YELLOWJACKETS Star Tawny Cypress on Taissa’s Narcissism and Creating the Other Tai

Yellowjackets season two is in full swing with two timelines that are leaving us with a lot of questions. There are a ton of theories and discourse about whether the wilderness wields supernatural power, Lottie’s community, and, of course, what that symbol actually means. But, in terms of characters, there’s no one quite as baffling as Taissa “Tai” Turner.

Bad Tai (or is she evil),  played by Tawny Cypress, looks at regular tai in the mirror in yellowjackets

The newly minted New Jersey State Senator is certainly not doing her job because, well, she’s currently in a crisis. (Yes, that’s putting it lightly but ease up off, sis; she’s trying her best!) Tai’s other identity is pushing her in another direction and, in the past timeline, we are still seeing glimpses of that man with no eyes. What the hell is going on with Tai? There are no clear answers to that question in Yellowjackets so far, but we do know that we are loving what Tawny Cypress is doing with this character. Nerdist caught up with her to talk about crafting the Other Tai’s persona, seeing more of the Eyeless Man, and how Tai’s narcissism contributed to sending her life into a spiral. 

Nerdist: There’s been a lot of discourse around Lottie and all of her spiritual power in the wilderness, but Tai also exerts a lot of unexplainable power there as well. How deeply is Tai connected to all the questions we have about what really happened out there?

Tawny Cypress: I don’t know if [the Yellowjackets showrunners] will ever answer supernatural questions, and I think it’s really interesting to watch the show and interpret it the way you want. My favorite arguments on Reddit are the ones, “It’s trauma… No, it’s supernatural.” …The thing about Tai’s story is that it’s a slow burn. It’s the long run. There are a lot of stories that come and go, but her story’s going to take up multiple seasons, which is great for me as an actor. But I know it’s unsatisfying to people watching and who want to know the answers right away. I want to know the answers too.

It’s all a part of taking that journey, right? It has been interesting to watch Tai’s journey because up until recently, she lived this life that was the classic definition of what it means to be successful with her political career and stable home life. How do you think the path that she’s taken so far has contributed to the crisis that she’s in now?

Cypress: I think it’s directly related. She took a big slice of the cake… She’s a selfish woman, and she took it a step too far [by running for state senator]. Now, does it also have to do with the other women coming back into her life? Possibly yes, with stirring up those old feelings. But she really felt very safe in her narcissism, and she thought everything was good. Other Tai hadn’t been around for decades, so there was no reason not to make her life everything she ever wanted and more. But I definitely think the stress of all that led to her breaking.

Tai Turner played by Tawny Cypress  stands in a room doing a meeting in Yellowjackets
Kimberley French/SHOWTIME

Her relentless ambition did seem to get the best of her! I’m so glad you brought up Other Tai because she’s such a fascinating persona. She’s a little frightening, but I also think she’s fabulous, honestly. She might be my favorite.

Cypress: I think she’s fabulous, too!

What went into crafting the Other Tai’s personality, motivations, and her physicality? Did you draw from specific resources or something else to create this persona?  

Cypress: First of all, I want to make it very clear that I do not approach Other Tai as being a split personality or dissociative state… there’s no DID ( dissociative identity disorder) going on here. I would never, and I don’t think the writers of the show would ever presume to know or to try and portray that on screen. What I’m doing would not be an accurate portrayal of DID. Basically, the creators of the show and I sat down and threw ideas and questions back and forth… 

It was really the purest form of play I’ve ever done as an actor because she’s not based on anything; she’s just based on want and desire. She has no moral compass. She gets things done. She does what she needs to do, and we don’t think of her as evil. There’s this thing going around, “Evil Tai” or “The Bad One,” like Sammy calls her. We don’t think of her as evil. We just think of her as this unformed mass of getting shit done.

Tai on Yellowjackets watches as her evil reflection of her other identity holds up a sign to her eye
Colin Bentley/Showtime

Thank you for clarifying that about Tai. I love that she’s so fun for you to portray. It’s interesting that Taissa rejects this other part of herself. Why do you think she’s decided to repress the Other Tai? And if she were to embrace this part of herself, how could that change her life?

Cypress: Tai grew up a half-Black, gay woman in 1990s New Jersey. She doesn’t need anything to be more different! This Other Tai freaks her out. It will freak anybody out. Another person might get help from a doctor, but Taissa is a narcissist. And she is going to make her life exactly what it’s supposed to be and going to be perfect. Other Tai makes her less perfect, so she has to get rid of that. And she has no questions. She’s not like, “Why is this happening to me?” She never asks that. She’s just like, “Go away. Get rid of it. How do I get rid of it?” Just so that she could be as normal as possible.

Absolutely. So what do you think that Taissa ultimately wants for her life right now? She’s got her family that almost seems irretrievably broken, but now Van is back in the picture. What do you think she ultimately wants to be happy and to feel fulfilled?

Cypress: As impossible as it is or would be, I definitely think Taissa wants to go back in time to before she ran for Senate and just have her happy life and her perfect family, and that’s all she wants. God, if she could just go back a few weeks and do it all over, she’d do it so differently. She wants Simone and Sammy. Not because they’re her family and she loves them, mind you, because everything she does comes to a selfish place. She wants that because that was perfect. It looked perfect. It was perfect. She was normal, and that’s what she wants.

Tai and Van stand in front of each other in Van's apartment on Yellowjackets
Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

And what about Van? Can having Van in her life coexist with this family picture? 

Cypress: Well, Van, as we’ve seen in her youth, is the only one that ever, that we know of, who talked to the Other Tai. So in her selfishness, she inserts herself back into Van’s life in an effort to try and get rid of this Other Tai. Van is her immediate future because she’s the one that’s going to help Tai get through this so that she can go back to her family. It’s all very selfish.

She’s going back to her childhood love to have that love fix her life so that she can go back to her perfect life in Jersey City with her wife and son. It’s a horrible way to be, but Van is the key for her. And she’s willing to do anything that Van tells her to do.

Oh goodness. So, I want to ask about the man with no eyes. Will we be seeing more of that character in adult Tai’s life, or is she trying to suppress him like she did with the Other Tai?

Cypress: You’re going to see him. I don’t know how much more he appears this season, I can’t totally remember, honestly. But now he’s a major part of both Tai’s timelines. In fact, here’s a little tidbit of information. When Tai discovers the shrine down in her basement in episode one of season two, there’s a shot where he’s standing behind her. He’s in the f**king corner behind her, and there’s an actual shot where Tai turns around and sees him and freaks out. And that [scene] was cut, which much to [actor Brody Logan Romhanyi’s] chagrin because he loves being the creepy guy. He was like, “They cut me out!”

The eyeless man in Yellowjackets season one credits


Cypress: I know. But yeah, so he was actually in the season more than he appears. That is part of her long story. They have not even told me what that means, and I don’t ask because I don’t like to act with future knowledge. Tai doesn’t know what the man with no eyes means, so I don’t want to know yet, either. One day I’m going to find out, and it’s going to freak me out, for sure.

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