What the 'Yellowjackets' Cast Really Ate in That Cannibalism Scene

·12 min read
What the 'Yellowjackets' Cast Really Ate in That Cannibalism Scene

Your Thanksgiving was nothing like the one the cast of Yellowjackets had... hopefully. At some point around the October 10 Canadian Thanksgiving holiday last year, Sophie Nélisse, Sophie Thatcher, Samantha Hanratty, and the rest of the cast of Yellowjackets' teenage timeline gathered around on set and sunk their teeth into a feast fit for starving teenagers: Ella Purnell.

In the second episode of Yellowjackets' already chaotic sophomore season, the stranded high schoolers discover Shauna (Sophie Nélisse), unbeknownst to the group, has been playing dress up with the corpse of her former best friend Jackie (Ella Purnell), who tragically passed away at the end of Season 1. They agree the body needs to be disposed of, but they're in the middle of winter, so the ground is too frozen to dig a grave. So, they build a pyre out of wood, make a fire, and place Jackie's body on top to cremate it. However, Mother Nature (or some malevolent supernatural force) had other plans, and dropped a pile of snow on top of the burning corpse, causing it to roast like a suckling pig.

person burning
Kailey Schwerman

The savory scent of roasting meat drew the hungry teenagers out of their sleep to find that their dead friend now looked good enough to eat. After a pregnant Shauna rubs her unborn baby and her empty stomach, she remarks, "She wants us to." Then, with tranced looks in their eyes, as if their brains were operating on a primal autopilot, the group begins devouring the roasted corpse with savagery typically reserved for flocks of vultures or ravens. The scene jumps between them tearing Jackie's carcass apart and an illusionary shot of the girls dressed in togas, indulging in a gluttonous Greco-Roman feast.

The first season teased the prospect of the stranded teens resorting to cannibalism to survive, but we never knew when it would be coming. And while we didn't know it would be that graphic—neither did any of the actresses who partook. "They were talking about how they never imagined when they became actors that they would wind up eating a person on screen," Yellowjackets showrunner Jonathan Lisco told Men's Health.

Lisco wrote the episode, titled "Edible Complex," and knows everything that went into its making. He knows Showtime's reaction ("They were like, 'Well, could we maybe even have a little more of this?'"). He knows how they made a corpse look delicious ("We used a kind of roasted suckling pig as the reference photo"). He knows that we haven't seen anything yet (“The eating of Jackie is not the worst thing that we’ll see [this season]").

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And now you'll know all of that and more, including exactly what these young women were devouring when they were playing cannibals. Dig in.

Men's Health: I know they weren’t actually feasting on human flesh. So, what exactly were they eating on set?

Jonathan Lisco: One day, with Showtime's consent, I want to publish a little eight-minute audio clip that I have of us introducing the actors to the scene. The production designer, the person who made the “Jackie Fruit,” as we called it, brought it to the pyre while we were on set and the lights were low, and we were prepping the scene; the young cast verbally gasped. They couldn't believe not only the likeness, but that we had made a sort of biometric version of Ella Purnell's head to put on it. It was the one with the makeup on it, as you know.

There had been these big gashes and crevices in the side of the dummy where, get ready, they had created the food that our cast was going to munch on. It was composed of mostly jackfruit; this is why they joked about it being “Jackie Fruit.” It was jackfruit because some of the women were vegans, so we had to make it out of something that was not meat that everybody could eat. It was jackfruit, pepper, spices, some smoke flavor, and maple syrup. That was one group of them. And then there was another one that had no flavor, just in case people were averse to that flavor profile. We also had spit buckets at the ready.

yellowjackets character eating
Kailey Schwerman

Our cast tasted it before engaging in the scene. There’s this great audio clip of the director Ben Semanoff talking them through what he wanted them to do. For example, the skin was made out of rice paper that had been soaked and then air fried, so it had this very crispy quality. We had to film this [scene] nine times; so the young women, who were very game, didn't necessarily want to eat all of this each take. So, we had handheld cameras moving around that I'm sure you can feel when you watch the cut. The young cast used a lot of humor as a defense mechanism against the gruesomeness of the scene they were playing.

What was the humor?

They were saying, “I guess this is like our Canadian Thanksgiving,” because [we filmed it] around Canadian Thanksgiving [October 10, 2022]. They were calling it “Jackie Fruit.” They were talking about how they never imagined when they became an actor that they would wind up eating a person on screen when they became an actor. They were just full of life and lovely about it. Then, when we yelled action, they were all in.

I will sound like a weirdo, but I must ask: Did you intentionally make Jackie’s roasted corpse look delicious? I was afraid of what was to come. But I thought, “Wait, that looks like a good meal.”

It was 100% conscious. If you think you're a weirdo, you have to spend a couple of days in our writer's room. The stuff we have to talk about to break these scripts is incredible. Our Google searches probably have us on every FBI list in every state.

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We used a kind of roasted suckling pig as the reference photo. We looked at pictures from luaus, and we looked at different cultures, even in our own culture... because we wanted to get a sort of "golden brown" Jackie, who had been roasted to a point where she could at least appear appetizing. If she looked like a bloody mess, it would make the decision to eat her tougher. They may think, “My God, we can't touch this.” First, the smell wafts through the cabin, and don't forget that they're starving, so they're not in their right minds. It smells like barbecued flesh. They come out of the cabin desperate for nourishment. They see her, and there's one shot I want to draw your attention to. It goes by very fast, but there's a cross-section shot where we come down the pyre, and you see the snow on top of Jackie's face, and then you pass by her face and go into the embers, and the embers light up some flesh. That is actually pig flesh.

We brought out a whole side of a pig that we did not slaughter. It was already meat. We brought it out to have the two meld together in the scene. You really couldn't tell the difference. Kudos to our art department because the dummy wasn't roasted. So all that is practical painting and design. There were a lot of discussions about how maybe she looked a little bit too brown or perhaps we could make her a little more golden.

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I didn't think it was gratuitous, but it was shocking how you may have cut away quickly, but the camera caught them ripping the body apart like ravenous birds picking at a corpse.

We use so little of that. We have minutes and minutes we could have used. And we sped the film up a little bit to make it seem like a coven of witches. If you go back and watch it, you'll see they're picking at the corpse like ravens. They’re huddled over like predators. We cut to the Greco-Roman part of the scene because our concept for that was these women breaking this taboo have to have, in some ways, a kind of mass group psychosis to shield themselves from the savage horror of what they're doing. They can pretend it’s almost like an orgy of delicious food, pomegranates, figs, bread, mutton, and all of that stuff to psychologically distance themselves from what they are doing.

Co-creator Ashley Lyle stated in an interview that the show was on pace for five seasons. How long into the creation of Yellowjackets did you know that the second episode of the second season would be the cannibalism payoff?

Candidly, we only knew that once we convened the writer's room for Season 2. It was an open question after we finished last season when and really where we would commit to that happening. Early on, when we started to brainstorm, as writers, we had an impulse. Sometimes, you're led by these vague impulses to come out of the box strong in Season 2 because we had this overriding feeling we had not to be as good as Season 1, but we actually had to be better, because now the show sort of belonged to everyone. It had become this mini-phenomenon that was growing an audience. The pilot revealed that there would probably be cannibalism in the future, which was a very bold stroke. We felt it would be equally bold to do it early in the season instead of having the audience wait throughout Season 2 and then do it. The question in the show has always been not whether they would commit cannibalism and submit to some of these rituals but why and how. The unpacking of that, we feel, was more interesting. So, we had Jackie's corpse around from the end of Season 1, and what really sold it for us was when we started to think of the storyline that could make it an emotional episode, not just a sensational one.

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And we did it through the prism of Shauna's character. I hope you felt in watching that episode that it wasn't just dynamic and muscular. Still, it was also emotional and moving because you had this young woman, Shauna, who had lost her best friend, who had, in some ways, been instrumental in her death because of her stubbornness. So she carries all this guilt. She can't part with this friend of hers. This was also the queen bee in her life. So, she had a great relationship with her, but she was also always in her shadow. And like, she loved her, but sometimes she hated her, and now she's pregnant in the wilderness, and they're all starving. So, when we finally hit upon a way to do it early in the season, we were super excited about it, and we tried to pull it off, and I hope it worked.

Her body was meant to be cremated, but we get a bird's eye view of the snow falling at the perfect spot to roast the body. This show has had a bear inexplicably lay down for Lottie to stab it with a knife as if it was offering itself as a sacrifice. Was the serendipitous snow falling the result of a supernatural being?

I'm not going to be evasive; that’s one of the engines of the show. One of the questions we are asking is, “Is there an external dark threat in the wilderness? Or is the cause of the darkness coming from inside the house?"

Kailey Schwerman

What precedes that snow falling is an interesting sex scene between Travis and Natalie, where Travis is actually having pain sex because he thinks he lost his brother. And Natalie has to hide her mischief because she cut her leg to convince him that the brother was dead, but she did it to save [Travis] from further pain, whereas Lottie represents hope. So there's this war between practicality and faith going on. That’s why it's not just about sex.

I hope our readers don't interpret it as a love triangle where Travis is having sex with Natalie but sees Lottie, whom he also lusts for. No, it’s not that. It's a battle between faith and reality, in a way. Natalie represents the tough love of letting go of his brother, and Lottie represents hope and is still saying, “I know he is alive.” Travis was caught in the middle.

Then, with the great score from composer Craig Wedren and Anna Waronker, we go to the wilderness and see the bow shaking. You're thinking, “Wait, does this have a supernatural component, or is this generated by this weird energy of these characters starving and on the brink of losing their minds?” Then the snow falls, covering it in a sort of igloo where she can roast, and then they come out and eat her.

When Season 2 is over, where will this cannibalism scene rank among the most gruesome parts of the season?

Will [the season] be more gruesome is one question, but another is, “Will it be morally messed up?” I will submit to you that the eating of Jackie in Episode 2 is a breaking of a social convention that we're all very familiar with. But is it immoral? I think that's an interesting question. I'm not sure I would come out on the side of saying that it was “immoral.”

You've got a bunch of starving young women who serendipitously come across something that will save them. I think there's an argument at least to be made that they're valuing the collective over this corpse. I think there's a rational argument to be made that they were not totally immoral by doing that. But as we move through the season, I will tell you that their decisions and choices will get more complicated, morally and ethically speaking. That means the eating of Jackie is not the worst thing we’ll see.

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