Interview: Tawny Cypress on season 2 of ‘Yellowjackets’, the reunion of Taissa and Van, LGBTQ+ representation in the show, and one particular dog
We can agree that Bart Nickelson and Ashley Lyle’s Showtime series Yellowjackets is one of the buzziest shows out there. This elaborate series proves to us that we still have much to be shocked about. At almost every step, the creators assure their audience they still have plenty to tell us about the show’s dauntless, intricate characters. One of them, Tawny Cypress, portrays adult Taissa Turner – a role that goes in pair with the teenage version of the same character played by Jasmin Savoy Brown. The protagonist is an accomplished woman who, much like her former high school friends, is still dealing with the aftermath of their fateful 1996 plane crash, survival, and dark secrets from her time in the wilderness.
Every character in the series, including Cypress’, has a showstopping character development. At the end of season 1, Taissa’s struggles with sleepwalking deepen, as she often blacks out, and finds herself in a place she doesn’t know. While season 1 focuses on her run to become a State Senator of New Jersey, much of season 2 centers on her dark alter-ego, born in the wilderness, provoking questions regarding her time in the wild and “the other” Tai. In season 2, the titular former Yellowjackets take care of their own affairs before reconnecting at Lottie’s retreat, while Tai attempts to figure out her issues and seeks help from someone who genuinely understands her — Van (Lauren Ambrose).
I had the pleasure of speaking with Tawny about season 2 of Yellowjackets just before episode 7 aired. During our conversation, Tawny Cypress shared her love for the actors and crew of Yellowjackets. Prior to the Showtime series, the New Jersey-born actress was usually seen running around with a gun, playing one-dimensional characters, as she says so herself during our interview. Cypress, who has appeared in episodes of “The Equalizer” and “Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector,” truly demonstrates her exceptional acting range in the show. She portrays a multidimensional character who’s not only imperative to the Yellowjackets’ season 2 narrative but also has a lasting impact on LGBTQ+ representation in contemporary film and television. I first got to talk to Cypress at one of the FYC Yellowjackets events, and it was wonderful to reflect with the actor on the show’s controversial, polarizing, and oh-so-delicious season 2.
Please be aware that the following interview may contain spoilers for Yellowjackets season 2.
Zofia Wijaszka: Hello, how are you doing today?
Tawny Cypress: I’m doing good, I’m up in the mountains with my kittens. How about you? Where are you?
ZW: Oh, yeah, I’m good. I’m just working from home. I’m in Los Angeles with my two dogs, actually. So, we are all animal people.
TC: Nice, animal people!
ZW: Let’s talk about Yellowjackets, your amazing show that I’m personally obsessed with. – what was your reaction finding out that the series was such a success?
TC: Oh, my gosh. How could you ever prepare for it? You know, when we were shooting the first season, I was like, “this show’s awesome, I would watch this show. Look at these actors I get to be with, this is incredible. I used to see Christina Ricci on television, this is a dream show”. So yeah, I thought it was cool. But you never know what people are [going to watch]. There’s so much content out there. The fact that it was such a phenomenon so early on, really, it took everybody by surprise. And it just hasn’t stopped yet. And it’s quite a ride, quite a ride. I’m trying to enjoy it.
ZW: It really is. It’s amazing. In season 1, we had a lot of cliffhangers, and it continues in season 2. At one point, by the S1 finale, your character, in her sleepwalking state, sacrifices a dog. How hard was it to act in that scene?
TC: I actually am a dog lover as well. I’m an animal lover, so it was pretty rough when I read that scene, especially since the creators lied to me. They told me the dog ran away. So, finding out that I beheaded the dog was shocking [laughs]! Okay, in their defense, at one point, they actually had me beheading the dog.
ZW: Oh, wow!
TC: I’m glad that was gone. But yeah, it was shocking. That dog was really freaking cute. But I knew it was going to look cool [laughs].
ZW: Oh, yeah, for sure. That was very shocking! I wanted to also talk to you more about you working closely with Lauren Ambrose who turned out to be adult Van, which was very exciting to find out. How was it working with her, especially for the first time with Van and Tai reuniting at her video store?
TC: It was amazing! I mean, well, on the one hand, I had to say goodbye to my scene partner of a year-and-a-half, Rukiya Bernard, who played my wife, and that was rough, because I loved acting with Rukiya. I love her as a person, so just spending time with her is always really fun for me. But on the other side of that, Lauren is an incredible scene partner, she’s so giving, and she’s so present. It always felt fresh and new. Just working with real professionals in our craft is just such a joy, doing character work. It’s not something that happens often for me, you know? I usually play one-dimensional women who carry guns — that sort of thing. But, you know, having this three-dimensional character and her three-dimensional character figuring these things out together in this relationship and honoring this beautiful relationship that Jasmine and Liv created, it was really thrilling for me. I think for her as well. And she did an amazing job, you know?
We just really want to give the audience the feeling that they’ve been waiting for. Because I know that everybody was waiting for Tai and Van, so we really want to honor it.
ZW: Yes, it was amazing. And I love the dynamics between adult Tai and Van. They really translate from them being teenagers, so I really loved it.
TC: Oh, good [laughs]!
ZW: What was your favorite episode to shoot this season? Or perhaps a scene with Taissa that you love?
TC: Oh, I think the dancing scene was my favorite. When we get together all six of us adults this season, there’s so much tension. There are so many huge boulders in the way of our relationships. You know, Tai and Shauna had established that they were close in season 1. Then season 2, shit comes out and you realize, oh, wow, they lie to each other. They’ve been lying to each other. And so, it’s tough because I want them to all be friends. I love these women so much, it’s ridiculous. We have so much together, it’s crazy. Those moments where we’re actually having fun, the dancing around the fire, I think that was my favorite scene.
ZW: It’s so funny that you say that because I was about to mention that I really love [this scene]. That was probably one of my favorite ones in that episode. It was so freeing, and it looks like you guys had so much fun.
TC: Yeah, it was. It was ridiculous and fun, and cold, and snowy but it was there, and we always have fun together.
ZW: And finally, in episode 5, that’s when Van and Tai reunite. At some point, Taissa’s alter ego comes out, and says, “we shouldn’t be here”. What do you think that means?
TC: Well, first of all, I think it’s funny that other Tai comes up and immediately wants to kiss Van.
ZW: Oh, yeah!
TC: [laughs] You know, I think it’s really telling! Other Tai knows that then. She can speak to her, she could speak to Van. So, she has this comfortability. It’s almost like she, other Tai, is like, “yes, she’s my translator. I love this girl”. It’s like both Tais love Van in their own way, you know? And this one’s just a little more crass about it. She’s like, “Oh, I’m here. Yes. Kiss! Smash faces together!” [laughs] But yeah, I think it’s really fun that she immediately comes out and starts talking to Van. This isn’t where they’re supposed to be. They have to go and deal with everybody else at Lottie’s camp. Now, maybe she meant the wilderness. We don’t know that yet. We don’t know. It’s a part of the long story as well. You’re not getting rid of her all that easily.
ZW: Talking about the alter-ego, you know, they all go to the wellness resort, and Lottie talks to Taissa about the other her, and tells her that sleep-walking/wilderness Tai will always be a part of her. And I find that very interesting. I like how she said it and what she said about it, because it almost feels like women have two sides. And one they must suppress in this patriarchal world. Who do you think the other Taissa is? What does she want?
TC: I think other Tai wants what’s best for our Tai, she just doesn’t know how to get it. In fact, maybe she thinks Van is the best thing for our Tai. And that’s why she’s so overtly affectionate toward her. I really don’t think she’s out to hurt our Tai. Even though she winds up doing it so many times. I think she really just wants our Tai to be the best. And in fact, we talked about this a little bit, there’s a little bit of other Tai that would rather just run the show. Our Tai has proven that she can’t get shit done. So other Tai, she’s like, “let me let me take over a little while and manage this whole business that we’re doing here”. I think she would be happy just taking over. That’d be really interesting to see, too. I don’t know if the writers will go there. But that would be a really interesting thing for me to see as a fan.
ZW: Oh, for sure. I also wanted to talk more about teenage and adult Taissa. There’s a clear connection between young and adult Tai. You and Jasmin are doing such a great job.
TC: Thank you.
ZW: You pour so much heart into this to create this awesome character that’s very multi-dimensional. And so, I know that you guys have worked together before. How was it working with Jasmin in season 2?
TC: I mean, first of all, she’s incredibly talented. We talk a lot. We were just talking yesterday, I believe, we were just texting each other. We worked a lot together in the first season, we had a lot of discussions. We were very close. We lived in buildings right next to each other. We saw each other all the time out of work. We talked a lot about all the different [scenarios]. I mean, other Tai only came up slightly [in season 1] and we discussed how we’re going to eat the dirt. How are we going to eat it? Are we going to eat it like this or that? That sort of thing. But that was the first season. Second season, we didn’t talk about our Tai very much because I feel like we both had a really clear [idea] and the writing is there. She’s a very well-thought-out character. So, we both had a good handle on who our Thai is. But we definitely sat down and talked about other Tai and discussed all the mannerisms of other Tai. How does she talk? Is she like a donning a puppet? Is she feral, does she hate our Tai? These are all the questions that we discussed this season. And other than that, I’m just like a big sister. And I just sort of love it.
ZW: I love it. I’m also a big fan of the 90s music so I’m just obsessed with the soundtrack. This season we have Alanis Morrissette. And then Florence + the Machine.
TC: That was crazy!
ZW: I loved it.
TC: I know! They don’t even tell me this stuff. I watched it with everybody else and I’m like, who the fuck would have thought [laughs]? It was awesome. Like, I love that Alanis Morrissette watches the show and was like, “let me get a hang in there”, you know? I love that. It warms my 90s heart, too.
ZW: It’s amazing. And does the music of the show help you get into character? Or maybe you have your own special playlist?
TC: I do have a playlist. I always make a playlist for a character. It’s not anything that I would suggest other actors do. It’s just my own thing. Music is a huge part of my life. And so, I incorporate it in my characters. There’s a “Taissa” playlist, there’s a “Taissa and Van” playlist that I have. But yeah, they don’t tell us the music that’s going to be on the show. Except for “Lightning Crashes” by Live — the song that we dance around the fire to. That was playing while we were dancing, which I fucking love. Live is still in high rotation. On my music lists, it comes on all the time. So yeah, “Lightning Crashes” and… shit, well, now I can’t think of any of them. Just “Lightning Crashes” because I’m that basic [laughs]. No, I’m kidding, I really do love Live very much. I went to see them play in high school in the 90s. Hearing that song over and over again was a lot of fun. Me and the girls, we talk about music a lot. And the 90s a lot. And, you know, some of us like Live and some of us don’t, but I still listen to the song all night long. I think we all got a little tired of it at that point [laughs]. But yeah, it really does help it, it really brings you back.
ZW: For sure. Coming back to your character’s multidimensionality; she’s a politician, wife, and a mother. And you know, sometimes a dog mom [laughs]. Her being in the LGBTQ+ community is still as important as before, especially when reuniting with Van. What was important for you both to convey through these roles, and specifically this relationship that we’re seeing?
TC: I think, and this is something my son talks about because he’s gay. He’s a Millennial so he’s very progressive and you know, activism in their soul, so I learned a lot from him. Because growing up under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, the way I did is very different than the way he grew up under the same umbrella.
He says the best portrayal of LGBTQ+ community is just normal people. Like, we’re all normal. We’re all different shades of human. So, it’s important for me and I think, for everybody on this show, to portray gay women as just fucking people, you know? We don’t have to be like, gaaaaaaaay, it doesn’t have to be that way. We’re just fucking people with our own problems and our own things going on. I fall under the umbrella. I don’t like to categorize myself. I never really do it as much, but I do play a lot of gay characters. But I guess if I had to say something, I would say, you know, I’m bisexual. But I just ignore it. Like I said, it doesn’t ever come. It’s just me. I’m just who I am. Really, the best thing in the world is to just make it completely normal. You know, there’s that show, “Sort Of”, have you watched that?
ZW: I don’t believe I did. I have to.
TC: Oh my God, it’s so good! [The main character’s sexuality] literally never comes up. It never comes up on the show. Not one time not ever is even mentioned. And I’m like, that’s where we need to be.
ZW: Yes. And I was even talking to my wife that it’s so amazing that people now, younger kids have more representation, and they can see themselves on screen. I think that’s just so amazing.
TC: It’s so true. You know, I was never in the closet or anything, I love who I love, and I don’t really fucking care what they think about it. And nobody ever really shunned me for it growing up. But I do wish that there was a lot more representation when we were in the 90s, in fucking New Jersey, so that everybody else around me could just be like, “oh, yeah, this is just normal”. For that reason alone, I love where we’re going with this. We have a long way to go. But I love where the direction we’re heading in.
ZW: At the end of our conversion, I have to ask. Do we know anything about season 3?
TC: I don’t know nothing. I know nothing. Wait till you see episode 9. Then text me [laughs].
ZW: I must!
TC: 9 is big, 9 is big. It’s going to divide people for sure.
ZW: Oh, I’m even more excited now.
TC: Yeah, I gotta say, episode 9 is a doozy. So, enjoy. I have no idea where it’s going. I wish I did. If you find out anything, please let me know. Drop me a line [laughs].
ZW: Thank you so much for this talk. You really made my morning.
TC: I’m very happy. Awesome. Well, enjoy the rest of the season. And thanks for talking to me.
Season two of Yellowjackets is currently available to stream (up through episode 7) on Showtime Anytime and Paramount+. Tawny Cypress is Emmy eligible for Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
Photo: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME