HomeUncategorizedSophie Nélisse on How ‘Yellowjackets’ Birth Episode “Smacks Them Back Into Reality”

Sophie Nélisse on How ‘Yellowjackets’ Birth Episode “Smacks Them Back Into Reality”

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Yellowjackets delivered an answer to the looming question around the fate of Shauna’s baby in the 1996 wilderness, and the actress who plays her, Sophie Nélisse, says plainly, “She will not come back from it easily.”

The sixth episode of season two, “Qui,” tragically revealed that teen Shauna (Nélisse) gave birth to a stillborn son. The harrowing episode played out first in a dream sequence, showing what might have happened had the baby survived childbirth, as his starving mother struggled to both feed him and protect him from the rising Yellowjackets cult of Lottie (Courtney Eaton).

The baby had been the subject of many theories after season one, and the heightened sequence that comes at the end of the episode played on those fears as Shauna imagined her teammates feasting on her baby in Rosemary’s Baby-inspired nightmare. In a devastating twist meant to reflect the grim reality of a laboring mother in Shauna’s condition, Shauna awakes to the harsher reveal that her son did not survive. “The reality of the baby not making it is harder to take than even that cannibalistic nightmare,” director Liz Garbus explained in a previous interview. The cut-to-black ending caps a tour de force performance from Nélisse (who has been submitted as a lead for the Emmys), as a sobbing Shauna looks into the camera and asks, “Why can’t you hear him cry?”

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter below, Nélisse opens up about the physical demands of filming the highly anticipated birth episode, unpacks how the trauma manifests in Melanie Lynskey’s adult Shauna and explains why this will rock the young Yellowjackets to their core: “Those who did believe in Lottie, maybe that faith will start to tremble, that even Lottie couldn’t save the baby.”

Melanie Lynskey recently said in a late night interview she was texting you while reading season two scripts to be like, “Are you OK?” Shauna has been centered in many intense scenes, including the wilderness abortion attempt in season one and the Jackie feast of season two. How difficult was this birth episode, what was the experience like when you were filming?

It was a big week. I remember being really, really nervous, just because I’ve never been pregnant. And I wanted, to some extent, to honor women going through that — even though the circumstances most of the time are not as traumatic as this. I was just really nervous. But I had the best director ever. Liz Garbus was phenomenal. Not only at directing a great episode, but she was so reassuring and brought such a calming presence, and was so precise in what she wanted. And the girls on set also really being there for me, supporting me and giving me so much to play off of.

It was very hard physically. I lose my voice so quickly, and that was one of the biggest issues. So after like two screams, I was out of it. I was chugging tea with throat coat in it, with ginger, lemon, and honey, to help. And I didn’t know that tea made you pee. So I had to go pee every five minutes, and I had a prosthetic belly. I was like, “Is this because I’m anxious? I’ve never needed to pee as much as I have this week.”

Half of the week in, people were like, “Sophie, tea makes you pee.” I’m like, “Well, that explains why I’ve been back in my trailer every five minutes!” But it was such a roller coaster, very hard physically because of the screams and trying to shake; I was squeezing my abs together. And then emotionally, as you can tell, it was a lot of crying.

But I feel fortunate, to some extent. I’m not really someone who brings my work home. I’m able to dissociate from it pretty easily. So as soon as the day was done I’d be tired, but I wouldn’t be home, depressed and crying.

So it sounds like the pressure for you was more around getting it right?

It was mostly, yes, about giving a good performance that made me the most stressed. I would look at the biggest scenes of the episode — really, they were all big — and I would be counting down, “OK, I have only this one big one left and then I’ll be relieved.” That was mostly what made me nervous, was to be good, honestly.

Sophie Nélisse on How ‘Yellowjackets’ Birth Episode “Smacks Them Back Into Reality”
Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) waking up and being told her baby didn’t survive by Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Misty (Samantha Hanratty). Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

There has been a lot of audience interest in the fate of Shauna’s baby. Thankfully, the showrunners shot down the theory very early on that the baby would be eaten. At what point did you find out what would happen, did they clue you in ahead of the season?

No, they just gave me the script a few days, maybe a week before. And I was like, “Oh, God, I have so much to do in this.” And I was so scared. I watched a lot of birthing videos and birthing scenes, from House of the Dragon, there is a pretty big one, and The Handmaid’s Tale. So I watched those and it could have gone both ways, honestly. When I read it, I really was thinking the baby made it. And then it was just really sad to see that it doesn’t make it. It was also hard because we were shooting with a real baby, who would always cry. So we had to stop mid-scene and mid-emotion to bring the baby back. Shooting with a newborn is also really hard.

This explains a lot about the adult Shauna the audience has gotten to know, as she reveals herself more and more as the season goes on. Did you talk to Melanie about this shaping adult Shauna?

Our answers are so bad for this question because we really never chatted about it. Every time we grabbed a coffee or got together, we’d ask how it was for each other on set and we would always end up talking about personal stuff. We always forgot to talk about Shauna. I know, it’s very unprofessional of us! (Laughing.) If she would have wanted to have a discussion about it, I would have gladly talked about it, but she’s such a pro. She knows what she’s doing, she doesn’t need my help.

Shauna probably carries so much guilt around. Even though she knows there’s nothing she could have done in her power to keep this baby alive, I think she will forever feel guilty. And the whole dream is also what’s so interesting. She wakes up and she’s still hearing the baby scream. I’ve had those vivid dreams where I wake up and I’m so confused because the dream felt so vivid and so real. And I think that’s even more what gets to me in the episode. When she says, “I can still hear him cry.” And everyone is like, “Oh, she’s lost it.” No one knows what she’s undergone in the last hour in her mind. You can just tell she will not come back from it easily.

Sophie Nélisse on How ‘Yellowjackets’ Birth Episode “Smacks Them Back Into Reality”
Melanie Lynskey as adult Shauna in “Qui.” Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

So much focus has been put on this baby from the Lottie (Courtney Eaton) camp. They were calling it “our baby” and chanting; all of these things that were horrifying Shauna. This baby could have had a larger spiritual role for the group, but, as it turns out, the sad reality is that Shauna is a starving mother and the baby doesn’t make it.

[The fact that the baby dies] grounds the show so much. Everyone is slowly getting into this whole cult situation, with the group prayer and everything. I like that aspect of it, because I think you have to hold onto or believe in something to make it through and survive, otherwise you wouldn’t see a point in even trying. And I think it’s such a slap in the face. That no, there wasn’t a reason for this baby. There was no higher power. There’s no logical sense, there’s no good reason. It’s not a sacrifice. They won’t eat it. The baby will just be buried, and that’s the end. And it smacks them back into reality a little. To those who did believe in Lottie, maybe that faith will start to tremble a little bit, that even Lottie couldn’t save the baby. I think it’s interesting because it will keep that fine line of the question of: Is there some higher power or not? And if there is, why? It evokes even more questioning around the whole cult in all of it.

In Melanie’s part of this episode, adult Shauna says about her current daughter: I didn’t even want to have her; I had her to save a failing marriage. Whether fully or somewhat true (as she tells it to the investigating police), it’s sad to see how she lost her voice in her marriage after finding it out in the wilderness. How do you feel to see that after they are saved, Shauna eventually loses herself again?

Yeah. And I think that’s why she cheated on her husband. Older Shauna is desperately trying to find [who she was]. I think she loved who she was out in the wilderness. And that’s what’s so conflicting about her. Obviously, she doesn’t want to go back and she feels so guilty. But there is a part of her that she’s kind of scared of, because that part of her has maybe committed bad things, like causing Jackie’s death. But that part of her is deep down and she’s desperately trying to find that voice again.

I think that’s going to be so interesting to see Shauna’s first steps back into society and reality [after they are rescued], and the shock of losing herself again. She transformed into someone out in the wilderness but now, it’s another kind of survival. How do you survive the questioning and the judgment from other people? I think that’s what will hush her back into her shell. If I remember properly, I think she will marry Jeff pretty early on.

And maybe it has to do with Jackie; that she feels to honor Jackie’s death, she has to get back with him so it will have meant something. That marrying Jeff means they were meant to be together, and that will make sense of it, or make her feel better about Jackie dying. There are all of these questions. But I think her older self is the perfect balance between the Shauna that she was prior to the wilderness, and then her finding the wilderness Shauna and trying to bring balance between these two personalities.

And that’s why she’s killing the rabbit when we first meet her in the pilot.


Interview edited for length and clarity.

Yellowjackets streams new episodes weekly on Fridays and airs on Showtime Sundays at 9 p.m.

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