Courtney Eaton wants to set the record straight: Lottie Matthews is not a villain! The Yellowjackets character may be a lot of things—a survivor, an empath, a young woman battling mental illness, a guru—but her true intentions are far from villainous, and the actress will fight you on that point. In the 22 minutes I spend with Eaton over Zoom, one thing is abundantly clear. She is fiercely protective of her characters and their flaws, especially Lottie.
“Lottie and I almost share the same brain,” Eaton tells me. “Not that I’m going to start a cult, but I think most of the decisions she makes I would also make.” Early in the audition process for Yellowjackets—the Showtime series about a high school soccer team who survive a plane crash deep in the Canadian wilderness only to face the consequences of their actions 25 years later—Eaton went for the role of Shauna. At that stage, she tells me, everyone either read for Shauna or Jackie as a way to see all the different personalities come through. A week later, Eaton was brought back in to read for Lottie and landed the role, but she had some hesitations.
Prior to Yellowjackets, Eaton had zero TV credits to her name. The Australian actress made her screen debut in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road and went on to star in the action-adventure epic Gods of Egypt followed by a slew of indie projects and music videos. Television was uncharted territory for her, and the thought of signing a six-year deal for a show shrouded in secrecy was, well, scary. But after meeting with creators Bart Nickerson and Ashley Lyle and hearing their take on Lottie and the plan for the show, she was all in, telling the duo, “I don’t think I will ever get bored of this character.”
That sentiment still rings true for Eaton today. She likens playing Lottie to riding a roller coaster, one she will happily go on again and again. When we first meet Lottie before the crash, she has a friendly and calming presence. She is someone who seemingly gets along with everyone. But post-crash, we learn there might be more brewing underneath the surface. When her mysterious medication runs out, she starts to have strange, almost prophetic visions, ultimately dividing the group on whether she can actually connect with nature on a spiritual level or is simply mentally ill.
At the end of season one, an important question is asked, “Who the f*ck is Lottie Matthews?” Eaton struggles to answer this question even today but believes, at the root of everything, Lottie is an empath who doesn’t trust her own brain. It’s that beautiful nuance of Lottie that makes her such an interesting character but also connects her to Eaton. “I think I had an easier in because I feel like I relate to Lottie in the sense of not always knowing who I am or trusting my own thoughts or what direction I’m going in,” she says. “I’m very familiar with what people would call her darkness or dark essence.”
From the beginning, it was important to Eaton that Lottie, who could have a mental illness, wasn’t portrayed as a villain. “I think there’s a lot of that in our industry today,” she says. As Eaton describes, Lottie is a character who walks a fine line. From one scene to the next, her actions beg certain questions: Did this trauma exist before the crash? Is it the crash trauma itself? Does she have a gift, or is she struggling with mental health? “It can be challenging some days to not lean too much one way, and our writers and directors on set are really great at giving me little hints here and there—like, ‘Yes, you are in the right direction,’ or ‘Maybe less this way.’” she says. Not knowing which way she’s going to go is a fun challenge for Eaton. And even though she’s very protective of the character, she’s happy to go blindly into the darkness of the show and where they take her.
With season two, we finally get to see what has come of Lottie 25 years after being found. Played by Simone Kessell, older Lottie is the founder and leader of a cult-like group, or “intentional community,” called Camp Green Pine. Though the teen and current-day versions of each Yellowjackets character never share scenes, there seems to be a special bond between the actors, which was the case for Eaton and Kessell too. “I love Simone with all my heart,” Eaton gushes. From the moment they met over dinner, Eaton trusted Kessell with Lottie wholeheartedly. “We are almost the same person. We’re flopsy and probably a bit annoying, but we always talk about it as Simone being the light in Lottie and my version being the darkness, and she’s on her journey there.”
That darkness is what excites Eaton the most as she thinks about what’s next for teen Lottie. With a third season confirmed by Showtime, she’s convinced it’s going to be a rough road ahead for not just Lottie but also the whole group. “I don’t know what kind of journey that will be, but it will probably be pretty dark,” she alludes.
Things don’t exactly move into lighter fare for Eaton beyond Yellowjackets either. Up next, she has the drama Parachute directed by Brittany Snow. The film, which premiered to rave reviews at SXSW, follows Riley (Eaton), a young woman who, fresh out of rehab after struggling with an addiction to food and body-image issues, finds herself navigating love again. It was a unique project for Eaton, in that she formed a strong bond with Snow after just one conversation over lunch. “I’ve never been as close as I was to a director before. Just the space she gave me during scenes and our incredible crew, I’m really proud of that movie,” Eaton says. Even more so than Lottie, Eaton felt a closeness to Riley and, again, felt protective over the character. She and Snow worked closely to ensure she felt like a full person and not Hollywood’s stereotype of someone suffering from an eating disorder. Every detail down to the wardrobe was meticulously thought through with the intention of creating an authentic, whole story.
If it seems like Eaton’s work has erred on the heavier side lately, that’s because she prefers it that way—at least for now. “I don’t know what it says about me, or maybe it’s the themes of my last jobs, but I really just love delving into the emotional, dark side of [stories],” she says.
Season two of Yellowjackets is now streaming on Showtime.
Photographer: Catie Laffoon
Stylist: Erica Cloud
Styling Assistant: Garrett Ives
Hairstylist: Derek Yuen
Makeup Artist: Dana Delaney