YELLOWJACKETS has been picked up for a second season while its first season is running new episodes on Sunday nights on Showtime. Created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, YELLOWJACKETS explores the ordeal of a young women’s high school soccer team stranded after a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness. The action goes back and forth between the time that the survivors are forced to cope out in the wilds, and what happens twenty-five years later, when they are threatened by an unknown blackmailer.
Steven Krueger plays team coach Ben Scott, who is on the plane with his team. He suffers a gruesome leg injury. Team member Misty (played by Samantha Hanratty as an adolescent, and by Christina Ricci twenty-five years on) decides that the risk of infection is too dangerous, and takes it upon herself to amputate Ben’s lower leg. Ben doesn’t appreciate not being consulted, and is understandably concerned by Misty’s solicitousness afterwards.
Krueger, originally from Sarasota, Florida, has appeared in the features GOOSEBUMPS and SATANIC, and has had regular roles on the series THE ORIGINALS and ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO.
Speaking by Zoom, Krueger talks about YELLOWJACKETS and what it’s like to play an amputee in the middle of nowhere with unstable companions.
ASSIGNMENT X: How did you become involved with YELLOWJACKETS?
STEVEN KRUEGER: It was a bit different than usual in this industry. I actually worked with Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson previously on a show that I did a few years ago for The CW, called THE ORIGINALS [where Lyle and Nickerson were story editors]. It was actually their first show as writers. And to put it simply, we loved each other. I had such a great time working with them on that show, and I respected them so much as people, as writers. I thought they were phenomenally talented.
So, when they left that show, I was kind of sad, I was disappointed, and they assured me that, at some point in the future, we would be working together again. And sure enough, a few years later, this script came into my inbox, and I saw their names on it, and I thought, “Oh, this is going to be good.” I read the script and it was one of the best pilot scripts that I have read in a very, very long time. And I immediately knew that I wanted to be a part of this project. I had already been scheduled for an audition, but I texted them ahead of time, and said, “Hey, I love this, I want in.” And sure enough, they ended up casting me. I was very fortunate, and the rest is history. We were off and running from there.
AX: Did you do any research for the role of Ben, either into coaching soccer, or being an amputee, or …?
KRUEGER: Yeah, absolutely. Luckily for me, I played soccer growing up, so I’m very involved with the world of soccer, and kind of knew everything I needed to know of that end.
The amputee stuff was very different. I had never played an amputee, so that was really important to me. I think that’s where I spent the bulk of my time, I think, for this role. And of course, that doesn’t happen until the second episode, so I didn’t really think about it until we actually got picked up and started shooting the series. [There was a year-and-a-half gap between the shooting of the pilot and the rest of Season 1.] They had told me ahead of time – there were some whispers about the idea that I may have this traumatic amputation [after] the plane crash when we were shooting the pilot, so I was preparing for it in the back of my mind. But once it became a reality, I really dug in. I wanted to make sure that this wasn’t something that felt cliché. I wanted to make sure that this idea of having this traumatic leg amputation was very authentic, and very realistic, and I wanted to honor that.
So, I spent hours and hours and hours researching all the different things that go along with it. There are obviously a ton of physical effects, a ton of psychological and emotional effects, that happen in the aftermath of something like that. And I spent countless hours online, I talked to a few amputees back and forth over email about what their particular experiences were like, and I think the one thing that I came out of it with was, it’s different for everyone. There are things that happen universally, across the board, just physically. But emotionally and psychologically, everybody’s experience is different, and a lot of times, what I learned was, the experience is affected by the environment around you.
Obviously, being in this particular environment, stranded out in the wilderness with a bunch of teenage girls who ostensibly I’m supposed to be in charge of as their coach, that created this whole interesting dynamic that I hadn’t thought of before. They’re looking to me as the authority figure, the person who has the answers, and I feel at the same time completely helpless, because of this injury that I’ve just suffered. So, the push and pull between those two things, I think, is really interesting, and I had a lot of fun playing with that.
AX: When the amputation happens, you have to do a lot of screaming …
AX: Did you have to do any kind of vocal preparation for that, so you wouldn’t injure your throat or voice?
KRUEGER: Yeah. We did all of that over the course of two days, if I remember correctly. The first day, I had warmed up my voice, I knew that I was going to have to do it a lot, and the first day, to be totally honest, was a bit chaotic. We bit off a big chunk in that first day in the immediate aftermath of the plane crash, when everybody was outside of the plane, and stumbling around, and there was a lot going on. And everybody was in a state of panic, everybody was screaming or doing whatever. So, I remember that day.
They kind of got to me last, so I had already been screaming off-camera for most of the day, and I remember saying at that point, I told the director, I said, “We need to be careful here, because I can feel my voice about to go.” We still had to get all of my coverage. Luckily, I toughed it out. It was a lot of water, lemon, honey, all that kind of stuff. And then, the next day, when we came back, and I had to do more screaming, I said, “I’m not going to scream unless I’m on camera.” Because otherwise, my voice was going to go. And they were great.
As an actor, you want to be accommodating, and you want to make sure that you give your fellow actors as much as you possibly can, even when you’re not on camera, so that they have things to react to. And so, I did my best [laughs], but all the other actors picked up the slack, and did a great job reacting, even when I wasn’t on camera, and wasn’t fully screaming, but yeah, it was a lot. And at some point, you can do all of the preparation you want to, but if you’re screaming at the top of your lungs for a hundred takes over the course of a couple days, your voice is going to go, no matter what.
AX: As an actor, is it exciting or upsetting to go to that place, where your character is in that much pain?
KRUEGER: It’s scary, to be honest with you, for a number of reasons. One is, as actors, I think we always have the fear that we’re going to look stupid, in a number of different scenarios. Any time you do anything like this, where there’s a traumatic injury, you don’t want to look stupid. And so, I think that’s kind of the initial fear that all actors encounter.
Beyond that, once you actually get into it, I’m so complimentary of our production team and Showtime and our studio for really putting a lot of money and effort into those initial scenes with the plane crash and the aftermath, because they made it so, so real for us as actors. It didn’t feel like we were doing a whole lot of pretending, or a whole lot of faking. Once we got there and we actually saw just how grand this set was, and how involved it was – there was an actual plane that was sliced into three pieces, things were on fire, it was very loud, explosions were going off. They really did a great job of putting us in an environment where everything felt very authentic and very real.
So, it wasn’t that hard to slip into that dynamic, because a lot of times, we didn’t know. They would call “Action!”, we would be doing our thing, and then all of a sudden, an explosion would be over there, and it really kept us in it. So, I’m so grateful that that’s the way they decided to shoot that, because I think it made the whole thing much more authentic.
AX: Once the onscreen amputation happens, where do you put your actual leg? Are you wearing a green-screen sock, or do you put the leg in a hole, and they have the prosthetic stump?
KRUEGER: For that second episode, when the injury actually happens, and my leg gets hacked off, it was very interesting. I had never worked like this, but yeah, my leg was actually in a hole. They dug out a hole, and then just had a very narrow place where I could stick my lower leg, and then they attached the prosthetic to my knee, and that laid out on the ground in front of me. So, for that first episode, in Episode 2, my leg was in a hole for pretty much every scene I was in, because I was just laying back immobilized.
After that, once I was kind of moving around a bit more, then yes. Then we used a blue sock for visual effects. And it was interesting, learning. I worked a lot with the visual effects supervisor, Kent O’Connor. He was on set every day that I was, because there were a lot of different times when he would watch the rehearsal, and he would say, “You know what? I think it’s going to look better if you position your leg like that.”
And so, trying to find the balance between what was going to work best for the visual effects, versus what felt natural, and what was going to look real, that took some adjustment. It took some getting used to for a few episodes. But pretty much from Episode 3 on through the end of the season, I was always in a blue sock. And of course, sometimes we’d cheat and made it easy on ourselves. If it was a scene where we were all just sitting around a fire, I would have a blanket over my legs, so that we didn’t have to worry about doing any sort of visual effects. But yeah, it was a new experience for me, for sure.
AX: How is it working with a large group of young women?
KRUEGER: [laughs] It was a pleasure. I think that we had a unique experience on this show, because we shot the pilot so long before we actually started shooting the first season. We had about a full year-and-a-half between when we finished the pilot, and when we came back to start the second episode in Canada. And I think a lot of people were worried that, after that much time, would the dynamics still be there, would the chemistry still be there? And it was great, because we all showed up in Vancouver after not having seen each other for a year and a half for the most part. And it was kind of like we didn’t miss a beat. We formed such a good bond on the pilot, and we showed up a year-and-a-half later, and got on so well.
And I remember laughing throughout the summer, as we were doing this first season. I kept thinking how disastrous this could have been. What are the chances that you assemble a group [of actors like this], and everything just goes smoothly? And it just did. I really wasn’t expecting it. Everything just went so smoothly for us as a cast. We all got along, we all hung out together outside of work. And compared to what it could have been, I’m incredibly impressed with all of us. Part of it was the COVID dynamic, the fact that we were kind of forced to hang out with each other, because we couldn’t leave, nobody could come visit us, so we just formed this bond as a family, and everybody got along so well. It was a unique experience, and one that I’m going to cherish for a long time, because it was fantastic.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about YELLOWJACKETS?
KRUEGER: I’ve said this a few times, but the one thing that I want people to know is that it’s not what you expect. Seeing the chatter and whatnot online, it seems like people are excited for the show, but I also think that people are getting the impression that the show is kind of one-dimensional, that it’s about one thing. Just trust me when I say that the show is not exactly what you expect it to be.
As actors, every script that we got, we went, “Oh, my gosh.” We didn’t see a lot of this stuff coming, so I think that the audience is going to be pleasantly surprised when they start watching and realize, “Oh, this is a little bit different than expected.” It spans two different generations, it’s a number of different genres all tangled into one, and like I said, the world that the writers created is so rich, and so intricate, and so nuanced, that I really think people are going to be sucked in, and be very, very surprised as the season progresses.
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Article: YELLOWJACKETS: Actor Steven Kreuger on Season 1 of the Showtime thriller series – Exclusive Interview