Interview with actresses Christina Ricci, Samantha Hanratty, Tawny Cypress, Jasmin Savoy Brown and Ella Purnell, and producers Ashley Lyle, Bart Nickerson, Jonathan Lisco and Karyn Kusama of “Yellowjackets” on Showtime by Suzanne 8/25/21
SHOWTIME SUMMER 2021 TCA VIRTUAL PRESS TOUR
Virtual via Zoom August 25, 2021
© 2021 Showtime Networks Inc. All rights reserved.
Christina Ricci (she/her), “Misty Quigley”
Samantha Hanratty (she/her), “Teen Misty Quigley”
Tawny Cypress (she/her), “Taissa Turner”
Jasmin Savoy Brown (she/her), “Teen Taissa Turner”
Ella Purnell (she/her), “Teen Jackie Taylor”
Ashley Lyle (she/her), Creator/Executive Producer/Showrunner
Bart Nickerson (he/him), Creator/Executive Producer/Showrunner
Jonathan Lisco (he/him), Executive Producer/Showrunner
Karyn Kusama (she/her), Executive Producer/Director
This was a two-part panel for the show, and this is the second part. See the first part here. The show premieres Sunday, November 14. Don’t miss it!
It has a large cast, but the focus for both panels was on the women (the stars of the show). I asked Tawny Cypress and Jasmin Savoy Brown if they could speak a little bit about what it was that drew them to this project, how they got to know each other, and whether they did anything to try to sync their characters teen-Taissa and adult-Taissa together.
Cypress loved the project right away, in part because she’s from New Jersey (where the characters are from), so she enjoyed being right in there with her character and the soccer team. She told us, “Her vulnerabilities come out fairly quickly, so it was great to see where she cracked. It’s always fun to play people who crack a little bit. Like when she had the scene with Shauna and the pilot, you know, You can see her — that she’s not — maybe not the one in charge. And that drew me to her. Because it’s easy to play somebody powerful, but it’s more fun to play somebody who just thinks they’re powerful. And then as far as connecting with Jasmin, it was very easy. We connected early on. We get together a lot. We talk about the character a lot. We talk about the scripts a lot. We lived one building away from each other. We actually have the same landlord. All this weird stuff.”
Brown pointed out the “weird random” fact that they were the only ones in the entire cast and crew that both brought their cats there (to the filming) and that both are the tortoiseshell breed. Cypress agreed that they had a lot of things in common that were cool and led to a connection between them. She added that they do talk about the scripts a lot. One time Brown texted her at the beginning to ask if they say “EE-ther” or “EYE-ther.” They also go through different types of movements. They “try and keep her a nice through line.” Cypress added that the fact that the script is so well written shows the through line.
Brown chimed in to agree that “The writing is incredible. And that’s what drew me to this project. Along with what the women said in the prior panel. Women are the most important thing in my life. My female relationships, friendships. I was raised by a single mom. I have a ton of aunts. And I was an only child, and so my female friendships were the most important thing from early on. And I love any script, any piece of art that examines female relationships and how complex they are. I felt the writing was incredible. I love dark, mysterious stuff. And, also, I hadn’t worked for a few months and was on vacation when I got the audition. And that’s always how I know that something’s good, if it brings me home from vacation. So, I went — because I’m turning right back around.”
The next reporter asked the actors to answer a hypothetical question, “if you crashed on an island, how do you think you would fare? And not meaning killing people and eating people, but just in general with survival… How do you think that you would do?”
Christina Ricci jumped right in to answer that she loves TV shows like “Survivor,” so she thinks she would do really well. Also, she added, “I know how to do pull—ups, because I know if you fall off a cliff, you need to be able to pull your body weight onto things.”
Brown joked that she wouldn’t want to crash with Ricci, then. The women kept joking around about what they would do. Samantha Hanratty mentioned the show “Naked and Afraid.” Ricci thought that Hanratty would shoot first. Cypress piped up to say that she definitely would shoot first. Ricci also mentioned that she could be helpful and build a fire.
The next journalist asked a long question that was a bit hard to follow. He spoke a little about Ricci and Hanratty’s character, Misty, who starts out as a bit shy (and bullied), but then changes quite a right once they crash. He/she asked what it was like playing such a “quirky” character and wondered if she knew girls like this in school (not the extreme part of the character, of course).
Ricci spoke at length about how she and Hanratty met and discussed the character. She there could be “many different interpretations” of Misty. She described Misty as “socially inept” as well as “so emotional and emotive, but unable to really mold those emotions to fit with other people and to be socially successful.” Then, once this type of person becomes an adult, and life has punished her, and she doesn’t have the protection of childhood, she’s left just “”functioning, getting through with the passive aggression and the artifice. Because I feel like artifice is something you learn as a coping mechanism in adulthood.”
Hanratty took her turn to talk about how much fun it was to play Misty. We learn more about her in the second episode as we see her at age 13 and her past (before the crash). She wants people to like and accept her instead of bullying her, yet she’s constantly rejected. She’s a very optimistic person that refuses to be sad about how she’s treated. We see when she does get broken by what happens. She finished, “I think we see glimpses of it with me, and then you definitely get to see with Christina kind of where those shattered pieces are. It’s really magical to be able to work with Christina on that.”
The producers were asked about the plane crash and what happened, which she describes “pretty graphic.” She wonders how they decided where to draw the line for what viewers would see.
Nickerson answered the question. They never talked about it specifically. He just feels that he can watch it as an audience member and decide whether it’s too much (“distracting”) or not.
Lyle agreed with what he said and explained that they didn’t want to focus on the plane crash and the aftermatch so much as why it happened, such as “How did they get from point A to point B?” They start out as a championship team, working together. She joking interjected, “It really wasn’t so much about, you know, the sports, by any stretch of the imagination. Spoiler alert: not really a soccer show.” The show is about how they worked together as a group, and then they start falling apart over the season. She quoted the actress who played young Shauna, Sophie Nélisse, who said, “the circumstances bring out both the best and the worst in them.” They wanted to answer the question, “Who do these women become?”
Nickerson thoughtfully said that other producers probably have a different because they’re “”laying the groundwork to … shoot it,” but he and Lyle are “reacting to some of what you created in terms of the visuals of it.”
Karyn Kusama felt that the extreme moments in the flashbacks help to answer the bigger question of the series, which is, “What are human beings capable of?” As she put it, “to go from keggers and carpools and, you know, winning a soccer match in high school, to something so extreme that’s meant to happen, you know, 18, 19 months later, it begs that question.” It creates a set of question inside the women that “help drive the whole series and enrich the larger question of the series.”
The next question was for Ella Purnell, who plays Jackie. We see her before the plane crash, where she’s the team captain and able to get everyone to do what they need to do. However, when they’re on the island, she loses her grip after she makes one bad choice (leaving someone on the plane). The journalist asked Purnell what might Jackie be going through during this drastic change? And for her, or the producers, should we make any assumptions about the fact there’s no adult Jackie either in this panel or in the first episodes we’ve seen (unlike the other characters), and she wants to know if they’re worried the audience might predict something happened to her.
Purnell seemed a little bit surprised by the long question. What she loves about the role she said, is that Jackie’s attitude is really all just “a front,” which no one knows until she makes that mistake in the second episode. “And the stark contrast between Jackie’s social stand in Episode 1 and 2 is amazing. I love playing it. I think that when you — you take these kids out of the society that they’re in and that they’re building of high school, you know. Who’s the popular one? Who’s the nerd? They’re all athletes. But that kind of hierarchy system that they’ve created and participated in. And you put them in this unbelievable life or death scenario.” She says that people can surprise themselves, and in many different ways, when “the true essence of who you are comes out.” Jackie is interesting because instead of “flight or fight,” she freezes. She wants to take control and act like she did back in Jersey, she’s frozen in place, because she’s so young and in shock. She believes that’s very frustrating for Jackie – not knowing where she stands. It’s not normal for her. “She loses her footing. She has no idea who to be out here. Whether she picks that up or doesn’t pick that up throughout the rest of season, you’ll find out. But it was definitely fun to play, like, that very sharp decline of sort of social standing between the episodes.”
Lyle repeated that show has “a lot of twists and turns over the course of the season,” but what’s imoprtant is “why” rather than “what.” She concluded with, “take that as you will.” Obviously, she didn’t want to give too much away. Nickerson countered that he would rather viewers “read a lot into everything and sort of, like, go in like a million different directions with it and just have like a great time.”
The next press person asked Ricci and Hanratty about their character, Misty. He said, “The character that you’re playing has absolutely no cachet, zero, prior to the plane crash, and then suddenly she is the linchpin for this entire survival. But in the process of doing that, one action that she takes creates the fact that they’re going to be stuck there for a very, very long time. And I’m wondering what — how does that psychologically affect her in her later life, knowing what she has done? It’s got to have some type of ramification in her adult life.”
Ricci explained that for Misty, everything is about her, and her “wants and her longing and her needs. And, so, when they crash, you know, and she does finally become important…she creates a situation in which she will stay important.” She didn’t want to speak for the younger version of the character, but she doesn’t think Misty has any regrets (about what she did) as an adult. Instead, when things get interesting for her as an adult, she’s “thrilled that her life might become exciting again.” Her adult life is not great. Being stranded on the island was the highlight of her life (unlike the other characters on the show).
Hanratty added that before the crash, Misty “was always everybody else’s biggest cheerleader.” She was really rooting for the team to do well. Hanratty discussed with the producers that “maybe Misty is not so good at love, but obsession. And she kind of replaces those two. And, so, she is really obsessed with these girls, and just loves them, but, you know, in her own way. But has never really felt that in return.” When the plane crashes, she takes over while everyone else is still in shock. She has “some medical background and kind of does what she can.” They talked about whether her parents were doctors, so she’s looked at medical books growing up as well as taking the “Red Cross babysitter training class twice.” She finally hears people talking about her in a positive, which thrills her and gives her a reason to go on. She makes this decision (as the reporter mentioned) to keep going with that purpose for as long as possible, and doesn’t feel bad about it. To Misty, “”It’s exciting and it’s liberating and thrilling.”
The producers were asked about whether there might be “something” out in the woods with the soccer team, and it’s possible that it came back with them and is still around in the present. He asks if there might be some sort of supernatural element to show, or something more realistic. He added that in case they can’t really answer that question, he would like to know “what was the human meat actually made out of, and how does it taste?” Ha ha! Good way to handle that question.
Lyle said that the meat was venison (deer meat), which was difficult for Hanratty, who’s a vegan in real life. Hanratty answered that she didn’t eat the venison. She and Brown both at “Beyon Meat” instead (a vegan alternative beef).
Lyle tried to answer the supernatural question. She said they discussed what types of inspirations they would draw on, such as “Rosemary’s Baby.” They were interested in the line between “genuine supernatural phenomenon or sort of a mass hysteria or some sort of madness that takes hold. And so that’s a line that we’re going to be playing throughout the show.” Very interesting.
Nickerson explained that it was difficult to answer the question without spoiling things for the viewer.
Kusama had an interesting way to answer the question. She mused, “I do feel like what the show does in Season 1 that is surprising — and I’m going to throw this — I’m going to throw this bit to Jasmin and to Tawny. Because I think what we’re doing is we’re exploring what ‘supernatural’ means. In this case, it’s about the mysteries of human behavior. And in many respects, Jasmine’s Taissa is one of the most competent in the wilderness, but also suffers terrible trauma very deeply. And when we see Tawny as adult Taissa, she in many respects is the most together and competent, and yet there’s still so much mystery underneath all of that.” She then asked Brown and Cypress to talk a little about how they played Taissa with the idea in their heads of of “what’s possible in human behavior.”
Brown thinks that Taissa’s strength and weakness is the same: she’s very competent and smart, and she can see the world in a realistic way. It “offers solutions, but it doesn’t offer a lot of comfort, at least not on a deeper emotional level… I’m a nerd for the enneagram, so I did a lot of enneagram research and presented her with what I think Taissa’s enneagram number is, and everything that means, and we discussed that. It was a really good tool for me, and she is a very practical person.”
Cypress agreed that “practicality is her strong point. She’s definitely most comfortable at the helm. And as far as the genres go, she seems, like, to have her entire life together. Everything’s on the up and up, and then of course the mysteries start happening, and all of the sudden we’re in, you know, a completely different feeling for the show. And coming to that as an actor, you know, it’s — I don’t really have a reference to have started with, so it was really just acting mystery as drama for me. And that’s how I approached it, anyway.”
The last press person asked if it was difficult for the younger actresses to put their careers on hold (when they’d barely started) wait for the show for two years (between the pilot and filming the rest). Hanratty nodded, so he asked her what it was like during those two years, and what did she do in the meantime, and how did it feel?
Hanratty confessed that she’s an impatient person, so she was a bit on pins and needles, waiting to hear if they would film the rest of the series. Then, because of COVID, she moved home with her parents, so she wasn’t as focused on getting work as she normally is. She started getting more anxious later on.
ABOUT THE SHOW
Created and executive produced by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson (Narcos), the one-hour drama series, YELLOWJACKETS stars Melanie Lynskey (Castle Rock), Oscar® and Emmy® nominee Juliette Lewis (Camping), Emmy® nominee Christina Ricci (Z: The Beginning of Everything) and Tawny Cypress (Unforgettable).
Equal parts survival epic, psychological horror story and coming-of-age drama, YELLOWJACKETS is the saga of a team of wildly talented high school girls soccer players who become the (un)lucky survivors of a plane crash deep in the remote northern wilderness. The series chronicles their descent from a complicated but thriving team to savage clans, while also tracking the lives they’ve attempted to piece back together nearly 25 years later, proving that the past is never really past and what began out in the wilderness is far from over.
The series also stars Warren Kole (Shades of Blue), Ella Purnell (Sweetbitter), Samantha Hanratty (SHAMELESS), Sophie Thatcher (Prospect), Sophie Nélisse (The Book Thief), Steven Krueger (The Originals) and Jasmin Savoy Brown (The Leftovers). Jonathan Lisco (Animal Kingdom, Halt and Catch Fire) joins Lyle and Nickerson to serve as executive producer and showrunning partner.
Produced for SHOWTIME by studio Entertainment One (eOne), Karyn Kusama (Destroyer, Girlfight) executive produces and directed the pilot. Drew Comins of Creative Engine also serves as executive producer.
Christina Ricci (born February 12, 1980) is an American actress. She is known for playing unconventional characters with a dark edge. Ricci is the recipient of several accolades, including a National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress and a Satellite Award for Best Actress, as well as Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy, Screen Actors Guild, and Independent Spirit Award nominations.
Ricci made her film debut at the age of nine in Mermaids (1990), which was followed by a breakout role as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family (1991) and its sequel. Subsequent appearances in Casper and Now and Then (both 1995) brought her fame as a “teen icon”. At 17, she moved into adult-oriented roles with The Ice Storm (1997), which led to parts in films such as Buffalo ’66, Pecker and The Opposite of Sex (all 1998). She garnered acclaim for her performances in Sleepy Hollow (1999) and Monster (2003). Her other credits include Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), Prozac Nation (2001), Pumpkin (2002), Anything Else (2003), Black Snake Moan (2006), Speed Racer (2008), and The Smurfs 2 (2013). Despite being known predominantly for her work in independent productions, Ricci has appeared in numerous box office hits – to date, her films have grossed in excess of US$1.4 billion.
On television, Ricci appeared as Liza Bump in the final season of Ally McBeal (2002), and received acclaim for her guest role on Grey’s Anatomy in 2006. She also starred as Maggie Ryan on the ABC series Pan Am (2011–12), and produced and starred in the series The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (2015) and Z: The Beginning of Everything (2017). As well as voicing characters in several animated films, Ricci provided voices for the video games The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon and Speed Racer: The Videogame (both 2008). In 2010, she made her Broadway debut in Time Stands Still.
Ricci is the national spokesperson for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
Samantha Lynne Hanratty (born September 20, 1995) is an American actress. Her first lead role took place in 2009, portraying Chrissa Maxwell in An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong. In 2011, she played the role Whitney Brown in the film The Greening of Whitney Brown. Hanratty is considered a Celebrity Friend for the Starlight Children’s Foundation.
Tawny Cypress (born August 8, 1976) is an American actress. She has appeared in various television and stage plays. She starred as Cherie Rollins-Murray on the television series Unforgettable, on the second and third seasons. She previously had recurring roles on several TV series, including Fox‘s drama K-Ville as Ginger “Love Tap” LeBeau, Simone Deveaux on the TV series Heroes, and Carly Heath on House of Cards.
Jasmin Savoy Brown (born March 21, 1994) is an American actress best known for her role as Evangeline “Evie” Murphy on HBO‘s The Leftovers. She also provided the voice and motion capture for Phin Mason / Tinkerer in Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
Ella Summer Purnell (born 17 September 1996) is an English actress best known for her roles in the films Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016), Churchill (2017), and Army of the Dead (2021).
Proofread and Edited by Brenda