‘Yellowjackets’ star Sophie Thatcher: “I’ve always been drawn to darker stories”
When Sophie Thatcher says she’s been “really driven since an early age”, she isn’t kidding. The actress and sometime Tumblr blogger – more on this later – made her acting debut as a four-year-old when she played a munchkin in a community theatre production of The Wizard of Oz. By 12, her classmates at Evanston Township High School in a Chicago suburb had already pegged her as “a weird one” who was “all about the art”. “I’m unlucky enough that I can look through old email chains and see that I got into fights and lost some friends over being too serious about making it in movies,” Thatcher says when we chat over Zoom. “I was just very, very invested.”
Now 22, Thatcher looks back on her own precociousness with a self-deprecating laugh and plenty of self-awareness. “I come from a generation – Gen Z – that was born to be self-aware,” she says. “If you have Instagram, you can’t not, to some extent, think about somebody coming across your page and how they’re going to perceive it.” But at the same time, there’s no denying her preternatural ambition is paying off.
You probably know Thatcher from her standout role as Nirvana-loving teen huntress Natalie Scatorccio in one of TV’s coolest and most unusual shows, the enthralling coming-of-age psychodrama Yellowjackets, which has only got weirder since it returned for a second season in March. She is also about to play the ‘final girl’ in The Boogeyman, a supernatural horror movie based on Stephen King’s short story that opens in cinemas on June 2. If it’s a hit, which early reactions suggest it will be, Thatcher’s profile will surely snowball even faster. Just last week, she booked “another two [acting] gigs” that she can’t talk about yet, but which will keep her busy until she begins filming Yellowjackets‘ third season later this year.
Perhaps because it only runs to 12 pages, King’s classic tale of a strange malevolent presence who preys on children has never been made into a movie before. In the new adaptation, from rising star horror director Rob Savage (Dashcam, Host), Thatcher plays a high school student called Sadie Harper who doesn’t appear in King’s source material.
“I come from a generation that was born to be self-aware”
“I’ve always been drawn to darker stories, but this role was right up my alley because she also has an incredible arc,” Thatcher says. “There’s definitely heaviness in her at the beginning because she’s just lost her mum. And the story, at its core, is about a family grieving and those convoluted family dynamics. I think that’s why I wanted to do it – not just because it was, you know, The Boogeyman.”
Thatcher’s Yellowjackets character Natalie also has an incredible arc – one that keeps getting darker. The genre-smooshing show, which became a huge word-of-mouth hit soon after it debuted in 2021, unfolds in two self-contained but narratively linked timelines. In 1996, we see a plane carrying a New Jersey high school’s girls’ football team crash down in the Canadian wilderness. Then 25 years later, we meet older and profoundly altered versions of many of the same characters. Thatcher landed the role of teenage Natalie before Juliette Lewis – the Oscar-nominated star of Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear – was cast as the far more erratic present-day incarnation.
Though the actresses have no scenes together, they are so convincing as two iterations of the same person that their performances almost have a symbiotic quality. Thatcher says they “bonded over music” and “had discussions over what [Natalie] would be into and how she would dress”. “We created a playlist and I was thinking that Natalie would be obsessed – because she’s not very current – with punk bands from the ’70s like The Slits and The Raincoats.” After Thatcher suggested Californian post-punks Suburban Lawns as another reference point, she found an old ’90s photo of Lewis wearing one of the band’s t-shirts. “I was like, ‘Yes!’” Thatcher recalls excitedly, describing it as “a big moment” where everything fell into place. Thatcher readily admits she takes a very detail-oriented approach: when the wardrobe team tried to put Natalie in a Blondie tee to underline her punk credentials, Thatcher said no because “it felt too on-the-nose”.
In last week’s penultimate episode of season two, we see what Thatcher describes as a “huge” and transformative moment for Natalie. With the teammates stressed and starving out in the woods, they draw cards to determine which one of them should be killed and eaten. These increasingly desperate survivors are now reluctant cannibals. Natalie picks the cursed card, but before Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) can slit her throat, she bolts out of the cabin and into the wilderness. While helping Natalie to escape, Javi (the younger son of the team’s male head coach, played by Luciano Leroux) falls through a frozen lake into the icy water. Natalie’s instinct is to help him, but Misty (Samantha Hanratty) convinces her to let him drown so his flesh can be used for sustenance instead.
“Everybody knows me from Yellowjackets… or from having a mullet”
This unbearable moment is even more gut-wrenching for Natalie because Javi is the younger brother of her boyfriend Travis (Andrés Soto). Thatcher says this is “a really big turning point” for the character because it begins to explain the “seriously messed-up” woman she grows into. “She didn’t save him and she’s going to have to live with that,” Thatcher says. “Things like that are going to continue happening and [that feeling is] going to keep building in her. And [in time] that will make it so that she can’t handle anything anymore. That’s what you see in Juliette – that’s why her version of the character is so devastating to watch.” The season finale airs tomorrow (May 26) and Thatcher is understandably keen not to give away any spoilers, but she hints something disruptive is coming. “There’s a huge shift right at the end that comes out of nowhere – I wasn’t expecting it,” she says. “But that’s very exciting for me as an actor because until now she’s been the most grounded [of the girls].”
Thatcher says playing Natalie “felt very natural” from the start, but points out drily that one aspect will never be relatable: the whole cannibal thing. “As an actor, you’d like to like put yourself in their shoes, but that’s so far removed that I don’t want to!” she says. Thatcher also stresses that she is taking steps to avoid being typecast as the punky outsider. “I tried to make Sadie in The Boogeyman as normal as possible – like, you believe that this character has never smoked weed,” Thatcher says. “I’m trying to find roles that are so far from Natalie, because I want to prove myself as a chameleon and a character actor.” She then punctures this hint of earnestness with a joke. “You know, I’m at a very specific point in my career where it’s like everybody knows me from Yellowjackets… or from having a mullet.”
Thatcher thinks her fiercely ambitious streak comes from being an identical twin born into a “pretty driven family”. Her twin sister Ellie, who played a munchkin alongside her in that childhood production of The Wizard Of Oz, is now an artist. “As soon as we were 12, I started working professionally,” she recalls. “I guess I was trying to set myself apart but also trying to be the best.” Though Thatcher initially foresaw a future on Broadway, screen roles beckoned after she appeared in local TV adverts and a 2016 episode of Chicago P.D., a cop show shot in her hometown. She appeared opposite The Last Of Us megastar Pedro Pascal in a low-budget sci-fi film, 2018’s Prospect, then led a 2020 murder-mystery series, When The Streetlights Go On, that flew under the radar on short-lived streaming service Quibi. When Yellowjackets massively heightened her profile a year later, Thatcher’s Gen Z self-awareness wasn’t enough to shield her from the glare. “I was a little too obsessive with reading Reddit comments,” she admits. “And they were all about my wig – like, people saying ‘she doesn’t have roots!’ I was like, ‘But what about my acting?’”
At the start of her career, Thatcher tried out for some Disney roles, but says they always “felt like a huge stretch because as soon as I turned 13 I had my shoegaze blog”. Obsessing over My Bloody Valentine online just didn’t gel with presenting herself to the Mouse House as a perky girl-next-door. Named April Skies after an influential shoegaze hit by The Jesus And Mary Chain, Thatcher’s Tumblr blog became all-consuming and much more popular than she had anticipated. “I don’t think anybody knew that I was a 13-year-old girl and not someone from [the first wave of shoegaze] in 1989,” she says with a laugh. “But I really did my research and I would come home from school every day and jump on it. I mean, it kind of shows that anything I take on becomes an obsession.”
However, Thatcher’s obsession waned a year later when she started high school and met other, equally fervent shoegaze fans. Because she no longer felt “possessive” of the genre, she began blogging about art and other interests, too. She channelled her passion for music into writing and recording her own songs that she would upload to Bandcamp. Despite receiving “the biggest compliment” when fans compared her “dreamlike” vocals to Cocteau Twins‘ Elizabeth Fraser, Thatcher took down many of her self-made tracks soon after Yellowjackets brought them to a wider audience. They were just “too vulnerable” and “DIY” for people to hear, she says today. “But I make music pretty much every day – music is my number one,” she adds quickly. “And I think I’m going to try to finish up some new songs and release [them]. But I want to try to get my music to less of a DIY place first because I want, maybe, to be taken seriously [as a musician]. I’m not sure yet.”
This uncharacteristic flicker of doubt probably reflects just how much music means to Thatcher. Besides, with two new acting gigs and season three of Yellowjackets to film, plus The Boogeyman to promote, her schedule right now doesn’t leave much time for songwriting. So, is her drive close to being satisfied? “Even with these last few auditions, I was like, ‘I gotta get it, this is life or death!’” Thatcher says, sending up her own intensity by adopting a comically deep voice. “But yeah, it hasn’t left yet and I don’t think it ever will,” she says more soberly. “It’s definitely still there and boiling inside very intentionally.”
‘Yellowjackets’ releases its season two finale on Paramount+ on May 26. ‘The Boogeyman’ is released in cinemas from June 2
Photographer: Myles Hendrik
Styling: Leah Adicoff
Makeup: Sascha Borax
Hair: Carla Perez