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SYFY WIRE Poker Face

Here's how Rian Johnson got so many huge guest stars to appear in 'Poker Face'

Poker Face over-delivers on that guest star of the week concept.

By Tara Bennett
Pictured: (l-r) Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale, Benjamin Bratt as Cliff Legrand, Adrien Brody as Sterling Frost POKER FACE Season 1 Episode 1

The big draw of Peacock's throwback mystery series, Poker Face is Natasha Lyonne's delightful turn as amateur detective Charlie Cale. But, another perk is the killer lineup of A-list actors play an array of shady but entertaining characters — including actresses Hong Chau and Stephanie Hsu, who were both recently nominated for Academy Awards (for The Whale and Everything Everywhere All at Once, respectively). It's almost a mystery itself: How did creator Rian Johnson manage to woo such a diverse and talented group of very busy actors?

As Johnson put it at the recent TCA panel for Poker Face: "That sounds like a high‑quality problem."

"The reality is I still feel incredibly lucky for every single actor that we've gotten to be on this show," the Knives Out director continued, explaining that he's been so focused on getting all 10 episodes ready to air that a recent promo highlighting the guest stars gave him a moment of pause. "Seeing all these incredible actors that we got the chance to have in this show, my mind is still pretty blown."

Johnson explained that whole concept of the show — which follows Charlie Cale and her incredibly accurate "bullshit" radar for when anyone is lying as she hits the road and travels from place to place — means that every guest star can just pop into the series for two weeks of shooting then go onto new projects. With the exception of Lyonne and Benjamin Bratt, who plays Cliff Legrand, the enforcer of a casino mogul who is on the hunt for Cale, pretty much every actor on Poker Face can come in to play without any extended commitments. 

RELATED: A guide to the guest stars of Poker Face

"The intention with the show is to go back to that model of the standalone," Johnson explained. "You're going to get an entire meal in each episode. And if you hear, 'Oh, the one with Nick Nolte is great,' you don't have to watch the entire season. You can skip ahead to it and watch it, so that was kind of the intention. But still, asking somebody to come out to Upstate New York in the middle of nowhere when everyone's so busy with what they're doing, I never, ever take that for granted. I always feel constantly amazed whenever an actor that I love or respect — like the the fact that Nick Nolte showed up to be in our show — it's incredible to me."

From his personal perspective as an actor always waiting for an exciting call to work, Bratt shared, "I think actors love working with Rian because the architecture of what he writes is flawless. But he also is very specific about giving each character their own voice and, more importantly almost, in my frame of mind, their moment within the story. So it's no surprise that actors at the caliber that he put together with Natasha enthusiastically showed up to play."

The first four episodes of Poker Face are now streaming on Peacock. New episodes arrive weekly.