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Interview: ‘Yellowjackets’ Star Nuha Jes Izman Talks Crystal’s Tragic Ending

Is it Crystal, or Cliffstal?

Nuha Jes Izman as Crystal in Season 2 of Yellowjackets (Showtime)

Following a breakout first season that garnered near-universal praise and earned the series a loyal following of diehard fans, Showtime’s mystery-horror drama series Yellowjackets is now in the middle of its second season. In addition to the already impressive ensemble cast, Yellowjackets season two features a number of newcomers, including Elijah Wood and Nuha Jes Izman as Crystal, a musical theatre-loving crash survivor who strikes up a close bond with Misty (Samantha Hanratty).

The Mary Sue had the opportunity to chat with Izman about her role on the show, what it was like joining such an impressive cast, and why Crystal resonates so distinctly with audiences.

Spoilers for Yellowjackets through season 2, episode 5. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Lauren Coates (TMS): I just wanted to start off by saying congratulations on an amazing season. I run in a bunch of online fan circles, and when I told everybody I was gonna get to talk to you, they all just wanted me to give you their love and tell you how amazing everyone think you were in the show. So I hope you know how well loved you are by the fans.

Nuha Jes Izman: Oh, thank you so much. Thank you. That, that means a lot to me. I think like coming onto the show, I’m like, I don’t know, there’s something about why I do what I do. And I like that the characters resonated so much with, you know, people who might not have fit in or, you know, they feel a sense of being seen through her. So that really means a lot.

TMS: Was that something that you could relate to in Crystal’s storyline personally? The feeling of not being seen? Is that something you found in yourself when you were developing the character?

NJI: Yeah, definitely. I think with her, it’s, you know, the sense of not being seen but also being seen in a light that wasn’t very nice. She just wanted to be herself but just kept getting shit thrown out by other people all the time. Constantly butt of the joke and like, no one really cared about her, but she still held her guns and wanted to be who she really was, authentically.

I mean, you see that in her death, as well. I think that’s just the tragedy of Crystal, even at the end, Misty comes in and says that she’s missing, but everyone can only kind of seem to care about Taissa and Shauna. And I think it’s so bittersweet, you know, she wanted to be center stage, but even in her death, it’s like no one really cares that much about her.

TMS: How did you sort of develop Crystal on your own as a character, even outside of the relationships with the other Yellowjackets? How did you find her as a her own person?

NJI: People say writers write what they know. I like to approach a character with the kind of experience and life experience that I personally have. And so it’s dynamics that I’m familiar with, personality traits that I’m familiar with. I looked at Crystal and I immediately recognized a girl who is fearless and who, if she wasn’t stuck out in the woods, was finally at a point of her life of figuring out who she was. She’s at that age where she’s finally figuring out who she is, what she likes, what makes her happy, but it turns out she’s stuck in the woods and finding herself out there.

I think at this point in the woods, they needed someone who still had this childlike wonder and hope. I think Crystal brought that to the group like their final little piece of hope and silliness. Once she’s gone, you kind of see those last few bits of hope get stripped away from the group as well. Coming in, I was just trying to understand where my dynamic fit in with the group. I understood that my role in large part was to support Misty as a character, so it was really fun to work with Samantha and help bring that version of Misty to life.

TMS: You talk about finding Crystal’s place within the group. What was it like to find your place in the cast of Yellowjackets?

NJI: I think a lot of it mirrored [the show]. As Crystal got closer to the group, I got closer to the group. They’re all so lovely, all the actors on our show. Not only are they such incredible artists, they’re such nice human beings, so it was really easy for me to fit in. I was so nervous, but they accepted me and welcomed me with open arms, and I’m really lucky that I got that.

TMS: You were a fan of the show before joining, right? Was it surreal to then come into a cast with so many big names?

NJI: I was a huge fan. It was so nerve-racking. I say this a lot, but it’s like I wanted it for so long and then you finally get it, and you have a second where you take a step back and you’re almost like, wait, am I ready for this? Do I actually know what I’m doing? Can I actually do this? But like I said, they were all so supportive and I knew they all had my back.

And it made doing my job a lot less scary. I was first day jitters, but then after the first day, I wasn’t nervous anymore. I could just come in and work and that was the most important part, just being able to work comfortably with them. But it’s so exciting. There’s big, big names on our show, and they’ve all earned their place in the industry. Every single one of them have worked so hard to get to where they are, so getting to stand amidst them was such an incredible honor. I learned so much.

TMS: Was there anything in particular that you’ve taken from the experience of working on Yellowjackets that you didn’t expect to come out with?

NJI: Yeah! I worked a lot with Samantha Hanratty, who plays Misty, and she just created such a safe space for me, which I really respected a lot. She gave me the space to feel like I could be bold and make choices that otherwise I might have been a little too nervous to make. She was like, “You have to trust yourself, do whatever, whatever you wanna do and I’ll be here and we’ll just play.”

And I think that’s my biggest takeaway—I want to bring that into the next set that I work on—is just trying to create the safest space possible for my scene partner so that they can feel confident and brave enough to make exciting choices.

TMS: I’m so happy that you’ve all found that chemistry because it comes through on the screen in a really big way.

NJI: I’m so glad. And I think we all understand like at the end of the day, we’re telling these girls’ stories. We’re given such an incredible platform to do so—our writers are incredible and they’ve given us amazing material to work on. I think we all just recognize how incredibly lucky we are to get to work on something so special like this show.

TMS: I know we didn’t get to really explore this sort of side of Crystal on this show, but I wanted to get your opinion: Where did Crystal fall on the spectrum of belief in Lottie’s cult? She was partaking in the cannibalism and the rituals, but we didn’t really get to see her grapple with that.

NJI: I’m really excited that you asked me that actually! Once we got the scripts and we realized, OK, some of us are gonna be a part of this early on, and some trickle in, so what are our actual thoughts and opinions on it? I think Crystal is there, more than anything, for Misty. I think Misty brought her on, and so she decided she was gonna sit in for all of the group morning circles. It was just this fun, exciting thing to do out there.

It’s like another role Crystal gets to play. I don’t think she actually believed in any of it. You see little moments in the background, every time someone says something in support of the cult, (I don’t know if it got picked up on) but Crystal’s almost like, uh-huh. Yeah. Ok. Sure. So I don’t think she [believed]. I don’t think so. I think she’s got a very logical, steady head on her shoulders. She was just having fun with it.

TMS: To me that sounds a lot like why Misty is joined, which isn’t “Oh, I’m a huge believer in cults,” but instead is more “Oh, this is a great way to make friends and something to be part of.”

NJI: Exactly. It’s something to be part of. I think what we saw in season one with, you know, Jackie’s downfall and untimely death was this sort of strip away of the social hierarchy, the high school cliques. But you kind of see it start to trickle back in, and this time it’s manifesting itself in something else. As the season progresses, you start to see this real fight for whether or not people do believe in what’s going on out there. It’s something to cling on to—these girls have been stuck out in the woods for so long now, you know—the hope that someone’s gonna come and find them is slowly just fading day by day. They need something to believe in. And I think that’s what Lottie can provide.

TMS: Obviously, we see Crystal isn’t very happy when Misty’s secret [the destruction of the black box in season 1] comes out. But if Crystal had made it off that cliff alive, do you think she was immediately going back and spilling the beans?

NJI: I don’t think she would have. No, I don’t think she would have told anyone. I think there’s a moment of betrayal—me and Samantha have talked about this. There’s a strong sense of betrayal when she finds out that her friend is responsible for them still being stuck out there. She’s upset with her and obviously she doesn’t want to be around on her anymore, but I don’t think she would have gone back and told on her because of Crystal’s love for Misty and Misty’s love for Crystal.

Their love started off really strong, and it only grew and grew as they got to know each other. And I don’t think it would have done any good! Like, what was it gonna do, ratting out on Misty? Misty is her only friend out there, and I don’t think Crystal is the kind of person to just spill the beans so that she can have an in with the rest of the group. She would have gone back and said, “I’m not your friend anymore. Don’t hang out with me,” but she wouldn’t have ratted out.

TMS: That’s the beautiful tragedy of this show. She died for nothing.

NJI: Yeah. I think that’s honestly what it is, too. She died for nothing. I think it was a huge miscommunication. It just happened so fast and so out of nowhere, and I think that’s the tragedy of Crystal, too. The audience doesn’t really get to know her as much, either. It just shows how high the stakes are in those woods—anything could happen to any of them. She comes and then she goes so fast. It’s so tragic.

TMS: The fans have given Crystal a nicknamne, “Cliffstal”—have you heard that?

NJI: I know (laughs), they’re so funny. I think our fan base are all so smart and so hilarious. Just all of the memes that they’ve been coming up with and the nicknames like “Snackie” (Jackie) and “Cliffstal.”

TMS: I think the fans’ sense of humor is rooted in the writing of the show. Crystal and Misty especially, it’s kind of like a surreal sense of humor born from tragedy. What’s it like on set, trying to strike the balance between, oh, my character is funny, but, oh, she’s a walking tragedy.

NJI: It’s actually really, really hard. If you look at just the stuff that Crystal and Misty have to say, like, in the script of it. Oh my God. It’s like you read a script and you’re like, “Oh, I’m supposed to say that I absorbed my identical twin in the womb” or like, “I watch my parents having sex and I wasn’t completely grossed out by it,” and you’re like, God, it’s so funny and it’s so out of pocket. But these are also real girls, and we don’t want to turn them into complete caricatures.

So it’s “How do I justify this line?” And at the end of the day, their comedy really does come from a sense of, I want to say like, I’m not cool. And so I know I’m the butt of the joke. I recognize I’m the butt of the joke. And so that’s the role that I can play. So I’m gonna find the weirdest things to say to make you laugh because that gives me a sense of validation that I’m playing my part in the dynamic of it all. I think at the end of the day, all the silly stuff they do—obviously they have fun and they love doing it—but it comes from trying to make other people laugh. There’s still a reach for that sense of validation.

TMS: I think everyone can recognize a little bit of having done that themselves.

NJI: I know we all would hope that we would be like the “Natalie” of the group, but I think, for the most part, we end up being the ones who are really just trying to struggle and fit in, like [Crystal and Misty] are struggling to fit in out there. So, I’m glad that Crystal managed to resonate with a lot of people. That’s really awesome to hear.

Yellowjackets drops Fridays at 3AM in the Showtime app and airs live on Showtime Sunday nights.

(featured image: Showtime)

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Lauren Coates (she/her)is a freelance film/tv critic and entertainment journalist, who has been working in digital media since 2019. In addition to her writing at The Mary Sue, her other bylines include Nerdist, Paste, The A.V. Club, and The Playlist. In addition to all things sci-fi and horror, she has particular interest in queer and female-led stories. When she's not writing, she's exploring Chicago, binge-watching Star Trek, or planning her next trip to the Disney parks. You can follow her on twitter @laurenjcoates.