When Yellowjackets—the critically acclaimed drama about a girls’ soccer team that’s stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash in the late ’90s and the ensuing trauma more than 20 years later—debuted in 2021, there was plenty to obsess over. How did the girls get home? Did they really turn to cannibalism? And, perhaps most significantly, who the fuck is Lottie Matthews? It’s that oft-repeated phrase that actor Simone Kessell—a New Zealander whom you’ll recognize from Our Flag Means Death with Taika Waititi and the Star Wars series Obi-Wan Kenobi—had to contend with when she joined the show as adult Lottie for its second season, which debuted in March. Viewers know Lottie, who’s played in the ’90s timeline by Courtney Eaton, as a troubled, mysterious girl with a sixth sense and an uncanny ability to get people to follow her. Adult Lottie is described by a showrunner as “kind of a cool Jesus”—she’s a charismatic cult leader-like figure who’s also a potential threat to her former teammates, and Kessell completely melted into the part. “I would do many, many sermons or monologues, and at the end of a scene, the extras would come up to me, thank me and hug me, and I would hug them back,” she says, laughing. “I’d go, ‘Thank you all so much, thank you for a great day at work.’ And the crew would be like, ‘Simone is taking her character a bit too seriously.’”


“There’s huge anticipation around [adult Lottie], and it was daunting [to take on] the role. It’s such a stellar cast—they had been on this wave of success, and I was coming in to [play] a character who was already established by the beautiful Courtney Eaton. There were pretty big boots. The first time I met Courtney, I recognized myself in her. We’re very, very similar, and we’re cut from the same cloth with regard to our background—I’m Maori from New Zealand, and her mother is Maori—and that was very comforting.”


“As an actor, you get nervous when you aren’t prepared. You get anxious. Your heart’s pounding, and you’re thinking: ‘Am I good enough? Should I be in this role?’ And when you get nervous, you need to do more work. I worked incredibly hard on my prep with regard to finding the new Lottie—finding her colour rather than her darkness. Lottie has gone through a complete reinvention; she has shed the skin of her past. I found her through costume, hair, makeup, jewellery, her walk, her voice. When you put on the costume, there shouldn’t be any nerves left because you’re truly, honestly in that character. You’re not someone pretending to play a role—you are that role.” 


“I love a caftan, and when I was playing with Lottie in my head, I imagined her in lengths of beautiful colourful fabric. All of her acolytes wear purple, so I was like, ‘I’m not wearing purple.’ At night, I’d be on the Free People [website] or wherever, sending images to the costume designer. Then I’d go to a fitting and be like: ‘This piece is amazing. Where did you find it?’ And she’d go, ‘You sent it to me.’”


“When I [was] 12 years old and in [a school] assembly, I got the giggles when a boy started singing. When he finished, the headmaster went: ‘Simone Kessell, stand up. That is so rude. What did you find funny? If you think that was so funny, we would like you to prepare something for next week.’ So I literally created a character based on Julia Child, got up onto the stage and it was a hit. After that, I did something every week at assembly. I always promised myself that if I started moaning [about it] or anything like that, it would be time to give up acting, but that hasn’t happened yet.”


“This is such a ruthless industry. You can be so vastly talented but be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a bit about who you know, but you also need tenacity and hard work. You’ve just got to keep at it, keep believing in yourself, keep your mind clear and not listen to the noise. When I started to master that, my work got better and suddenly I was working constantly. You have to take the fame stuff out of it because that doesn’t actually matter—it’s about being an artist, a true storyteller. That’s how I’ve really come into my own and found my voice.”

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