No one is more concerned for Taissa Turner on Yellowjackets than Tawny Cypress. “I’m constantly worried for Taissa. Every script I read,” the actress behind the character tells ELLE.com.
There are many reasons why: On top of enduring 18 months in the wilderness—partly thanks to cannibalism—following a plane crash with her high school soccer team, she suffers from sleepwalking. She’s haunted by a shadow self, The Other One, who hijacks her body while she’s in a slumber. Her unconscious actions have led her to kill the family dog, and scare her wife so badly that she keeps Taissa away from their young son. It doesn’t help that Tai is awfully selfish either. “She’s a terrible person,” Cypress says, “but we root for her.”
As Taissa’s wife recovers in the hospital following a car accident, The Other One takes her on a break-in and hitchhiking excursion that leads her into the arms, and video store, of her high school love, Van Palmer (portrayed in adulthood by Lauren Ambrose).
In episode 5, Van is a port in Taissa’s storm. She understands her problem because she was there when it started. Tai doesn’t even have to say what’s wrong; Van figures it out: “It’s happening again isn’t it?” Tai can confide her biggest anxieties with Van. “I can’t ask you for your help, ‘cause I don’t want to hurt any more of the people I love,” she sobs. But The Other One has different plans. At the end of the episode, she kisses Van and leads her out—to where, we don’t know. “This isn’t where we’re supposed to be…” she says in an ominous tone.
Aside from providing one of the show’s most thrilling mysteries, Taissa’s battle with The Other One clearly represents one of Yellowjackets’ biggest themes: how trauma persists, especially in women.
“The Yellowjackets’ baggage is a little more extreme,” Cypress explains. “But it all means the same thing: we’re all bruised from our teenage years and what happened to us back then.” Maybe that’s why so many relate to the series, even if they haven’t devoured their friends or carved mysterious symbols into trees.
Here, Cypress walks us through Van and Tai’s reunion and who The Other One really is.
Initially, what was your reaction to seeing Van and Taissa’s reunion in the script?
Well, I knew Van was coming back. And obviously if Van is going to be popping back up, she’s going to have a reunion with Taissa. I mean, that goes without saying. So I knew it was inevitable. But I think it was written beautifully. And I was so excited when Lauren got the job. I was rooting for her. I wanted her for Van. I thought she was perfect. And she was perfect. She is a great Van and she brings a lot to the table, and playing with her for half the season has been really fun.
There seems to be an inherent comfort between Van and Tai, particularly in those scenes where they’re sitting on the couch and catching up. Did you talk about what kind of dynamic you wanted them to have at this stage in their lives?
We talked with the creators of the show about a timeline of the characters, and they were really nice to put together a compilation of clips from season 1 of Tai and Van in their youth. So we had a good 10 minutes of video, just of their relationship, to keep that fresh in our minds. But we talked about when they broke up and how they broke up, and that really informs how they’re going to interact with each other in the future. Also, it’s been 20 years since they’ve seen each other, so there’s a comfortability in the history that they have together; but they’re two completely different people, so it’s sort of like walking on ice.
Totally. Did you go back and watch season 1 entirely, or talk to Jasmin [Savoy Brown, who plays teen Taissa] and Liv [Hewson, teen Van] at all about what their relationship was like?
No. Actually that was probably a missed opportunity. [Laughs] I did not talk to them both about what the relationship was for them, but the compilation did help. And the writing is there. Their teenage relationship is so clear. And it’s your first love. We all know this feeling. We all have had that.
How would you describe the relationship now? What does it mean to the both of them?
I think it’s Taissa being selfish Taissa and inserting herself into somebody’s life that she shouldn’t be, and causing havoc needlessly, just to try and help herself. And it sucks. She’s kind of a sucky person. [Laughs] But having said that, it’s fun to go back and visit these old relationships that informed so much of who you became as a young woman. And it’s our honor to do it. We love these characters, so it’s our honor to give them more voice than they had before.
We’ve seen The Other One more this season than we ever have before. How did you come up with how you would physically represent and embody this other side of her?
That was another very in-depth conversation with the creators of the show and Jasmin, where we sat down. We sort of gave our ideas on what we were thinking, and they gave their ideas on what they were thinking. And it’s a back and forth where you meet in the middle. And there are times when I’m on set and I’m like, “Look, I’m going to throw it out there. If I’m way off base, please just tell me. If it’s not at all what you’re looking for, just tell me.” And they’ve been happy with what I’ve been doing, so fingers crossed, it’s coming across well.
And I think Taissa in her youth wasn’t as narcissistic as Taissa as an adult. So that other Taissa that comes out, whether it’s a part of her or something supernatural, or what have you, was a little more basic back in her youth. Like, a person taking over somebody else’s body but doesn’t know how to control it. And then you get to her as an adult Taissa, and this other Taissa has also grown and matured and evolved, she’s a little more graceful, but still just as deadly.
Do you know who The Other One is? Have they told you?
They tell me nothing. [Laughs] They tell me little to zero information. But that’s the way I like it. If I knew who the other Tai was, I’d be playing it different. And I don’t like to play ahead of my characters. So I think Taissa has never wondered who the fuck this other Tai is. I think all she ever wanted was to get rid of her [and] be normal again. So that’s how I play that.
Do you think Tai knows how Van can help her, or do you think only The Other One does?
No, I think she knows Van can help her, which is so dumb. Why not go to a therapist? This is why I see her as selfish, because if she really wanted to help and become a different thing, she would get professional help. But no. Instead she’s going to go every little which way she can around that.
Do you think a professional could help her? It seems like this is a deeper issue.
I think some actual medication could help Taissa, yeah. If it were me in real life and this was happening, I would definitely go and see a doctor. Not my high school girlfriend. I promise.
Another very haunting part of Taissa’s story is The Man With No Eyes. Every time I see him on screen, I have to turn all the lights on and have trouble going to sleep that night.
I have to see him in person. I have to be on set with him. He is just as scary in person. [Editor’s note: The character is portrayed by Brahm Taylor.]
He’s actually there?
He’s there. It’s a prosthetic that he wears over his face. And he’s like 8 feet tall. And he knows he’s creepy too. He loves it. He freaking loves it.
Is that also something that you don’t know the meaning of?
No, I don’t know the meaning of The Man With No Eyes. I know as much as the audience does. I know that she’s been seeing him since childhood. The major questions about Taissa that we all have—I have them too—are not going to get answered until at least season 3. She’s the long-run story. You’re going to have more questions about Taissa instead of answers at the end of this season, so I apologize.
Speaking of theories, was it a relief when episode 2 came out and finally confirmed the cannibalism part of the story?
Yeah. I was just like, “Fucking do it already. You know the people want it.” And they know that too. That’s why they didn’t wait further in the season. That’s the one thing everybody wanted. They wanted to see girls eating girls, so give them what they want.
I heard the younger cast was eating jackfruit. Were you on set that day, or did you talk to them about filming that?
Oh, yeah. No, it’s horrifying. The things that they’ve had to eat on set is…I’m so happy they’re young and it’s not us that has to do it. They have the hardest job in the world. They had to learn how to play soccer. I’m like, “No, thank you.” [Laughs] But they definitely had the bulk of the gross things to do, in both seasons.
One of the questions the ELLE team had was, why would Tai get another dog after what happened last time?
Because she can’t see past her own face. What a crazy lady! Well, okay. In her defense, she does not actually know she beheaded the first dog until after she gets Steve. But yeah, I’m with you guys. Where is he? Who’s taking care of Steve?
I was also very curious about how Taissa is also a senator at this point. She’s doing all this stuff without it getting into the limelight. Who is her publicist? She’s doing a great job.
Okay, so what I’m going to say about that is: state senator is not a very big position. It’s basically a nine-to-five. But also, this season, I had all these questions too. I’m like, “Why isn’t she calling the office?” And the creators [explained], “Tawny, this season takes place over about a week.” She hasn’t even been sworn in yet. It’s sort of that lingering period between [winning the election] and getting sworn in. So that’s why you don’t see her at work.
What excites you the most about Tai and this role? And, conversely, what scares you the most?
What excites me the most about the role is that I’ve been in this industry for decades and I played a lot of two-dimensional women, one-dimensional women, that run around with guns and chase bad guys. She’s one of the only three-dimensional women I’ve ever gotten to play. She’s so well-thought-out. And I love her flaws so much, because we’re all flawed, but we’ve got to try and hide it all the time. And especially on television, they make these “perfectly flawed” women. And I didn’t wear one speck of makeup this whole season, and that, for me, is thrilling. It’s so awesome to think that I can play characters like that. The thing that scares me the most is that death is inevitable. And when it’s my time, it’s my time, and I’m going to have to say goodbye and I don’t want to.
Older millennials and Gen X women have a strong connection to this show because they see a lot of themselves in both of the young and older characters. What does that mean to you?
It’s amazing. I mean, I’ll be at the airport and a mom and daughter will come up and be like, “We watch it together. It’s the only show we watch together.” And that happens so much. And they’ll be like, “And my grandmother watches it too. And we all watch it together.” Generational women watching the show together and loving it, and it’s this horror, comedic, fun ride, and everybody’s getting something out of it? It thrills me. It’s so great. I hear that all the time about mothers and daughters and aunts. And the men too, a lot of men, and I love that as well. But really, it touches my heart that so many women are finding these characters relatable, and finding the show relatable. And if I wasn’t on the show, I would love it too. I would watch it religiously.
Family bonding over Yellowjackets.
Over cannibalism. It’s wonderful.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Erica Gonzales is the Senior Culture Editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage on TV, movies, music, books, and more. She was previously an editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com. There is a 75 percent chance she’s listening to Lorde right now.