Tawny Cypress Is Living Her Dream Playing A ‘Yellowjackets’ Sleepwalking Nightmare

Tawny Cypress is begging me to not hate the entire cast of Yellowjackets before the season ends.

We’re wrapping up an interview where we’ve discussed everything from her character’s nightmarish season two arc — Taissa’s got a new dog and an even more terrifying manifestation of her sleepwalking episodes — to how her co-star Melanie Lynskey helped her embrace being Queer when she was a teen. She’s teased her co-star Lauren Ambrose’s role as the show’s Adult Van and explained how most nights, a couple of glasses of “bubbly” with Christina Ricci helped her decompress from long days of filming this heavier, scarier installment.

Cypress loves being kept in the dark about where the show is going, but she realizes fans might want some answers they’re not likely to get. At least, not yet. Instead, season two is content to take them on a merry chase for meaning amongst all the mysticism, cannibalism, and teenage angst that drives this story of a group of high school soccer players surviving a plane crash in the wilderness and the trauma its wrought decades later.

But who can really complain when the mystery is this good?

We chatted with Cypress about Tai’s “feral” alter-ego, her love of horror, and winning the lottery with her role on Yellowjackets.

In season one you told the showrunners you wanted to know as little as possible about Taissa’s journey. How much did you know going into season two?

I knew just slightly more than last season. I do like to be kept in the dark, only because I want to know what the character knows. I don’t want to live ahead of the character, so I tend not to ask questions beyond what my character would know then and there. So in that regard, I was kept in the dark quite a bit this season as well, and I prefer it that way.

Was there anything that you were shocked to learn when the script came in season one?

Well, yeah. The fricking dog head. They said the dog ran away, and then in the final episode, I read that there’s a freaking altar with the dog’s head on it. And I wrote to them immediately and I was like, “You sons of b*tches.”

We dive into Taissa’s sleepwalking episodes this season. How were those explained to you?

It was a conversation Jasmin [Savoy Brown] and I had with Jonathan [Lisco], Ashley [Lyle] and Bart [Nickerson], really sussing out who this other Taissa was by herself and who she was in relation to our Taissa. It really came down to a lot of minute details. How does the other Taissa hold herself? Is she a feral creature or is she more advanced than that? Does she like our Taissa? Is she trying to hurt our Taissa? All these questions we had a huge conversation about beforehand before we ever put the other Taissa on screen. So that was very helpful.

Did you ever nail down the science behind these psychotic episodes? Did you give her a diagnosis?

In the same way, the supernatural aspect of the show is never really nailed down, we like to keep it interpretive. I did not want to put a label on it. I did not want to say multiple personality or dissociative personality disorder or anything like that. I didn’t want to put a label on it because there are actual cases of that in the world, and it’s not portrayed the way it is on our show. So there’s no way I’m going to put out what I do and be like, “Yeah, that’s what multiple personalities look like.” It doesn’t.

We really created our own thing out of thin air. It was the most I’ve ever felt like a kid playing dress up, because we really just said, “Hey, why don’t we make her like this? And leave it up to the viewer to interpret what they think they’re seeing.”

That must feel really gratifying, to create something wholly your own on the show.

Listen, this whole show has been a dream as far as that aspect goes. I’ve done decades in this industry where I didn’t have a voice, where I would craft a history and a character and I present that to the powers that be and they’d be like, “Good for you. Good second-grade work.” And this is the first time I felt so appreciated and like I am on a team. Acting as a team sport. It’s not something we can do by ourselves. Even a one-man show has people behind the curtain that help make it go. And that’s always been one of the biggest things that I wanted out of being an actor. That’s one of the things that make me happiest as an actor, is creating something with a team of people. So yeah, it’s thrilling to have people that listen to what I have to say, have a clear idea of what they want, but are also willing to listen to input and have that inform the character. It’s very freeing.

Like so many of the older cast, you’ve been working in this business for a long time. How do you hold onto your passion for the work, even when the project and material aren’t there?

My career has mostly been paying the bills, and I’m thankful for that no matter what that entails. I’ve done some B-rated movies out there that hopefully never get seen, but they paid the rent and I never had to get a second job, so I am very thankful for my career as it is. But yeah, I wish it was different. At this point in my career, I never even thought I was going to get a show. I didn’t even know that a show like this was out there for me. So I do feel like I’ve won the lottery. And the girls? I mean Melanie Lynskey, Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci, are you kidding me? I gotta to pinch myself, it’s a dream.

How did you and Lauren Ambrose craft the relationship between adult Van and Tai?

Well, again, we talked to the creators, and we nailed down when the relationship ended, how it ended, who ended it, all these sorts of questions — because of course that’s going to color their relationship as adults. But I think Tai, she’s so desperate to fix what’s going on with her, and the last time this happened to her, she had Van to rely on. So she falls back into relying on Van very quickly this season.

Is Tai coming back into her life going to dredge things up for both of them?

Of course. God, this is probably the worst thing Tai could do. Honestly, she should just go to therapy, for crying out loud. If she wants to fix her life there are so many other better, healthier things she can do than seeking out an ex-girlfriend and expecting that ex-girlfriend to fix her. So yeah, I think that Tai really only thinks about herself, and going to Van disrupts Van’s life in a way that stirs things up for her and it’s not fair. Nothing Tai does is fair.

She’s like the toxic ex-boyfriend you can’t get rid of.

[laughs] Oh my God, what a good way to put that.

Is Tai actually serving as a Senator yet?

First of all, no. But also, you have to know that the events of season two take place over about a week and a half to two weeks. It’s going to seem long, everybody’s going to be like, “What the f*ck? Why isn’t Tai working?” I know, because I asked the questions and they were like, “No, it hasn’t been that long. You haven’t really even been sworn in yet.” I asked all these same questions, and I gotta to tell you, at end of the season, you’re not going to get any answers. Not for Tai, not yet. Series three is yet to come and she’s got a lot to answer for.

In a Queer for Fear horror docuseries, you credited Heavenly Creatures with helping you to embrace your own sexuality. Have you told Melanie Lynskey any of that story?

God, yes. As soon as I met her. It was the first thing I said to her. And she’s so gracious about it, honestly. But thinking back on it, it’s probably not something people want to hear about their 15-year-old self. Because she was 15 when she shot [that movie]. And I’m like, “You helped me with my sexuality, darling. I love you.” In fact, to this day, I work with all these legendary women, but Mel’s on … I hold her above everybody. She’s just affected my life in a different way than everybody else. And that was just a story that relates to my life. It happened; it wasn’t like I was coming out. I’ve never been in the closet. I’ve just been who I am, take it or leave it. I’ve never hidden it. It’s just never come up before.

And now you’re carrying the torch with your character on this show.

I’m so proud to do that. About half the characters I’ve played throughout my career, have been under the queer umbrella, and it’s something I’m super proud to represent. It’s who I am. The important thing is to see that people come in many shades and you have to celebrate them all.

What’s your favorite horror film?

The Strangers with Liv Tyler scares the sh*t out of me because it actually could happen. But my favorite scary movie of all time is Halloween, the original with Jamie Lee Curtis. She’s just phenomenal. It’s just this lurking-around-the-corner bad guy that scares the sh*t out of me.

I think in season two, you’ll be scaring the sh*t out of people. Maybe you’ll be someone’s nightmare.

Wouldn’t that be cool?

Showtime’s ‘Yellowjackets’ returns on March 26.