Russian Doll’s Rebecca Henderson on her biggest Netflix role

The Canadian-born actor talks authenticity, timelines, and overalls

Henderson stars as Lizzie on Netflix’s new hit show.

Thanks to her portrayal of an authentic lesbian character, Rebecca Henderson’s latest TV role has catapulted her onto the screens—and into the hearts—of viewers everywhere.

Netflix’s newest hit show, Russian Doll, follows Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne), a woman who dies at her 36th birthday party only to wake up and relive the day over and over again. Henderson plays Lizzy, Nadia’s friend and a professional artist, who attends the party with her girlfriend and supports Nadia as she repeats the day. 

One thing in particular stands out about Henderson’s character Lizzy: her sexuality is the least interesting thing about her. 

According to Henderson, “playing fully formed people” is something she always strives to do. “I would never play a part and not fully believe that I was that person,” she told The Journal over a phone interview earlier this week.  

“I felt like when I put on [my character’s] overalls and […] glasses that I was that person.”

Russian Doll succeeds in depicting fleshed-out LGBTQ+ characters. This authenticity shines through Henderson’s portrayal of Lizzy, who helps Nadia piece together her multiple-timeline experiences. She never questions what her friend is going through and always remains steadfast, supportive, and kind. 

[Henderson's character] never questions what her friend is going through and always remains steadfast, supportive, and kind. 

The role was unique for Henderson, as Russian Doll co-creator Leslye Headland is her real-life wife and protagonist Lyonne is a longtime friend. Since Henderson has collaborated with friends for onstage productions in the past, she found working with her wife provided similar support and challenged her sense of worth as an actor.

“There’s a level of pressure,” Henderson said. “When you audition for things, you really feel like you earned the role. In this instance, with Leslye, my wife, and Natasha, I hadn’t auditioned. So when I got to set I was a little bit like, ‘[Lizzie’s] like this! Is that okay, everyone?’”

More pressure resulted from Russian Doll’s constant jump between timelines, as similar scenes were filmed again and again in the same locations. For Henderson, however, the filming process was smooth.

“Leslye and Natasha really just knew [the details of the script],” she said. “They’re really brilliant, and when they were birthing the show they just knew […] We would show up and they would tell us exactly where we were.”

Henderson added that she and co-star Greta Lee, who plays party host Maxine, had to occasionally puzzle out where the script was in the larger timeline, but trusted Lyonne to lead the way.

“There was a little bit of conversation with Greta [...] wondering how many times this [scene] has happened before or what was going on in our own personal timelines. Mostly, it was taken off of Natasha on set,” Henderson said.

When discussing how Russian Doll’s narrative compares to similarly formatted works like Groundhog Day, Henderson was adamant that each story has its differences.

“The biggest thing is that we change. The people in [the Russian Doll] world do not repeat the exact same thing over and over again—we have free will,” Henderson said. “[The show takes place] over the period of several days with the idea that there are several timelines happening.”

“The biggest thing is that we change. The people in [the Russian Doll] world do not repeat the exact same thing over and over again—we have free will,” Henderson said.

Henderson also joked, “I wasn’t in Groundhog Day, but I’m in Russian Doll so that’s different!”

Now that filming is over, Henderson has been able to enjoy fan theories about the show. “People are watching it multiple times, which is so cool,” she said. “I do think once you’ve seen the whole thing through it’s fun to watch again.”

Despite the abundance of fan attention, the actor doesn’t have much time to enjoy the spotlight, as she’s already looking towards future projects.

Henderson has recently begun promoting the film Mickey and the Bear, where she plays Leslee, about a Montana teen’s relationship with her veteran father.

“It’s going to be at South by Southwest [Festival] next weekend,” Henderson said. “[Annabelle Attanasio], who’s only 26 years old, wrote it and directed it and I’m just so excited for her.”

This summer in New York, Henderson will also be acting in a play called—yes, this is real—Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow, which is a contemporary adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

Russian Doll is available to stream now on Netflix.

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