Buzz, buzz, buzz. Showtime’s Yellowjackets series is back for season two. And as the fans return to the wilderness for more, Nerdist sat down with Warren Kole, who plays Yellowjackets‘ Jeff Sadecki. On the show, Jeff begins life as a seemingly simplistic character. He dates popular team captain Jackie but cheats with her best friend, Shauna, and accidentally gets her pregnant. But in adult life, we see Jeff, with the help of Kole, grow into something more. As season two begins to reveal its mysteries, Kole gave us the run-down on Jeff, sharing his thoughts on Jeff’s motivations, his place in Yellowjackets‘ narrative, his relationship to the wilderness and madness of the story, his hilarious book club line, and much more.
Nerdist: On Yellowjackets, Jeff plays a role that seems familiar for a story that starts in high school. He’s the one-time prom king with a popular girlfriend he’s secretly cheating on, and maybe not the brightest bulb around. But throughout Yellowjackets‘ season one and into the first episode of season two, that archetype continues to become more complicated in his adult life.
We see Jeff stand up for Shauna very ardently. He’s one of the few characters who does actually know what happened out there in the wilderness, and he takes on maybe more of his fair share of the blame for everything that happened with Adam. And in season two, we see he’s ready to take on murder from Shauna. That’s a lot for a former prom king. What do you think drives Jeff to accept everything that’s kind of thrown at him when he could have just had this simple life he seemed destined for? And what’s it like to play a character that really complicates a trope so well?
Warren Kole: Well, Jeff is the first of his kind that I’ve had the fortune of portraying. I actually really like Jeff. I think he’d be a good guy to have on your team; maybe not the captain of the team but definitely a teammate. He’s simple. We view him in a certain way. I’m not sure he views himself that way or ever has really come to terms with that until he and Shauna just clear the smoke and start being honest. Then these dominoes of confession start coming out. And I guess the audience finds, basically, don’t underestimate him, but also, he’s extremely loyal to Shauna.
And so he’s got the qualities of a Labrador in a way. He kind of sees what’s in front of him, but he is quick to come to his master’s defense. He wants to hold his household together. I think he has to come to terms with some things by the end of season one.
And I don’t think Jeff really realized this until he had that dinner with Jackie’s parents in Yellowjackets season one, where it’s just this pecking party, and it’s just this beating, this beat down. And it’s implied that it’s just this annual flagellation that these two put themselves through because they feel guilty about Jackie. But he realizes, somewhere in there, he wakes up enough to realize, “Hey, Shauna’s really the target here, and by being quiet, I’m sort of complicit. Her parents might think that I agree. I do wish I was with Jackie. I do think Shauna deserves this every year.”
Once it finally dawns on him, though, he’s quick to declare his allegiance and stand up for Shauna. I think that that was a really good insight on him. And it helped me as these episodes kept coming to root this guy and really know who he was.
Now that Shauna and Jeff are literally partners in crime going into season two of Yellowjackets? Well, he’s still him, so he’s still going to be fragiley optimistic about the good things. But he’s also got his ego, and he’s got plenty of it. He wants to prove he’s worthy of Shauna. He wants to prove that he’s an exciting partner.
I always thought that Jeff, it’s not in the script, but when he read Shauna’s journals, I always thought that he would fantasize about what he would’ve done if he were there. And now, surely, he mythologized this fantasy or himself within it, saving the day in some way. And here, he has this chance to be this lionized version of himself. He has to confront that expectation, really… He can’t meet that. It’s painfully clear that Jeff just isn’t that. But God bless him. He is trying, and he’s there. He’s not running away.
Do you think Jeff wishes he had been in the crash with Shauna and Jackie, or do you think that he just fantasizes about it?
Kole: I think Jeff wishes he had survived. I think he wishes he could have saved the day, could have been that guy. He’s one of these guys. He peaked at 17, and he was part of the in-crowd. And I think he still hangs on to that image, as foolish as it may be. So there’s a simplicity there. But there’s a lot of potential too, because there’s a lot of room for him to wake up and grow up a bit as the story progresses. And this crisis forces him and Shauna to face each other, face themselves, and survive.
Jeff and Shauna are finally a team on Yellowjackets, where before, she was kind of a team with her teammates, but now they’re keeping the secret from her teammates. So they’ve finally gotten to this place where they’re equals.
Kole: Yeah, there’s clarity in it, and it’s like there’s a cleansing in there with their marriage.
So based off of that, a theme that Yellowjackets plays with a lot is whether madness comes from existing in society’s norms or from defying them and going against them. And we kind of see in the first episode of Yellowjackets season two that Jeff goes into this place where he embraces the madness in a sense, even though it would be a last resort. Do you think that Jeff has space to continue this acceptance of this madness that Shauna’s a part of and this atypical life and relationship that she seems to crave? Or do you think that the idea of normalcy will always pull him back?
Kole: Good question. Don’t want to spoil anything in answering it. But I think, again, Jeff, he’s sort of myopic. He thinks, “What’s today’s problem, and what’s eating him?” And if what’s eating him is that he can’t get over, more superficially, that Shauna cheated on him or, more disturbingly, that his wife is reconstituting into her savage, dark self that he only read about, that’s what he addresses.
I think he wants to just hold the world together, and he wants Shauna to love him. Those are the main drivers. He wants Shauna to love him. But how much he can take? How many body blows can he take before he goes crazy or grows up and just transforms himself to accommodate the situation, or he gives up? That’s a great question, and I think it’s that part of the tension that we want to hold onto in terms of Jeff and Shauna.
You can really feel that, and I think you can see him slide a little bit into somewhere where maybe he has experienced it, and maybe he even liked it. But maybe he’s not ready yet to be like, “I’m going to go full savage with you in New Jersey.“
Kole: He knows he’s in over his head. He gets an inkling of what’s needed, what’s required of him. But Shauna is just a much deeper person than he is, and the fact that the same goes for the other way. She looks over at Jeff, and she sees maybe a reflection of her manifested trauma, her underachievement. But that’s all part of the subtext, and it kind of makes it so interesting.
Exactly. So Jeff is one of the few men kicking around in Yellowjackets‘ adult world in the story that’s all about women’s rage, freedom, and their evolution. Where do you think Jeff fits into that narrative, and what do you think he ultimately really wants from the story?
Kole: I think Jeff might represent an older set of values, culturally. Not that he is necessarily a close-minded guy who’s absolutely set in his ways. He’s just a product of what he grew up in. And that’s a suburban, strange kind of world where priorities are what they are. And it can be a bit of a heart killer, which is where we find him at the beginning of the show.
Ultimately, Jeff wants to be… I think he wants to save day. He wants to prove himself as the big man on campus that he thinks he is. But again, he really wants to hold his household and his world together, his family. And he wants to truly earn Shauna’s love and respect.
Well, I hope he can accomplish that.
Kole: You never know. The guy will surprise you.
In Yellowjackets season one, Jeff’s “There’s no book club?!” line really took off on the internet. Something that Jeff does is add a little levity to this dark world, not in a way that we’re laughing at him, but just that we’re relieved to be able to have this moment of normalcy and humor. Do you think there are any moments like that for Jeff coming up in the season that we should look forward to?
Kole: I hope so. It’s all there and certainly was in the scripts. We didn’t want to say, “Hey, this could be another great, well-earned button like Book Club.” It reveals so much but also lets go of some of the very dark tension that’s in this show. But yeah, these guys are writing really good stuff. So maybe there are some meme-worthy lines on the way.