weird of course to be closeted and doing a role where she was kind of gay but not really gay. (For what it’s worth, I do consider Stokes to be an all-time great queer horror character canonically, even if the makers of The Faculty don’t intend her as such.)

To go from that to But I’m a Cheerleader where she got to be so totally herself was freeing. She reiterated again just how meaningful it was to play Graham. She said she doesn’t know if she has ever felt that much herself on-screen, either before But I’m a Cheerleader or after.

One of DuVall’s favorite queer films is Pariah.

When an audience member asked for other queer film recommendations, DuVall said Dee Rees’ Pariah was a favorite. She also recommended Bound, prompting Lyonne to say “That’s a hot movie.” I agree.

If you ever get a chance to see a special in-theaters screening of But I’m a Cheerleader, do it. The 4K restoration of the film makes its technicolor dreamscape all the more immersive and striking.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 844 articles for us.


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