Trying to explain the premise of Showtime’s latest series Yellowjackets feels a lot like Bill Hader’s SNL alter-ego Stefon listing out the elements of his new favorite NYC nightclub.
But the truth is, this show really does have everything: Coming-of-age tropes, ’90s nostalgia, teen drama, thrilling murder mysteries, cannibalism. And it’s all housed in a survival epic that spans decades and stars an eclectic cast of industry greats and promising newcomers.
The main arc starts with a high school girls’ soccer team finding themselves stranded in the wilderness following a tragic plane crash. They’re forced to do some pretty terrible things to survive but survive, they do. We know that for sure because the first few episodes made available for critics effortlessly bounce back and forth between that remote, forested hell and the present day as the now-grown women are all sent anonymous postcards with cryptic messaging, forcing them to reunite to find out who amongst them has broken their decades-long vow of silence about what really went down out there.
It’s Lord of the Flies on steroids, bolstered by a cast that includes Christina Ricci, Juliette Lewis, and Melanie Lynskey. It’s also one of the more unique, original stories we’ve seen on TV in quite a while.
So we sat down with Lewis and actress Sophie Thatcher who both play versions of the same character — a young woman named Natalie who finds her purpose in the disaster’s aftermath and struggles to adapt to more civilized society in the present. The ladies told us about what drew them to this story, the challenging shoot, and whether they think they’d survive some time out in the wild.
We’ve seen survival stories before. What stood out to you as really different with this one?
Juliette Lewis: For me, it was one of the best scripts I had read in over 10 years. I love how distinct each character was in the present day and their past selves. I love the marriage between young female athletes in the ’90s to a survival trauma story to these women that were all so different in the present day. All of it was just really seamless. I was like, ‘Oh, I want to be that girl.’ It was one of the grittiest scripts that I’d read in a while.
You both play different versions of the same character. Who is Nat when we first meet her, and how does the crash affect her psyche?
Sophie Thatcher: She starts off with a very different background from everyone else. She’s already had to fend for herself, and she’s already been in kind of a survival mindset most of her life. So I think she comes into the wilderness situation more naturally because she’s already had this part of her brain triggered to work through a lot of things and take care of herself. Out of all of the characters, she thrives out there. I think the wilderness kind of gives her a purpose that she didn’t have before.
When we meet her 20 years later, she’s in rehab. So I’m guessing that loss of purpose really hits her hard at some point?
JL: Yeah, she’s mid-patterns. She’s mid-repetition, and what breaks her from it is this postcard. It emboldens her to go, ‘I’m going back home now.’ And Misty, Christina Ricci’s character, she’s similar in that some people never felt more alive than they did out there. I’ve had that on so many occasions, on tour. You’re like, ‘How am I existing? I need to get off tour.’ But the second you’re home, you’re like, ‘I’ve never felt more alive than when we were slugging it out.’
But in the present day, she’s going back home to find out what the f*ck is up. That’s her vibe, but then you’re going to see her sort of devolve in confusion because she can’t make it quite fit. She can’t make the pieces pull together.
Did any of the cast have to go through survival boot camp to prep for some of the more intense wilderness scenes?
ST: I think just being out there in the wilderness itself was already an immersive crazy experience. Going to Vancouver … I didn’t know anybody. I only knew the actors that I was with, and I know that’s not boot camp, but I think just being there for a week straight staying in this hotel in the middle of nowhere was boot camp enough for me. We were just thrown right into it. But I think that’s good in a way because the characters were thrown right into it. They weren’t prepared.
How do you think you’d fare if you were put in that situation.
ST: I would probably be the first to die.
JL: Oh my god, Sophie! Unacceptable.
You have a character’s rep to protect.
JL: I’m 40, so I’ve lived through some sick stuff. Once you’ve lived through a couple of things, you’re like, ‘Hmm, I think I could survive anything.’ I’m a good person in a crisis. I’ve been in a hurricane, an earthquake. I’ve been on a plane where it was almost going to fall out of the sky. I go into a very weird calm. That’s a survival mechanism, I think. But yeah, I can survive disasters.
Some really weird things end up happening out in the wild. Are we going to dive into the supernatural at some point?
ST: Yeah, it’s never explicit, but pretty early on things get borderline surreal. But I think that is tapping into what people are experiencing and how something so traumatic can actually shift your perception. That’s how I like to take it because I like to find grounding within anything, even anything supernatural.
Without giving away any spoilers, what’s the wildest thing you had to shoot this season?
JL: I did something that I’ve never done on screen before. And it’s all an expression of pain. It’s really intense. I don’t know. I don’t know how it’s going to show. I’m not going to watch anything. But it was an interesting scene to play and it’s at the end of the show. It’s going to be wild and I can’t tell you anything about it.
ST: Oh, there was a lot of stuff that I had never done before. It was scary coming into it. I’ve never gone to a place as dark as it got. But I worked with a female director, which made me feel more comfortable. There’s a lot of backstory within one specific episode. I hadn’t dug that deep on-screen before. So everything was on a different level.
There are some obvious Lord of the Flies comparisons in this story. We all know how that turned out. Do you think gender plays a role in the group’s survival odds at all?
ST: I don’t think it matters what gender. I think naturally, especially at such a young age, women are more emotionally intelligent. So to turn into that cannibalistic mindset … it maybe took them longer just because I think women are smarter men. [laughs]
ST: But I think that’s it. Besides that, there’s no difference. They’re going to go batsh*t crazy.
JL: It’s funny because when you first asked the question, that’s what rises. It’s like, ‘Well we would figure some sh*t out that [men] certainly couldn’t.’ [laughs] With that said, when you’re talking about people that have narcissistic tendencies, that are sociopathic, alphas who put [others] down to feel stronger? That’s in both genders.
Is this the kind of story that lends itself to multiple seasons, or are we going to find a resolution to this by the end?
JL: Oh no! You know how TV people do. They like to torture people. No, they’re going to leave you on a cliffhanger, but they going to answer some questions.
ST: There’s just going to be new questions at the end.
Showtime’s ‘Yellowjackets’ premieres on November 14.