Elijah Wood Finds Joy in the Violent Intriguie of Yellowjackects
Every great detective has an intellectually equal opposite. Batman has Ra’s al Ghul. Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty. Now, Misty has Walter.
by, Josh Wigler April 7, 2023 Vanity Fair
Elijah Wood as Walter in YELLOWJACKETS, “Digestif”
Photo Credit: Colin Bentley/SHOWTIME
After spending the first two episodes of Yellowjackets’ second season in the shadows, Elijah Wood’s Walter finally stands revealed in episode three, “Digestif.” He’s not just standing there either. He’s wielding a power saw over an interrogation victim, at the behest of fellow citizen detective Misty Quigley (Christina Ricci). It’s an unexpected outcome for Walter, if not for viewers who know Misty’s terrifying tactics all too well by now. But it’s enough of a thrill for Walter to propose continued collaborations with Misty and offer to look into the disappearance of her friend and fellow Yellowjacket Natalie. Just one problem: Walter is also trying to solve the disappearance of Adam, Shauna’s dead lover, whose corpse Misty had a hand in dismembering. Walter, keep a tight grip on that power saw.
For Wood, joining Yellowjackets offered some compelling opportunities, including a reunion with Ricci, decades after working with her on 1997’s The Ice Storm. “We had run into each other a couple of times as adults,” Wood tells VF, “but hadn’t worked together since we were kids, so it was a really exciting prospect.” What’s more, for the first time in his career, Wood joined the cast of a show he was already watching, in a role created with him in mind. With Walter officially on the board (if not yet the menu), we spoke with Wood about what to expect from his citizen detective’s contributions to the greater Yellowjackets universe in the episodes ahead.
Vanity Fair: You were a Yellowjackets fan before joining the cast. Which aspects of the show drew you in?
Elijah Wood: So much of the show appeals to my taste. It’s a genre show with mystery elements and supernatural elements that are undefined. I loved the idea of this bifurcated timeline where the past informs the present. There’s this slow unraveling of what happened in the past that seems to have really traumatized everyone. It’s this unique structure, and I fell in love with it instantly. I watched the first season, and it’s the first time I’ve ever been a fan and a viewer, where I’ve then been asked to participate in a subsequent season. I couldn’t read any scripts, but they pitched the character and the essence of what would happen over the season.
As scripts are coming in and you’re getting answers about the character and the show, what was the divide for you as both a spectator and now a participant getting firsthand views of the Yellowjackets mysteries?
It’s exciting to read scripts for episodes with information you have a vested interest in. It was really fun. Reading episode two was really exciting, thrilling, and shocking. The end of that episode was so shocking, but it also really delivered in a — no pun intended — delicious way. For me, playing a character in this world, and having an investment in the narrative from the first season and wanting to see where it’s going, and now being invested in what’s going to happen… reading those scripts and being a participant was really, really fun. Knowing what’s to come, things that fans are anticipating? That’s so fun as well. I’m part of something with so much mystery, where so much has yet to be revealed, and people anticipate and unpack those things as they come out. Getting to be a part of a project that serves an audience that way is thrilling.
What did you find most intriguing about Walter as a character, as he was initially pitched to you?
The way he was described to me is he’s an oddball and an eccentric but with a bit more of a handle on functioning in the real world, in a way that Misty maybe doesn’t. He’s kind of a counterpart to her, a good fit and a match, in that he can show her just by existing a way to function and a way that might be more achievable for her. That was really interesting to me, how we could be the yin and the yang to each other.
The Moriarty to her Sherlock, as he tells her! Kind of an ominous way of describing their relationship.
It certainly seems to set up an adversarial relationship, which isn’t necessarily what it is. They are very much in tandem. A thing I love about Walter is his unbridled enthusiasm. I believe he’s a guy who doesn’t have much field experience at all. He’s spent a lot of time reading and educating himself on investigation and crime, but…
But this is his first time holding a power saw at a captive?
I think this is the biggest thrill for him! He’s getting to show Misty what he’s capable of, but he’s also proving to himself that he can do these things. This interrogation of a witness is a total thrill to him. But I don’t think it’s something he’s used to. He has the skills, is very intelligent, and knows what he’s doing, but I don’t think he’s done it before. I think that’s reflected in his giddiness.
We actually shot all of the interrogation scenes together. It was originally meant to be two different locations, where the bathroom and the hull were going to be shot separately, but we ended up shooting it all at the same time. When Christina’s in the bathroom, she was actually in there communicating with me over an earbud. It was awesome. I think it would’ve been a funny sequence anyway, but it kind of gave us an energy that would have been difficult to replicate in any other way, because it was happening in real-time.
Looking back at his comment about being a Moriarty in search of a Sherlock, there’s a way of reading that line from Walter as deference to Misty. What does he see in her?
We get the idea that he’s been following her intellect and her approach to being a citizen detective for quite a while. I think he’s looked at her with great admiration. He’s fascinated by her and intrigued to learn more about her. It’s going to come up that she has the past that she has and that she thinks he’s only along for this ride because of the fact that she’s a Yellowjacket. There has to be an underlying fascination with her past. I don’t think it’s the primary motivation for him pairing up with her and going along with the ride, but I think it’s undeniable. These women are celebrities in this world, in terms of what happened to them.
What kinds of conversations did you and Christina have about building this relationship between Walter and Misty?
Christina is extraordinary. Her instrument is so finely tuned as an actress. She’s been doing this her whole life. Her creation of this character is so hers. She knows this character so well. For me, I was entering into a machine that’s already been operating and is moving along.
In terms of the work, she has the heavier lifting to do in a way. So much of this show is about these women and what the past has informed on who they are now. In a way, I didn’t have that burden. I could come into this very clean, and not necessarily invent him along the way. We’ll obviously get to learn more about Walter and there is an evolution there, but I didn’t have that to concern myself with. My primary interest was Misty: deference to her, admiration for her, and enthusiasm for this mystery we’re on. So much of this show is so dark and emotional and heavy. The stakes are high. And it eventually goes there [for Misty and Walter], there’s definitely a sense of careening toward something, but for the most part, my journey with Misty was light and fun. We had the comic relief of a lot of these episodes. It was joyful.
Yellowjackets triggers so much ’90s nostalgia. For a lot of us, it triggers memories of your movies and your colleagues’ work as well. Where does it take you when you watch Yellowjackets and tune into the ’90s story line?
It certainly makes me reflect on the ’90s in general, culturally, and especially the music. I’m a huge music lover and enthusiast, so that will always be such a connective tissue to the ’90s. It’s obviously expressed a lot in the music in the show. One of my favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs, “Drown,” is needle-dropped [in the season two premiere]. When I think about the ’90s, I think about the innovative music we were listening to, and the way it was shared, which is so different than how it’s shared now. It was really a pretty major pre-internet time, where the spread of information wasn’t instant. There were these notions of real, genuine discoveries that you can’t really have anymore. Things are a little more homogenous now. Everything is everywhere.