'Orange Is the New Black' star's new Netflix series 'Russian Doll' was partly inspired by an old TV show she worked on with Amy Poehler

Netflix‘Russian Doll’ shares some roots with another project Amy Poehler and Natasha Lyonne worked on called ‘Old Soul’ in 2014.
  • Nastasha Lyonne (“Orange Is the New Black“) has a new original comedy coming to Netflix Friday, called “Russian Doll,” which she co-created with Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland.
  • INSIDER spoke with Lyonne and Headland about the show ahead of its release.
  • “Russian Doll” was partially inspired by a pilot she and Poehler worked on for NBC in 2014.
  • The three also had to come up with some alternate titles for the show due to a reality series with a similar name, “Russian Dolls.” Luckily, they were able to go with their first choice.

Five years ago, “Orange Is the New Black‘s” Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler teamed up on an NBC comedy pilot, “Old Soul,” which never came to fruition.

In February, the two will release a dark comedy on Netflix starring Lyonne, “Russian Doll.” Their original show for the peacock network served as inspiration for the eight-episode series right down to the lead character’s name.

“[‘Old Soul’] was the inception for what was to become ‘Russian Doll,’ and Nadia, I always call my character Nadia, based on Nadia Com─âneci, my favourite gymnast from the ’80s,” Lyonne told INSIDER while speaking about the new streaming series.

Natasha lyonne russian dollNetflixNatasha Lyonne’s Nadia is having a bit of an existential crisis on ‘Russian Doll.’

“Old Soul” would have followed Lyonne as a former wild child, Nadia, who cares for the elderly and finds she has more in common with them than anyone her age. Without giving much away, “Russian Doll,” has a very “Groundhog’s Day” vibe, starring a young woman, also named Nadia, who finds herself stuck in a loop at a seemingly-endless birthday party.

“I think that when ‘Old Soul’ sort of didn’t happen, I remember Amy [Poehler] turning to me and saying, ‘Hey, what’s the show that we really, really, want to make? If there were no rules or restrictions or networks around, what’s the thing that we really want to say here?'” recounted Lyonne about the show’s origins.

While the two shows are nothing alike, the underlying concept about a young woman trying to find herself is the connective tissue between the two. “Russian Doll” is a deeply personal project, partially inspired by Lyonne’s real life.

“The idea was that we were going to essentially do different levels of a woman’s experience until you got to, essentially what we would call between the three of us, Amy, Natasha, and I, the tiny doll,” co-creator Leslye Headland told INSIDER. “What is your tiny doll? That is your most vulnerable, the coding within your emotional makeup that has you act particular ways.”

Russian doll natasha lyonne NetflixNadia is forced to face some demons and find her ‘tiny doll’ on ‘Russian Doll.’

“At the beginning of the show you have this protagonist that is very guarded, shields up, ready to take on the night and make the choices she wants to make,” she continued, speaking of Lyonne’s main character. “And slowly, little by little… she has to get deeper and deeper into her psyche, into her own self, into her history, and find that tiny doll essentially, and maybe not confront it, but make peace with it, in order to become whole again.”


Read more: “Orange is the New Black’s” Natasha Lyonne says it will be ‘heartbreaking’ to see the show end this year

Headland discussed the idea for “Russian Doll” with Lyonne and Poehler for about a year and a half before they even pitched the show to Netflix. And when they did, it was with an idea that would last three seasons.

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty for NetflixAmy Poehler and Natasha Lyonne at the Netflix premiere of ‘Russian Doll’ on January 23, 2019.

The trio weren’t even completely sure they would be able to use the name “Russian Doll” for the series. There was a reality show with a similar name titled “Russian Dolls.

“There was a moment where Universal and Netflix were like, ‘I think you guys may, if we can’t clear this, you may need to come up with something else.’ So we did do a bunch of brainstorming sessions,” said Headland.

“Luckily it got canceled,” Lyonne later told us of the Lifetime reality series that aired for one season. “I think one of the [alternate titles] was ‘The Whole Shebang,’ and that was similar to [CBS’] ‘Big Bang Theory.’ We meant it as a potential double entendre. And I can now see that that was deeply an immature thing and I’m glad we didn’t do it.”

All eight half-hour episodes of “Russian Doll” will be available to stream on Netflix starting Friday.

You can watch a trailer for the show below.

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