Yellowjackets stars tease “extreme” shocks ahead and share their ’90s playlists

On the Showtime drama, Tawny Cypress, Juliette Lewis, Melanie Lynskey, and Christina Ricci play airplane crash survivors haunted by the past

Yellowjackets stars tease “extreme” shocks ahead and share their ’90s playlists
Tawny Cypress, Juliette Lewis, Melanie Lynskey, and Christina Ricci Photo: Brendan Meadows / Showtime

Taking a note from Lost, Showtime’s new drama Yellowjackets kicks things off with a bold and confident premiere (directed by Jennifer’s Body’s Karyn Kusama) that features a plane crash, one hell of an ensemble cast, and more than enough mysteries to sustain a season of must-watch television.

In 1996, the New Jersey state champion Wiskayok High School girls soccer team is headed to nationals in Seattle when their chartered aircraft crash lands in the Canadian wilderness, killing most of the adults on board and leaving the teens to fend for themselves. As the episode teases, rescue is not on the way, and the group has to go to some dark places to survive—even cannibalism appears to be on the menu.

Unlike Lost, Yellowjackets wastes no time getting to its “flash forwards,” and the pilot also takes us to 2021 where we meet four of the survivors, now adults clearly haunted by their pasts and coping with it in some peculiar ways.

There’s housewife Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), who’s just barely suppressing secrets in her suburban milieu; high-achieving Taissa (Tawny Cypress), who’s running for office; and Natalie (Juliette Lewis), fresh out of rehab, on her way to meet nurse Misty (Christina Ricci) with a shotgun in hand.

These four women may have survived the unthinkable, but it’s clear they’re not out of the woods. To preview what lies ahead on Yellowjackets, The A.V. Club spoke with Lynskey, Cypress, Lewis, and Ricci to learn more about how the past is quite literally haunting their characters. The stars also explain how they worked with their younger counterparts on the series to find their characters, and then they take us back to the ’90s with a rundown of their favorite music from the decade.

What’s ahead for the adults of Yellowjackets?

The season premiere is largely focused on the events of 1996 that lead to the fateful plane crash, but the glimpses of the girls’ adult lives tease that, even 25 years later, the drama is far from behind them. For further insight into who the Yellowjackets are now, we asked the cast what drives their characters in 2021 and learned more about the “shocking” story to come.

Juliette Lewis: What [Natalie] wants, initially, is to get even. But I do think my character’s a little—not purposeless, but she’s the sort who goes somewhere [and] will l figure it out once she gets there. But it’s fascinating! What does she want? She’s going home, a place she hates, to people she doesn’t like. To play such such animosity and friction and “soul death” is sort of the content of my character. It’s a deep dive into pain, and toeing the line of destruction. But you will be very blown away by where my character ends up.

Melanie Lysnkey: I think if you were to ask [Shauna] what she wants, she would be like, “A quiet life, a nice glass of wine, a vacation in Hawaii, no traffic!” She’s trying to really appear like she’s a very normal, held-together suburban woman. But, deep down, if she were to really ask herself, she would be like, “Passion, intensity, wildness, five lovers at the same time!” She’s so much more intense and darker than she allows herself to believe. And it just comes out like in ways that are deeply unhealthy.

Christina Ricci: When we first meet Misty as an adult, I think what she wants is to return to a time when she was valued, accepted, and had some social currency. Because, in our culture, a woman like this really doesn’t have any! [But] when they were stranded, I think that is probably the greatest time of her life. So she’s just sort of biding her time, waiting for something like that to happen again for her.

Tawny Cypress: It’s similar between teen Taissa and adult Taissa: She’s looking for an ideal, she’s looking for perfection, she’s looking for a place of power and everything in its place. As long as her life is “dot-dot-dot,” then she can say nothing’s wrong with her. So that’s what she wants most of all.

Ricci: And I would say it gets really extreme [moving forward]. You know, they always say that people who have experienced a lot of extreme things in their life are not necessarily as good at guarding against extreme things coming into their lives later on. So, as adults, things are going to happen that you’re just like, “That’s not something that happens to people!” You know, a lot of really surprising things—to say the least—happen to them, and they do a lot of very shocking things.

Cypress: Yeah, I want to say that there’s a lot of different ways to show craziness, and we’re going to we’re going dish them all! We’re going to put them on a platter for you, and you get to choose which crazy you like the best. Maybe it’s chocolate-covered! [Laughs.]

Ricci: A plate full of dysfunction!

Yellowjackets characters, now and then

With its dual timelines, it’s up to the drama’s talented cast to connect the dots between past and present. Though the older stars never share any scenes with their younger counterparts, they revealed how they worked together to find their characters, tracking how time and trauma have made them into the women they are today.

Lynskey: Before we shot the pilot, I met Sophie Nélisse—this beautiful, blond-haired, blue-eyed, French Canadian came in [the room] and she was like, “We don’t look anything alike!” And I was like, “Oh, you’re right!” We didn’t really, and she was worried that my voice was high—I feel like Sophie was worried that she was going to have to do a lot of work to make it match up. But then I think she’s such a good actor, and there’s something inherent in our mannerisms that really works. And, also, she dyed her hair, she had to wear contacts—she had to do a lot of that kind of work. But she’s so natural, and I think she embodied something that just made it work. When I was watching and I was like, “I feel like we seem like the same person!”

Lewis: [That’s] the interesting thing! The experiment of this show [is something] I’ve never done before, where the other story plot is going to influence and inform even what the audience sees, and how they receive you—because of your earlier “self.” The casting on this show is so phenomenal.

Sophie [Thatcher] and I related very well. My voice was almost froggy when I was 8 years old, and she has a lower voice, but also she said she was pitching it, or placing it there. All of the young adults were so good at really taking from us, and letting it influence their presence. But it’s a testament to the casting that there was something organic about our dispositions. With Sophie there was just a resonance there that was compatible. So we would talk about our Natalie together—and I adore her. She’s a girl I would hang out with!

Ricci: Samantha [Hanratty] and I met when we first got to Vancouver to discuss—you know, we weren’t told very much about the show, where it was going, where our characters were going, any of that stuff. So everybody sort of had a lot of conversations about, like, “What did they tell you? What do you know?” Those kinds of things. So I met with Sam and we discussed Misty and the references that she’d been given versus the references that I’ve been given and our plan for the first episode. And then, beyond that, sometimes throughout the season, there are scenes that mirror each other in the flashbacks and present day. So whoever shot their version of this thing first would set how that was played later on. She and I would call each other about that kind of thing just to help drive home that storytelling.

Cypress: Jasmin Savoy Brown and I also met up when we first got to Vancouver. We had tacos together in the park and just talked about life and ourselves and each other and stuff like that because we knew nothing about what was going to happen. But we’d continue to meet up when the scripts would come out. We’d try to get together once a week and discuss the scripts—more for me than her because she is my history, so it was important for me to know how she was doing something, how she was approaching something. Not that I was going to echo it, per se, but that it was in me, that I knew what was going on then, and where my head was at that point.

Jasmin lived in the sister building to my building in Vancouver. And when we both got there, we both came with our cats—we were the only ones that did. We shared keys with each other, our extra set of keys, so she’d come over and watch my cat sometimes when I had to work late, stuff like that. So, I saw her a lot, and we definitely were in each other’s worlds.

The Yellowjackets cast’s favorite ’90s music

The 1996 setting allows for some nostalgic needle drops. Since the adult cast were all coming of age around that time, we asked each of them about the music that defined their decade—providing us with the start of a killer 90s mixtape.

Lewis: I mean, I have an entire playlist! [Laughs.] Come on, it’s Mazzy Star, PJ Harvey—

Lynskey: PJ Harvey for me, PJ Harvey was my favorite. PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey with Nick Cave. God, there’s so many. I really loved Hole as well.

Lewis: I loved that record!

Cypress: Jane’s Addiction, Nothing Shocking. I know every word to that album. I love that album so much. I actually saw them perform the entire album from start to finish, and it was excellent.

Ricci: I was a huge Pixies fan from 11 to—well, I mean, I’m still a fan! But I mean I was obsessive. And so anything from Doolittle really makes me feel very 15 again. And also PJ Harvey for me. I feel like I drew art—like, I was in my room painting to her music—just feeling stuff and painting. [Laughs.]

You can watch the full premiere episode of Yellowjackets on YouTube now. New episodes air every Sunday on Showtime

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