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Chukwudi Iwuji on ‘Peacemaker’ and His “Extremely Powerful” and “Complex” ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Character

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Chukwudi Iwuji on ‘Peacemaker’ and His “Extremely Powerful” and “Complex” ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Character

[The following interview contains spoilers for Peacemaker’s first four episodes.]

Viewers immediately fell in love with Peacemaker’s title sequence as the entire cast danced to Wig Wam’s “Do Ya Wanna Taste It.” But Chukwudi Iwuji, who plays Project Butterfly leader Clemson Murn, cherishes the opening credits more than anyone since they’re forever associated with a career-changing moment. Peacemaker was already a huge break for the Nigerian-British actor, but early on in production, Peacemaker creator James Gunn approached Iwuji with a seismic offer.

“I literally went from dancing on the soundstage to James saying, ‘Come over here, I want you to be in Guardians of the Galaxy 3,’” Iwuji tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And I remember it was one of the few genuine times of my life where I was speechless. I just looked at him and I was like, ‘Um, yes, okay.’ So that’s how he offered it. I mean, we still had to go through Kevin Feige and certain people, but apparently, he’d already spoken to them and they liked the idea of it.”

Naturally, Iwuji can’t say who he’s playing in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which is due out in May 2023, but he’s able to shed just a little bit of light on his significant character.

“Powerful. Extremely powerful. Complex,” Iwuji says when asked to describe his Guardians character. “James and I were talking about it, but he’s certainly one of, if not the most complex characters we’ve seen in the freaking Marvel universe. So he’s deeply complex and deeply powerful, and I hope intriguing. I hope I bring that to it.”

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At the end of Peacemaker’s fourth episode, a reveal came to light involving Iwuji’s character, however, he purposefully chose not to leave a trail of breadcrumbs in order to set up the revelation.

“If there were breadcrumbs, it’s in the writing, not in my performance,” Iwuji explains. “We don’t live life knowing the whole arc. We live life moment to moment to moment. And the problem with playing breadcrumbs is that there is no surprise. You see it coming a mile away, and that’s my least fun thing to ever witness, either in live theater or on screen. So I was excited that we were headed there, but I was very careful to play it moment to moment to moment.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Iwuji also discusses another prized memory from Peacemaker’s opening dance sequence. Then he goes on to explain the ways in which the Guardians cast welcomed him to the family.

So I’d seen you before, but your name really started to register when I spoke to James Gunn in August for The Suicide Squad. Here’s what he said at the time: “Like I’ve said before, [Margot Robbie] is probably my favorite actor I’ve ever worked with. I think there’s a couple of people in her league: Glenn Close and Chukwudi Iwuji, who I just worked with on Peacemaker.” When you hear James’ ringing endorsement, what does that mean to you?

Wow. When it was announced I was going to be in Guardians 3, I sent him a message that said, “Thank you for not only opening the door, but practically kicking it off the hinges for me.” Because as an actor, it doesn’t matter how good you are or how good you think you are. Until you find that person who’s ready to take you and take that gamble, ultimately, it’s a subjective choice. You might never get a chance to show what you can really do. And somehow, the universe, God, whatever you believe in, has brought me across James Gunn and we work. I feel it’s a true collaboration. He’s already made me a better actor. He’s certainly made me a bigger actor, as it were, with the profile of the stuff we’re doing. (Laughs.) So his endorsement means a great deal to me. In this world of subjectivity, in this world of luck, in this world of timing and all the other things that come into it, talent only accounts for 10 or 20 percent, at most. So to be getting these opportunities means a great deal to me. It really does.

When you say that James has made you a better actor, does it boil down to the confidence he’s shown in you?

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It’s the confidence, big time. When you’re dealing in art, a lot of people believe in creating art in isolation. You can create a certain part of it in isolation, but it becomes art when exposed to the public. So when he decides and says, “You know what? You’re that good. I could have anyone I want for Guardians 3, but I want you,” how can that not help? I remember when I played Hamlet, finally. There is something about playing that role as a Shakespearean actor or as a theater actor, which I am predominantly. If you do it, you come out of it a different actor. So when someone as huge as James — with the impeccable taste that he has, certainly in casting — says, “I could have anyone, but I want you to be this role,” what it does for your confidence is incredible. But also, James is an actor, so some of the notes he gives me are helpful, which I’m certainly finding on Guardians 3. I’ll throw something at him, and then he’ll take it and he’ll keep pulling it and stretching it and pushing it even further than I thought. At times, he’ll say, “No, that’s exactly it,” but when he does push me, he makes me surprise myself. So there is an actor’s director in him, big time.

I was on the Peacemaker set for a scene with John Cena, and I was behind the camera with James, feeding John the lines so Peacemaker could hear Murn giving him instructions. It’s a really intense moment in episode three. Murn is asking him to do something really brutal, particularly brutal, and Peacemaker is struggling with it. And John was doing a great job as he was trying to find the struggle. And then, as the camera got closer to the closeup, James just said, “John, don’t do anything. Just be still. I just want you to listen to what Murn is telling you to do. I don’t want you to show me. Just think about what he’s saying.” So John did that and the camera caught it. And you saw this macho guy just crumble. So James understood that the journey in a beat is infinitely more interesting than getting to the destination as an actor. It’s watching someone struggle by trying to make sense of it, as opposed to watching someone show you that they’re struggling. So the journey of thinking through it was so exciting, especially in a close-up, and that was a real learning curve for me as an actor as well.

So was there anything unusual about the audition process for Clemson Murn?

Yeah, it was highly secretive, so I only got about three pages. There was no real name to it, and there were no details apart from the fact that it was James Gunn. So I read the sides and I remember saying to my wife, “I’m not going to bother. They’re never going to give me this. They’re going to give this to Lance Reddick.” (Laughs.) But then I read the scene, and I was like, “This is really funny. The timing of these lines…” So I immediately knew exactly how I wanted to play this guy and I said, “I owe it to myself as an actor to have fun with this.” So my wife and I set up the camera and we did the scene in one take. I didn’t think it was going to go any further. And then a few days later, I heard that James flipped out and absolutely loved it. (Laughs.) I heard from Peter Safran, one of the producers, that James was like, “Who is this guy?!” (Laughs.) It was something like that. And then they sent another side from episode seven. There wasn’t much detail, but it was enough to do what we do in episode seven. It was just to see the range of the guy, I guess. So I did it, but I was fully confident because they liked what I did already and I knew exactly how this guy would approach this. But I didn’t meet James Gunn until the first day of filming. We never had an audition or a callback or anything together. He chose me purely on those sides.

[The following question/answer contains major spoilers for Peacemaker episode four.]

Since the audience has now seen episode four, did James tell you Murn’s entire arc so you could plan ahead and leave breadcrumbs en route to his butterfly reveal?

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Yes, he did, but if there were breadcrumbs, it’s in the writing, not in my performance. Like we talked about with the journey, one of the most dangerous things about a performance is that you know the whole thing. So you start finding yourself making choices that aren’t actually justified in the moment; they’re being made because you know the whole arc. We don’t live life knowing the whole arc. We live life moment to moment to moment. So if there were breadcrumbs, it’s entirely in the writing, in the narrative, in the listening. I didn’t play it that way at all because I had to be on point with this guy. Whatever happens has to come as a surprise, right? And the problem with playing breadcrumbs is that there is no surprise. You see it coming a mile away, and that’s my least fun thing to ever witness, either in live theater or on screen. So I was excited that we were headed there, but I was very careful to play it moment to moment to moment.

You’re in good company because Chiwetel Ejiofor said something very similar to me. He only focuses on the scene in front of him, and then he lets the chips fall where they may.

Oh yeah? I’m a huge, huge fan of him. It’s just so exciting that way.

Murn has a dark backstory that he’s trying to make amends for as part of Waller’s team. How deep did you dive into that backstory?

To be honest with you, I only do what I feel is necessary. At the end of the day, I love what’s on the page, in the script. I’ve joked before that you will not find me at the Bronx Zoo watching a salamander move or whatever to figure out how to play my character. I’m usually just learning my lines, drilling the lines. And all I needed to know is that this guy has a backstory in black ops. No one specifies what it is, so I’m not going to go and specify. The fact is that he comes from a dark place and his name carries weight. It carries the weight of someone dangerous. In episode seven, I go into what I had to do, but we don’t even really explain. The rest is for your imagination. The best acting is when you can embody something so much, but at the same time, leave an empty canvas or tapestry for the audience to fill in. And that’s what I like to do with research. I’m not going to get into specifics and then bring that onto the set. When I come on the stage and I’m talking to Peacemaker, I’m talking to Peacemaker. I’m not talking to Peacemaker whilst thinking of my backstory that I invented. All I needed to do was get into a certain kind of shape because this guy has a black ops past. There’s a way these guys walk. There’s a looseness in their swing. But the only story I’m concerned with is from page one of the Peacemaker script until the end.

So is it challenging to play a character who doesn’t express his feelings or emote all that much?

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There’s a technical challenge to it because as an actor, you want to show, but ultimately, I really enjoy it. So for characters like Murn, it’s a wonderful thing to just feel and to trust your feeling. When there’s a close-up and you’re feeling it and thinking, you know the camera is going to see it. That’s a wonderful place to live because everything is happening, and you can just sit in it and know the camera wants to grab it out of you. So yes, it’s technically challenging in the sense that it goes against your instincts to show, but it’s so rewarding to actually do it and just know that all of those things are there and will be caught. And then when you watch it back, you see yourself doing stuff you didn’t realize you were doing because you weren’t thinking of it as, “Oh, I’m now going to do this.” It happened because you were feeling it. You might say, “I don’t remember doing that,” and you shouldn’t remember doing it because you were feeling it. Right now, if you recall something and you look in the mirror and the thought comes to you, something will happen to your face. So I just love that. I find that really exciting.

So when James told you that he wanted to shoot an elaborate dance sequence to Wig Wam’s “Do Ya Wanna Taste It,” did you pull out your contract and look for an escape clause?

(Laughs.) It’s so weird, but it was so hilarious when he said it. Actually, I did the opposite. I pretended and said, “Oh yeah, I’m not surprised by that at all.” And then I went home to my wife and I was like, “Umm…” (Laughs.) But no one should be surprised by what James does. On paper, it might seem outlandish, but then you do it and it just makes perfect sense. I was a bit nervous, I won’t lie, but we had a couple of sessions. It was nerve-wracking on the day, though, when you have the whole studio and people watching you. The music comes on and the lights go on and you’re like, “Okay, I don’t want to cost the studio too much money by messing up.” (Laughs.) So it was really nerve-wracking, but in the end, you gave over to the fun of it. And it was a lot of fun. Robert Patrick was dancing in front of me and I will always think of that as the Terminator dancing in front of me. (Laughs.) I was like, “I’m happy. We’re good to go.”

I know you’re a classically-trained actor and as professional as it gets, but when you’re acting opposite John Cena, who’s wearing a ridiculous costume and saying utterly absurd statements as Peacemaker, are you constantly on the verge of breaking?

Oh, not just close, I’ve broken. (Laughs.) We’ve all broken at some point. The blooper reel for Peacemaker is going to be extraordinary. John’s comedic timing is genius and not just John. I’m very much, as you can tell, the straight man in that group, and a lot of the cast have backgrounds in improv and comedy. My background is with Shakespeare and Chekhov, so you speak exactly what’s written there. So it was a real learning curve to watch them just riff on stuff. James will always allow the camera to keep rolling even after the scene is finished just to catch on stuff. And it was hilarious. I laughed a lot. The cameraman laughed a lot. The grip laughed a lot. Everyone laughed. James would be laughing in the director’s box or wherever the hell he is. But when you’d hear him laughing, it all adds up because if you can make these people laugh, especially crew…. Crew are hardened. Crew aren’t easily impressed. They’ve been there, done that a thousand times. So if they were laughing, we knew we were onto something special. I laugh so easily, but for a while, I didn’t; I kept it together. But I didn’t realize until later that John and everyone had a plan to get me to break. So after a while, I just couldn’t keep it together any longer. (Laughs.)

So in relation to filming Peacemaker, when did James approach you about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3?

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You’ll be the first person to get the exclusive on how this happened. On the day we were shooting the opening dance sequence, I was talking to Jennifer Holland and James came up to us and said, “Do you two want to come see the last take of the sequence?” And then James said, “Oh, by the way, I want to talk to you about something.” And it’s funny you mentioned him, but I joked, “Is this where you tell me you thought you were hiring Chiwetel Ejiofor, not Chukwudi Iwuji, and it’s time for me to go?” (Laughs.) And he laughed. But this is how it went. He said, “No, actually, I want you to be [Iwuji omits character] in Guardians of the Galaxy 3,” which I can’t say, sadly, because I can’t say the character. So that’s how it happened. I literally went from dancing on the soundstage to James saying, “Come over here, I want you to be in Guardians of the Galaxy 3.” He actually started by saying, “I don’t know what your schedule is, but I would love for you to be in Guardians of the Galaxy 3.” And I remember it was one of the few genuine times of my life where I was speechless. Normally, you find a way of expressing gratitude and whatever, but I was speechless for several seconds. I just looked at him and I was like, “Um, yes, okay.” So that’s how he offered it. I mean, we still had to go through Kevin Feige and certain people, but apparently, he’d already spoken to them and they liked the idea of it. And then a few weeks later, we got together and did the equivalent of a screen test. But it was a screen test for one because he knew he wanted me. He’d written this script four years ago, so it was literally his first chance to hear it. So for me, it was like workshopping a new play. We did these two or three scenes and we spent almost three hours on it. They built a set. There was a camera. It was intense. He put me through the wringer and I left nothing down. We did it. So it was up to him and Kevin and the powers that be to decide if it’s what they wanted, and thankfully, it was what they wanted and here we are. (Laughs.)

How far were you into Peacemaker‘s shoot when he offered you the role?

It was near the beginning of production. I knew very early. It was a crazy time. For that to be offered to me so early in production, it was a big deal for me. I think it was around April, maybe March [of 2021], but we didn’t do the screen test until May or something like that. So it was pretty early. James had seen enough of me at that stage to decide he wanted me to be a part of Guardians.

Can you spare some vague adjectives about your mystery character?

Powerful. (Laughs.) Extremely powerful. Complex. James and I were talking about it, but he’s certainly one of, if not the most complex characters we’ve seen in the freaking Marvel universe. So he’s deeply complex and deeply powerful, and I hope intriguing. I hope I bring that to it. (Laughs.)

The Guardians cast is rather tight-knit; they’ve been through a lot together to say the least. And as the new kid on the block, I imagine it can be a bit overwhelming to come into a situation like that. So has the cast been welcoming and whatnot?

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They were. I mean, Chris Pratt was just absolutely lovely. He sent me a basket. He has a farm somewhere. And Zoe [Saldana] and Karen [Gillan]. You know what it is about them? They’re all freaking down to earth. So yes, there is a version of this that would be intimidating. There is a version where you walk on and deal with a bunch of very closed-off people. But they’re all so approachable and down to earth and those are the sort of people James likes to work with. James doesn’t want drama on his set. So I think they were very welcoming, but it’s also from the top down. I mean, even the set designer, Beth [Mickle], and Judianna [Makovsky], the costume designer. They are all just doing the job because they believe in the project. When that’s the main emphasis of a project — as opposed to them being there for themselves — that makes a big difference. If there was intimidation, it was me messing with my mind by saying, “Don’t screw this up. Don’t screw this up. This is your Marvel debut.” If anything, it was me. It certainly wasn’t from anyone. People were excited for me to be joining the universe, and James had been laying the groundwork about me joining. And when I met the team, they were almost like you would expect them to be when you watch the movie.

Returning to Peacemaker, Murn watches Lethal Weapon 4 in order to feel something. Is there a movie that you return to often in order to feel something?

If I want to feel romantic, I love Truly, Madly, Deeply. It’s just so gorgeous in its simplicity. If I want to feel like I’m watching a great actor do their craft and learn away, I watch Tony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day or Gary Oldman is just about anything, even [Bram Stoker’s Dracula]. I’ll watch him in Dracula just to watch opera meet craft. I’ll watch Denzel [Washington] in Glory. The whipping scene. If I want to laugh, I’ll watch anything Mel Brooks: Blazing Saddles, The Producers. Anything with Madeline Kahn. I’ll watch Clue to laugh hard. So it just depends. Although most of my work has been theater, I’m an actor because of the movies. As a kid in Lagos, Nigeria, I watched movies and they made me want to be an actor. I’ll also watch the last sequence in Last of the Mohicans where there are no words and the music plays right up to the end. I’ll watch Daniel Day-Lewis put his hand on those young actors in Lincoln, including a young Adam Driver. He’s connecting with them as Lincoln would’ve connected with the young people, but it’s also a great actor connecting with these new actors starting off. And then there’s Denzel in Malcolm X and the specificity of using his fingers and gestures. So there’s always something somewhere and it’s a beautiful thing to watch them now and think, “Oh, I’m doing this now.” I mentioned Gary Oldman. In The Fifth Element and Dracula for instance, I’ll watch him use his body to evoke something. And in the bigness of these things I’m doing with Peacemaker and Guardians, I get a chance to bring theater onto film. So I have so many inspirations. If I want an excuse for ordering a pizza, I’ll watch a good zombie flick. (Laughs.) There’s always something to watch.

Since you mentioned Denzel, have you seen his take on Macbeth?

I haven’t yet, but I’m really eager to see it because he’s a true master, as is Frances [McDormand]. She’s amazing. I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare and there’s only two on the list now that I want to do in the next ten years. One is Macbeth and the other is Coriolanus. So I’m definitely going to go watch The Tragedy of Macbeth because that’s literally one of two that I’m still eager to have a go at. And you know Denzel will bring his take to it. His specificity, his passion, his elegance. All of those things. So I can’t wait to see it. In fact, you’ve reminded me that I have to go see it.

***
Peacemaker is now streaming on HBO Max.

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After Driving Again And More, Britney Spears Shares Her Latest Taste Of Post-Conservatorship Freedom

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After Driving Again And More, Britney Spears Shares Her Latest Taste Of Post-Conservatorship Freedom

They say it’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary, and that’s likely particularly true if you’ve been denied access to those things for an extended period of time. After Britney Spears was released from the conservatorship she’d been under, the singer has been reintroducing herself to some of life’s simple pleasures. Last summer Spears was super pumped about regaining the freedom to drive, and in January the “Toxic” singer documented drinking her first glass of wine in over a decade. The newlywed continued to celebrate the post-conservatorship life by sharing her first trip to a bar.

Fans of the former pop singer are accustomed to seeing Britney Spears dancing and twirling and modeling different outfits at her and Sam Asghari’s new home. However, the “Toxic” singer took her followers on an exciting field trip, in which she and her assistant patronized a local drinking establishment. She shared her trip — and a sarcastic remark — on Instagram:

(Image credit: Instagram)

As she and her assistant Victoria Asher apparently enjoyed a drink and an app, Britney Spears couldn’t help but throw a little shade at her family, remarking that she was “so so grateful” for not being allowed to have a cocktail for the 13 years after her father Jamie Spears took control of her life. In fact, the 40-year-old said in her post this is her first time to partake in such an adventure. In the video, she shared:

This is my first time at a bar. First time. I feel so fancy, and I feel so sophisticated.

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How ‘Yellowjackets’ Stars Survived Hollywood

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How ‘Yellowjackets’ Stars Survived Hollywood

Sure, they may have eaten a person back in the day. But there are some things the grown women of Yellowjackets just wouldn’t do. On this, the actresses who play them — Tawny Cypress, Juliette Lewis, Melanie Lynskey and Christina Ricci — agree, as they gather in a backyard in L.A.’s Topanga Canyon in late July, just a few weeks before they start filming the second season of their breakout show.

The Showtime survival thriller, created and executive produced by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, earned seven Emmy nominations, including outstanding drama series and acting nominations for Lynskey and Ricci. The Yellowjackets storyline alternates between 1996 and the present day as it follows members of a high school girls soccer team whose plane crashes and strands them for 19 months in the wilderness, where they resort to cannibalism to survive.

Part of the show’s nostalgic appeal relies on its casting of these actresses, three of whom audiences knew as young women for their slyly offbeat roles in films like The Addams Family (Ricci), Cape Fear (Lewis) and Heavenly Creatures (Lynskey), to play the crash survivors as adults. In this conversation with THR, Cypress, Lewis, Lynskey and Ricci disclose their ’90s regrets, share what it means when you call an actress “quirky” and reveal how survival bonds women — including in the trenches of Hollywood.

Who here knew each other before the show?

MELANIE LYNSKEY (Points to Christina Ricci.) We knew each other a little bit. I went to a Nick Cave concert by myself, and Christina came up and —

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CHRISTINA RICCI I was very excited to see you.

LYNSKEY So excited. We were having a lovely chat, and then she’s like, “Are you here by yourself?” She’s the coolest person of all time, and I was intimidated. I just felt embarrassed to say, “I’ve come to a concert by myself.” I was like 24 or something.

RICCI I was impressed because I couldn’t go anywhere by myself.

LYNSKEY I also went to see Clay Aiken by myself because nobody would come with me.

It’s surprising that none of you had worked together over the years.

JULIETTE LEWIS It’s wild when you’ve been around so long, and you sort of have a kindred connection to people. There’s certain actors you’re like, “Mmm, we’re not of the same tree,” and then there’s other actors you’re like, “Oh, yeah. We have some roots.”

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Juliette, Melanie and Christina, all three of your Wikipedia entries say some version of, “Often plays quirky or offbeat characters.” What do those words mean to you?

LEWIS Real people, specific and unpredictable.

LYNSKEY I remember I got cast in a movie when I was like 21, and the description of the character before I auditioned was “Blah, blah, blah, the beautiful girl who sits next to him in school.” Then, at the table read, it had been changed to “Blah, blah, blah, cute and quirky.” I was like, “You don’t need to change it. Just keep it …” They’re like, “We better change this description or people will be like, wrong actress.” So, sometimes it feels … I don’t know. I never liked that word, “quirky.”

RICCI When you say that all of us had this description, that to me speaks to a past time, when, if you weren’t the leading-lady ingenue then you were quirky and offbeat. All right, so there’s two groups for actresses? In a way, I’m fine with being in the category I’m in because what it means to me is that I have made an effort in my career to do things that I feel like I haven’t seen before. So, in some ways, I like it. In other ways, I’m like, “Ugh.” It’s a little dismissive. A little cute and dismissive.

LEWIS We come from the ’90s where, when I had blond hair, I was the pretty airhead, and then I dyed my hair dark, and I was the wisecracking, sarcastic girl. But yeah, I think it’s really neat that we’ve all carved this path of range and specificity.

Isn’t another term for that “character actor”?

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RICCI But “character actress” used to be something they used to describe an ugly woman.

TAWNY CYPRESS Or Abe Vigoda.

RICCI Back in the late ’90s, my agents were always like, “We have to be so careful you don’t become a character actress. If we’re not careful, you’re going to end up just like Jennifer Jason Leigh.” I was like, “I like her.” They were so afraid of me not being a leading lady, of me not being sexually attractive to people. It was really the last thing I ever wanted, was for anyone to be attracted to me.

LEWIS My dad was a character actor. So to me, it was something that was super noble. It was a world of adventure and not limiting. I rebelled against the system, the PR system of being in some bizarre idea of beauty. I really revolted against that, for better or for worse. Crying in a bathroom at a photo shoot, like, “I won’t come out.” They want these doe-eyed looks. That’s for sure what I didn’t do in pictures, so I always looked slightly insane, which I prefer over, like, “Do you want to fuck me?”

Tawny, what was your sense of what the expectations were for you when you were starting out?

CYPRESS I’ve had a different row to hoe. I’ve spent my whole career doing shitty roles of the sassy one on the side. Honestly, growing up as an actor, I wanted to be an ingenue.

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LEWIS Isn’t that funny? And I wanted to be sassy and opinionated.

CYPRESS I couldn’t be an ingenue. I just couldn’t. It’s just not in me, you know? I was never presented with those roles, ever, and I was like, “Oh, OK. That’s not who I am.” I sort of, growing older, have embraced my Jersey side, and I am who I am, and this is what you get.

LYNSKEY I started calling myself a character actor in interviews when I was really young because I think it was reclaiming the term or something. I think I just was like, “That’s what I am.” My agents had all that kind of intensity around it, too. I remember when I did Coyote Ugly

RICCI Oh my God, you got a piece in that? I went up for that, and I didn’t get it.

CYPRESS I did too.

LYNSKEY I played the best friend from Jersey. But the scrutiny that was on Piper [Perabo], who’s one of the coolest, smartest women, just the way people were talking about her body, talking about her appearance, focusing on what she was eating. All the girls had this regimen they had to go on. It was ridiculous. I was already starving myself and as thin as I could possibly be for this body, and I was still a [size] four. That was already people putting a lot of Spanx on me in wardrobe fittings and being very disappointed when they saw me, the costume designer being like, “Nobody told me there would be girls like you.” Really intense feedback about my physicality, my body, people doing my makeup and being like, “I’m just going to help you out by giving you a bit more of a jawline and stuff.” Just the feedback was constantly like, “You’re not beautiful. You’re not beautiful.” In your early 20s, so much of it is about beauty, and how people respond to you, and do people want to fuck you? Do people think you’re their best friend? Even the best friend thing, I started to be like, “I don’t want to do that too many times.”

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Did you have to unlearn anything that people tried to teach you when you were starting out?

LEWIS I had developed such a survival mechanism to protect my autonomy, sort of, “You don’t own me. You don’t tell me my value. Only I do.” I was extremely self-critical — it still happens — of my work. It’s almost like a defense mechanism that no one could talk shit about me more than I can. There’s all these things that are wrapped up in how to survive a system. That’s what I’m unlearning today — to be softer. This is a really remarkable industry to be a part of. I feel honored to be a part of it and what it gave me, but I do still hold on to what it took from me in my youth.

Given what you all experienced coming into the industry, do you feel at all protective of the younger actresses who play the younger versions of your characters?

LYNSKEY (Begins to cry.) So much. I feel very protective. At the beginning of production, I sent them all an email, and I just was like, “Whatever you need, if you need a voice, if you need someone to go to the producers for you, whatever you need,” and they were kind of like, “Cool. Thanks.” They’re fine.

CYPRESS Totally fine. Jas [Jasmin Savoy Brown] was a boss on set. She’s like, “This is how we’re doing my hair. This is what we’re doing.”

RICCI They’re very much of a different generation.

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CYPRESS I am protective of Jas in the fact that she is so sexually positive, which I love. She has taught me so much, just knowing her as a person. But I’m like a mama bear to her, or a big sister. I’m like, “What are you putting online right now?” She’s like, “Whatever. Whatever. This is life, man. I love myself.” I’m protective, but I’m also in awe of her, you know?

LEWIS But there is a thing I always want to say to young people: Cultivate other interests deeply so that you’re not getting all your life’s blood from this industry, or your self-worth.

Is there anything you miss about the ’90s?

LYNSKEY I have a lot of love letters from the ’90s.

RICCI Someone used to fax me love letters when he was on tour. I did not save them. I throw everything out. I had a specific thing when I was a child, that we would be punished by the things that we loved being destroyed. My husband, who is a much healthier individual, has gone back and found all my old magazine covers on Etsy because he thinks it’s horrible that I never saved them. As a child, I learned that this is going to be taken from me, so why save it anyway?

LYNSKEY That’s heartbreaking. Well, I saved everything because I’m basically an emotional hoarder. I have this literal suitcase, an old-fashioned suitcase.

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RICCI This is very dark, but I would just like to go back to that age and do it over again and not make so many fucking mistakes. Honestly, I regret so much.

CYPRESS Me too. One thousand percent.

LEWIS Me too.

RICCI I’d like to go back to 1996 and be like, “All right … we had a practice run. It went OK, but it wasn’t really as great as we wanted it to be. We’re going to do this again.” People who are like, “I have no regrets.” What fucking magic life did you live?

LEWIS Where they go, “I don’t regret anything because that led up to this moment.” Really? The thing that could’ve put my dad in an early grave, I fucking regret it. Yes. I was very scary as a young teenage person.

CYPRESS Yeah. I hurt a lot of people growing up, and I wish that I didn’t. I was going through my memory box. It was my great-great-grandmother’s she brought over from Hungary. It’s huge, and it’s filled to the brim with everything from my life. I came across a note from high school. It was my first gay friend, and it broke my heart because he was like, “I want to thank you for not talking to me anymore and just cutting me off the way that you did. It made it hurt less.” I literally was crying, and I had to call him and be like, “I just came across this note, and I’m so sorry that I was that person to you.” When I think back, I think how wonderful our relationship was, but I was a shit, you know? I would definitely do so many things differently.

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LEWIS I’ve had those moments where I turned into … Because I’ve been bullied, but when I was 11 and got in a fight with a girl, I was mean [the same way] how a girl was mean to me. I was really vicious.

LYNSKEY I think people without regrets are narcissists. I think they’re lying to themselves.

RICCI Denial is the only way to get up that river.

What did you all feel when you learned that Roe v. Wade was overturned?

RICCI It’s really horrible to be told so plainly what your value is.

LEWIS I wish the two factions can talk, like, “Hey, what do you do with a bad situation, poverty and drug addiction, and rape?” You have to have an option that is salvageable or is sustainable for the survival of a person, a woman who’s living.

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CYPRESS I don’t really give a shit what your reason to have an abortion is. It’s your fucking body. I don’t really fucking care. You don’t want to be a mom, right? That’s your fucking decision. Look, we can put morals on it and say, “Well, only when you’re raped, or only if it’s …” It’s like no, dude. It’s either in or out. We’re either telling women what to do with their bodies or we let them have their own choice. I am of the mind, choice. I’m not going to judge you for making that decision.

LYNSKEY And there seems to be this general lack of compassion and empathy that’s just growing and growing. There’s so much hatred, and people are unable to look at another person’s life and go, “Oh, you know, that’s an untenable situation,” or even, “That’s a difficult situation.” There’s no grace given to anybody else. There’s no empathy. You don’t get to make decisions for somebody else. You don’t know what’s right for them.

Is there a place for TV and film in that conversation?

CYPRESS I mean, that’s what TV and film do. That’s what art is. On Yellowjackets, let’s talk about Shauna’s baby in the woods, you know? Yeah. I think we have a lot of room to speak on this subject, and I hope we do.

Did anybody have their kids on set for season one?

LYNSKEY (Points to Ricci.) We did.

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RICCI And I was pregnant. I didn’t tell anyone but these ladies that I was pregnant for six months. When we started, I was six weeks pregnant. It was difficult. There were so many times where I was like, “Ooh, when they find out I’m pregnant, and they made me sit in this smoky room all day. When they realize that they made me stand for eight hours, and I’m pregnant, and I have this horrible sciatica, and it’s 100 degrees, oh, they’re going to feel so bad.” They didn’t feel bad at all. But anyway, it was fine. In fact, it would’ve been helpful if I was playing a more emotional character because I can give a real good performance when I’m pregnant, real emo.

How would you finish the sentence, “Yellowjackets is really about …”?

CYPRESS Women. PTSD.

LYNSKEY Trauma.

CYPRESS Friendship.

RICCI Haunting, the way trauma haunts you. The way you can never escape. The way it twists people in different ways.

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LEWIS Aberrant survival tactics.

We know that these characters have done a bunch of aberrant things, as you say, including cannibalism. But do you have in your mind an idea that, “OK, she may have eaten another human being, but she would never do this“?

RICCI I know when they confront me because I’m like, “OK, she wouldn’t do that.” Misty wouldn’t drink that drink. Originally, in the script, she was drinking a Brandy Alexander, and I said, “No, Misty would drink a chocolate martini.” I have rules and stuff for her in my head, and they do conflict with the writers sometimes. I don’t think she actually is interested in men, at all. I think she does it because she’s bored, or because she thinks that’s what she’s supposed to do. Then, she’s also realized that she can have a lot of fun trying to trick them into having sex with her when they don’t want to. It’s like men will kind of know that you don’t want to have sex with them, but if they can get you to have sex with them, they won.

LEWIS It’s a power thing.

RICCI Misty’s way of doing it is through this really horrible manipulation, making him feel guilty and having sex with her while feeling guilty, which would be a terrible experience.

When you have a different perspective on your character than the writers, what do you do?

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RICCI That’s part of the thing with TV that I’ve learned now, being involved in a production but not being one of the EPs, so you aren’t a part of creating what people do. “OK, they wrote this scene. I have to play this scene. If she was in this situation, how the fuck would she be in this situation, and why would she be?” Then, you don’t have to tell other people what you come up with. They can find out about it later when you do press.

Does anybody else have a line in their mind that their character wouldn’t cross?

LYNSKEY I had one. There was something written into a script where I was going on a date with my lover, and they had me going into my daughter’s bedroom and taking her underwear, which was just not practical because I wouldn’t fit it. She’s little. But also, ew. I think there was something, apparently, somewhere, people liked the thing in the pilot where I’m masturbating in my daughter’s bedroom. I was like, “Can that just be an isolated incident? I don’t want it to be a theme.” So I just was like, “I don’t want to do that.” They were great about it.

LEWIS It comes, I think, with experience and respect, that they appreciate if you have a point of view. I have an “anything goes” stamp on me, which they all know. But I have strong ideas, especially about my trajectory in midlife. I’ve looked at Natural Born Killers recently, and I’m like, “Jesus.” Thank goodness I had a partner like Woody Harrelson, but it is so sexual. No one forced me into that. I was a young nihilist who didn’t give a fuck, and I felt comfortable with Woody, and I liked the material. But nowadays, I’m very particular. So, they had written a sex scene, and I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know that she even gets off. I don’t know that she even can have orgasms.” That’s how deep I went. So it was more like, is she doing something to get something? At the end of the day, I just didn’t even think she fucks, sorry to be so graphic, at this juncture that you saw in season one. I think she might’ve had relationships with all of them in the wilderness. I don’t know if they’re going to write it, but that’s what I’d like to think of Natalie.

LYNSKEY That’s what I think too.

RICCI What? I never thought of that. Who would they be making out with? I guess each other.

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The finale hints that there may be additional Yellowjackets who survived into adulthood. Have actors been cast for those roles?

LEWIS Wait, Melanie, didn’t you say that on our chain, that someone we like is cast to be … (At this point there is meaningful eye contact among the four women.)

RICCI We don’t know for sure. That’s what we’ve heard was close to happening.

LYNSKEY We don’t know anything.

On season one, you were making this show under the radar. Now there’s so much fan speculation. Does that change the way you approach the work?

RICCI There’s more pressure going into season two.

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CYPRESS Have you guys also had that feeling of like, “Can I do this? Is it going to be good, the second season? Am I going to fuck this character up?”

LYNSKEY I have those fears.

RICCI Me too, but because TV is so fast, and you have so little time with the information, the process of talking about the show afterward helps you to evolve your take on your character. To understand things that were intended with the character that maybe weren’t clear originally because you get to hear the EPs talk about it. I’m going to make changes in the next season based on what I have come to realize through all this talking.

Like what?

RICCI Well, that’s a secret.

How much do you want to know about the path that your character is on?

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CYPRESS Fuck, I want to know everything. I sit there, and when I think about the show, I think, “What the fuck are they going to do with this character?” There’s so many different parts to her right now. The dog thing. She’s now a senator. There may be an old love coming back, you know? I’m like, “How are they going to do this?” I just want to know.

LYNSKEY Now you’re a full-time dog killer.

RICCI I didn’t even know that you were supposed to be the one that killed the dog.

CYPRESS What?

RICCI I thought, “Oh, well maybe somebody broke in.”

LYNSKEY That could still be, right?

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CYPRESS Wait, give me more to think about.

So you don’t go to the writers and say, “To be clear, did I kill the dog?”

CYPRESS Oh, we do. They just say, “Mmm.”

RICCI “We don’t know.”

CYPRESS But they do know.

RICCI I don’t think they’re trying to control us with no information or anything. Sometimes, they don’t want to commit to something that hasn’t been necessarily set in stone. I do find it frustrating to not know, and we’re never able to know fully. I have decided to learn how to function with knowing nothing.

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Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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James Gunn Addresses Peacemaker Future Amid Batgirl Cancelation

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James Gunn Addresses Peacemaker Future Amid Batgirl Cancelation

Shockwaves from Warner Bros.’s cancelation of Batgirl have had many fans questioning the possibility of other DC-connected projects following suit. Amid outcries from fans of Batgirl, Michael Keaton, Brendan Fraser, and even Snyderverse fans who are always eager to picket Warner Bros., Peacemaker fans started asking James Gunn whether there was any possibility that his DC work was going to suffer amid the company’s cost-cutting exercise. Ironically, considering the history that led James Gunn to work with DCEU characters, it seems that the director and his shows are the only ones who are “safe.”

What seems like a lifetime ago, James Gunn was all set to start work on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 for Disney and Marvel Studios when some old Twitter posts led to him being unceremoniously sacked. By the time Disney backtracked on their firing, Gunn was already committed to directing The Suicide Squad for Warner Bros., which is why Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has taken so long to arrive. Now, during all the chaos at Warner Bros., it appears that Gunn is not worried at all about the second season of Peacemaker getting the ax. When asked if the show was safe, Gunn simply replied:

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“Yes, guys, calm down.”

That is a relief for fans of the small sub-universe Gunn is building inside the DCEU, which along with The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker, is set to include at least another unannounced project and be linked to the Amanda Waller series that is in development. At least that side of the franchise doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.


Related: Peacemaker: Will More Suicide Squad Members Appear in Season 2?

Is Warner Bros. Still Planning on Rebooting The DCEU?

There have been rumors of a “soft-reboot” coming to the DCEU for a long time, and while it seems at times like Warner Bros. is heading in that direction, they have constantly denied any such intention. During San Diego Comic-Con, the entire focus of the Warner Bros. live-action DC panel was on Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Both of these movies have their small links to the wider DCEU, and once again, Warner Bros. seemed to be causing confusion by including a Justice League montage within the Shazam sequel while at the same time professing that they are not revisiting that particular DCEU set up in any way.

One thing clear from Dwayne Johnson’s appearance at SDCC is that he believes that Black Adam is setting the tone for a new DCEU, and based on everything else that is happening, he could be right. While there is no way of telling exactly where the franchise will be heading beyond The Flash in 2023, with new additional entries like Wonder Woman 3 constantly being stuck in limbo, it has been made clear that some big changes are being made in regards to the DCEU and fans will be hoping that those changes bring some kind of consistency to the franchise before it ends up crashing down around itself.

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