This interview contains major spoilers for the final season of Yellow Vests.
Melanie Lynskey and I are going to talk about the tragic finale of the Yellow Vests season finale in a bit. But firstly, I’m still not myself from the first minutes.
Sean with an electric knife in the bathroom?
“I know for sure?” said Linsky, 44, who plays the adult version of Shawna in Showtime’s rowdy psychological horror series The Yellow Jackets, about a high school football team stranded in the desert after a plane crash in 1996. We’ve seen enough to know that their time in the forest didn’t end well, especially for those who were literally slaughtered and eaten by the survivors. But it is clear that survival—that is, the reduction to murder and cannibalism—also had its consequences.
Case in point: the relative calm with which an adult Shona dismembers her new boyfriend these days… to cover up evidence that she accidentally stabbed him with a different, non-electric knife.
“There are moments with this character where we have to remember that she’s on auto-pilot,” Lynskey said of Sean. “There’s a problem and she just says, ‘OK, let me solve that part of the problem before another problem comes up.’ She’s just trying to keep one foot in front of the other.”
Lynskey, the New Zealand actress whose kiwi-twang turns into a flawless American accent in Yellow Vests, last week called from her daughter’s bedroom in Atlanta (“I’m hiding,” she explained), the city where she films the upcoming Hulu. Series Candy. In this series, she plays the woman on the other end of the blade: Betty Gore, a Wylie, Texas resident, a woman killed with an ax by her best friend Candy Montgomery in 1980.
“I like things with a bit of darkness,” Lynskey said. “I like to see how normal people can go to despair.”
Lynskey’s high-profile roles in Yellow Vests, for which she was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award, and in Adam McKay’s stellar apocalyptic Netflix satire Don’t Look Up are the latest advances in a career that, in recent years, has starred roles in the HBO series Together (2015-16); in Macon Blair’s critically acclaimed 2017 film I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore; and in the FX historical series on Hulu Mrs. America” (2020).
But while the roles and budgets continue to grow, the roles are still the ones she loves to play: real women, wrinkles, curves and all.
“A lot of women look just like me,” Lynskey said of Shona’s appearance. “It was really important to me.
In an interview, she talked about her favorite fan theories, Shauna’s uncanny determination, and the one thing she told the writers her character would never do. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
First things first: where did Shauna find the resolve to chop up her lover’s body in the bathtub? We even see it when she volunteers in the middle of nowhere in high school to slit a deer’s throat.
I hope we get to meet her family members to understand why she is the way she is. She seems to be a completely self-sufficient person even before she is in this situation. I think that there is something inside her that even scares her a little, but it seems to be the most honest part of herself.
Not only young Shona butchers animals – as an adult, she guts a rabbit in the kitchen. Are you squeamish when it comes to blood?
I am a vegetarian – I have not eaten meat since I was 10 years old. I didn’t want to do this with a real bunny, so they made me this crazy prop bunny – it was all magnets sticking the pieces together. It looked so real!
How else are you similar and different from Shauna?
She can turn into a cold, calculating look that I don’t know if I have – I think I should, because it can come from me. But she also has a great capacity for love, so we are similar in that. She is a lot more confident than I am, but she still has moments of self-doubt that can lead her to some of her biggest mistakes.
And when it comes to survival skills?
If I’m going somewhere, I have to read every TripAdvisor and Yelp review to make sure the hotel is as good as I need it to be. I am very special, very princess. When I was a child, I went to nature camp for a few days, and it was all torture. At the end, everyone in the class had to write a letter to the person who impressed them the most, and I got every letter because people said, “You got through it. You cried all the time, but somehow you made it.”
Let’s talk about Jeff (Warren Cole). Why is Shauna staying with him?
There was chemistry before the wild and they loved each other very much, but Shauna felt it was temporary. And then she came back from that experience with a ton of survivor guilt. But she can’t handle any of it – she just hammers it all, and it seems to her that now the most responsible thing will be to marry Jeff. She’s afraid to look too closely at “Who is this person I’m with?” in case she has to do something difficult. The situation is similar with Adam. [the former lover in the bathtub, played by Peter Gadiot]where she just jumps into things. She’s so afraid of knowing something she doesn’t want to know that she just lets things happen to her.
What did you know about Shauna’s character coming to the show?
The writers told me what happened to Jackie. [Ella Purnell], because when she started to appear in front of me in the flashback, I said that I needed to know the details. And I knew the trajectory of Adam’s relationship. I knew Jeff’s relationship trajectory and that he was a blackmailer. I think sometimes writers are afraid that if an actor has all the information they’ll give something away in their performance, but it’s good for me so I can do something layered that people will be interested to come back and watch.
Such as the?
When Jeff and I get back from brunch with Jackie’s parents [in Episode 6]we’re talking about Jackie and I’m like, “Would you like to stay with her?” And he says, “No, I was just a school boy.” We never talked about it and he knew Jackie said it because he read Shauna’s diaries. And so I was able to react to this moment like this: “This is a little interesting.” I don’t know why he said that and how he knows it.
To clarify, Jackie is definitely dead – she’s not pulling the van?
As far as I know. I don’t see her coming back from [freezing to death]. [Laughs.] And I think Ella’s contract was always only for a year.
There have been many fan theories about Sean on social media. Do you have favorites?
I was so interested that no one thought, “What if Adam just likes her?” Partly it’s because it’s a detective show and he’s a suspicious character. And part of that is because it’s an unconventional relationship where he’s more conventionally attractive than me, he’s younger than me, he’s thinner than me. Therefore, it is very difficult for people to accept that it can just be a relationship that they are witnessing. And then there were some theories that were so crazy – so many people were saying, “He’s Shauna’s wild child.” I would like to remember all the crazy ones. “He’s Jackie” was funny.
What contribution do you make to your character?
It’s not often, but there are times when I read something and think: “This seems unreal to me.” When I was about to go on a date with Adam, they made me steal a pair of my daughter’s underwear – like a thong – to wear. And I’m just like: “Guys, first of all, as a mother, no.” It’s so rough. I know that Shona has no boundaries, but this is too much. And honestly, they didn’t work for me. There is not a woman in the world who would watch this scene and say: “I believe that she is comfortable wearing these shorts.” But they listen to me very well!
Did they tell you anything about the second season?
I know they haven’t even entered the writers’ room yet, so I want to give them a minute. But I definitely want to ask questions. I really think I’ll probably drive them crazy.