Awards Daily chats with Warren Kole of Yellowjackets about his character becoming a fan favorite and what it’s like being married to Shauna.
With all of the crazy things going on on Yellowjackets (cannibalism, murder, fake book clubs), it’s easy to be a fan and go, “What just happened?” on a weekly basis. And there’s one character who shares in the audience’s astonishment and shock: Shauna’s longsuffering husband, Jeff, played by Warren Kole.
“He’s a passive character, so there’s an observant element to Jeff and a reactionary surface,” says Kole. “You can get swept up, and all the sudden the depravity becomes totally normal, acceptable, and heroic even. He certainly doesn’t intend it, but he certainly is entertaining in that way. That’s a credit to the writing.”
Jeff has become a fan favorite in Season 2 (you could see the rumblings of this with his impeccable reading of “What? There’s no book club?” in Season 1), something that comes as a surprise since for most of the first season, we thought he had cheated on Shauna.
“That was a really nice misdirect. He seems like a typical suburban dad who’s just going to fall in seeking affection from somebody else in a marriage that’s gone stale. That was a great setup for the end of Season 1. I think Jeff’s loyalty and devotion are pretty beyond corruptible. I’ve occupied several roles in the past, and I know how I’ve come off! And they used that to their advantage on this show, and it was really fun to play that turn.”
But while Jeff has become a fan favorite, Kole is still getting used to the attention.
“I can do the work, and every once in a while someone will come up to me. But this is a whole new thing. And a whole spectrum of people. I’ll get guys coming up to me at Home Depot. ‘What are we talking about here?’ ‘Yellowjackets!'”
But even though he can be a loveable goof that rocks out to Papa Roach in his car when he’s angry, deep down, Kole believes Jeff seriously loves Shauna.
“This is my [acting] choice—but Jackie was the status symbol in high school, that was where that needed to be. They needed to be together to be prom king and prom queen, but Shauna was that girl. The heart wants what it wants, and certainly that’s carried on. She is easily the love of his life, combined with the history. I’m sure psychoanalysts would have a field day with it. He wants to take care of her now. He’s her savior and also the undeserving partner as far as he sees it.”
When Shauna reveals in Episode 6 that she married Jeff out of “guilt and shame,” it comes as a gut punch for viewers, but also for Kole.
“First of all, ouch,” says Kole with a laugh. “Jeff wouldn’t want to hear that as he has an unhealthy ego on him and that’s going to hurt. I think there’s a shared guilt that continues to bond Jeff and Shauna that was nicely illustrated in Season 1 with the self-flagellation at Jackie’s dinner party where they feel they deserve this and it’s part of the penance of betraying Jackie and maybe being responsible for Jackie’s death. With shame, I’ve always thought of it as more of maybe Jeff is just a reflection of Shauna’s underachievement. Her trauma caused her to withdraw and shrink and hide, and Jeff just constantly reminds her of that.”
In the penultimate episode before the Season 2 finale, we also learn that Jeff knew about the baby that Shauna had in the wilderness. Did Shauna tell him or did Jeff figure it out on his own?
“I always imagine it was when he read the journals. That’s finally clarified very nicely in that scene with Jeff and Callie, how Jeff feels in trying to encourage Callie to have compassion for her mother.”
It makes audiences wonder what their marriage has been like for the past several decades and whether Shauna has always been a bit of a loose cannon. Kole believes they’ve been asleep at the wheel for the past 25 years.
“There’s been good, there’s been bad, but it’s just been maintaining. But we’re picking up when they’re just getting shaken awake and being forced to take each other in and be honest and see each other for who they are. She’s terrifying, and that’s the truth. Shauna is an anti-hero in a way and you get behind her, but she’s doing things that are tough to accept. This is new. This is all new ground. They’re going through these growing pains as this family of crime.”
In Episode 8 “It Chooses,” the cops approach Jeff with photos of Adam Martin’s dismembered body, causing him to have a nightmare where Shauna stabs him. Is he afraid Shauna might kill him? Or do these revelations about his wife intrigue him in some way?
“I think that he’s way in over his head. He’s doing his best to keep up and do what he thinks she wants. He doesn’t know her very well, and it just keeps coming across that way. When it comes to action, he wants to go to Williamsburg all the sudden. There are all of these indicators that he wants to do something for her, but he doesn’t know her well enough. If she gets excited by it, he can serve on that, but eventually even he has to put his foot down. He knows there’s the right thing to do; it’s just his execution on it. He’s not exactly a man of action in that way.”
Yellowjackets is streaming on the Showtime app.