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'Yellowjackets' star Tawny Cypress on Tai’s season finale 'smile’ and her favorite moment cut from the show

It looks like adult Tai is finally acknowledging her "other half."

Yellowjackets 109 PRESS

***SPOILER WARNING: Do not read if you have yet to watch Yellowjackets.*** 

All great things must come to an end, and that's the case for Season 1 of Showtime's original series, Yellowjackets. This past Sunday marked the freshman season's finale, which moved the stories along dramatically in both 1996 and 2021 timelines, leaving us with plenty of cliffhangers to ponder during hiatus. And now it's time to tie things up with adult Tai.

In part two of SYFY WIRE's exclusive interviews with the actresses who play Taissa, Tawny Cypress talks about how the pilot script hit all of her TV loving buttons, the Taissa scene that they cut from the season and how that victory look in the finale episode came to be.

You've been in a laundry list of great television shows, from Heroes to House of Cards. Did you get a sense from the start that Yellowjackets might ignite with audiences?

I'm a huge television fan. I grew up as a latchkey kid. Television was my babysitter, so I have a real love affair with television. And as a fan, when I was reading it — even the pilot — I was like, "I would watch this for sure." And then when we were shooting it and reading the new scripts as they came out, I was just so excited. I definitely knew we had something special.

In sharing the role of Taissa with Jasmin Savoy-Brown, did you lean on watching her performance to dial in your take on adult Tai? Or was it based more on conversations you had about the character?

It was definitely more important for me to understand how she was approaching this character because, obviously, what I did on-screen hasn't happened to her yet. I understood the importance of that and the great thing is that we were both really on the same page from the get-go on how to approach the character, so there wasn't a lot of venting that needed to be done.

The show really allows the women to explore the impact of trauma and how that looks over time and between common experience survivors. What was the most meaningful moment you got to play as Taissa?

The most meaningful moment for Tai was the night that she asked Shauna for help, as an adult, which goes back to when she asks Shauna for help as a teenager. But that to me was the most meaningful connection that showed their actual deep, deep history together. Plus, the fact that I got to do that with Melanie Lynskey was, not just as a fan, it was a huge, amazing thing that I got to do. She's such a giving actor that it made it all the better, all the sweeter, all the more fun to play around with her. Those were absolutely, hands down, Episode 8 ["Flight of the Bumblebee"], my favorite moments of the season.

The scene where Tai stays over with Shauna and they just share things with one another is the most relaxed we ever see Taissa around anyone. 

I think that is the contrast. She is so buttoned up all the time and that's the beauty of the relationship; she doesn't even think twice to let her guard down. She just becomes a girl again and she's hanging out with one of her dearest, oldest friends. And I think that is the beauty of the moment, that Shauna and their shared relationship from the wilderness on, allows Taissa to be comforted in a way that nothing else in her life can do. And it's wonderful to watch.

Working on a show with a primarily female cast and so many women creatives behind the scenes, did that embolden you to suggest any changes in a particular scene or direction with Taissa over the season?

That's a good question. I do remember there being moments where I would say, "She wouldn't say that. Can she say this instead?" Small things, really. I can't remember exact examples. I will say though, that all the characters are very well written and very complete characters by themselves. And I wound up bending myself to fit the character. Like, I learned how to do shadow puppets. And I actually have a Tina Turner and Hooch impression.

No! You did?

I had to come up with it! I worked on it. And it got cut out. I was very upset about that. I think there might have been some legalities to it. But I found myself wanting to learn, and honor Taissa as much as I possibly could for who she was written to be.

Because Taissa has some potential supernatural elements running through the DNA of her character, did you lean into that at all when crafting your ideas on how to play her?

Absolutely. You've got to play the reality of the situation and nobody ever thinks it's actually supernatural. People just watching it thinks it's crazy. Everything that happens to her can be explained very easily through stress. And they won't tell me what it is anyway. [Laughs.] But I wouldn't lean into the supernatural even if I agree that all of these supernatural elements happen to Taissa and her family. 

Let's talk about Sammy and how Tai parents him. She's pretty distant, so is that because of her emotional issues post crash or because Sammy in particular presses her control buttons?

I think Taissa is a good person on paper. She's got this great house and this great family and this great career and everything's in its place. But does she really care about any of it? Like, there's a moment when she's talking to her wife and she says, "Well, maybe putting [Sammy] in public school wasn't the right way to go?" That's her entire platform for running for Senate. [Laughs.]

She's definitely manipulating this woman; that's what I keep seeing. She sees that there's something going on with her son, but she doesn't even really bring it up until things are way out of control. And then she's like, "I think there might be something wrong with him?" But I think that she just doesn't f**ing care, quite honestly. I think she cares about A, B and C. It needs to look good. I need to project success and power. And that's what she cares about. 

By the end of the season, we get to see you spend a lot more time with the other survivors. How was it working alongside Melanie, Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci?

I did not get enough time with Christina, by far. She and I became very close behind-the-scenes this past season. We hung out quite a lot, but we didn't get to work together at all, really. As far as the four of us together, the scene where we're cleaning up the dead body together, and Misty is teaching us how and why it should be done, that was great because it was literally the last scene we shot. That holds a special place for me.

And then the conversations that the three of us, me and Melanie and Juliette, had in the van were really great. Juliette attacks her character and you never know where it's gonna go. There was so many times me and Melanie are just left in stitches or are dumbfounded by what we're watching. It was really exciting to be able to work with them, even as a fan girl. 

Let's talk about that "smile" in the season finale, "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi." When was it revealed to you about that altar in the basement?

Oh, they swore to me that they were not killing Biscuit! And I am so upset. I am so upset. People are gonna hate me now! I have seven animals and my husband is never going to watch the show again. [Laughs.]

Was Tai's reaction to winning the Senate seat something you worked on, or was it from a variety of choices you gave them to figure out in the edit?

Well, I read it in the script and that is how it's written in the script. It cuts to me and I look up and I think it says "evil smile" or something. I did it a bunch of times a certain way, the way that I interpreted it to be done. And [executive producer] Ashley (Lyle) came out of nowhere and she was like, "That's great. But what we really want is to see the evil take over." And I was like, "Oh shit, is my character evil?!" It really gives me questions for the next season. They are constantly dropping things like that on me where I have to reevaluate everything. [Laughs.] But that was a specific thing they asked for. 

It's a fan thing
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