In the superficial hierarchy of the young adult, yellow jackets Queen Bee Jackie Taylor (Ella Purnell) has a perfect life.
Pretty, wealthy and popular, the suburban New Jersey teenager on Showtime’s horror series is captain of a star women’s soccer team in 1996 and has big plans to go to Rutgers – assuming, without really ask, that she’ll be living with her best friend from high school, Shauna (Sophie Nelisse), and that their dorm will be pink and green. Of course, her boyfriend, Jeff (Jack Depew), is kind of a jerk. But it’s really just for show anyway.
Then the private plane carrying Jackie, her teammates and their coaches to a national tournament crashes in the middle of a spooky forest. For Jackie and the other crash survivors, social constructs of what makes someone capable of killing him in high school mean nothing if they’re all going to starve to death.
But in the same way that Jackie has to prove herself to her teammates, Purnell and the others involved in the show had to convince audiences that she was someone worth cheering on and that there had more to her story than just being a stereotypical bad girl. .
“I think there were a lot of people who came in thinking, it’s going to be Regina George,” Ashley Lyle, who created and directs the series with her husband Bart Nickerson, said of some of the actors who auditioned for the role. “That was absolutely not what we wanted. We wanted someone who had a natural, inherent fragility just under the perfect, beautiful surface.…In my experience, there is no teenager without insecurity. .
Purnell didn’t want the queen bee trope either, although the 25-year-old has encountered it many times over her career. “I was definitely done playing something close to the stereotypical, so I wanted to make sure she was vulnerable,” she says. “Maybe she’s saying things that seem a little insensitive, but that’s only because she’s insecure.”
Ironically, in a move very similar to Jackie’s, Purnell got the role with minimal effort. She was shooting the zombie movie army of the dead during the casting and only had time to send in a self-tape of one of the three audition scenes – something she is embarrassed to admit, calling the move “unprofessional” and l audition of “pure shit”. But it was enough to make casting directors Junie Lowry Johnson and Libby Goldstein send Lyle and Nickerson an urgent email, with what Nickerson says is “a million exclamation marks”, telling them to watch the audition immediately. The duo watched Purnell take on Jackie in a van while on location scouting, with Nickerson risking motion sickness to do so.
Purnell is so suited to the part that one of the most iconic images of her in the role is actually just from B-roll pilot footage of the actor goofing off on set. The scene, shown in the opening credits, is made to look like archival footage: Jackie, in her football uniform, pretends to threaten an opponent by mimicking slitting her throat before turning to face the camera with a smirk. When Purnell saw the credits, she couldn’t even remember filming the clip and had to turn to the yellow jackets group chat to ask when it was shot.
Pre-crash: on the way to the national championships
The first time we really see Jackie is in the pilot. She’s on the soccer field and, thanks to a surprise header, scores the game-winning goal that puts her team in the top seed for a national tournament in Seattle.