Liv Hewson is a must-know force in film and television for a number of reasons. Not only are they a standout in the hit Showtime series Yellowjackets and an artist who exudes passion for their craft and a deep appreciation for the collaborative nature of creating a film or series, but they’re also making choices that will help pave the way to parity in the industry. It’s an honor to call Hewson the very first guest on our new interview series, Collider Forces — an interview series they helped inspire.
Collider Forces is a long overdue expansion of Collider Ladies Night, one that gives us the opportunity to include more voices. Thanks to Hewson’s work, their approach to their craft, and how they operate in this business and beyond, the recognition of a need for change was turned into action, and now we have Collider Forces, an interview show dedicated to highlighting artists in film and television who are changing the industry for the better, particularly voices that should have been amplified all along. Collider Ladies Night isn’t going anywhere, but it’s time we use that interview format to include and celebrate more creators.
During our 50-minute conversation, Hewson revisited pivotal moments from their journey as an actor thus far including important lessons learned from early mentors, coming to understand the business side of things in addition to honing their craft, and what it meant to finally be gendered correctly on a professional set after coming out as non-binary.
Hewson began by revisiting the earliest steps they took while trying to turn their passion for acting into a career:
“None of it’s a guarantee at all, and there’s no one way in. I never can recommend anything to anyone because there’s no promises ever. I trained with a theater company as a teenager in my hometown for a few years and that’s sort of where I learned how to do it. But then in terms of turning it into a job, the step was taking a bunch of workshops that were with casting directors, learning about the business-y side of things. And then I was on one of those that was in LA, and that was my first time visiting, and truly, the showcase at the end of that workshop, the woman who is now my manager was there and that’s how we met.”
While one’s craft may come first, an understanding of how the film and television business operates can be vital to charting a course toward a flourishing career. Here’s what Hewson said when asked for a lesson learned about industry logistics that they think would be valuable for aspiring artists to learn early on in one’s career:
“I just think you can’t hold on too tightly to any idea of how something’s going to be. It’s a mistake to cling to the idea of something needing to happen a certain way because you’ll lock yourself up. On the smallest level, even in a performance standpoint where it’s like, ‘I have to be doing this this way in order to be doing a good job,’ you won’t discover anything and you won’t surprise yourself. And then on a macro level, it’s like, ‘Unless my career is happening in X way, it’s not happening at all and I failed,’ then nothing’s gonna surprise you and you’re not gonna be good at it because you’re not gonna be relaxed enough to be open to anything. So I really encourage people to get Zen as possible as quickly as possible, which is that nothing is guaranteed to you at all, that is fine, and do everything you can anyway, but let go as much as possible.”
Another key piece of advice that’s helped Hewson thrive as an actor? The emphasis an early mentor placed on the value of collaboration. Here’s how they put it:
“A mentor of mine, who was the artistic director of the theater company I trained at, she always said that when you’re acting with people, when you’re acting together, it is everybody’s job to make everybody else look as good as possible. And then, if everybody’s doing that, it’s gonna be great because it doesn’t matter what you’ve got going on it. This is a collaborative thing, and if you’re looking after me and I’m looking after you, we’re going to be okay.”
Yes, it’s important to be aware of how this business operates and, yes, it’s important to value the teamwork that goes into creating a film or show, but there are times when one must put self first. And sometimes, putting self first can have a ripple effect and wind up influencing others for the better. While delivering an acceptance speech for the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award in 2020 for their LGBTQ+ advocacy, Hewson stated, “It is of paramount importance to me not only to live my life openly for the sake of my own well-being, but to do so in a way that reaches people like me who might be grappling with the same thing.”
Given this can be an industry (and world) where it can be quite scary to live openly, I opted to ask Hewson for the moment on a professional set when they first recognized the power their voice and truth could have. Here’s what they said:
“I don’t know that this actually answers your question so much, but what it makes me think of is the shift that started to happen after I came out professionally as non-binary was getting gendered correctly at work for the first time. Because my expectation had been that that was never going to happen, and not only was that never going to happen, but it wasn’t even worth thinking about. Not worth thinking about to the point of like, ridiculous, where it’s like, don’t even bother engaging with whether or not you want that because it’s not happening to you, so don’t worry about it. So the sort of psychological adjustment and full body adjustment, really, of hearing people in a professional setting refer to me correctly, it’s not something I did, but that was a really incredibly powerful foundation shift because I realized that it was gonna be okay. Not only did I not have to hide, but that it was going to be good, you know? Not only is it gonna be fine, it’s actually gonna be better than you’ve ever let yourself imagine in your life.”
Stepping into Yellowjackets territory, Hewson revisited their experience auditioning for the role of Shauna, now played exquisitely by Sophie Nélisse, before being offered the role of Van. “I had gone in for Shauna once and then a couple of weeks later I got a phone call and they were like, ‘They want to offer you the role of Van instead.’ And I went, ‘Great! Whose Van?’ [Laughs]” After re-reading the pilot, Van came into focus for Hewson quite quickly. They continued:
“I don’t know why I knew who she was so quickly, but I just did. And then I spent the pilot looking for as many opportunities to have as much fun as possible, and then that’s what I did for the rest of Season 1 pretty much, certainly the first half. I like improvising a lot, and I just felt that in a show about a team like this, the central thing would be how these people interact. So, in my mind, anytime we were in group scenes together, I was like, well, it’s like when you have siblings, right? Or when you are in a big group of friends. Everybody’s constantly bouncing off each other somehow. No matter what, everybody’s always doing something. So it was just fun. I felt like a kid in a sandbox where I was like, okay, so how does Van feel about Natalie? I don’t know, I’m gonna spend some time thinking about that. Doesn’t matter if they ever use it, but I’ll think about it!”
Given I’m a big believer in the value of backstory work, whether it’s information that’s directly seen or heard in the finished product or not, Hewson’s enthusiasm for considering such details opened the door to a whole line of questioning I was mighty eager to dig into. Questions like, what does Van miss about home? “That house? I don’t think she misses anything about that house.” Hewson continued, “I don’t think Van talks about her home life with anybody.”
Van may not miss a specific person or thing from her home, but Hewson did point out a devastating reality for Van in the wilderness; she misses the possibility of having a better life. Here’s how they put it:
“What does Van miss about home? Probably misses physical safety or having enough food, or having a life. Yeah, the possibility of having a life. That was something that I thought about a lot in getting ready to do the monologue that Van has in Season 1 right before the wolf attack where she’s like, ‘I want to go back to New York City, please. I want to go back and I want to go back with you.’ Actually, I think what Van misses the most about home is the possibility of something else happening. Where it’s like, I can’t ever get out of New Jersey and do anything with my life if we’re dying here. Everything’s a closed door. So it’s not that Van wants to go back to where she was, it’s that Van wants to go back to the possibility of anything else happening.”
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through Yellowjackets, Season 2, Episode 7, “Burial.”]As hope of rescue dwindles throughout Yellowjackets Season 1 and is totally obliterated in Season 2, Van clings to another source of hope — Lottie (Courteney Eaton). However, as we’re discovering via the present-day timeline, it’s quite clear that something’s changed in Van. Yes, all the characters have changed courtesy of the horrors they experienced in the wilderness, but Van in particular once had a light and spirit to her that seems to have been extinguished.
“Lauren [Ambrose] and I have both thought about and talked about that a little bit too, the idea that there’s a light that gets turned way down for Van. And by the time she’s an adult, it’s like, oh, it’s there, but it’s dimmed a lot. And so then, for me, playing her in the wilderness, I’m like, ‘Okay, so my job then is to track that dying, that light turning down.’ It’s like, what dims it? What kills it? And then for her, for Van who’s so funny and so fierce and so protective and just so eager, and so familiar with crisis, so familiar with the stakes being high and needing to look after other people, and so familiar with chaos — over Season 2 I was like, ‘Okay, my job with her becomes figuring out what the parts of you are that die, what parts of you cannot survive an environment like this. How long can you be funny? How long can you cling to this idea that you’ve been clinging to? What eventually falls away? What do you lose? What gets dimmed down, and when?’ And so that episode is a really good example because it’s the loss of the baby and it’s the ritual beating where it’s like, ‘Oh, I know exactly what’s gonna happen to us now, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Looking for more from Hewson on some of the most unforgettable moments from Yellowjackets Season 2 thus far, including their thoughts on what Van does in Episode 8? Be sure to catch the full 50-minute interview in the video at the top of this article or in podcast form below: