Yellowjackets star Liv Hewson adores Van just as much as we do

“I just wanna make sure she’s okay,” Hewson says of the lovable goalie who became a queer icon on Showtime’s hit show.

ByIlana Kaplan

Ever since Yellowjackets premiered in November 2021, Liv Hewson has been in a state of shock. “It’s pretty bananas,” they exclaim over Zoom. Seated cross-legged on their living floor between a blue-green couch and a coffee table, Hewson is trying to stay grounded — literally — and process it all.

It makes sense: For months, the Showtime coming-of-age survival drama, which follows a high school girls’ soccer team stranded in the wilderness following a traumatic plane crash, was the only thing anyone could talk about. But before that, Hewson had been in limbo with the show for nearly two years. The pilot was first filmed at the end of 2019, but the season wasn’t fully shot and released until 2021. In-between, the pandemic happened.

The dichotomy between the Yellowjackets public fandom — consisting of conspiracy theory-filled Reddit threads and endless tweets — and Hewson’s relatively unchanged real life is pretty striking. But the hiding-in-plain-sight aspect of fame has made them feel at ease. “Because of the pandemic, we're not out and about as much so it's like, ‘Oh our people are enjoying it, that's good,’ but also my day-to-day is not very different, which is kind of nice,” they say with a sigh of relief.

That’s not to say they’re a total industry newbie. Before Yellowjackets, Hewson already had a budding acting career. The Australian actor spent their teenage years as part of a theater company ensemble, attending workshops and doing plays. “I didn't go to drama school because I wanted to start working and you're not allowed to study,” they say. They initially assumed they’d be working in theater forever. But they ended up saving money, moving to Los Angeles, and auditioning for parts both in the states and Australia. Over the past few years, the 26-year-old actor and playwright has been padding their resume with projects like the holiday rom-com Let It Snow, the #MeToo drama Bombshell, and the zombie comedy Santa Clarita Diet. The buzziness of Yellowjackets, however, has been a game-changer.

Hewson’s time on Yellowjackets also notably helped spotlight their scene-stealing roles in the canceled-too-soon Santa Clarita Diet and Dramaworld, the latter of which is a dramedy that follows a K-drama-obsessed girl who gets catapulted into one of the Korean TV shows herself. “I think Santa Clarita Diet was always a bit of a cult favorite, which was nice because it meant that the comedic voice we were speaking with was so distinct,” they say. Despite its cancellation, Hewson has seriously considered where their character Abby would be now. “I wonder if I'm allowed to say this,” they laugh. “We always talked about [how] Abby's storyline is like a superhero origin story. I’m pretty sure Abby would have kept veering into vigilante justice and become a bit of a hunter herself.”

As for Yellowjackets, Hewson and their character Van, the strong-willed, queer goalie, quickly became fan favorites. After all, it’s pretty impossible not to admire the resilient teenager who almost dramatically died several times (in a burning plane, accidentally on a funeral pyre, and while getting her face half-eaten by a wolf). Three brushes with death — and in those circumstances, no less? Van was a Survivor, with a capital S.

While Hewson is a natural fit for Van, they didn’t specifically read for that role when auditioning for Yellowjackets. But a successful general audition led to an offer to play Van, and Hewson jumped at the opportunity. “They were like ‘Great. Do you want this character?’ I'm like, ‘Yeah, sure. Who is she?’” they recall.

Now, Hewson knows Van better than anyone and is completely tuned into the wildest fan theories. “I don't know if people are being serious when I say this,” they pause, laughing before adding, “but I heard a couple of people say that they think she's a werewolf because of surviving the wolf attack, which I love.” On a show that alludes to cannibalism, cults, and premonitions, anything is possible. Aesthetically, with the one-half face mask and athletic clothes, Hewson says they “could fuck with Van being a werewolf.” But despite such hopes, “I don't think [show writers] are gonna do that.”

As Season 1 moved along, viewers also became shippers of the romance between Van and Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown), which Hewson is arguably as invested in as Van is. “Me and Jasmin are really a team working as actors together on the show and working together on that relationship. And we are rooting for them so hard as we're doing it,” they say, noting that seeing other people become so invested in their teen romance has been extremely validating, especially after spending a year trying to bring it to life. “It feels like you let it out into the world.”

The success of Yellowjackets also cemented Van as the internet’s latest queer icon — something Hewson is still trying to wrap their head around. “It's nice,” they hesitate, before adding, “it's a little strange.” Admittedly, they feel “a little more self-conscious” than they did before. They were arguably on their way to queer icon status themself before even taking on the role of Van. In fact, back in 2020, Hewson received the Human Rights Campaign Visibility Award for their LGBTQ+ advocacy. But the attention surrounding Yellowjackets has allowed them to use their more visible platform to advocate for the LBTQ+ community on and off-screen.

In the midst of Season 1, Hewson and Brown landed a Netflix podcast called The Homo Schedule, which celebrates queer creatives. Hewson says their goal with the show is “connection.”

“I think it's important for everybody, but particularly for LGBTQ+ people who might feel isolated or feel as though connection is harder to come by,” they say. “So that's what we're trying to do, always.”

It’s not something Hewson takes lightly in any project. “It’s my responsibility as an actor, right?” they ask rhetorically. “To think about the characters I'm playing, the story I'm trying to tell, and bring it to life as completely as possible.” And Hewson makes sure those characters are looked after with love and compassion. “I just wanna make sure she's okay,” Hewson says of Van. “She's not, obviously, because she's stranded in the wilderness with a soccer team, but I always want to make sure that the character supports the story and the story supports the character.”

With their platform, Hewson also wants to see as many different LGBTQ+ characters and stories as possible — “three-dimensional, fully-realized characters, stories, and ideas that are treated with the same amount of attention and dignity as their straight counterparts.”

With Season 2 surely around the corner, Hewson is currently focused on who should play an adult version of Van — if their character isn’t dead yet. Their personal favorite? Julia Stiles. “That would be heaven!” they exclaim. But they’re trying hard not to get their hopes up too high. “They might kill me off next week. Who can say?” they quip. After all, in Yellowjackets, anything is possible.