Small Talk: Sophie Nelisse

Sophie Nélisse Thinks 'Yellowjackets' Fan Theories Don't Even Compare to What's Coming in Season 2

The actress behind young Shauna insists that the jaw-dropping sophomore season gives fans exactly what they want.

Sophie Nélisse doesn't really believe in ghosts. That doesn't detract from her performance in the second season of Yellowjackets, however, even though (spoilers ahead — no, really there are major spoilers) there's definitely a ghost in the attic. Showtime's hit (and critically acclaimed) thriller's first season introduced (and in some cases, re-introduced) viewers to four women and their younger counterparts, weaving a twisted tale in two parts and offering up plenty of wiggle room for viewers to go crazy with, especially as each week brought up new twists. Nélisse's Shauna, who is also played by Emmy Award-nominated Melanie Lynskey, ended the season with another shocking addition to an already eyebrow-raising combination of survivalists, frostbite, and the beginnings of a cult: she was pregnant.

"It was actually massive. By the end, the stomach was so big, I could literally rest food on top of it, genuinely like a pregnant lady would do," Nélisse shares with InStyle before the season premiere on Mar. 26. "I would sit down on my cast chair and just put my book or put my little bowl of fruit on my stomach, and I had a little side table almost."

Practicality aside, 22-year-old Nélisse said that having to lug around a prosthetic belly actually helped her play Shauna — though she's quick to point out the drawbacks, too. While the other girls carry around the trauma of survival and deal with the subsequent drive to make it to the other side, Shauna physically changes and goes through a mental shift.

"It was really fun, because it's actually quite heavy and gets in the way of me sitting down. It was interesting that I physically did feel different wearing the belly. I felt like I was genuinely carrying something around, so it changed the way I would get up, the way I would sit down, the way I would run," she says. "It was really nice to have around, although when I did have to go to the bathroom or have a change of costumes, that was really annoying."

Small Talk: Sophie Nelisse
Top, skirt, and jacket: Rosetta Getty.

JSquared Photography

But back to ghosts. As the season opens, Shauna very much believes in them, especially as she continues to interact with Jackie (played by Ella Purnell), who is very much dead. 

"I guess I believe more in energy, more than a ghost. I don't think that anyone stays in a house, per se, the way you'd picture a haunted house and there's a ghost," she says. "I don't think you could ever see one. I think maybe you could feel. You just don't feel right or there's definitely a presence entering a room. I don't think I'll ever see someone standing in the corner of my room or have someone touch me or feel someone going through me."

Playing opposite a ghost isn't something she could have learned from Lynskey, who (as of yet) hasn't encountered anything definitively supernatural as Yellowjackets's second season unfolds. Nélisse explains that while she and Lynskey both play the same character, they haven't actually gotten the chance to sit down and talk at length about how they're approaching it. It's something that's worked out, she explains, because young Shauna and present-day Shauna are pretty different. Nélisse says it's because they're both handling trauma in different ways. Young Shauna is going through it and older Shauna is dealing with all the repercussions. 

"We talked together before starting the first season, just to make sure that we had the same essence and we pictured Shauna the same way. And we just both personally had a bunch of things in common with Shauna, and I think that's how we never really got into the specifics of any mannerisms that we wanted to match or body language," she notes. "It was really just more about who she is, fundamentally. And I think once we locked that down, we just went with it."

Small Talk: Sophie Nelisse
Dress: Rodarte.

JSquared Photography

It wasn't that Nélisse didn't try to incorporate Lynskey-isms into her own take on Shauna. It's just that when she did, things didn't work out the way she wanted.

"I definitely tried to pay close attention when watching the first season, now that I finally got access to her acting in the scenes. I was like, 'OK, so she's doing this and this and this.' Before shooting the second season, she has a lot of tiny mannerisms that she does naturally," Nélisee says. "For example, she bites her lips quite often, and I was like, 'Oh, let me incorporate that.' I tried doing it in front of the mirror, and I looked so stupid doing it. It just looked so forced. I abandoned just trying to mimic whatever Melanie was doing. The audience seemed to think it's a great fit, so I just thought, 'Let's not change a working recipe.'"

Believe it or not, having one of the show's main characters talking to the ghost of her best friend isn't even the most outrageous thing to transpire for the Yellowjackets ladies as they deal with the onset of winter and, in turn, their lack of resources. Nélisse says fans should brace themselves for more of the show's signature unpredictability.

"I think believing in something is very important to survive," she says of the show's overarching theme — and the characters' motivation to make it through the winter ... and whatever comes after. "I think you need motivation to keep going forward, and I think that at some point, you can't just rely on yourself, and I think that's one of the messages of Yellowjackets, is the bonding experience and the connections that are made. I think that's what keeps them going."

Small Talk: Sophie Nelisse
Top: J.Crew; Pants: Levi's; Boots: Paris Texas.

JSquared Photography

Ahead, Nélisse explains how some fan theories are even more far-fetched than the actual show, which celebrity brought her to tears, and how she and Melanie Lynskey approach Shauna in totally different ways.

You must hear it all the time, but every episode of Yellowjackets is more shocking than the last one. How is it working on a show like that?
It's been really fun. It's my first time. I come from more of a film background, so it's been my first time having an audience that's so involved in the show. Just after the first season, seeing all of them writing their fan theories and just writing their reviews online and their predictions for the next season, it's been so fun to be able to follow that.

Do you feel pressure to give fans what they want? Did any fan theories make it into the show?
Now that we shot the second season, we know what they're in for. So, it's been exciting and also very nerve-wracking, because we just want to give them what they're hoping for, and we hope that we will do good enough.

What are the wildest ones?
Shauna eats her baby, I think, is one that a lot of people have suspected. I can't say anything about it, but that's a pretty crazy one. Who's going to kill who is very interesting. That Shauna might be the Antler Queen, I think, is a cool one. Watching the first season, [fans are] like, "Oh, Shauna will be the Antler Queen, because at this moment she was standing underneath this piece of artwork, and you could see the antlers in the back." And I didn't even notice that when shooting it, so the things that the fans pick up on, it's pretty amazing.

What is the biggest shift for the Yellowjackets from season 1 to season 2?
It's winter now. The stakes are higher. People haven't been fed for longer. Just naturally, the kind of frenziedness and the animalistic survival instincts that kick in just make the show just even more wild.

As a viewer yourself, what's more compelling to you? The younger storyline that's all about survival or the older women dealing with PTSD?
Does it sound conceited if I say the survival-ing? I love the adults. It's so different to watch. It's hard to have a biased point of view, because it's watching two completely different things. Watching the post-trauma is fun for us, because we haven't seen anything from what they've shot, so it's like watching a show for the first time. Even though we've read it, when we watch it, we haven't shot any of it, so it's like we're watching a TV show that we haven't been on. So, there's that aspect that I find quite fun.

But I do find that the younger one is a little more exciting and keeps you more on your toes. It is just so crazy, and the plot twists and what they have to undergo is just so scary. I just think there's something a little more captivating about the younger storyline. But they're both really fun to watch, honestly.

Have you learned anything about real wilderness survival from the show?
What's interesting is that it's not as if they've found a method that works for surviving. They're learning as they go. I don't think I've learned anything, but just tiny little things, like not to eat any kind of mushrooms, because some of them are poisonous. How to somewhat cut a piece of meat, like where, maybe, you would slit the animal. Noticing, obviously, in the first season when they open the body, and it's been eaten from the inside. Noticing when meat is not edible or something like that.

Small Talk: Sophie Nelisse
Top, skirt, and jacket: Rosetta Getty; Shoe: Gianvito Rossi.

JSquared Photography

Small Talk

Do you believe in astrology?
To some extent. I think it's more of a placebo effect, but so is everything that everyone believes in.

What is your favorite item of clothing that you own right now?
A T-shirt that my mom bought me.

Is there a moment in pop culture that sparked your interest in wanting to be an actress?
Honestly, what made me want to be an actress is I was doing competitive gymnastics, and I needed money to pay for gymnastics, and that's how it came together. And then once I fell in love with the craft, I obviously had some inspirations, but it really happened randomly. It was never a dream of mine.

What celebrity were you the most starstruck to meet?
Jake Gyllenhaal. I cannot. I cannot. I've been obsessed with him since I was 10, and I say that I've met him, but I just said hi when I was on a red carpet. That was before I was really into him, and literally, after that carpet is when I started watching all of his work. And to this day, I'm upset that I didn't say more when I met him.

What could you possibly have said to Jake?
I don't know. He's the only one. There was this one time I also saw him at a festival in Venice. I can't remember where, but I started crying. It was for a premiere of his show. I was there and I started crying, and my mom was there with me. And she was literally mad. She was like, "Sophie, get a grip. This is embarrassing. You are not someone that gets starstruck. This is ... no. Get yourself together." It was pretty funny. I was crying.

Do you have any red carpet disaster stories?
Disaster story? No, I don't think I've had any. I've certainly worn some questionable choices of outfits, where afterward with the lighting and whatnot, I was like, "Wow, this is actually way more see-through than I thought." But I've never had a dress rip on the carpet or anything like that.

What is the one book that you could read over and over again?
Oh, my god, that is a good question. Honestly, I love all the TikTok books. I'm really into all the TikTok books. I love Girl In Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow. Really good. I want to finish right now and then read it again.

What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
My biggest guilty pleasure? I would say food, but also, I'm the biggest foodie of all time. It's like a personality trait. But I don't think it's a guilty pleasure, because I don't think there should be guilt in eating junk food or ice cream.

Photographer: JSquared Photography; Hair: Nancilee Santos; Makeup: Lilly Keys; Stylist: Chris Horan; Styling Assistant: Greer Heavrin.

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