Sophie Nélisse had no idea how audiences would react to season one of Showtime’s hit series Yellowjackets. When it came time to film season two, the Montreal actress—who plays young Shauna—knew she had to double down on the intensity.
“I remember doing scenes where we’d be sitting in a circle prepping, and just start howling like wolves,” Nélisse said.
Despite the intense subject matter of the show—a crash-landed high school soccer team struggling to survive in the wilderness—Nélisse explained that she tried to bring a light-heartedness to the set that helped cool off her costars after long days of filming. While some of the other actors found it difficult to separate themselves from their roles, disconnecting came easy to Nélisse. As soon as a scene would finish filming, she’d talk about Instagram memes, trying to garner laughs.
“I’ll just talk about a random meme and they’re like, ‘Are you kidding? You were literally just sobbing.’” Nélisse said. “It just doesn’t really stick with me, and I think it’s important on set to keep it somewhat light, because I know for some girls, it’s gotten pretty dark.”
Keeping the tone light on set proved to be effective, as some of the scenes in season two were exhausting to film. While filming season two, Nélisse lived with Courtney Eaton, who plays the younger version of Lottie. During that time, they acted as each other’s rocks, venting to each other on tougher days, and taking up pottery to distract themselves.
“By the end of the season, we literally had a beautiful vase and so many little bowls and plates. We’d be so proud and we’d sit at the dinner table with all our own pottery. We were very impressed with each other.”
Aside from the recently greenlit third season of Yellowjackets, Nélisse hopes to use her sense of humour and her light-heartedness to venture into the world of comedy.
Complex Canada caught up with the Montreal actress to talk season two of Yellowjackets, her character losing it, and sharing internet memes in the Yellowjackets group chat.
It’s been a while since Yellowjackets season one aired, what have you been up to since then?
In between, I shot a movie called Irena’s Vow which is the real-life story of this Polish woman called Irena [Gut] who saved a dozen Jewish people during the Second World War. It’s Louise Archambault’s next movie so this should be coming out this following year and that’s kind of it. We shot the second season pretty close to the first one, so I’ve been up to that, and then we just wrapped up so it goes by pretty quick.
What were some of your favourite parts about filming season two?
It was tapping into the craziness even more. I think in the first season, we weren’t really sure how the audience would react to it, if they would enjoy it or if it’d be too much, and so we didn’t really know how crazy to go with it. And now that we’ve seen the audience just loving it and they want to see more, we just went full out. By the end of the show, I remember doing scenes where we’d be sitting in a circle prepping, and we’d just start howling like wolves. I was like, “This is so weird. What are we doing?” We get to be almost feral by the end, which has been really fun. Also, a lot of very physically aggressive scenes, which I’m also excited to share with the audience.
How do you tap into that feral side?
It’s weird, honestly. I don’t even know how I would do it without the other girls. They kind of bring it out of me. Just seeing them start barking and doing animal noises and I’m like, “Alright, I’ll do it.” I’m doing it and I don’t even believe myself as I’m doing it. Every time they call cut, I’m like “That just looked stupid. I just looked stupid.” But then it just works, like in episode eight of the first season. People just love the whole episode when we’re on shrooms, and they just love the whole teeth and the claws situation and I’m like, “Alright, whatever floats your boat.”
What were some of the more physically difficult scenes to film in season two?
There were some physical scenes. There’s a scene in episode seven I think where we were all just sweating. We were shooting in the studio, and we had to wear all our layers of clothes. So anything that was remotely physical, we were drenched in sweat and we had to pretend that we were cold so that was pretty hard. I had a really hard time because my contact lenses make my eyes so dry. So anything that requires me to cry, it’s so hard because my eyes are so dry and also whenever I do start crying I’m completely just blind because the water stays in there.
I think the finale of season two, it was really hard to film. That whole sequence, and a lot of other sequences in the show, are just really hard to do because your brain can’t make the difference, and you’re just kind of repulsed by it.
What were some of the in-show blood and guts that totally grossed you out?
I can’t reveal any spoilers, but there’s a lot of elements of body parts that are made out of silicone. I remember they made this heart, and it’s actually a giant gummy, so it’s actually pretty much candy. But it just looks gooey and chewy and just looking at it made me want to puke.
How does your character Shauna try to deal with the guilt and grief from the end of season one?
The writers have taken such an interesting turn on it because Shauna’s way of coping with what’s happened is kind of twisted. I think she just tries to find a way to keep Jackie’s spirit alive, or just the idea of her and the idea of her friend. And she kind of can’t let go of her just yet. But she tries to keep her alive by communicating with her, and imagining that she’s still there. It’s twisted in a way but also I mean, if my mom would have passed away I’m sure I would go into her closet and try to take hold of sweaters and quietly try to keep that smell alive. I think that the hardest part about someone passing is the memories slowly fading away. And I think as humans that’s what we are the most scared of. So I think it’s not that twisted, but it’s just, again, the way you approach it, I think is a little messed up and I think she’s slowly kind of grasping at straws and just losing touch with reality, and I think it’s baby steps towards completely losing it.
Do you talk to Melanie Lynskey, who plays older Shauna, about your shared character’s traits?
We discussed the character, but we never really got into specifics about mannerisms. It just meshed for some reason that we don’t really know, because we don’t even really look like each other in real life. I think there’s this essence that we both bring to the character that’s so similar. Maybe it’s because we relate to Shauna in a lot of ways. I find that we both bring—I don’t know if I do, but she surely does—this calm, quiet confidence. Melanie doesn’t even talk that much, but there’s something in the way she sits back in the role of the observer that comes off so strong. And I think we both have that way of sitting and watching intently. And when you put us next to each other, I guess it just works. I don’t know honestly, I’ve kind of winged it and it works. Then I was like, “Why change the working recipe?” I just keep doing it, but I don’t really know how.
What do you do to soothe yourself from the acting life stress between roles?
Talk to my psychologist (laughs). I mean, I was really lucky living with Courtney Eaton who plays Lottie and every single night, we would come home, we would sit down, and be like “So here’s my rant for the day,” and then we just spend an hour ranting. And then if she wasn’t in that scene that day, I’d come home and she’d be like, “Tell me everything.” So we were both our relief at the end of the day. It used to be so nice to come home to someone who after living with her for so long, and being on set with her, she knew me so well that when I had harder days on set, she just knew exactly where I was at in my head. And I knew the same for her. I could just tell when she was anxious and whatnot. And I could tell when it was getting a lot and I’d suggest little walks around, and we would just go for snacks. But yeah, and we both took up pottery which is a very meditative activity.
How good at pottery were you?
Courtney was way better. Courtney was such a natural it pissed me off. She’d always make her bowl, it was so straight and mine was fucking wobbly. And I was like, “How? We literally started at the same time!” But I made three really beautiful moulds that I’m really proud of, and we’re definitely thinking of taking another membership. We kept some clay and we’re definitely planning on going back in season three. We were so proud! By the end of the season, we literally had a beautiful vase and so many, little bowls and plates. We’d be so proud, and we’d sit at the dinner table with all our own pottery. We were very impressed with each other.
Was the show ever too dark for you? Did you have to find ways to break to make things more lighthearted?
I’m not what you’d call the method actor. I’m not like that. I can tap out of it pretty easily. On the contrary, I think I brought a lot of lightness to the set just because I like fucking around so much. Everyone would finish the scene and would be, “Oh, we’re gonna have so much trauma from this show.” And I’m like, “Alright, I feel fine.” There are some pretty heavy emotional moments in season two, and people were kind of always in awe of the way I could do such an emotional scene and then the second they call cut, I’d say “so about that Instagram post I was telling you about,” or “Look at this meme I found.” I’ll just talk about a random meme and they’re like, “Are you kidding? You were literally just sobbing.” I don’t know. It just doesn’t really stick with me, and I think it is important on set to keep it somewhat light because I know for some girls, it’s gotten pretty dark.
Now I’m curious. What kind of memes were you sharing? What’s your bag of memes?
I love that dark sense of humour. So it’s always really, really dark memes. Like jokes that you can’t really say out loud. There’s this really funny time when I sent a really funny meme in a group chat. So one of the girls sent the stupidest meme. It’s kind of funny and everyone laughs. And then I sent the funniest, dark-as-fuck meme. It was dead silent on the chat. No one responded. Then we all arrived on set. No one said anything. And then we’re all sitting in the cast tent three hours later. So I followed up with the Kermit the Frog “hello darkness, my old friend” meme, since no one acknowledged me the first time.
What will you be doing in between seasons two and the recently confirmed third season of Yellowjackets?
I would like to travel because that’s what I love doing with my time off and hopefully spend some time in Montreal during the summer. Very much looking forward to a lot of great artists that we have coming out to Osheaga and just hanging out in the city. So we’ll see. Or I’ll work, it depends.
Do you spend a lot of time in Montreal these days?
I’ve been here for the last month. I’ve been meaning to leave, to be honest, because the weather’s been shit. But everyone’s working. I could go on my own, but that’s kind of boring. It’s been nice. I’ve been helping out with renovations around the house and just spending time with my family. I do miss them the most when I’m gone.
Are there any types of roles in particular that you’d want to break into that are different than what you’ve done in the past?
I’d love to do comedy. I’ve been dying to do comedy forever. I think it actually looks really fun but is so hard, and so grounding as an actor because it can severely humble you. You really have to put your ego aside. If you want to try to do comedy, you have to not be scared of getting out of your comfort zone. And trying to make a joke that no one laughs at looks like my nightmare. But I want to try it. I want to do comedy. A dark comedy like The White Lotus. I’d also like to start finding books that really speak to me, and adapt them to the big screen.