Spoiler alert: This story contains spoilers for Season 1 of “Yellowjackets.”
You could say Kevin Alves started laying the groundwork for his role in “Yellowjackets” when he was still a child.
“I love mysteries,” the 30-year-old Toronto-born actor said on a Zoom call. He grew up reading the “Hardy Boys” novels and was a fan of plane-crash drama “Lost,” but “I grew up watching as many mysteries as humanly possible,” including one of his favourites, a British miniseries about a missing child called “The Five.”
“So this show, it was like a no-brainer that I wanted to do it,” Alves said.
“Yellowjackets” became a TV phenomenon after it debuted in November on Showtime and Crave, with fans taking to Twitter and Reddit to pick apart each episode’s twists and turns. The season finale aired more than a week ago, but people are still analyzing its developments and anticipating the season to come.
The drama tells the story of a girls’ high school soccer team from New Jersey whose plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness en route to a national championship. The series moves between 1996 and 2021, as we follow four of the now adult survivors, still haunted by the unspeakable things that happened during their 19 months in the woods.
Kevin plays Travis, son of the team’s head coach and arguably the most important male character in the female-centric show.
Though the teenage Travis makes it back alive, he dies in the 2021 timeline. Whether it’s suicide, as police believe, or murder is one of the mysteries that will carry over into Season 2.
Alves, who booked his “Yellowjackets” audition while he was shooting the Netflix horror drama “Locke & Key,” had questions about Travis for creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson and other members of the production team.
“The first question was that I don’t need to know anything that’s going to happen to him in the future, but if there’s anything from his past that’s going to really effect his decisions now (and) that we’re going to maybe find out later, I wanted to know those things. And then the second thing was … was he a character that was starting in a very antagonistic place but was going to be redemptive at some point? Or was he the kind of character who was showing antagonistic qualities and was going to self-destruct very quickly? I won’t give you the answer to that.”
Speaking of what happens to Travis, Alves knew his arc for the first four or five episodes, “but I didn’t know that second half of the season arc until we started to get closer to shooting and we were probably getting scripts about a week ahead of shooting those episodes.”
He found that fun, but “there was always a nervous quality to it, to not know what was going to happen, but I think it allowed for a little more freedom to play within the episode you were shooting because you didn’t feel constrained by what was coming next.”
That might have been a particular blessing in regards to Episode 9, during which Travis loses his virginity to one of the players, even though he’s in love with another; is sexually and physically attacked by a group of the girls, who are high on magic mushrooms; and nearly has his throat cut.
Alves praised the show’s intimacy co-ordinator, Katherine Kadler, and the director of the episode, Daisy von Scherler Mayer, for talking him through the scenes and allowing him input into how to shoot them, particularly the scene in which several of the girls kiss and caress Travis and then turn violent.
“It was a very collaborative process to figure out, you know, how can we portray Travis’s confusion and fear all at the same time,” Alves said. “All the actresses and everyone was so professional when we did that kind of stuff, so it never felt like an uncomfortable situation, and that made it a lot easier. And I think we definitely got the fear part right in that sequence.”
His favourite moment from that episode, though, is one that “if you blink you miss it,” he said.
The players have dressed up for a “doomscoming” party and Travis tells Natalie (Sophie Thatcher), the girl he loves but with whom he’s had a falling out, that she looks nice. Before he can say more, Jackie (Ella Purnell), the girl he has sex with, calls him over.
“It was one of my favourite moments to play,” said Alves, who praised Thatcher for her professionalism and talent. “If someone’s paying attention, they can see that he really doesn’t want to go anywhere but be with (Natalie), but he’s a teenage boy who’s going to make terrible decisions.”
The episode is also important because it gives viewers the first inkling of how the Yellowjackets, or at least some of them, begin to turn from average teenage girls into murderers and cannibals.
Not that Alves would ever divulge any spoilers, but he said he knows “so very little” about what Season 2 will bring.
“There were some conversations we had about thematic possibilities but, especially with TV and with how things work, things change so quickly … that I would definitely say that everything I thought I knew could have changed by now.”
He added, “I trust Bart and Ashley with my entire livelihood any day, so whatever is gonna come from them it’s going to be exciting and spectacular.”
Part of the enjoyment of being on “Yellowjackets” has been the passionate fan response as well as the fact Alves has heard from “everyone that I know in the span of two months: people I went to high school with, people I went to elementary school with, people that I skated with … people that I haven’t heard from in a long time, but it’s been really great.”
Figure skating was his first love, after he saw Kurt Browning in “Stars on Ice” when he was six but, by the age of seven, Alves also knew he wanted to be an actor, primed by all the Disney and Family Channel shows he watched. He began pursuing it full-time after he stopped skating competitively in 2013. (He competed internationally for Brazil, where his mother is from.)
Alves, whose other credits include “Shadowhunters” and “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” is grateful just to be an actor, never mind be on a hit show.
He recalled the two or three years he didn’t book a single role despite having a good agent and other supports. “I just had to keep working on my craft and continuing to try and grow as a performer … now I’m just continuously doing show to show, so I’ve been really lucky … fingers crossed it keeps going.
“I’m gonna keep running with it for as long as they let me.”
He credits his parents for encouraging him to do whatever he wanted with his life.
“They’re really happy, really proud. You know, maybe Episode 9 wouldn’t have been their most proud moment,” he laughed, but “they understand the idea of storytelling, so that really helped.”
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