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SYFY WIRE Yellowjackets

'Yellowjackets' star Jasmin Savoy-Brown on playing young Taissa and that heartbreaking finale

"Tai is the one having supernatural experiences, but she's the one least likely to believe it."

By Tara Bennett
Yellowjackets Jasmin Savoy-Brown PRESS

Showtime's original series Yellowjackets wrapped up its first season on Sunday night with the searing episode, "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi." Major things went down in both 1996 and 2021 impacting everyone, but there were some especially intense moments for the two Tais, played as an adult by Tawny Cypress and as a teenager by Jasmin Savoy-Brown

SYFY WIRE talked to both actresses about the whole season and that twisty finale, which peeled back more layers on the complex character of Taissa. Starting with Savoy-Brown (check back later for our interview with Cypress), we go back to back to the 1996 sequence of events and grill the actress about how she's navigated the surprises thrown at her character, from the supernatural subtext to the sapphic relationship that's become a fan favorite.

**SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers below for the Season 1 finale of Yellowjackets!**

What, if anything, did the executive producers share with you about Taissa's arc in Season 1?

The only person who knows everything that happens to everyone, or who has access to that is Melanie (Lynskey) and rightfully so. I know, for me, I was told that Tai would be the one that would go on a hike, find the lake, and convince everyone to go there, and that she was a leader in her own right. We were each told what would happen in the first couple episodes, but that's it. We were not told who the Antler Queen is. We were not told who falls in the pit at the beginning of Episode 1. We don't know these things. We're just as in the dark as everyone else. 

Your first scene to shoot after the pilot was the big plane crash. It was harrowing on-screen, but how was that to play?

That whole episode was insane! That first ten minutes was like three days of shooting, and it's just screaming, crying, blood, dirt. We were exhausted. We were literally bloody and bruised and scarred. Then we saw it and we were like, "That's it?" [Laughs.] It felt so much more traumatic than how it transpired on screen. Now with space, I can see, "Oh, this is fantastic." But in the moment, the first time I saw it, I was like, "Noooo, it felt so much worse than that!"

Was the season shot in a linear order or was it all out of order, which I assume would make her journey even harder to track?

It was very linear. We wouldn't necessarily shoot the arc within the episode in order, but we shot the episodes in order, which was nice because then we got to piece things together as we went on with our characters. But I will say that hair and makeup and wardrobe always get the outlines a couple episodes before we do, so they can start designing things. Toward the end of the season, we had our spies. We would ask some questions because we all were desperate to know what would happen. But I don't blame the showrunners for not wanting us to know. We're such a huge cast, if they tell us something, like a scene that's in the outline and then it's removed, then you have to answer to 15 girls who are upset...That sounds like hell, so I get it. [Laughs.]

Taissa has arguably the most supernatural tinged history, with the generational sightings of that creepy woman and weirdly opportune sleepwalking. How did you process those moments for your performance?

One thing that I think is interesting, like you said, is that Tai is the one having supernatural experiences, but she's the one least likely to believe it. She's the most in denial, which is so fascinating. I'm sure that's a trauma response from what happened when she was little. That was such a young age to witness an episode like that from her grandma and someone she felt so close to.

Did you and Tawny come to a consensus in your thoughts about those moments?

Tawny and I didn't discuss Tai too much, actually, because we both just had such a deep understanding of her. But also because I'm bad at texting back. I respond in my head always. [Laughs.] We would get together and we would talk about things, but we didn't really talk about that.

With all of the female creatives working on this series, were you encouraged more than you might be on other projects to make suggestions or adjustments to the scripts so Tai felt authentic to you?

The scripts are so well written, so it was never a response of, "Oh, wow, this is a badly written scene." It was more as the season went on and we got to know our characters better, we could say, "No, Tai wouldn't say that, or no, Van would say it like this." They were always like, "Yeah, do it, for sure." And every now and they'd be like, "Please just say one as written." Because there's so many things that we don't know. They laid so many Easter eggs from the first episode and in the dialogue that it needs to be said that way and we wouldn't know why. And we trusted them, so we'd go with it. 

You had such a variety of meaty scenes to play as young Tai. Was there a most memorable one for you for whatever reason?

The scene that I absolutely hated the most and loved the most was the abortion scene. When I read that script ["Saints"], I never had such a visceral reaction. I read that scene and I put my script down and got up and walked away. I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn't read it again. I couldn't look at it. I had to just show up on the day. And let me say, Sophie Nélisse [young Shauna] is just a brilliant, brilliant scene partner. If she's not nominated for something for that scene, I quit. 

I've never played something so dark. And I don't imagine I ever will again, and that's fine with me. I'm grateful they gave me that opportunity because we had to get that scene right. I think it's a beautiful piece of storytelling for this show. But I think it also speaks to the moment with our political system. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, that will be happening. And people need to understand that. 

One of the interesting dynamics of the season is Tai getting increasingly annoyed with Lottie's "innocent" visions as they threaten Tai's comfort zone about what she can and can't control with pragmatism alone. Talk about that.

I don't think Tai would ever call any of Lottie's visions sweet. I think [to her] they were always dumb and annoying, but they were just dumb and annoying. And towards the end, it becomes threatening because the other girls start to listen to them and believe them. And on top of that, they do challenge Taissa's firm belief in what is, is what is, and that there is nothing else. Does she really believe that because of her experiences or is it just a fierce denial? Is it a combo? I don't know. Lottie really does start to become the enemy of whatever sense of peace, or certitude that Taissa has within this uncertain situation. And I think, especially after the wolf attack, that that really messed with Taissa. I really wanted to show that that destroyed her purpose and her sense of self, beyond just the psychological and emotional stress. 

"No Compass" really is a key episode for young Taissa, waking up in that tree and the brutal attack on Van (Liv Hewson). How did you prepare for it?

This is something I haven't seen anyone online notice but Taissa, the whole time, wraps her hair every night and then when she goes on this journey, she chops off hair, which is losing her identity. But then she has three pieces of jewelry that I made sure she was always wearing: This watch, this ring, and the necklace that literally has her name on it. Somehow over the course of putting on Van's bone necklace, climbing the tree, attacking the wolf, all of those pieces of jewelry came off. When they walk back [to the cabin], it's like admitting defeat. She's lost her sense of identity, she's lost her purpose, and now is coming up against Lottie who said all of these things would happen. Taissa as we knew her is gone and she has to rebuild. I don't really know yet how she's going to rebuild. We're still finding that out.

The relationship between Van and Taissa has been one of the lone bright spots, like a respite from the darkness, in the post-crash storylines. 

It's been such a pleasure working with Liv (Hewson), who is just a delight. They're funny and charming and smart. It is cool that we're like that sense of respite, like you said. I don't know that there is much more of that within the world, which is why I'm glad they handled it so well and didn't do a "kill your gays" scenario.

Did you believe they were going to kill Van?

When I got Episode 7, I was so pissed! I was like, 'No, I don't do this.' But once again, they proved that I can trust them with their writing.

Talk about the fan response you've gotten about them?

It's been an honor. It's so fun interacting with fans online and seeing how much Tai and Van meant to them. And then, I launched this podcast [The Gay Agenda] and Liv is co-hosting it with me, and the fans love that, too. When we started the podcast, we did not know we would be playing girlfriends, which is even funnier. So much good has come out of our little onscreen romance.

Let's talk about that finale episode, "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi," and that heartbreaking scene where you hold Shauna when she discovers Jackie (Ella Purnell) is frozen to death. Was that your final scene of the season?

I think one of our actual end scenes was me saying something to Jackie as she's walking out the door. I kept getting the line wrong, which was funny because that was our very last scene. But the [death] scene was very intense and definitely bittersweet, because that means Jackie's dead and we would only assume that means Ella's gone. That'll change our dynamic shooting Season 2, because Ella's gone, Jane [Laura Lee] is gone. And we've all become quite a little family. It's going to be different on screen and off screen for sure. 

How have you been ingesting the season? Technically, the 2021 scenes don't impact anything you do performance wise so have you just had to read scripts or watch episodes as they were provided to you?

I've been desperate for episodes! They would send us them a couple months before the show came out. They sent us Episodes 1 through 6, and then we didn't get 7 through 10 until a couple weeks ago. I think all of us were emailing our publicists like every other day, reaching out to go get the episodes. But you're right, we have the easier job here because they really have to base their characters on us. We get to do whatever the hell we want and say deal with it. [Laughs.]

You had to wait a long time before you knew the show was picked up, and the show has been gaining steam every week. It got picked up for Season 2, so how has that felt — considering the journey to get here?

It felt great. I'm excited because there is so much more to explore with these characters. And I'm really curious to see where the older women's storylines go. I'm honored that we get to continue. And I really hope we get to tell the full story because at Vulture Fest, we learned that there's a five season plan and they already have the whole arc. Hopefully, we get to do the whole thing. I think the fans deserve it. I think we deserve it. And I think the world is better for this show being in it.