The winter storm has somewhat abated on “Yellowjackets” and opened up many things in Episode 7, “Burial,” but nothing compares to what Misty discovers within the depths of an immersion tank: John Cameron Mitchell.
Mitchell graces the Showtime series for a brief musical interlude based, according to director Anya Adams, on the wildest, Fosse-est swings in “Cabaret” and “Chicago.” Even though the sequence lasts just three-and-a-half minutes, it was extensively prepped, rehearsed, and shot so that the “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” star would be just as magnetic as Joel Grey’s MC — even dressed as a parrot.
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Because, of course, Mitchell appears in this mental musical interlude embodying Caligula, Misty’s bird friend named for one of the more maligned Roman Emperors (an impressive feat given the murder baseline for Roman Emperors). How does one prepare to play a parrot figment of one of the more unhinged “Yellowjackets” characters? By channeling a theatrical force of nature anyone ought to respect, whether they worship the Wilderness or not.
“I’ve become friends with Patti LuPone, and her ‘Gypsy’ definitely affected me strongly. So I think I was channeling a little bit of Patti in the role,” Mitchell told IndieWire. “She’s been around. She knows what you need to do, and [her persona can be like] ‘You need to do what you need to do and I support you. Even if you’re a genocidal killer.’” Mitchell even sports a red robe for the backstage pep talk with Misty that gives strong “Ladies Who Lunch” vibes crossed with Adams’s core visual reference for Caligula out of the suit: the “Bird Lady” from “Kids in the Hall.”
“Our special effects makeup department knocked that out of the part,” Adams told IndieWire. “We wanted to put Mitchell in a vibrant color and [costume designer Amy Parris] found this incredible dressing gown with feathers on the sleeves that really brought the character visually to life. Even his hair had a hint of Caligula with the black and red accents.”
Putting the musical moment together was, in a lot of respects, like rehearsing a play, according to Adams. ”We had multiple cues — lighting, sound, playback, projection entrances and exits — so spending time bringing it all together was helpful to each department,” Adams said.
“Because we were [shooting] in a black box theater, we were able to project onto the black with colors we all liked. It felt right to create most of the projected elements beforehand rather than add them in post. So all of that was recorded on camera,” Adams said.
Adams had three cameras on the day to capture all of the elements, projected and otherwise, which gave the “Yellowjackets” director a lot of flexibility to find exactly the right combination of exuberance and unhinged energy from all the participants in Misty’s vision: Caligula, Misty, and Elijah Wood’s Walter. “Elijah really worked hard on the dancing so it was only natural that we covered him dancing a lot,” Adams said. The combination of black box blocking and aesthetics with throwback Broadway dancing, plus odd projected imagery, and the unsettling cuts to animal savagery all combine into something singularly Misty.
As for Mitchell, he approaches his cameo on “Yellowjackets” and other streaming shows as opportunities to stretch his legs (and/or feathers) with the joy of someone who does a lot of weird, queer stuff; it’s the perfect match for a Showtime series that has a lot of weird, queer stuff alongside its horror.
“I was like, this show is pretty zany fun. I could see that they’re firing on a lot of cylinders in terms of tone and style. It’s not just one thing. It gets stranger and stranger, with interior monologues and of course, I’m a figment of [Misty’s] imagination – which is what she needs to hear. And I just love it,” Mitchell said. “It’s fun to be, you know, a queen with a cigar in his mouth.”
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