Yellowjackets creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson had been working on the pitch for the survival drama when they heard of a Lord of the Flies feature film idea floating around in 2017.
“That was more of an ‘oh no’ moment, which happens very frequently when you’re coming up with ideas and working on pitches — there’s just some kind of synchronicity that tends to happen,” Lyle told THR Presents on Thursday night at Harriet’s Rooftop in Los Angeles, California. “It did feel very different. It was a film that they were going to do, and it was literally Lord of the Flies, but gender swapped. But what I think struck us was, I looked at the comments because I’m always very curious what people have to say about things, and the comments were very brutal, but in a way that I thought was just deeply incorrect, because it was like, ‘Oh, what are these girls going to do? Collaborate to death?’ And I was like, ‘so you’ve never met a teenage girl. Good to know.’ It actually just added fuel to our fire, really, because we just thought we can prove that person wrong.”
Melanie Lynskey, who plays the older version of Shauna in the Showtime series, was the first person cast. “I thought it was so well-written. I wished I had episode two, which is always a good sign. And there were just a couple of little things about Shauna, the scene with Taissa in the diner in the first episode, where her power is revealed. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, because she’s been sort of subdued for most of the episode,’ and like literally scrubbing shit stains out of underwear. And then I was like, ‘oh, okay, she was very powerful once,’ and I just was really interested. And then Karyn [Kusama] was a big draw for me too, as I’ve always wanted to work with her. And then as the cast grew, I just was like, ‘Are you joking?’ Christina Ricci and Juliette Lewis! And it just got better and better.”
Kusama, who can count Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation and Destroyer to her credits, serves as an executive producer on the show and also directed the pilot episode, which sets the whole tone of the show with the fateful plane crash that leaves the girls soccer team stranded in the wilderness.
“I read the script a couple times and embraced how thorny and crazy and beautifully written it was,” says Kusama. “And what I loved was every single character, from Shauna to Misty to Taissa to Natalie, every single person felt like they were standing at the edge of a cliff. But I didn’t understand the cliff. I didn’t know how they got there, or where they were going. And I think we still don’t completely understand that and that is so cool, to feel like a woman does not have a predetermined ending, and that is so fucking cool.”
Adds Ricci, “I loved the way that these characters were not given any special handling just because they were women. I’m a selfish, selfish actor in person, and I only saw my character’s scene in the pilot, and was dying to play the person that was in that scene. I just wanted to go home with her and find out what she did. I was really, really excited about that.”
Nickerson and Lyle, who are also married in real life, agreed that the hardest character to cast was Jackie, a role that ended up going to Ella Purnell.
“We knew that we did not want her to be this stereotypical mean girl, she wasn’t Regina George,” says Lyle. “And she had to both believably be the Queen Bee in the context of high school, but have this underlying insecurity and fragility and humanity that is a really tough balance to find. And we got a lot of auditions that were just kind of being Regina George, and we were like, ‘well, that’s great, but then what’s beneath it?’ Where’s the girl who is afraid her best friend is going to leave her? Where’s the girl who’s afraid that her boyfriend only loves her because of what she represents? And who’s the girl who’s going to fall apart in the wilderness when those social constructs have been taken away from her?”
She added, “We were in a scouting van, Bart and Karyn and myself… Ella had self taped, I think she was in London at the time, and we got an email [from our casting directors Junie Lowry-Johnson and Libby Goldstein] in typical Junie fashion, all caps and exclamation points, and it said, “watch this right now.” And we watched it in the van and we all got car sick and we said, “cast her, she’s the one.”
Added Nickerson, “They were all incredibly hard. I think I’m gonna steal what you said before, Karyn, about pure actors, because we knew that we wanted a show that was going to be able to work on a lot of different levels in terms of the scene. And you wouldn’t always have that much space to cover things with a kind of dialogue and finding 800 parts of people that can play a sort of like a cup of kind of a conscious agenda, a subconscious agenda, and then like a sub subconscious agenda is all like, that’s a huge ask. And it’s insane that we even asked, and it’s even crazier that we found so many people who could do it.”
The first season of Yellowjackets scored seven Emmy nominations, including best lead actress for Lynskey, best supporting actress for Ricci, best directing for a drama series for Kusama, and outstanding drama series. Nickerson and Lyle are hard at work on the script for season two, and while they can’t say much about what fans can expect, they said there are a few surprises in store.
“We’ve talked about the fact that season two for the wilderness storyline is very much their first winter,” says Lyle. “And all the challenges that you can imagine go along with that. I think we’ve called it the winter of their discontent. And then in the present day storyline, you know, they’ve dug themselves some holes, and that’s going to be an issue. I think we strongly imply that there may be a new person coming back. We may be seeing some new dynamics and there may be another survivor coming back into the mix.”
This edition of THR Presents is sponsored by Showtime.