Melanie Lynskey is absolutely rocking it this year and it’s only April!
There’s her scene-stealing portrayal of Kathleen in this year’s HBO series The Last Of Us, she pushed those nostalgia buttons alongside Drew Barrymore and Megan Dodds for an Ever After reunion earlier this month and she’s now returning for Season Two of the supremely awesome Yellowjackets.
My first introduction to Lynskey – and her first movie nonetheless – was the 1994 drama Heavenly Creatures, which was directed by none other than Peter Jackson and co-starred Kate Winslet (also her first movie). Lynskey’s portrayal of the dark and unhappy Pauline whose friendship with Winslet’s Juliet takes a murderous turn rings a little of Shauna, the character she portrays in Paramount+’s series Yellowjackets – a dark and unhappy woman whose traumatic past culminates in the murder of her lover during Season One.
For those who haven’t watched the series yet, Yellowjackets tells the story of a high school women’s soccer team whose plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness while on the way to a tornament. What follows next is two timelines – the first is the story of the young women during the 90s and what happens to them in the wilderness, and the second takes place 25 years later, showing (some) of the women as adults and exploring the trauma of what happened to them out there.
I’m here to talk to Lynskey about Season Two of the series and when meeting her in a hotel in central London, she immediately puts me at ease by apologising and asking if I wait as she makes herself a tea (hot water, honey and lemon for those who want to know). She’d just landed the day before and after a full day of talking to us journalists: “I sound croaky” she laughs as she settles in an oversized chair, steaming cup cradled in her hands.
I figured this would be a good time to start at the beginning and what she thought when she first read that script for Yellowjackets – did she know this was going to be a surefire winner? “I thought it was so good,” she enthuses. “I wanted there to be another one, which was a really good sign.
“I had a really good meeting with our showrunners and they answered all my questions. That was my one concern, because it was just a pilot that had not been picked up at that stage. So I just grilled them, and they answered everything. They had a very detailed plan. So that was amazing.”
Lynskey has a knack for picking good projects – even a casual scroll through her IMDB page shows that. Since Heavenly Creatures, she’s starred in movies such as Noughties classics Coyote Ugly and Sweet Home Alabama, to brilliant TV shows like Togetherness, Two And A Half Men, and Stephen King series Castle Rock.
I ask how she chooses her projects – is it the character, the cast, the showrunners perhaps? “It’s really only the script,” she tells me. “There have been a couple of times where I’ve read a script that I didn’t think was very good but the filmmaker was great. So I’ve said ‘all right, I’ll audition for it’ and luckily, I haven’t gotten those. I think if my heart’s not in it, you know…”
For Yellowjackets, Lynskey plays the adult Shauna. In the wilderness, young Shauna is shocked to find out she’s pregnant with her best friend’s boyfriend’s baby. Twenty-five years later, she’s married to that boyfriend, Jeff and is the mother of Callie – whose relationship is tumultuous to say the least. After meeting and having an affair with Adam, Shauna’s past comes to haunt her, ending up with her murdering Adam and trying to hide it with the help of Jeff.
Lynskey describes Shauna as “wild and messy” and that messiness is exacerbated in Season Two after, well, murdering someone: “She’s feeling a lot of things and trying not to feel them,” Lynskey says. “She’s always trying to not feel what she should be feeling, repressing everything. But she’s coming to terms with the fact that she killed somebody who actually cared about her, who she also cared about. [She’s] coming to terms with the fact that she’s married to someone who knows her deepest, darkest secrets. Her worst nightmare was that somebody would know everything that they’d done – and here he is, he’s been there the whole time. That’s pretty crazy. Also, she’s really playing around with how far she can push things in terms of danger.”
A dangerous character Lynskey has played recently is Kathleen in The Last Of Us, the ruthless leader of a resistance in the post-apocalyptic world of the series. “Kathleen is a bad person,” she tells me. “A self-admitted bad person. She knows she’s not a great person. It’s fun honestly. First of all, with Shauna, it’s fun because she really doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. And Kathleen was so cold and ruthless and that’s its own kind of fun.”
Speaking of fun, Lynskey stars alongside a fantastic group of actors in Yellowjackets, who all play the adult versions of the stranded soccer team, including Tawny Cypress, Lauren Ambrose, Christina Ricci and Juliette Lewis. Surely it must be a lot of fun to be on those sets with that group of people… “It’s not,” she laughs. “No, sometimes it really is. Some days are easier than others. We had a lot of fun.
“Later on in the season, we all do scenes together and Lauren Ambrose somehow found this old Trivial Pursuit. It was like a 1981 version of Trivial Pursuit that we were all just blindly playing, not knowing the answers to anything. But that was a fun bonding experience. I really love them.
“The reason I say it’s not a laugh all the time is because we really do let ourselves be authentic. We support each other when we’re having a bad day. We’ve really gone through a lot together and it feels like a sisterhood, like actual sisters.”
Someone she doesn’t actually star alongside is Sophie Nélisse, who plays young Shauna, and the two agreed early on not to try and work together to create the character: “We both decided we would get very distracted if we were trying to think about a particular thing we did to indicate it was the same character,” Lynskey tells me. “It would drive us both crazy. That’s not how we work. So I’m glad she didn’t want to.
“We met up with each other to talk about who she fundamentally is as a person, and we were so on the same page about it. We felt like there was some kind of energy match that we had that really worked. So we were just grateful for that.”
For Season Two of Yellowjackets Lynskey reveals that “things have really taken a turn in the wilderness storyline, because it’s winter and there’s no more food. Everyone’s going crazy. And then our storyline, two of us have murdered people, one of us has murdered a dog… it’s rough for everybody!”.
Lynskey says that one of her favourite things while watching a TV series is “being taken along on a ride” and she hopes viewers of Yellowjackets experience a similar thing: “I want people to be caught up in the mystery of it,” she says.
“For me, I love my cast mates so much,” Lynskey continues. “I appreciate them so much, and there are so many good performances in the show. So that’s really fun to watch. I think it’s a really interesting exploration of trauma as well – how people process it as they’re living through it, and then how people process it or don’t in their adult life.”
Yellowjackets Season Three has already been commissioned, so I have to ask Lynskey where she hopes we’ll find Shauna in the next season. “I’m not a writer, so I don’t ever have those kinds of ideas,” she says. “I trust our writers so much and I know that they’re always going to do the best and smartest things. I’m just excited to see. I can’t wait!”
I can’t either, but with the rough time Shauna’s had, I suggest that maybe we could ask the writers for her storyline to be set in Hawaii perhaps? Or maybe she goes on a relaxing tour of the Carribean islands…? “Can you work as one of the writers?!” she laughs as I leave her to enjoy the rest of her tea.
You know where I am Yellowjackets Writers Room.
Yellowjackets Season Two is out now on Paramount+