“Yellowjackets” could be enjoying a well-deserved lull following its fiery Season 2 finale and the shocking death of the main character that has come to define it. But with a not-so-secret bonus episode already on the way — and the likelihood of Emmy nominations this summer — it’s safe to say Showtime’s ’90s-set cannibal drama is as lively as ever.
The widely adored sophomore outing of TV’s preeminent soccer team plane crash saga aired less than a week before IndieWire’s Consider This Event on June 3 in Los Angeles. During a panel moderated by IndieWire editor in chief Dana Harris-Bridson, “Yellowjackets” actress Christina Ricci, music supervisor Nora Felder and executive producer/director Karyn Kusama debriefed their respective preparations and artistic processes for the second season.
“I had already seen the first season, but I sat for two days without sleep and binge it because I wanted to see everything all at once – to really study the characters,” newcomer Felder said of her first 48 hours of job, describing herself as a “newcomer” who was “petrified” by the show’s reach.
“I wanted to support the decisions of, first and foremost, the showrunners because this is their baby,” said the former ‘Stranger Things’ music supervisor.
“Yellowjackets” is overseen by creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, as well as co-showrunner Jonathan Lisco – all three executive produce alongside “Jennifer’s Body” genius Karyn Kusama. Teamwork comes through as much as you’d expect from a show that’s at least tangentially about athletics, and the big picture is front and center for a cast and crew playing such a complex and (seemingly) supernatural mystery.
“Every EP that he doesn’t write finds a different way to be helpful or take on a more minor role,” Kusama said during the panel. She directed the season 2 finale, titled “Storytelling,” as well as the 2021 pilot, and shares Felder’s appreciation for the collaboration TV facilitates.
“For filmmakers who are control freaks like me, it’s really, really important to practice this,” he continued. “I learn a lot from recognizing that sometimes I’m not the last word, and I’m not always in control even though I wish I could be. This is really good for me. I always say, I look at my job in television like spring training for a marathon, and my features are my marathons. But spring training is essential to what I do. “
To hear Kusama, Felder and Ricci tell it, the relinquishment of control has become something of a central component of the “Yellowjackets” creative pipeline.
“It’s one of the really amazing things about television that when you’ve spent as much time being an actress in movies as I have, it’s a totally new style of acting,” echoed Ricci, who plays the adult version of Sammi Hanratty’s nut. Misty Quigley for the show.
“There are so many different muscles you have to use, mostly to deal with this character opening,” the actress said, noting the unique challenge of playing someone whose story is still being written. “You don’t know where they’re going or what situations they’re going to be in, and as an actor in film, I think you set a lot of rules for your character — and, on TV, you can’t.”
“The biggest surprise for me was realizing that Misty was a comical character,” Ricci continued. “I didn’t think she was funny in the pilot, and that was the only thing I read about her. So, the first script for Season 1 Episode 2, it was fun. I didn’t realize I would, so it was definitely a surprise.
“One of the most defining things for me about playing Misty is her immaturity and her inability to deal with any real emotion,” Ricci said. “The most emotional thing we saw in season one was when she was about to lose her (her African gray parrot) Caligula, and she just throws a tantrum. Someone who avoids emotions also avoids much awareness of how she is feeling.
Though Ricci says cinema has allowed her to be “a little more selfish as an artist,” Misty has forced her performance to continually evolve outside of her comfort zone as an actress. Ricci draws a psychological line by not reading some of the horror series’ more disturbing scenes, especially those involving children (“At some point, as a human being, you decide what you can and can’t stand and that’s okay!” he noted during the panel), but in principle he accepts the challenge.
“The emotional intensity of the show exists in even the most mundane of things, and it’s because of the execution of the show and the talent behind it,” Ricci said.
That belief in the collective talent of the “Yellow Jackets” team seems to underpin the work at nearly every stage of production. Even without the final cut, Kusama says she tries to “build bridges visually, sonically, with music, with gestures or with performance instincts between two actors playing the same character” to account for the show’s time jumps – even when editing which A is unaware of.
“I try to build those bridges, recognizing that I turn into a director’s cut that might have different uses of those transition strategies than what ends up in the final cut,” Kusama said. “But I hope by offering just a few of these transitions there is a better ability for the showrunners to bring together in that final episode cut the more coherent expression of the two timelines.”
Similarly, Felder has – as young Yellowjackets would say – “let the wild decide” when it comes to picking the perfect needle drops for the 90s throwback.
“I remember one episode choosing these songs and thinking, ‘They’re all great, I’m fine. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, salted caramel – they have all the flavors they can choose to enhance the emotion,” shared Felder. “But then I remember that (Genevieve Butler), who is on our photo editing team, had a idea and I thought, ‘Forget my. Put that first, put that first!’ Because we all want what’s best for the show.
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