The ''Detroit Rock City'' star stands up for lesbian rights on screen and off

By Liane Bonin
August 25, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Stephen Trupp/Star Max

No one could accuse Natasha Lyonne of always playing it straight. Though she’s now portraying a disco diva who hooks up with studly costar Giuseppe Andrews in ”Detroit Rock City,” the actress has been leaning toward roles that call for face time with the fairer sex. She plays a lesbian women’s rights activist opposite ”Dawson’s Creek” star Michelle Williams in next year’s HBO movie ”If These Walls Could Talk 2” and a teenager sent to a gay deprogramming camp in the upcoming comedy ”But I’m a Cheerleader.” ”I think it’s definitely important that these stories are told, because with gay America being in the press so much, we almost forget how much prejudice is still going on,” Lyonne says.

In ”If These Walls Could Talk 2,” Lyonne was drawn to the role of a feminist who’s kicked out of her collective for her same-sex preference. ”I’m not gay, but the lesbian aspect of it made it deeper because it was even harder back then to be a gay woman than it was to be a straight one,” says Lyonne, who is said to be dating ”Detroit” costar Edward Furlong. ”As far as equal rights, we’ve certainly evolved a hell of a lot since the ’70s. In Hollywood, women’s voices have become louder and more heard. But it’s still not equal yet.”

Lyonne knows that not everyone will be focusing on the gay-rights messages in her work when there are girl-on-girl love scenes to obsess over. But by choosing to work with female directors — ”Cheerleader”’s Jamie Babbit and ”Walls”’s Martha Coolidge — Lyonne hopes to avoid playing to the lowest common denominator. ”It’s very easy with lesbian material, especially when women are making out in a scene, for it to be exploitative, because for some reason men get turned on by that,” she says. ”But none of that happens when you’re working with a woman director. And, working with a woman you feel like there’s no barrier between you and the director.”

Just don’t expect to see Lyonne making a screen career out of playing for the other team. She plans to keep looking for intriguing roles, regardless of sexual preference — and there are limits to what she’ll do to support gay rights. She recently turned down an invite to helm her own float in a gay-pride parade. ”I was like, dude, I’m just not a float kind of girl,” she says.