Showtime’s hit Yellowjackets is finishing off its first season on Sunday Jan. 16, and fans are in a fervor. The show follows two timelines, the first set in 1996 when a team of soccer-playing girls crash in the Canadian wilderness on their way to nationals. We know that eventually some of them were rescued, 19 months later. We also know that in that interim starvation loomed and cannibalism became a ritualistic part of their little society.
But the cannibalism manages to be one of the least interesting parts of the series, which jumps back and forth to the grown-up survivors in present day who are all still experiencing the repercussions of their time in the woods. Figuring out what exactly happened—who else survived and how—is a major fan conversation.
Amid all of the blood, gore, and tragedy, the romantic relationship between two of the teens, Taissa and Van, is a beautiful light shining through. Played as a youth by Jasmin Savoy Brown, we know Taissa makes it out of the forest because her adult counterpart (Tawny Cypress) is introduced in the first episode. What happens to Van, played by Liv Hewson, is still unknown. ELLE.com spoke with Brown and Hewson about the love their characters share on the show and the project they’ve been collaborating on off-set, The Gay Agenda, where they interview “LGBTQ+ creatives at the top of their fields across different industries.”
Congrats on The Gay Agenda being released! Has there been a good response to it?
Jasmin Savoy Brown: People are really excited about it. I actually got an email from one of my producers at Netflix saying this is the most response they’ve ever gotten on day one of a podcast. So that’s pretty cool!
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Does podcasting feel like more of the same or a new challenge?
JSB: No, because it’s just talking to friends; it’s really just about being in queer community which is my favorite thing to do. So it’s possibly the easiest thing I’ve ever done, to be honest. And I think that’s also why it’s the most fun.
When did you start start discussing it?
Liv Hewson: Like early 2021. We’ve been working on it for a while. Jasmin came up with the podcast and pitched it and then brought me on as a co-host. So it’s been a long time in the making. We were recording it while we were shooting the show [Yellowjackets].
With the popularity of Yellowjackets, does it feel different being in the public eye? It’s become a cult hit so quickly.
JSB: It’s really fun. The fans of Yellowjackets are really smart and really engaging. There was a moment where I knew things had shifted—it would be different for everybody, but I think for this cast the moment was when Not All Geminis, the Instagram page, made some memes about us. We were like, “You guys! We’re famous!” [laughs]. That was really cool. I think that also speaks to the moment, how much community online is a reflection of the times. Because it’s COVID still, so it’s not like we’re going to parties out in the world and being recognized. So I don’t feel a change in day-to-day life, but I do feel a change online and it’s exciting.
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LH: It’s a different experience. This is my first time being on a show quite like this. It’s a mystery and it airs week-to-week. So the building of momentum as the show comes out over a period of time and the accumulation of people having theories and commentary and reactions to what’s going on—being able to watch that over a period of 10 weeks is really new to me and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. It’s new, it’s nice.
Speaking of online community, there’s a really big community on Reddit for Yellowjackets.
JSB: I read it a few times a week. I love the Reddit community for Yellowjackets. They’re so smart.
Have you seen them guess stuff ahead of time?
JSB: Hmm, a couple times. But it’s mostly elaborate, incredible theories that are completely wrong. And that’s really fun. I’m excited for people to see how wrong they are.
Both of you mentioned in the podcast’s first episode not wanting to see queer character stories that end in tragedy. The Yellowjackets story is inherently tragic, but Van and Taissa’s relationship is played very supportively and romantically. No spoilers, but do you feel anxious about what might happen to them?
JSB: Certainly. Certainly I do. Because everything that can go wrong in the world of Yellowjackets will go wrong. So, yes, I do have anxiety there. But I don’t have anxiety about how the show will handle the relationship in terms of queerness ’cause they’ve already proven that they understand what not to do. The fact that Van didn’t die—when I finished episode seven and I thought we had a “kill your gays” moment, I was so pissed. I like, called the producers and was like, mad. And they were like, “No, no, no, no, no, she’s not dead,” and I was like, “Oh! Okay, then we’re fine. Love you guys!”
LH: It’s not anxiety per se. Something that I like about the show is how baked into it tragedy is. But also how funny the show is and how many points of light we’re able to find within it [thematically]. That’s just fun for us to do as actors, but I think it also makes the show really interesting from a genre perspective. That it’s shocking, but also very funny, but also very tragic and horrible at the same time. And like, truly, the situation will not improve for these girls. And everybody knows that going in and it’s only going to get worse for everybody. But we’re still able to explore these relationships in a very grounded and sweet and fully realized way in amongst how miserable their situation is and that’s something I like about the show a lot.
Did you know your character lived after the wolf attack?
LH: Well, they don’t tell us anything in advance. So I didn’t know that was gonna happen. When the writers told Jane [Widdop] that Laura Lee was going to die, they took Jane out to lunch a few episodes in advance before that happened. And we got the script for episode seven, and I hadn’t been taken out to lunch. So I was like, “Okay, if I’m dying they better take me out to lunch! Otherwise this is bullshit!” But they called me. Truly, we got the scripts and like not even a couple of hours later [Yellowjackets creators] Ashley [Lyle] and Bart [Nickerson] called me and were like, “So you’re not dying, so it’s fine, you live to play another day, but this is a permanent injury.” And I was like, “Yeah, it looks like it, for sure.” I knew fairly quickly that Van would survive, which was nice.
So you think they would have been open to your input if that had been the plan?
JSB: One hundred percent. I was ready to fight. Because I’m not gonna participate in that personally. There’s too much of that in the world. Anything that I’m attached to is gonna be done right.
It’s not often we see queer actors playing queer characters and I was wondering if that’s significant to you.
JSB: Certainly, it’s been very significant. I’m very fortunate to be at a moment in my career right now where all of the characters that I’m playing are queer. And I’m getting to play a lot of queer girls of color. Yeah, it’s really special to get to bring my whole self to a role. Especially when I’m invited to collaborate on that role. That’s happened on both Yellowjackets and Scream, where they want our feedback and want us to be breathing in these characters. I don’t know if that’s rare or if it’s new, to be invited to participate so fully in creating a role and embodying it. And I hope that I get to do it more and more and more.
Do you think it’s important for queer characters to be played by queer people?
LH: From a personal standpoint, I think it’s lovely. I wouldn’t say that I think it’s essential. For me, the things that I am always thinking about the most with queer storytelling is: Who’s writing it? Who’s directing it? Who’s producing it? Because those are the people who have foundational control over how the story goes. That’s where the story is really made. Actors are the face, but we’re just a little piece of a big pie. And part of the issue is that for so long and kind of on an ongoing basis, out queer actors will get passed over to play straight roles as well. Because it’s like, “Oh well, we don’t know if you can carry a project, we don’t know if people can believe that.” That’s why a lot of people have historically stayed closeted in this industry. I think part of the problem is [we need to] hire queer actors more, period, right? The more queer stories that are being written and the more queer creators that are involved, maybe it’s like not as much of a dealbreaker if a straight person plays a queer person. Because there’s nothing inherently visible about queerness, but it’s definitely an ongoing conversation and I’m open to everybody’s thoughts on it.
There’s a limitation to representation on camera when there’s nothing happening behind the camera.
LH: Yeah. And also as an actor, I want the room to play queer people and straight people and people of all different experiences. I want the same freedom for other actors as well, but part of that freedom is—it can’t ever be only one thing. Straight people can’t play queer characters all the time. That wouldn’t be fair.
Does it matter to you if you ever get to play a nonbinary character or think about representation on that issue? Nonbinary characters are often portrayed on film and TV as very androgynous figures; there’s not a lot of variety in how that identity is represented.
LH: Yeah, I’d like to see more, and I’d like to be involved in that. That’s something that excites me about the future, is hopefully that happening more, and hopefully being able to do more of that. We’ll see! You know, who can say what the future holds, but I hope it holds more stories about nonbinary people being told, and if I could be involved in that in any capacity that would be really exciting.
Do you think you’d ever be interested in directing or producing?
JSB: I’ve been thinking about that for a while. This podcast, The Gay Agenda, I created it and produce it. And that’s been a really good exercise for me. And yeah I have a couple ideas a couple things in mind. I love actors so much, I’ve directed a short film no one has seen. But I would love to be Janelle Monáe meets Natalie Morales. That would be my ideal. Two brilliant, women of color. Both queer women of color. Natalie is a brilliant actress and director, Janelle Monáe is both an actor and musician. I think they both produce. I want to be a crossover of them.
There’s an element of the supernatural in Yellowjackets. Would you prefer it be actual supernatural forces at play or just trauma-induced madness?
LH: I just love the way this show plays around with imagery and ambiguity. Is there something really malicious going on, or are these girls living through hell and their brains are just trying to find ways to deal with it? It’s like, “I don’t know!” I literally don’t, they don’t tell us.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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