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Interview: Ella Purnell of ‘Yellowjackets’ Dissects Jackie

(L-R): Courtney Eaton as Teen Lottie and Ella Purnell as Teen Jackie in YELLOWJACKETS, "F Sharp". Photo credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME.

Few shows had as much buzz as Showtime’s Yellowjackets did this year. The premise certainly draws you in: a plane carrying a girls high school team from New Jersey crashes in the wilderness leaving them to fend for themselves. Add in a dash of the supernatural, plenty of mystery, and some cannibalism and you understand why audiences were so rabid about the series.

While the premise is intriguing it’s the array of complex characters and the performances that bring them to life that are so engrossing. Jackie, played with intensity by Ella Purnell, is the captain of the team, the natural leader for the girls and a character who demands your attention. I recently spoke with Purnell about her work on the series and was really impressed with how well connected she was with her character.

Full Interview: SPOILER ALERT!!

In our conversation, there were no short answers, just deep dives into the psyches of Jackie and her fellow Yellowjackets. It immediately obviously Purnell put in copious preparation into the role, dissecting her character with the precision of a scalpel (not an ax, that’s Misty). The prep comes through in her performance – and Jackie is on screen it is difficult to focus elsewhere. After our conversation I had a whole new perspective on the series and Jackie.

One topic we covered was Purnell’s read on just who Jackie is as a character. Purnell’s response was captivating. “She’s one of these stereotypical high school girls that peaks in high school. On the inside, she’s deeply insecure, she’s deeply lonely. She has no clue who she is. She doesn’t have a first idea, really, who she is. She has no character underneath the surface level,” she explained.

According to Purnell, what she lacks in herself, Jackie sees in Shauna, her best friend. (Shauna is played by Sophie Nélisse and Melanie Lynskey as older Shauna. My interviews with both are linked here.) “She’s jealous of and resents Shauna to an extent; in the sense that Shauna knows what musicians she really likes, Shauna doesn’t give a fuck what people think about her or what she wears. Shauna doesn’t care. If she looks silly, when she does a thing, she surely can be herself. Shauna has a strong idea of who she is. And Jackie doesn’t have that,” she explained. “She only has the latest fashion trends that she follows and the facade that she puts on in front of people, because she likes when people look up to her.”

Ella Purnell (LEFT) as Jackie with Sophie Nelisse (RIGHT) as Shauna // Photo credit: Showtime

“What’s interesting in high school, in this sort of mini society, this economy that we live in for seven years of our lives, she’s at the top – she knows all the ins and outs. She runs it, she runs the scene. And as soon as you take her, (as we all know this as adults,) as soon as you take her out of that society, that tiny little world that exists only in high school, she loses all of her power, she loses all of her control, she has no idea how to command a room, how to command respect how to lead a team, because she has no resilience because she’s never had to fend for herself. She’s never had to fight anything. She’s never had to work or get her hands dirty.”

All that was Purnell’s response to one question. As a fan of the series it truly was fascinating to get this level of insight into Jackie and all the other topics we covered in conversation. But it also gave me a look at the mindset of an actress who gives her all to a part. 

We cover a lot of topics in our discussion from why she took the role, the WHS Yellowjackets teammate she is most associates with, her complex relationship with Shauna, playing sports and much more.

I highly recommend you give the audio interview a listen, but proceed with caution. If you have not watched the series yet, there are unavoidable spoilers in the audio interview. Watch the series first then come back to listen.

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

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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 Screen Radar and Awards Circuit. He has conducted celebrity and red carpet interviews with some of the industry’s biggest names. He is a graduate of 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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