poker face chloe sevigny
[Courtesy of Peacock]

How Poker Face made its very metal-themed episode featuring a rock star Chloë Sevigny

On Rian Johnson’s mystery-of-the-week series Poker Face, Natasha Lyonne’s “human lie detector” character Charlie ends up in a lot of strange situations in the midst of a slew of odd jobs. As a cocktail-waitress-card-shark who’s on the run from her vengeful casino boss, so far on the weekly Peacock series she’s wound up stuck at a truck stop, grilling BBQ for a pitmaster, and even hiding out with retirees.

On the fourth episode “Rest in Metal,” which dropped when the show premiered on Jan. 26, Charlie’s adventures on the road see her cross paths with a touring band, the has-been, one-hit-wonder metal group Doxxxology. As the series is no stranger to incredible guest stars (Adrien Brody, Hong Chau, Lil Rel Howry, and Judith Light just to name a few), the episode stars Lyonne’s real-life BFF and frequent collaborator Chloë Sevigny as Ruby Ruin, the band’s fierce leader who’s desperate for another hit after the success of their ’90s song “Staplehead” has long teetered out. John Darnielle of the folk-rock band the Mountain Goats also happens to play one of the band members, and even helped contribute to the original songs on the episode, along with Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed. 

Just like the band’s song “Merch Girl,” Charlie finds herself behind their merch table selling tees, which is where she inevitably ends up solving another crime once the group’s new drummer Gavin (Nicholas Cirillo) dies suddenly after writing a killer, potentially career-saving song. With its all-star cast, funny yet catchy metalcore songs, and blown-amp-induced death, it’s by far the most metal installment of the series. 

Because we at AltPress can’t stop singing Doxxxology’s “Sucker Punch” and we’re still not over seeing Sevigny play a metalhead rock star, we spoke to the episode’s lead writer Christine Boylan and director Tiffany Johnson about how the episode came together.

poker face chloe sevigny

[Chloë Sevigny as Ruby Ruin / Courtesy of Peacock]

How did the idea for one of Charlie’s adventures to be on the road with a band first come about? 

Christine Boylan: One of the things we did [in the writers’ room] — this definitely made Rian [Johnson] laugh early on — was round robin cash jobs that Charlie could have that would not get her picked up. A bunch of us had either been in a band or knew friends who were roadies back in the day and a little bit about how that world functioned. Like, I have a friend who was a roadie. So, we were like, “Oh, my God. What if it’s a has-been band metal show?” We first started from there because we’re like, “Oh, that’s a good: merch table, cash only! Like, no W-2s, no tax info, drifter job. [Laughs.] We were like, “So, the roadies are sort of top tier. We’ll make Charlie the merch girl.” 

Was the role of Ruby Ruin specifically written for Chloë Sevigny?

Boylan: The role was written for someone of Chloë’s stature, and we were so lucky. We didn’t want to jinx ourselves, but we got really lucky. We were certainly like, “We need someone who is hilarious, but also I believe she has lived this life.” Chloë’s got that swagger — just owns that stage in a way that not many actors can do. I believe she’s a rock goddess. I also believe she’s working at Home Depot. She just makes me believe everything. 

Was Chloë actually singing as Ruby Ruin?

Johnson: Chloë didn’t record prior to shooting, but she was singing live in the room. We recorded her live, but she’s on top of playback. The vocals [come from a singer from a Judas Priest cover band] mixed with her. 

I told her — especially the scene of the last performance scene at the big venue — in between takes, “You look like you’re having so much fun.” And she was like, “I am!” We had a live audience and I could really tell that she fed off of them and that energy. It all felt so natural for her. She just honed in on who Ruby Ruin was and made this persona — and she had a good time. There was a moment where I was like, “Oh, we’re at a real concert!” 

Natasha and Chloë are quite a pair in real-life. What was it like working with the both of them together?

Johnson: When you have people who already have a built in relationship and rapport, it makes everything so much easier. They obviously had worked together, and they’re best friends. It was fun to just watch them work. [As a director], I tend to let the [cast] show me first and then massage and maneuver it around. Natasha’s a legend and icon and can do this in her sleep. So, getting to see what she brings, and what Chloë brings, we all found it together. 

John Darnielle poker face

[John Darnielle / Courtesy of Peacock]

From the band name to the detail of Ruby Ruin removing green M&Ms from the candy bowl backstage, there’s so many great bits that make up Doxxxology. How did you go about crafting the metal band?

Boylan: [The whole writers’ room] came up with a bunch of things about how these guys are getting by. A lot of time what you do is write this whole life for a character. Like, the idea of Eskie (G.K. Umeh) getting his law degree — we had scenes and scenes about Eskie and his law school stuff. The key is always overwrite, and then cut it all the way down to the bare essentials. 

So, we went through and we were like, “Okay, where is Ruby scrappy and where is she like, ‘This is the life I should have had.’ That M&M moment is a perfect moment where this is how she wants to be, and that’s who they get to be at the end in the scene with caviar. They’re so close they can smell it, and then it all gets taken away from them.

Johnson: This is Spinal Tap was a movie that I love and rewatched to get in the headspace because I’m not a metalhead at all. I watched that to get into the fun-ness of that world. 

John Darnielle and Jamey Jasta contributed to the songs on the episode, but can you explain how they came together?

Boylan: It started in the writer’s room. We came up with a bunch of funny shit that could be the songs, and that could be in the songs. A lot of us in the room are a bit musical and have written songs before. Like, I’ve definitely written songs for TV shows. I’ve written songs on my own. They were supposed to be placeholders, but we put enough stuff in there that, by the time Rian and the Mountain Goats came together, they became real songs. In post-production, Rian really took the reins, and they came out great. I was really surprised at how [the song Darnielle’s character Al is writing in the episode] “You Can’t Un-murder Someone” was a joke we had and then became this sort of beautiful, dark, poetic plea. 

rest in metal poker face

[Natasha Lyonne / Courtesy of Peacock]

Were there any other music-related deaths considered before the team went with killing Gavin by an amp? 

Boylan: Every single episode, every death, we would go through five or six different ways we could kill this person. I don’t like to give myself credit or toot my own horn for anything, but I will say there was a day where I came into the writers room with a diagram of how we could electrocute this kid. I’m just saying it happened to a guy in the Yardbirds in 1977. I brought in a bunch of YouTube videos. I watched some grisly stuff on YouTube. All writers’ Google searches are incriminating, but I’ll take credit for coming into the room and being like, “We can electrocute him just like this!” It came into his character — the metal sticks, the bare feet, getting too close to the mic, the vintage amp, and everything that Deuteronomy says about those amps is absolutely true. Rian is the one who found out it was called a death capacitor, so we had to write that in. 

There are so many copyright lawsuits in music nowadays, but the payoff in the episode is so good when you realize the band’s potential career-saving song “Sucker Punch” is ripped from the Benson sitcom theme, which Gavin was watching throughout the episode. How did that idea come about?

Boylan: We love classic TV, [it] is the thing that brings us all together. Benson was one of those shows that we all loved. [Laughs.] I can’t remember whose pitch it was, but it was such a good idea. It has a jaunty theme song, which you sort of can’t unhear once you hear it. So, I took that and said, “He’s got to be a magpie. He’s got to be like a Shakespearean type of writer where everything around him is fodder.” 

That ends up being Charlie’s clue path because she is with him during the creative process. She saw it happen in real time, in the way he absorbed the Benson theme but didn’t realize he was perpetuating it. There’s a lot of subconscious creativity and the magic of subconscious creativity happening for these guys in this episode.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity