When a successful New Jersey soccer team charters a plane to compete at the national championship, their aircraft unexpectedly takes a dive into the Canadian wilderness. The expected amount of blood, death, and general mayhem ensues—after all, this is the ’90s, and it’s not like anyone has a working cell phone to call for help. But then, something strange happens: most members of the stranded soccer team find newfound purpose in the wilderness. The team medic, Misty, realizes she is needed by nearly everyone—she’s the only one who can properly tie a tourniquet or safely amputate a limb. It’s only a matter of time before Natalie, the team’s resident burnout, finds her calling, too.
This is the plot of Yellowjackets, the new Showtime series that began airing weekly in November and stars Sophie Thatcher, Juliette Lewis, Melanie Lynskey, Sophie Nélisse, Christina Ricci, Sammi Hanratty, Ella Purnell, Tawny Cypress, and Jasmin Savoy Brown. It’s been described as Lord of the Flies meets Lost, and the pilot, directed by Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation, Destroyer), reveals some of the individual backstories of this team of soccer champions, and what happens when the they crash land in the middle of nowhere. But as the series unfolds, the mysteries that haunt the survivors of the crash 25 years later only get stranger.
Thatcher, who plays the teenage version of Natalie (her adult counterpart is portrayed by Lewis), said she felt a kinship with the character in a way that surprised her. “The character was very much my alley, and a heightened version of what I was like in high school,” she told W when calling from Los Angeles. “She receives so much judgment, even from her teammates, which is depressing—but that’s how it is in high school. Girls can be mean, and this show does a good job of showing how complicated young female relationships can be. The girls are brutal to Natalie.”
Born and raised in Chicago, the 21-year-old actress said she her siblings first inspired her to tap into her creative side. She and her twin split a role in the play Our Town when they were children; another older sibling would act in Sondheim musicals in high school, and recently wrote a movie inspired by their family growing up Mormon and leaving the church. “I wanted to be a painter. I was always drawing, always creating scenarios in my head, always writing short stories and then acting them out,” Thatcher remembers. “Really early on in the third grade, I had this idea that I was going to make a sequel called 103 Dalmatians, and I made everyone in my class audition for it. I set up all the dogs’ names. I always had to be doing something.”
When Thatcher heard that Yellowjackets was casting in late 2019, it was the director’s name that attracted her to the project. “Karyn Kusama is an icon. I love horror movies, and she is the mastermind of that,” she said. “The script was gritty and daring, and the show’s premise has so many areas to cover—I had no idea where it was going to go, and I still don’t.”
When it came to building out her understanding of the character Thatcher would share with an ’90s indie darling she had looked up to her whole life, there was never a moment of discord. Both Thatcher and Lewis deliver a nuanced performance of Natalie—who could have been yet another sad girl trope if the character were left in other hands. “Juliette gave me a lot of interesting insight into the character. We would always talk on the phone and I don’t think there was ever a point where we disagreed,” Thatcher explained. “We created a playlist together, I sent her pictures of girls in the late ‘70s that I thought could be cool for style inspiration. She brought up Nina Hagen, a German punk singer, and that was our first point of reference. When she brought that up, I was like, oh we are very much on the same page—it’s pretty niche and cool that she brought that up.”
Whether it was deciding on mannerisms, vocal tics, or even the character’s visual aesthetic, the actress said she and Lewis remained on the same page. “It was beyond an honor,” Thatcher said. “I grew up really obsessed with her. I think we both have similar mannerisms and ways of speaking. We both speak in our lower registers. Especially when I’m either intimidated or putting on a front, I’ll lower my voice even more. She would talk with me about how she would do that when she was younger, it was kind of like a front.”
Flashing back and forward, the story portrays Natalie as a lone wolf, a clear outsider from the jump. As a teen, she has bleached hair, wears heavy black eyeliner, and hangs out with some punks that are absolutely not on the soccer team with her. Of course, as is the case for many adolescents, she’s doing this to give herself some distance from the turmoil happening inside of her own home, and to own the fact that she is misunderstood. Even when Natalie begins to click with another outsider from the group, the connection does not come without a price. “She’s been in survival mode most of her life,” Thatcher reflected. “The wilderness serves as a distraction from all this anxiety and chaos in her head. I think a lot of people could deem her as the unpredictable one or the crazy one, and she could possibly start to lose herself, but it’s realistic because she’s had to fend for herself for her entire life.”
Right now, Thatcher is making a name for herself playing the rebel girl roles she’s been cast in, but she’s got her sights set on a vast array of characters and projects in the future. “I would love to write and direct my own stuff some day, because I have a lot of ideas,” she said. She would also like to work with more women directors, and be enough of a chameleon that she one day plays a character that is a far cry from herself, citing Michelle Williams as a major influence on her ambitions in becoming a character actor. “I hope that in the next couple of years people won’t recognize me. I want to be committed to wigs. It’s a hard process, but I really hope to do that and not be held as just the rebel girl or outsider,” Thatcher went on. “I want to tell stories that make people feel less alone. Movies helped me so much through my childhood, and I want to do the same for others. I hope people can find solace or points of connection with Natalie. Connecting with others and art is all that matters.”