In Yellowjackets, the audience knows that the characters’ lives will, at no point, be fun or happy or a joy to watch. There is humor and levity mixed in, to be sure, but Showtime’s much-discussed and buzziest series is an examination of the darkness that lurks beneath each of us, and the violence teenage girls and their older selves are capable of when pushed to the limits in the most extreme of situations. While the first season showed what the series wanted to explore, the second dug deeper by furthering the traumatic events each individual character goes through. Shauna Sadecki (née Shipman), heading the ensemble of the series, certainly deals with her fair share of pain and shame.
Played by Sophie Nélisse and Melanie Lynskey, as the teenage version and the adult version respectively, Shauna has suffered loss. At the end of the first season, audiences were heartbroken to watch her lose her best friend Jackie to nature’s icy kiss after an argument sends her outside. At the beginning of season two, Shauna makes a meal out of Jackie’s ear at the close of the opening episode, pacing back and forth, nurturing the thought of it before actually putting it in her mouth. Teenage Shauna loses her baby at the end of a harrowing sixth episode that allowed Nélisse a moment to create stunning work out of loss, a moment of breathless exasperation as Shauna begs her surrounding teammates to help her understand why they can’t hear what she hears: her baby crying. The next episode sees Lottie provide Shauna with catharsis by allowing physical violence upon herself for Shauna’s release.
Adult Shauna is having problems as well in season two, perhaps a culmination of a lifetime of trauma and violence that has caught up with her present-day. Episode three sees Shauna turn steely as she turns the table on a car-jacker; Lynskey makes a meal out of these types of scenes, her entire disposition changed as Shauna presents the harder, colder version of herself. She’s also still dealing with the aftermath of the murder of Adam as the police investigation draws them closer to her and her ex-teammates. Shauna is a woman who has been through many things she probably has never discussed, and Lynskey provides an acute look at what this type of life could do to someone, how it evolves them.
I sat down with both Lynskey and Nélisse to discuss their roles on the show playing the same person at different stages in life, what about Shauna’s journey interests them the most, the different kinds of direction they received this season, and what their hopes are for seasons to come.
Full spoilers for season two of Yellowjackets below.
Tyler Doster: When beginning work on a new season, specifically this second season, is there any communication between the two of you when it comes to the performance of being Shauna? Do you guys try to calibrate together, or is it just you jumping in and seeing what works?
Melanie Lynskey: We have not planned anything or come up with anything together. A helpful thing for me is when we do table-reads and they get to see what Sophie’s doing, even though she’s always like, “I’m terrible at the table-reads.”
Sophie Nélisse: I’m giving nothing while Melanie’s over here giving Emmy Award performances, that’s all having us tearing up, but–
ML: No, I think I’m terrible in the table reads, but you’re so good and it’s just at least helpful to just see the tone, the vibe, and see the story come together and sometimes to watch it, it’s easier to see the threads because there’s always some connecting threads between the two storylines.
SN: Yeah, we never got really into specifics about mannerisms or body language or whatnot, and I do remember watching the first season and picking up on little things that Melanie does naturally. I think it’s one of the things I admire the most in her performance is it doesn’t feel forced, but it’s a big mix of all these tiny little things that she’ll do that keeps the scene so alive, and that as an audience, you’re just watching her on the edge of your seat because the way she’ll give a tiny little glance.
Anyway, this one thing that she does is she’ll bite her lips. I don’t know if it was a little awkward, I don’t know, she bites them together and then I was like oh, “she does this all the time,” and then I was like, “maybe I’ll incorporate that in Shauna for the second season” and then I went and tried practicing it in front of my mirror and it looked so stupid. I don’t know if it’s because, I don’t know, my mouth is just not made to move that way and it just felt forced and I was like, you know what? I don’t know how we made it work in the first season, but we’ll stick to that and just wing it again for the second.
ML: Yeah, we just have to trust it because I did think it worked. I think we felt like we were playing the same person.
TD: Has there been anything at a table read where you see the other and you immediately think about tweaking something in your performance for that episode because of it?
SN: I mean, the table reads are hard because we did most of them on Zoom because of COVID. Again, I think it’s mostly watching, I really wish I was there on set when she acted because I only get to see it afterwards, but there is something, even though we haven’t talked about body language but this sort of awkwardness or there’s this presence when I feel that you play Shauna and there’s this presence that you bring to the room that’s so calm, but so intimidating.
(To Melanie): But at the same time, we can tell how awkward you feel in your own body playing Shauna, there’s this scene in episode, I think it’s the last minute of episode three that I saw, and you’re holding the gun and you deliver this speech and everyone has chills, and then you walk off and you’re like, okay, thank you. And you just don’t really know what to do with yourself anymore now that you’re out of this trans, whatever was going on in your head. I don’t know, yeah the way you move, I think says a lot when I watch you on screen.
ML: (To Sophie): Oh. Well the thing that you’re talking about, the thing of having a calm presence and being like, that’s a thing I absolutely stole from you so I’m happy you like it. It’s something that you do.
I just noticed it’s hard for me to be still, it’s hard for me to be calm and Sophie’s so good at it and there’s another thing that I also have noticed where, like in the pilot she would lean into confrontation a little bit. In the first few episodes, there’s something simmering in her body where when something difficult starts happening, she’s almost more present, more alive. And I was like, oh, I love this. Sorry, the workers have the food and now I can relax, and that’s something that’s harder for me so that was something that was stolen from you.
TD: Sophie brought up the carjacking scene, so I’d love to talk about it. I think it’s a great look into adult Shauna’s psyche. Melanie, what do you think about how she displays that steely, more quiet rage in that moment? Do you think it’s more of a product of being a survivor of the wilderness or a culmination of just being a woman who has felt like she hasn’t been really taken as seriously as she should have been her whole life?
ML: I think it’s a combination of those two things. There is something about the time in the wilderness, it’s hard for her to just be back in her everyday life because she doesn’t feel like she’s alive anymore. She just craves feeling something, feeling a life or death moment, feeling like anything could happen. It’s just everything since then, even though it’s been comfortable, has just felt like nothing, kind of, so she’s looking for those moments in a kind of addict-y way. But then also I think her specific trigger, very much, is people underestimating her. When he’s like, “oh yeah, what are you going to do?” She’s like, “oh, well, let me show you,” which I think is a very fun thing about her, that’s where she really switches.
TD: How did that moment go for you? Did you have fun getting to portray that?
ML: I don’t know. It’s always scary when you are the only one talking, it’s just a lot of words to learn (laughs). I did have fun because that actor was so great, he was wonderful so it was nice, it was fun doing a one-on-one scene and it ended up being fun, but it’s just intimidating. Also, guns are sort of heavy and I had to hold the gun up for so long and my shoulder, I was like, ugh! Yeah.
TD: Shauna has dealt with a great deal of trauma. Sophie, I wanted to ask you, how did it feel finding out that Shauna has started talking to Jackie after her passing, and what was it like creating and getting into that head space for her?
SN: I love the take that the writers took on it. I think it was this sort of beautiful and yet twisted way of grieving, but I don’t think it was so absurd that it didn’t make any sense because I think we all, when we lose someone that’s close to us, I think the biggest thing to try to get over is accepting that you won’t see them anymore and that you won’t be able to smell it. It’s the memories, it’s that with time you forget what they look like, you forget what they smell like. And I think that’s what, in a weird way, she’s trying to keep her essence alive, but I also think in all of those little scenes, it always kind of turns sour between the both of them and I think that’s because her subconscious is pretty much, it is sort of telling her that you have to let go.
So, I think she feels very conflicted in her emotions by wanting to keep her there because I think life with Jackie is the only thing she’s ever known and I don’t think she really knows who she is without Jackie’s approval or Jackie’s guidance. But I think at the same time, she’s deeply craving this life without her. I think she wants this weight to be lifted off her shoulders and she wants to find her own voice and she wants to be able to speak for herself, so there’s this constant battle inside of her.
And it was really weird shooting the scenes because, just not having Ella [Purnell] around anymore, Ella and I were so close in the first season and shooting the season one finale was so sad because we knew she would be gone and we were really sad. And then Ella being back on set, she did leave a hole in the group because Ella is in her character in many ways, in the sense that when she walks, she all eyes are on her. She has this very magnetic side to her, and people are just drawn to her automatically. I think that that’s kind of what she created in our cast when we were in the tent or on set; she occupies a lot of space in the room.
So it felt weird shooting those scenes with her because she hadn’t been on set for the beginning of the shoot and she just kind of came in and left and I think the relationship had been a little – not broken – because I still love her to death, but there was just this learning to act together again, but her knowing that she’s only there for a short amount of time and there’s this kind of weird vibe on-screen. We don’t really know as an audience how we really feel about their relationship, their dead relationship or however you want to call it (laughs).
TD: Shauna paces around with Jackie’s ear in her hand for a few moments before putting it in her mouth. What do you think she’s considering in those moments?
SN: I think she’s thinking about eating it, and I don’t think she put it in her pocket to eat it, I think she just put it out of urgency in her pocket and then I think when she was found alone with it, the idea sparked and then I think it sort of, when it scratches, you won’t feel satisfied until you actually scratch the wound and I think once the idea was put in her head, it was just always lingering.
Yeah, I think she’s just wants to commit and again, with weird sort of conflicted emotions because it is Jackie so it’s pretty messed up to be eating her, but also she is starving. She’s thinking about the baby and in a broader spectrum, I think that’s the appeal of the show is what would you do when you’re faced with what you’re not supposed to do? I think we’re always drawn to murder stories because obviously none of us would kill anybody so we’re drawn to see how we would do it, and I think it’s the same, you’re not supposed to eat other people, obviously. And I think yeah, the temptation has gotten so strong by this point so she finally submits.
TD: Melanie, what does it add to the conversation for you to now know that every time adult Shauna sees Jackie’s parents, she has to remember that she not only ate their daughter’s ear but helped consume her entire body with a group of teammates?
ML: It’s interesting because that is something that I didn’t know last season. I thought that I had the whole Jackie story, but I didn’t have that part so it adds a new [layer]… I mean, I think Shauna’s suffering under so much guilt and shame about Jackie anyway but that’s definitely, that’s an awkward thing to be thinking about at brunch.
ML: Oh my God. I’m just like, why put yourself through it? Just don’t go!
SN: And it probably hasn’t, I mean, I’m assuming that’s the thing we haven’t explored because I’m very curious to see once we get put back into society, how much did we tell people?
SN: Assuming we haven’t told anyone that we ate people, but then… are they just assuming? What do Jackie’s parents think? Do they even know how Jackie died? I’m excited to see if there’s a flashback of the conversation of you and her parents, because obviously you guys are so close and this is all going to be written at some point I assume.
ML: I know, and to see the parents.
SN: Oh, maybe. Yea, true, maybe. Yeah! Me and the parents lying about how Jackie died in that messed up situation. I’m sorry.
ML: That one I’m most excited for.
SN: Yeah, they’re back into society and how we, yeah.
TD: I love how much thought you’ve put into this. Are there any storylines you’re really hoping come to fruition in that work, in that specific storyline with Jackie?
SN: I don’t know. I’m just curious to see how the relationships will shift, mostly. I’m just curious to see all the bonds that have been created. I know Lottie obviously goes to a mental hospital which I think is super interesting, but do they remain close because we get a feel that they haven’t stayed close, but the year following their rescue, are they just a weird group at school?
ML: I know!
SN: I mean, are they all at college by that point, but are they all still calling each other because they’re crying at night traumatized, or are they all living their separate lives, lying to everyone? Have they made a pact like this is the story we’re going to give? I’m what I’m most curious to see right after the aftermath.
ML: Me too, me too. I’m also excited for the craziness of…
SN: Next season.
ML: Next season’s going to get crazy but yeah, when they’re all back. I mean, maybe that is next season? I don’t know, let’s not. You’ll get us into trouble.
TD: I won’t, I won’t!
ML: I don’t know.
TD: You’re both dealing with different stages of motherhood in the show right now. Obviously adult Shauna is dealing with her difficult teenage daughter right now. She’s trying to understand her and she’s getting involved in what’s going on in Shauna’s life while of course, teenage Shauna is dealing with the grief of losing her baby by the end of episode six. And I just wanted to know what the preparation difference would be like for both of you when Sophie, you’re dealing with this fresh grief and trauma while Melanie, you are dealing with this shame and this existing sadness that’s already in somebody. So I wanted to know just how you unfold that for yourselves.
SN: Well yeah, I think it’s this beautiful scene that Melanie does… I can’t remember which episode was in, when she speaks to the cops and you have the meltdown and you’re saying how you love them despite not wanting them and I think there’s a very close parallel to what Shauna’s going through in the wilderness. I don’t think she ever wanted this child, but it has given her purpose in life, or at least purpose in surviving in the wilderness. And she feels very conflicted with this relationship with this child because it’s sort of a constant reminder of the things that she’s regret regretted doing Jackie’s death and sleeping with Jeff, but I do think that she’s growing more and more to love this child and to actually want it and to love it despite where it came from. And I think yeah, I think that’s kind of how older Shauna feels about Callie in some way.
ML: Yeah, I think the thing that happened in the wilderness with that first pregnancy was so unbelievably traumatic that she just shut off that part of her brain and just was like, “I’m not going to put myself in that situation again. I am not going to ever do anything that triggers those memories, I’m never going to be pregnant, I’m never going to have a kid, I’m never going to do it.” She just was like, “that’s done,” and then Jeff really, really wanted that and at some point she said, “how bad could it be?” But I don’t think she ever let her heart open up and she also still fundamentally didn’t really want to be a parent. She is a person who’s never really been parented herself, and is living through incredible grief and trauma and she’s like, “what do I have to give a child?”
So I think that’s been an interesting exploration of somebody who doesn’t really want to be a mother, and it’s just going through the motions anyway and then learning as she processes the thing that happened to her early on, learning what it means to be a parent and learning what kind of parent she could potentially be to the child that she does have. And for me personally, having gone through a pregnancy loss, it doesn’t really leave your body, it just stays. That was a thing that I held onto a lot when I was going through this season and thinking about the feelings of all that coming out because it’s kind of always with you, so it’s kind of an awful thing.
TD: As we discussed, earlier in the season, Shauna is speaking to dead Jackie, and by the end of episode six, she is begging her teammates to understand why they cannot hear her dead child crying. And so Sophie, I wanted to ask you how you interpret these moments for Shauna and specifically at the end of episode six. It’s a beautiful moment, but it must have been very taxing, so I wanted to know how it was filming and getting ready for it.
SN: Yeah. Well, I think by the end of that episode, I’ve had multiple dreams like that where I wake up and they just felt so real that I myself, and I can’t even myself understand that they weren’t real because I could literally feel like I felt the emotion that I feel in real life and that also just being so underfed and, I mean, she had almost probably a near death experience having lost so much blood. I think she’s so disconnected by that point from reality and I think she’s hearing things and seeing things that I think it’s what she wishes she could be hearing and seeing, but I don’t think she’s actually hearing or seeing them.
It was a very hard week in general to shoot, just emotionally, obviously physically as well, because there’s just a lot of screaming and my voice, after I scream once, I have really bad lungs in general. So I was sipping on this Throat Coat tea with lemon and honey all day long, also did not realize that tea makes you pee so I was peeing every 20 minutes. Figured that out. I was like, oh, interesting.
But [director] Liz [Garbus] did a beautiful, I mean, coming into the episode, I was just so nervous and everyone kept coming up to me and they’re like,”this is such a big episode for you,” and I was like, “don’t want to know.” They made it a bigger deal than I wanted it to be. I was just trying to lower one’s standards, and I remember getting into the table read and everyone walked out and then Liz stayed with me and literally I just broke into tears and I was sobbing. She slowly shut the door and she was like, “do you need a hug?”, and I went, “I just really need a hug.” And then I told her how, just really nervous I was for the episode and I was also nervous because it’s not something that I’ve ever experienced before, and so I just felt responsible to not only give a decent performance, but just treat the scene with a lot of respect and treat every woman’s story with a lot of respect.
Going into preparation, I just talked to a lot of women in my life, like my mom that’s had miscarriages and what I realized is that every story is so unique and so personal. I just wanted to, in a weird way, embody all of those stories and try to bring all those stories to life and to show the extent of what giving birth is, the joys and how beautiful it is, but also how hard and scary it is. And it’s the gray line where it can, there’s not a good or a bad experience, it could go so many ways.
And also just to be very sensitive on set too because you don’t know what people have been through and what experiences they’ve had with pregnancies and giving birth, and so just to be hypersensitive on set about the people around me, but Liz did a beautiful job and was just so there for me and also great at preserving my energy. Whenever it was a wider shot or it was cut on other people, obviously I wanted to be generous and give them something to play off of, but she’s like, “you can lower the screams and you don’t have to be as physical.”
But, yeah, I love this episode mostly because I think it gives us such a wide range of emotions and you get really happy and sad and scared and yeah, it’s very hard to watch, but it’s stories that people go through. Most of the time, not in such terrible circumstances, and losing a child is definitely a story that we hear sadly too often so we wanted to treat it with a lot of respect.
TD: Absolutely. I think you handled it with care. Knowing Shauna’s cathartic violence with Lottie in episode 7, is it surprising how she handled the carjacker?
ML: To me, these feel like very different things! What happened with Lottie in 207 felt like the culmination of so much grief and loss and hopelessness and rage. And Lottie put herself there as a vessel for that rage. To me, it was letting out all those pent-up emotions. Little Shauna went through so much!
Fighting the carjacker I think came from a place inside her where she’s so tired of being underestimated. The fact that someone thinks they can just get away with that and that she’ll be helpless, and incapable of standing up for herself… that is something she can’t deal with. I don’t think Shauna ever wants to feel helpless again.
TD: Sophie, what do you think and how was filming that scene in episode 7 with Courtney Eaton?
SN: Doing that scene with Courtney was so much fun, since first off we are best friends and we were living together at the time (during the second season). We were together when we found out that we would get into a physical fight and thought no way that is so cool. The scene itself is unique because this is the first time we see these women actually get physically violent, and I feel like big fights like that you don’t always get to see on TV. I felt very honored to play that and we had so much fun with it when rehearsing. People’s reactions when we filmed the scene were priceless because we had been keeping it light in rehearsal but when filming it was so real and Courtney actually ended up popping her collarbone out, and I messed up my shoulders.
TD: What does Natalie’s coronation and death mean for Shauna’s future?
ML: I actually have no idea! Obviously Shauna loved Natalie very much, despite their differences. That season finale was heartbreaking for Shauna, and also for me, to see one of my favorite people and actors leave the show. But I don’t know what the writers have in store in terms of the fallout from her death for Shauna, Tai and Van, not to mention Lottie and of course Misty. I am excited for our writers to get a fair deal in their negotiations so they can get back into the writer’s room and figure all this out.
SN: Her coronation, I think she is somewhat upset, not necessarily at Natalie, but maybe at Lottie for not choosing Shauna because she is the one who has been through the most at that point. Shauna has also made so many sacrifices by cutting up the animal meat or even cutting Javi open. She has really been the one in the shed preparing the food, and I think that is why she thinks she deserves this position. I don’t think she has anything against Natalie, she actually respects Natalie a lot and sees that she is the one who has sort of remained the most grounded through it all thus far. I think moving forward it will create some conflict with the group.
TD: I only have one more question for you both, and it is much lighter than the previous questions. Melanie, recently you said that if the gays turned on Yellowjackets, you would be devastated. Nothing like that has happened and I just wanted to know from both of you what it means to have such high support from the LGBTQ+ community at this point because obviously the love is evident, for the show and for both of you.
ML: I mean, as a person who is not queer… I mean, maybe a little bit but…
SN: Aren’t we all a little bit?
ML: Yeah, I guess so. I mean, if I’m being honest, it’s probably like 70-30. But I mean, it’s just the LGBTQ community has just always been such a huge part of my life and not just like, “oh I have gay friends,” but my integral, most important people. Family and friends, and it’s just the fact that there are people in this world who want to take rights away from the people I love the most, it just is something that I don’t understand and makes me so, so, so angry. And there is something honestly about people feeling excited to have the support that breaks my heart a little bit, I feel like I do live in a little bit of a bubble where everyone’s just everyone and people have whatever partner they have, or people are trans or people are…you know? And I forget that so much of the outside world is just so not accepting and people encounter hatred and people are disowned from their families and crazy stuff happens, and it just breaks heart. So I think if people need a mother, I’m here to be that person. I’m happy to do it.
SN: Melanie is everyone’s mother, we all wish we would have her as a mother and then we look at them and Jason and we’re like, “please, can we be adopted into your family?”
ML: Yes, you can. Sophie, you can.
SN: Yeah. I mean, Melanie put it so well, but I agree. I have a lot of close friends and close people in my entourage that are part of the community and like Melanie said, I mean for me, it just comes so naturally. I don’t, I’ve never seen them in any way differently so I tend to forget that sometimes they’re not seen, and we shouldn’t even have to emphasize having to include them or having to be like, “we hear you.” It should just be so obvious that we do and unfortunately it’s not, and part of what I do and why I do what I do is to offer material that people can relate to and they can find a voice in the characters that we give them and an outlet where they feel listened to and accepted. And sadly, Shauna is not gay, although we thought for a second maybe with Taissa…
ML: We did!
SN: She’s playing a fine line. I feel like there could be a little plot twist before she marries Jeff where she’s like, “huh.”
ML: I think there might be. I mean, why am I touching Taissa’s hand like that in the pilot?
SN: I know. I think maybe! This could be-
ML: That specific note that I got…
TD: Could we get an investigation going into this hand touch?
SN: Maybe it’s not too late!
ML: I think so. I’ll be annoyed.
SN: Honestly, if older Shauna finally finds her inner strength, because I think you’re on the verge of cracking open and becoming your full, strong, independent woman. And I think that maybe once she’s fully coming to her own, maybe in season four we can be expecting some gay out of older Shauna. I truly wish.
ML: Listen, I’m here for it. And you know what? I think Jeff would be here for it. I think he’d just be like, do what you got to do.
TD: Can we put that as the tagline for season four? Can we get that going? “Expect some gay.”
ML: Expect some gay. I love it.
TD: Yeah I mean, I think our show offers a little already luckily, and we offer diversity, which I mean I’m obviously for and I just, I’m happy that the community feel like they have characters that they can relate to. I’m just sad, it’s not ours.
ML: They just push for it.
TD: Yeah, let’s keep pushing. Shauna’s already amazing, let’s keep going.
SN: Well, at least a threesome. Just throw in a threesome, at least.
ML: Why not?
TD: I think we could accept that. Jeff would definitely be fine with that.
ML: Yeah, I think that’s something Jeff could get behind… (laughs) that’s a terrible way to put it.
TD: Thank you so much both of you for your time, I really appreciate it. This has been so great.
SN: Thank you.
ML: Thank you. It was fun to talk to you.
Melanie Lynskey and Sophie Nélisse are both Emmy-eligible in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Yellowjackets.
Photos: Kailey Schwerman, Colin Bentley/SHOWTIME