Samantha Hanratty’s ‘Yellowjackets’ Journey from Her Audition Pivot to Stealing Scenes as Misty
Yellowjackets is a true casting feat. Not only did creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson and casting directors Libby Goldstein and Julie Lowry-Johnson find the perfect pairings for the 1996 and present-day versions of the characters, but they also managed to pinpoint some of the most promising young talent on the rise in film and television, talent like Samantha Hanratty.
Hanratty plays the 1996 version of Misty on Yellowjackets. Before the Wiskayok High School soccer team’s plane crashes, Misty is a total outcast, an overeager equipment manager who just wants to be part of the group. When the plane goes down in the wilderness on the way to nationals, Misty finally gets a taste of what it’s like to be wanted. As the only crash survivor with medical know-how, the other Yellowjackets turn to Misty for triage and recovery. Trouble is, that inspires Misty to secretly destroy the plane’s emergency transmitter so that she can retain her newfound value rather than revert to being at the bottom rung of the social ladder back at school.
At the start of Season 2, no one knows Misty obliterated their chance of being rescued, but they are well aware of a number of other troublesome things she’s done. For example, taking things way too far with Coach Ben (Steven Krueger) to the point of poisoning him when he wouldn’t reciprocate her feelings, and also having had a hand in accidentally turning “Doomcoming” into a psychedelic nightmare when her mushrooms were added to the team stew. Now no one trusts Misty, almost entirely isolating her minus her connection to Lottie’s (Courtney Eaton) rituals and finding a new bestie in another group outcast, Crystal (Nuha Jes Izman).
In celebration of Yellowjackets Season 2’s big debut on Showtime tonight, Hanratty joined me for a Collider Ladies Night conversation to recap some of her earliest steps and influences in the industry, and also to dig into the wild ride she’s experienced being part of the Yellowjackets cast, beginning with her audition for Natalie, not Misty.
It’s hard to imagine a better pairing for Misty Quigley than Hanratty and Christina Ricci, but there was a point when the showrunners and casting directors looked at Hanratty for the role of 1996 Natalie, now played by Sophie Thatcher. When asked about her own take on Natalie and how it compared to what Thatcher delivered, Hanratty began by proudly proclaiming, “She’s incredible. I can’t even touch what she’s got going on.” Hanratty continued:
“If I’m being totally honest, I think I misread it because I think I kind of went for more of a goth approach than I did this cool grungy 90s girl. I feel like I just went in with a black zip-up hoodie and had it over, with dark eye make up [and] was more of like, I don’t care attitude that had this almost forced darkness. I’m not Natalie and that’s totally fine, and she’s amazing. It’s so weird when you audition for a different character and then you see how somebody else does it and you’re like, ‘Yes!’ Because there’s other times where you see it and you’re like, ‘Really? That’s what they went with?’ But this was definitely a win for our show having Sophie Thatcher.”
A win for the show, a win for Thatcher, and a win for Hanratty as well who ultimately went on to craft Misty into a character that feels purely her own, and shockingly well-defined even in the midst of her chaotic energy and an extreme coming-of-age journey. However, there was a point when it felt to Hanratty as though the folks behind the show hadn’t quite pinpointed who Misty needed to be. Here’s what Hanratty had to say when asked for her first reaction to being asked to pivot from Natalie to Misty during the audition process:
“If I’m being totally honest, I was like, ‘Who?’ In the pilot she’s such a small role that I feel like I even overlooked her the first time I read the script, you know? Which is so interesting because there’s that last beat that’s such an iconic moment. I think I was focused on Natalie, so when I was reading, I was so focused in on that, that I was like, ‘Who is that?’ And then I had to reread things and kind of go through it, and I was like, ‘Oh, okay. That’s interesting.’ I could be totally wrong and I don’t want to offend anybody, but I’m like, I don’t even know if our writers knew what they were looking for with Misty. I don’t really know if anybody had a clear vision of what this character was gonna fully look like and bring. I think they had an idea, but I think I came in and was kind of wrecking that idea a little bit. Because I came in and auditioned like five times. It was not like I came in and they were like, ‘That’s Misty!’ I think I just brought this chaotic, crazy energy that they were like, ‘Okay, what are we gonna do with this girl?’”
Tailoring the character of Misty to the “chaotic, crazy energy” Hanratty brought to the role was clearly the way to go. Misty’s often an especially disturbing delight to watch given her erratic mix of outlandish and occasionally dangerous choices with some worthwhile insight. Misty keeps viewers on their toes and makes shocking moves more than most, but all of those choices still need to be grounded in some sort of consistent truth for the character, and that’s where Hanratty’s background work came in.
“I was all about the background work of who she is, why she does what she does, what was her childhood, what were her parents like? You know, all that. And so I talked about it with the writers when we first started, and I basically was like — I feel like nothing was ever confirmed or denied, but there was kind of this generalization of Misty’s parents are probably in the medical field, one or both. She’s probably alone quite a bit. And that’s also why she knows so much about the human body and probably why she has this interest in a lot of the medical side of things. And I have this whole vision of young Misty looking through books and finding these books with very graphic images and her being like, ‘Wow.’”
In addition to identifying the start of Misty’s fascination with medical practices, Hanratty also explored Misty’s social status and how she processes the changes one experiences while going through puberty by developing scenes that may not be in the show but are important to filling out the character’s world. She continued:
“There’s scenes that I have in my head that never are gonna happen in the show, but I have this one snippet of an idea of her barely starting to go through puberty, being in the locker room and just staring at everybody else, and her looking in a way that you’re not supposed to look and not even acknowledging that it’s inappropriate. Just having those moments of how she must make other people feel helps me get into the mind frame of when she does realize that somebody is grossed out by her, how self-conscious that can feel and how vulnerable that can feel, and not wanting to make people feel uncomfortable, but just her presence does. There’s little things like that and I have this idea of seeing some of the girls use a lip gloss and then [in] my head I have this whole childhood thing of her saving up to buy that lip gloss and going and having that lip gloss and everybody’s not looking and she’s putting it on and feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m pretty like them,’ you know what I mean? Just these little moments that help me understand her a little bit, if that makes sense.”
Jumping further into Season 1, we took some time to discuss one particular Misty and Ben moment that sparked a lot of conversation — Ben choosing to lie to Misty about having feelings for her after she just poisoned him in Episode 5, “Blood Hive.” What might have happened if Ben told Misty the truth at that moment? Would Misty have become upset to the point that she might have killed Ben? Here’s Hanratty’s thoughts on the matter:
“I think that Ben being gay probably saved his life from Misty. That’s what I think. I think that it depends on also where she’s at in the moment. I think that if she’s already really enraged and then somebody says something that might do something, then I think she’s capable of things differently than when she’s more calm. But yeah, I honestly can’t tell you. In the moment of filming the scene, I think I’m keeping it as fragile as like, if things go south, nobody is gonna embarrass me, you know what I mean? And then when things don’t go south, I’m like, ‘Oh, I love you, too!’”
While Misty is very isolated from Ben and many of the others at the start of Season 2, she does find a new source of support in Nuha Jes Izman’s Crystal, a Yellowjacket who also finds herself ostracized from the group. What would Misty’s current state be like if not for this newfound friendship? Here’s what Hanratty thinks:
“If she wouldn’t have Crystal and the way things have been going with Mari, I feel like Mari would not be here anymore, if I’m being totally honest. I think she would have snapped and either Misty would have died because she would have snapped and everyone would have been like, ‘You’re too crazy. You need to go,’ or something bad would have happened because I think even Episode 1 of Season 2, she’s so fragile. I think that Misty thought with pointing out Jackie not doing the prayer thing and kind of tying in with this whole Lottie cult thing that she would have been able to have some more power than what she has. And yeah, I think that everybody would have been a bit in trouble if Crystal hadn’t come and swooped in with her sweet spirit.”
In addition to finding a sense of belonging with Crystal, Misty also continues to make herself known as a follower of Lottie by taking part in her meetings and practices. Does that mean Misty’s a true believer? Does she really think Lottie has a special connection to the wilderness that grants her foresight and other abilities? Here’s what Hanratty had to say about that:
“I think that Misty doesn’t believe in any of it, but is the first one to make it seem like she does. I used to be involved in this church back in the day, and it was the people that had their eyes closed and their hands in the air, and it was like the gospel was coming through them. And don’t get me wrong, everyone has their different stuff and I think that’s beautiful if that’s a genuine feeling that’s going on, but I know for a lot of people, it was like, ‘Oh, that’s what other people are doing so I’m gonna do that, too.’ And, ‘Oh, right. Oh, you feel it? Yeah, I feel it.’ You know, it’s a sense of belonging, and I think for Misty, it’s like she sees an opportunity, she sees power, and she’s like, alright, this is where I’m gonna slither on in. But I don’t believe that she believes in this earthy wilderness stuff. I think Samantha believes in it more than Misty does! I don’t think that she really believes in it. I think she just sees it as an opportunity to hopefully manipulate in the future.”
Eager to hear even more from Hanratty on Yellowjackets and her experience in Hollywood thus far? You can catch her episode of Collider Ladies Night in the video at the top of this article!
The podcast version of this interview contains spoilers through Yellowjackets Season 2, Episode 5, so you can expect to get the uncut version of our 40-minute conversation as soon as that episode is available on April 23rd.