Has Melanie Lynskey never seen the 1998 comedy classic, The Parent Trap, starring Lindsay Lohan?
It’s a question that rattles around in my brain long after we exchange polite farewells over the phone. She’s in New York, making the late-night and daytime talk show rounds to promote the second season of her Showtime hit, Yellowjackets. (Yes, it’s better, funnier, and more f*cked up than ever.)
Her nanny – who’s become quasi-famous in her own right after Lynskey thanked her in a recent award show acceptance speech – is about to take her daughter for a walk around Central Park. Normally, they’d perform their very secret, very elaborate handshake before she leaves.
“It’s so complicated, it requires both hands and elbows and all sorts of stuff. So it’s not really something you can do on a phone call,” she explains after making assurances to the little girl that they’ll complete the ritual when she gets back. Naturally, my imagining of a multi-step covert handshake hinges on the example set forth in the Lohan remake. I say as much.
“Oh, I don’t think I ever saw that,” Lynskey replies. A jarring admission. (Hasn’t everyone seen the romantic comedy that introduced a generation of tweens to the concept of pairing peanut butter with Oreos?) But also a testament to how effortlessly cool Lynskey is. She’s the kind of mom who conjures secret handshakes from thin air, without a pop culture aid.
In season two of her genre-bending mystery thriller, she’s also the kind of mom who commits murder and goes to great lengths to cover it up. While one of the show’s dual timelines follows the teenage survivors of a plane crash, now braving the harsh winter by way of cannibalism and mysticism, their adult counterparts are confronting some lingering effects of that trauma in the present. This season, Lynskey’s Shauna is less apologetic when it comes to her homicidal instincts and more unhinged than ever.
Uproxx chatted with the star about tapping into her character’s comedic side, consulting her psychic on season two, and becoming a Gay icon on Twitter.
The cast got together to watch the season two premiere recently. What was the reaction from everyone?
Yeah, they had a screening on stage. So one day at lunchtime all the kids were working, and we all just came in to watch it with them and the whole crew. It was really fun. They did one screening like that last year as well and it was such a good morale booster because it can be hard. It can be physically demanding, and it can be emotionally demanding. So I think it was nice for everybody, crew included, to see, ‘Oh, this is what we’re working on. Okay.’ You get to a point where you just start to feel so crazy.
And no one lost their appetite afterward? They just went back to eating lunch?
All the kids did, which was really funny. They were all there, all dirty and looking terrible. It was episode 10 of season two, so it’s pretty rough.
There was so much hype around season one. How did the cast handle the pressure of coming back for season two?
Everyone’s nervous about how the season’s going to be received, and people who haven’t worked all that much are suddenly thrust into this position where everybody’s watching the show and you feel like, ‘How am I doing? Was that okay? Was I doing too much? Was I doing too little?’ So there were a few conversations we had, just trying to tell everyone that they’re amazing because they so genuinely are.
Did the older cast have any advice for them?
Their instincts are so good. It’s why they were cast. The only advice I’ve ever given them is just to keep trusting that. Trust your instincts. The writers are so amazing, but they’re keeping track of 16 lead characters. They cannot possibly track your emotional timeline in the same way that you can. So if there’s something where you’re like, ‘Hang on, two scenes ago I was doing this and now I’m doing this,’ trust that. Say something to the director, say something to the writers because they’re really, really open to it.’
But they all have such a voice and they’re also sure of their beliefs, and I just want to encourage them to never let go of that. And on the show also, every character is so important, every single character. So I never want anyone to feel like their role in the show is not as important as somebody else’s because it all makes it what it is.
What’s Shauna grappling with this season?
I think she’s grappling with panic. She’s like, ‘Am I going to be discovered?’ And she’s also kind of grappling with this thing that is really confronting to her where she’s realizing the danger she puts herself in. Like having an affair, she felt right. She felt really alive, and she felt really good. And it’s a tough thing to realize. This is where I’m happiest when I’m doing something illicit and wrong. And so she’s trying to figure out, I think, what does that mean for her life? And she’s pushing the boundaries a little bit.
She has a few unhinged moments early in the season. Is that fun for you to play?
It takes a long time sometimes to film the scene, so it’s going to be hard to stay in a ‘teetering on the brink’ moment for hours and hours for a whole night or whatever … but yeah, it’s super fun.
There are also quite a few comedic moments, particularly between Shauna and Jeff (Warren Kole) this season. How do you strike that balance between simmering rage and unsettling humor?
One thing the writers are especially good at is seeing the things that really work in the show and then making the most of it. In the first season, they came to really enjoy the chemistry that Warren and I have, the kind of comedic chemistry. So they started to write funny stuff for us to do together, which is always a joy. It’s a weird kind of humor that really, really works. They have a really good grasp on the toeing of this kind of [line] that you shouldn’t be laughing but you are.
Shauna doesn’t really seem to fit into this life she’s built, especially this season.
If she had had all the choices of life presented to her and anything was an option, she probably wouldn’t be doing anything that she has done. I don’t think she’d be a mother. I don’t think she’d still be in New Jersey. But I do think there was a feeling when she came back from the trauma that she endured where she just was like, ‘This is what I have to do.’ It was partly survivor’s guilt, and I think partly not wanting to have to reintroduce herself. That’s so complicated to try to go out into the world and be like, ‘Here’s who I am.’ It’s such a stressful thing for her to imagine, so she just kind of stayed in place and thought it would be easier. But that’s just not really who she is.
I’m sure you know this, but the Queer community has really rallied around you on social media. Do you consider yourself a gay icon?
Well, that’s very sweet. I mean, I don’t know. I think they feel some kind of acceptance [from me]. It’s like… I don’t want to use the word ‘mother’ because I understand that ‘mother’ is used all the time in a way that I actually don’t really understand. But I think it is a version of that where it feels like this kind of loving presence. Genuinely, so much of my life, so many people in my life are Queer and gay, trans. It’s just a very, very big part of my community, my actual closest community. So I don’t know. But I do love it. I think in general, gay people have very discerning tastes [which is] a massive generalization but…
Also, kind of spot-on.
I’m honored to be accepted.
Your psychic told you season one of Yellowjackets was going to be a hit. Have you consulted her on season two yet?
I mean, I talk to her all the time. I talk to her a lot. It’s so funny because she doesn’t really understand the business, so she didn’t really know what she was talking about. She was trying to tell me there was a thing that was going to be huge, and she was like, ‘You’ve already filmed part of it. What does that mean? You’ve already filmed part of it?’ And I was like, ‘I did a pilot. Is that what you were talking about?’ She was like, ‘What’s a pilot?’ And I was like, ‘Well, it’s the first episode of a show where they see if they want to pick it up.’ She was like, ‘Yes. Okay. Yeah, that’s [it].’ But nobody had said a word to me about the pilot. I didn’t even know if it was good or not. We just made it, and then there was absolute silence. So months and months after that to hear from someone, ‘Oh, no, that’s going to be a huge hit,’ she sounded absolutely insane to me.
But nope, she’s always right. And yeah, she feels great about season two.
Is she taking new clients?
Yeah! Awaken With Fatima. You can book it online. She’s booked up. It’s my fault, I think. She’s booked up like a month in advance now. But she’s amazing.