How Poker Face’s Lie-Detecting Charlie Got here to Be

In’s recurring feature Character Study, we ask the creators behind our favourite shows to go deep about what went into creating their memorable characters: the unique idea behind them, how they were tailored to the actor, and elements of them we won’t see on the screen.

Poker Face’s Charlie Cale has an unusual tool for solving crimes. She also has an unusual—for our times, no less than—deficit. The 2023 detective has human lie detecting abilities, but no mobile phone. After Charlie learned a bit an excessive amount of about her criminal Las Vegas employers, she hits the road, sans anything that may track her.

In Natasha Lyonne’s Charlie, the Rian Johnson-created Peacock crime series has created a gum shoe for the ages. Her skill at knowing when someone isn’t telling the reality helps her sniff out crimes, but her savvy, human intelligence, and compassion are what solves them.

“She doesn’t have her head in her phone which, frankly, I’m guilty of and I’m sure all of us are guilty of,” says Nora Zuckerberg, who show runs Poker Face’s along with her sister, Lilla. “She has to look up, she has to go searching her, she has to attach with people just to remain sane and entertained and engaged.”

The small towns she seeks refuge in have an alarming murder rate, with Charlie stumbling on one every week. The throwback formula, Lyonne’s presence, and a slate of guest stars that features Judith Light, Chloë Sevigny, Lil Rel Howry, and Hong Chau, make for a seemingly traditional show spun around just a few revolutions and executed perfectly.

Nora Zuckerberg spoke to in regards to the essence of Charlie, the past she’s envisioned for her, and excising Lyonne’s Latest Yorkisms.

poker face “dead mans hand” episode 101 pictured l r dascha polanco as natalie, natasha lyonne as charlie cale photo by phillip carusopeacock

Lyonne, as Charlie, with Dascha Polanco


How did the character of Charlie Cale come to be?

I even have to present Rian credit for coming up with Charlie, who was really something he conceived for Natasha. That they had a friendship, they knew that they desired to work together, and he had an actual love for this sort of storytelling. Obviously, it’s the right mind meld of Rian’s sensibility and Natasha’s performance. It really became such a special and, I feel, almost iconic character. It’s so rare that you may have a chance to jot down for a personality that basically is so completely her own person. She’s not a mom, she’s not a lawyer, she doesn’t have a dead fiancé. She’s just purely Charlie.

What do you envision Charlie’s life being like prior to the show? What were her formative experiences?

[The writers] talked about, obviously, her ability to inform when individuals are lying. Is that this something she developed over time or is that this something she at all times had. Is that this an innate ability? There’s an actual thing in psychology where some people can pick up on micro expressions greater than other people. I feel Charlie is that on steroids, but is it something she’s at all times had or is it a muscle she’s developed over time? Plenty of us spend most of our life, even when we all know someone is lying to us, wanting to consider it. It could possibly be pretty tough to have this Charlie-like ability as an adolescent, for instance. I mean, oh my god. Trauma.

You have a look at Charlie and she or he’s a personality that’s so stuffed with light and hope for humanity. It’s almost like someone who has gone to perhaps a dark place but then come back and seen the great parts, seen the moments where people aren’t lying to one another, where she knows it’s probably true. Perhaps those are the moments that she holds onto.

I feel the interesting thing with Charlie is that she doesn’t dwell within the darkness. [Later in the season,] Charlie will go to a darker place but she’s at all times clawing her way back towards the sunshine. I can’t inform you how refreshing it’s to jot down that for a personality. It gives you a number of hope in humanity, especially with the years we’ve all had recently. It really felt like therapy sometimes.

poker face the night shift episode 102 pictured l r natasha lyonne as charlie cale, john ratzenberger as abe photo by evans vestal wardpeacock

Lyonne with John Ratzenberger.


It so great to see a personality with out a phone and it’s nice that it is sensible for the character plot sensible. It allows her to attach in a complete different way.

From a storytelling perspective, it’s been wonderful since it really forces you to have Charlie think outside the Google machine. She will’t just Google the reply, she will be able to’t just go on someone’s social media. There are just a few moments within the series where she grabs someone else’s phone or is capable of use a pc, but really most of her detecting is low-fi, which has been really fun to explore.

How much does her lie-detecting ability shape her personality? What would she be like without it?

We’ve talked and talked within the writers’ room about how she would go about solving a case where she couldn’t tell someone if was lying. Someone who is perhaps a sociopath who so completely believes the lie that they’re telling that it invalidates her ability. We may do this in the long run on the show, but I still think Charlie would have that sense of justice, I still think she would have that observant quality, the power to attach. I feel Poker Face is such a novel show and Charlie’s ability is so unique that in case you were to take it away, I still think you’d have a fairly great show with a detective at its heart.

Was Natasha’s accent something you incorporated into her character or used to hint at her past?

Natasha’s at all times going to be Natasha and her voice goes to shine through. You possibly can’t take the Natasha out of Charlie in some ways. But when we talked about Charlie versus Nadia, Natasha’s character in Russian Doll, Nadia’s very much a city kid and Charlie is way more someone who grew up in open spaces, a bit bit more country. Sometimes there have been little Latest Yorkisms within the scripts that we found ourselves cutting out since it didn’t feel Charlie, it felt a bit bit more Natasha or Nadia. In some ways, I’d like to see Charlie and Nadia have an existential conversation.

How did you determine what her style needs to be?

Casey Fields, our costume designer, did a tremendous job of constructing Charlie’s wardrobe. In the primary episode, she has a house base, she has her own style. Then she goes on the road and her wardrobe really became a mixture and match of stuff she had along with her and stuff she’s picked up along the best way. Then she has just a few nice pieces like a leather jacket, with the concept that when Charlie did have money she picked up just a few special items that she’d mix in with like a vintage t-shirt.

poker face the future of the sport episode 107 pictured natasha lyonne as charlie cale photo by phillip carusopeacock


What do you think that Charlie’s most vital qualities are?

On a surface level you possibly can say a very powerful or interesting thing about Charlie is her ability to inform if someone’s lying. [But] really, I feel some of the essential things about Charlie is her sense of justice and right and flawed. There’s a beautiful moment within the pilot episode where Dasha’s character says, “In a special time you’d be a knight. Lady Galahad.” There’s this sense that Charlie has an innate feeling for what’s just and what is correct.

A beautiful arc that Charlie has within the pilot is that she goes from tweeting within the automobile, “Time’s up on that shit.” That’s the best way she fights injustice [but by the episode’s] end she’s really standing up for her friend and putting her life on the road to stop an injustice from happening. There’s something that’s so compelling about that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Adrienne Gaffney is an editor at ELLE who previously worked at WSJ Magazine and Vanity Fair.

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