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Interview: ‘Yellowjackets’ Star Sophie Nélisse Talks Shauna & Jackie’s ‘Heartbreaking’ Friendship

While watching Yellowjackets, it is easy to get lost in the mystery, suspense and drama of the survival story. Beneath the surface what we have here is a very unique character study which explores its characters from at two very different points in their lives. The series tells the story of a girls’ high school soccer team whose plane crashes in the wilderness. When it does they do what they must to survive – both as young and older adults.

The details are scarce, leaving viewers to put the pieces together and theorize as we slowly learn their fates. Yellowjackets combines many different elements; horror, the supernatural, murder, deception, and rabbits. This is not your typical search and rescue story. Above all it is a story of strong and complex girls and women figuring out who they are and taking charge of their situations. 

One of the most captivating characters is Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) the quieter, Brown University-headed girl, who often takes the back seat to her bold best friend Jackie (Ella Purnell). As the series goes on we begin to realize Shauna is holding back a more intense side, keeping the true version of herself hidden away. Secrets are revealed and it becomes obvious Shauna is a much stronger character than first appears.

Courtesy of Showtime

Awards Radar spoke with Nélisse about just who the real Shauna is. “There’s more to her than this shy character. The complexity of it all and how she has this inner strength that’s sitting inside of her, that’s not been used fully yet.” So much of this comes out in Nélisse’s performance. She makes Shauna’s a character you are rooting for yet she probably does not need much support at all. “Just a lot of things that I could relate about with Shana, like her willpower and her competitiveness, but also her very dry and witty sense of humor,” said Nélisse. “I just kind of I loved her. I loved how you loved her even though she’s not always at her best or doesn’t always show her best sides – you still really care for this character – for all the characters actually.”

The television landscape has been changing with series like Yellowjackets leading the way to deliver real female characters that do not have to fit into the once standard boxes. “They’re not so stereotypical anymore, but also, we’re embracing all the aspects of being a woman like the uglier parts and the more difficult parts and subjects that are more taboo like abortion and losing her virginity and subjects like that,” said Nélisse.

“It feels so good because we can finally look at roles that we can relate to and that we feel connected to, and that resonate with, not only a younger audience, but just with how unique everyone is.” Nélisse explained what that is so important to her, ”I think that’s such a strength of the show is not only it shows different sides of women and like the uglier parts, but also just like a variety of women, and how strong we are and how together.”

When the series flashes forward to modern day we meet older Shauna (played exceptionally by Melanie Lynskey whom I spoke with recently about the character). Even though on paper the two do not look very much alike, you believe they truly are different versions of the same character. While preparing for the role, Nélisse worked with Lynskey on connecting the younger and older versions of the same character for the screen. “Melanie and I sat down for discussions and like, just to make sure we had this vision for the character and saw her in the same light. We wanted to represent her on the screen in the same way.”

This limited time proved to be valuable because as Nélisse explained, “Other than that, I didn’t see her act on set at all, because we were never together at the same time, which is quite interesting. Because now when I watch the show, it’s like, I’m watching this whole other show that I haven’t really seen. It’s been cool to watch, like tiny details that Melanie does when she acts like biting her lips and like the awkwardness of her body and the dry sense of humor. And that, I hope, is going to be explored a bit more in younger Shauna.”

Courtesy of Showtime

The series is full of twists, maybe none bigger than those that make up Shauna and Jackie’s friendship. Nélisse discussed what it was like to see it all unfold. “It was kind of like losing my best friend in real life. It was very, very heartbreaking. I love their relationships so much,” she explained. “I think it’s a scenario that happens in most people’s lives, just falling out of love with your best friend for no real reason. You just go different ways. You become different people. And it’s so hard because when you’ve been best friends with someone for so long. They are drifting apart, but they’re also kind of your other half.” 

Like every viewer, Nélisse has theories of what will happen in season two. Note that she had yet to see a script or have any concrete info at the time of the interview so her guess is as good as yours. “I feel like the group is going to split between the more grounded, realistic people, who’re like, ‘This is crazy.’ And then the people that are like, more into this whole, culty seance-y thing,” Nélisse predicted.

“I think the stakes are gonna get so much higher, more deaths, more injuries. I mean, it’s going to be wintertime now, so it’s getting more and more serious. That’s going to be a very interesting element to add in.” Like many viewers, the fate of Shauna’s pregnancy is on the top of her mind, “I’m very curious to see what’s going to happen with Shauna’s baby. I mean, in my mind, if she’s not fed properly and doesn’t have water and such,  there’s no way that she would be able to grow this living inside of her. Is she going to have it and they’re going to eat it? That would be absolutely atrocious and disgusting.”

Watch the full interview with Sophie Nélisse (below) to hear more about her joining the series, the challenges of working on location in the Canadian wilderness, spider, getting dirty and how she went from gymnastics to acting and much more. She was wonderful to speak with which lead to a great conversation.

Yellowjackets season one is now playing in its entirety on Showtime. The first two episodes are also airing free on Paramount+.

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Written by Steven Prusakowski

Steven Prusakowski has been a cinephile as far back as he can remember, literally. At the age of ten, while other kids his age were sleeping, he was up into the late hours of the night watching the Oscars. Since then, his passion for film, television, and awards has only grown. For over a decade he has reviewed and written about entertainment through publications including Awards Circuit and Screen Radar. He has conducted interviews with some of the best in the business - learning more about them, their projects and their crafts. He is a graduate of the RIT film program. You can find him on Twitter and Letterboxd as @FilmSnork – we don’t know why the name, but he seems to be sticking to it.
Email: filmsnork@gmail.com

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