[This story contains major spoilers from the season two finale of Yellowjackets, “Storytelling.”]
Kevin Alves knew in his gut that his onscreen brother Javi wasn’t going to make it out of Yellowjackets alive.
As the actor who plays Travis Martinez in the 1996 timeline on the hit Showtime series, Alves has been confronted with his fair share of grief. The son of the Yellowjackets soccer team head coach watched his father (Carlos Sanz) die after the plane crash that kicked off the series, lost his brother (Luciano Leroux) in the wilderness and then participated in the cannibalistic feast of the girl he lost his virginity to (Ella Purnell) after her accidental death.
“He feels a lot more guilt for Jackie than I think we ever take into consideration,” Alves tells The Hollywood Reporter. “When we look at Travis’ storyline in the future and what happens to him, I think from the get-go I always knew there was a good chance Javi wasn’t making it out of this.”
That guilt is compounded when, after struggling to accept that his brother was most likely dead, Javi returns after two months. He never explains how he survived and, as the penultimate episode revealed, he will never get that chance because he dies in a preventable drowning. After it was determined that Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) would be sacrificed for the starving survivors to eat, she ran and when Javi fell through the ice, she and her teammates actively chose to let him die in her place.
But, Travis doesn’t know that because he was back at the cabin with a knife at his throat after giving Natalie a head start, kicking off the series of events that would ultimately lead to Javi’s death. So when the group returns with a story about how their next meal was determined by the wilderness, Travis buys in and partakes in their next feast — and he takes the first bite of Javi, nibbling into his little brother’s heart.
“When I read it, I had to stop,” he shares. “I’ve been talking about this all season in different interviews, that there was a period of time I was reading something and I had to just stop. And it was the moment I saw that he took a bite out of Javi.”
Below, Alves digs into the shocking moment of cannibalism and how he made sense of his character’s actions (and shares what the heart was made out of), goes behind the scenes of filming with Javi’s dead body (“I think it was seven hours of crying straight”), weighs in on the looming questions around the wilderness (“we have a lot of unreliable narrators”) and unpacks how the other devastating finale death changes everything for young Travis and Natalie: “They’re the Romeo & Juliet story here, and that’s really sad.”
The Yellowjackets cast teased the finale by saying viewers may hate you all; that people will feel unwell. I thought that applied to Javi, and then there is the gut-punch of Natalie’s (Juliette Lewis) death in the present-day storyline. How do you imagine the reception will be to the ending?
Since episode two when we first eat Jackie, I think the finale is now the biggest moment that fans have to start searching within themselves to say, “What am I OK with? What can I justify for these people to do? Am I justifying this behavior now?” Jackie was technically this accident and now we’re talking about a situation where — and Travis doesn’t know this — there was a possibility of saving this kid, and they let him die. I think now as a viewer, you have to decide whether that feels justified or not. And I think that’s going to make things really tough for people to watch their favorite characters now make absolutely terrible decisions, which is kind of funny for me because that’s how a lot of people felt about Travis from the beginning of the show. That he makes terrible decisions. So now everyone is kind of joining his level of making bad choices.
You think young Travis makes terrible choices?
He makes pretty bad choices. He doesn’t treat people the nicest at times. But, now that their human instincts are kicking in, what do they think is OK? Javi was the youngest one in the group, so to just watch him die in front of you, I think that’s going to be hard for a viewer to say, “I understand where they’re coming from.” And I think that’s what makes the characters so interesting and complex. They’re doing things where, unless put in this life-or-death situation and being starving for an entire winter, you would never make those choices. But we can’t know where their heads are at, so that’s going to be complicated.
Did you have a feeling that Javi wouldn’t survive this second season?
I had a really, really big feeling that Javi wasn’t making it out of this season alive. When we look at Travis’ storyline in the future and what happens to him, from the get-go I knew there was a good chance Javi wasn’t making it out of this. But, this season specifically, because so much of the beginning of the season was about finding him, I assumed that even if we found him this was going to end poorly. It was disheartening and terrible the way it ended up happening. For Travis to not even be there, for it not to be an accident, that gut-punched me like crazy. I remember after I read the episode eight script I was like, “What is going to happen in the finale? How is he going to react? Are they going to lie to him, are they going to tell him the truth?” And, we definitely went with the first option. (Laughing.) I think it puts Travis in the worst situation ever. If he knew that it wasn’t an accident, I think he would be making different choices as to how he dealt with everybody.
He has been on board with the cult of Lottie, which explains why he would buy into this idea of the wilderness choosing. But the viewer knows their bystander complicity in Javi’s death. What do you think Travis would do if he knew the whole picture?
I think he would be done. Travis and the cult would be over. I truly believe that. If someone came to him and said: “We killed him. We let him die. We watched him die.” I think he’d say, “This is not how this is supposed to go. We don’t get to just change our minds and choose. You’re all going to a place that isn’t OK.” It would be different if it was any other character; I think he could maybe find ways to keep himself believing. But because it’s Javi, his brother, that would snap him out of it. But in this case, because he feels like it was this accident and there’s nothing anybody could have done, it definitely keeps him in this state of not being sure what he can and cannot believe in.
Having seen the adult relationship between Nat and Travis, it seems like maybe he never finds out. It’s hard to imagine they would have had any sort of relationship after being rescued. Do you think he ever found out?
I’ll be pretty surprised if he finds out but at the same time, things are just going to continue to get so much darker that by the time you get to the point where they’ve all done such horrible, horrible things, I think he’s going to become more numb to the possibility of the terrible things they’ve done. He could find out once he’s also gotten to that place. If he also starts joining in on some ritualistic stuff with everybody more and more, then it’s a lot harder for him to go back and say, “How dare you all did that, when I’m also doing it.” So them not telling him will make him more complicit in everything, and then all of a sudden, they’re all bonded and now he can’t react the same way. If he knew right from the get-go, he would react differently than say, finding out a year later.
Take me through the emotions and the steps you took to get to Travis’ acceptance that leads him to eating Javi’s heart.
This is me being completely transparent: When I read it, I had to stop. I had to take a break from the minute I read it. I’ve been talking about this all season in different interviews, that there was a period of time I was reading something and I had to just stop. And it was the moment I saw that he took a bite out of Javi. And the reason being is, I was angry. As a viewer. As myself. I was frustrated as someone who has a sister. I was so angry. Why do I have to be the one to do this? But, you know this is exactly where the story needs to go. I remember just having to surrender myself to understanding that this is his journey, and this is a really dark and terrible journey that he’s on. And that it’s OK to champion Travis still through these moments. I think that’s our job as an actor, to champion our characters through every decision they make. But I had to take a second before I could actually accept what was going on. I had a really tough time.
Luciano, as an actor, has become a brother to me. We’ve become family with his whole family. When we did those scenes where I’m holding his body, we would finish takes and his mom would come over to me crying. She would say, “I know it’s not real, but it hurts.” That was really tough to film all those scenes where I was holding his body.
We had one day of filming — when I find out and they bring him in on the stick and then I hold him and they come outside with the knife — I think it was seven hours of crying straight. It was every single take. Because the way that we shot it was so intricate and interesting. If you see the scene where they bring him in, I’m on both sides of the camera. On every angle, I’m somewhere in that shot. So I didn’t have a period of time to take a break from being emotional. When I see Natalie, I had to have that excitement and beauty. And then I’m on the other side when he realizes that Javi is on the stick. And then when we cut and he goes to the body, you still see me. On all the angles we shot, you see me. So it was about seven hours of straight emotional scenes. It was tough.
Where do you go to get into a mourning scene like that, and how do you get back out?
I work pretty hard on trying not to connect it to my real life. I’ve always looked at Travis like another person; like my friend. He’s a person I think about and talk about as somebody else. So when I’m in Travis’ shoes, I’m staying in his world and his pain. A lot of it came from flashing back to his dad; what his mom’s going to think when she sees, if he ever gets back. How he’s going to feel every day. I remember thinking of our two place settings where we sleep and the emptiness from now on. And it was also knowing that they’re all going to want to eat him. I think Travis’ brain immediately goes to: I know where this is going, and I can’t deal with that. So it’s really easy to get into the emotional headspace.
Coming out of it was tough. You just have to surround yourself with people you love. I used to have to take a few steps away between setups. Most of the time, we’re kind of joking. But that one day, I didn’t really interact with too many people. You kind of have to stay on the edge of it. So I would wait until we called action and then go. And then take space again.
But the crew was so amazing. Our first AD for that episode, Warren [Hanna], was always making sure that I was OK. Sometimes when you’re using so many tears, your eyes start to burn. There were some takes where I actually had to stop Warren to ask for a second, and I would be burning and couldn’t actually open my eyes. Everyone wants to keep moving; these are huge days. And he was always really good about giving me the time and space that I needed. So I was thankful. But getting out of it took a lot of watching The Office and Friends.
And Luciano was playing Javi’s dead body for all of that?
We had a dummy double, but they only really used it when they were carrying him in. Every time he was actually laying on the ground, it was him. It was really tough. You’re staring at him. And they made him look so sickly dead. It was really, really hard. But he is also such a professional for his age [15 years]. He stayed in it no problem.
I have to ask, what was the heart made out of?
It was gelatin. And I remember having a great discussion with Karyn [Kusama, the finale director] before we shot. We got to sit down for 30 minutes once we had the episode script out and just talk about where this whole thing was going and how it made sense that Travis would eat him. I remember we heavily talked about how this moment for him was, not only because he needed to eat something to survive, but also because he was so sad that he wanted to feel just a little bit closer to his brother again. And it was like this apology.
If you listen really carefully during those scenes, Travis really quietly continues to say, “I’m sorry” to him. You hear it when I’m holding him and putting him down, because I know we’re going to go there, and then you’ll hear it just as I’m about to eat him. It was quite sad. But the gelatin, they had a few different hearts that we could swap in and out, to made sure we’d get it from the different angles. Obviously in the edit, everything shrinks down and gets faster. But I remember on the day it was a lot of beats before you’d almost convince yourself to take the bite.
Was there anything you filmed that didn’t make the final cut?
We had a few different things. I believe the first editor’s cut was 90 minutes or something, it was really long and a lot has to get trimmed to make it cohesive. Even that scene with Van [Liv Hewson] where she comes in to talk to me, I tell them to not come in at first and it’s very abrasive. We had to get to the point of what was going on a little quicker. Beats always have to shrink down a bit. The scene where I do take the heart, there was a long, awkward moment when we were filming; even when he puts the wolf on the mantle, those beats were really tough for me as an actor to even convince myself to go get the heart. So I think it plays out longer on the day we’re shooting then when it gets to the edit.
I spoke to Sophie Thatcher and she said this is going to make Nat and Travis that more toxic. But, like you said, he doesn’t know the full truth. How do you think in the short and longterm, both Javi’s fate and then Nat being named Antler Queen shapes Travis and Nat’s relationship for season three?
Travis has gone through so much grief in the past year between his dad and his brother. And the one that I think a lot of people leave out is that Jackie is who he lost his virginity to, on top of that. He feels a lot more guilt for Jackie than I think we ever take into consideration. It wasn’t just something to him. It was all he had. Look at even the struggles he had with Nat when it comes to intimacy, and then the struggle he had when they were intimate where he’s dealing with these thoughts of his faith with Lottie. It’s not an easy thing for him to be intimate with anybody. He’s holding onto his dad, Jackie, now his brother. So I just justify that he has really no choice but to try and believe in something, and really all he has left is Nat. Nobody really holds him, cares about him at that higher level that you want from somebody.
We see it when she becomes Antler Queen; he goes up to her and he submits himself. We were figuring out all the little things that everyone does when they go up to Nat, like a little bow. I remember us talking about it and I turned to Karyn and I said, “What if we do the hand that Lottie always does, the breath?” So it was almost like him saying, “I believe that you can also take care of me, the same way I’ve been pushing this Lottie thing.” He’s clearly submitting to believing in her. What sucks is that he has a lot of reasons to not believe in anyone right now, but he doesn’t know.
That’s cool you had input on that Antler Queen moment.
It was a group discussion. But I remember when we were debating, does he bow or put a hand on the shoulder? We were grabbing and holding each other’s hand a little too low, and I said, “What if we bring it up and do what we did in episode one?” So it was a nice little full circle moment for the season.
They are then quickly put in a precarious position to end the season when their cabin ignites in flames. Did Coach Ben (Steven Krueger) start the fire?
Well, he has the stuff. So, we’ll see. I don’t know if he has the stuff to mess with us, but he was there. We see him outside and then the cabin is on fire. As a viewer, that was my assumption. But they might have some tricks up their sleeves that I don’t know about.
Javi mentioned the cave where he was hiding out to Nat, but didn’t share specifics. Ben is the only one who knows where it is. Do you imagine they will find Javi’s cave and wait out the rest of winter there?
What I know is absolutely nothing, because they don’t like to tell us! But what I guess is, I don’t know how they get through the rest of winter without the cave. Maybe we’re on the end of winter. But it’s been such a thematic thing from the beginning of the season when we find that tree. I think it’s in episode one that we see the tree for the first time, where Natalie and Travis walk up to it and touch the moss and go, “Hm, weird.” I have a feeling that’s the same spot. I have a feeling Javi was there every time they passed by that tree. And so I think it has to be a huge part of the season. Thematically, it seems it’s set up for the cave to be a really big part.
Circling back to the finale’s gut-punch of adult Nat’s death, it’s devastating that Nat and Travis are now both no longer living in present day.
Yeah. It really makes their story in 1996 more tragic than ever. They’re the Romeo & Juliet story here, and that’s really sad. I think there are relationships where people are so different that they balance each other out, and there are relationships where people are so similar that it’s impossible to not be around each other, but usually that leads to so much toxicity. And, that’s them. They are so similar. Their pain is so similar. The way they deal with conflict is so similar. And it’s really tragic. And, you know, it will be more tragic if this is where they became a beautiful love story (laughing). That would be the hardest. I’m interested to see where things go next season, because there’s so many angles to go about this. I’m excited to see what the writers do when this strike is over and everyone gets to do their jobs and be appreciated for it.
Did you find out about Juliette Lewis’ fate when you read the script?
Yeah. We heard rumblings. We hear things. On set, when a script is about to come out we start talking: “Oh, I heard this might happen.” It gets around. We actually have a big group chat going right now that is all the older and younger series regulars all together.
How is Juliette doing?
Juliette is the best. So cool. And has always been so open. I remember getting the most beautiful message leading into season two from Juliette. I haven’t gotten to spend much time with [the older cast] and yet she still sent such a beautiful message just prepping for the season.
When you saw how her Nat’s death happened, what was your reaction?
I was so mad as a viewer. I love the future Natalie character. I’ve talked about it since the beginning of the season, she’s probably my favorite character of this year. There’s just this unapologetic attitude that Juliette brings to Natalie, which is so infectious and energizing. I’m so sad that we won’t have that coming, but I’m also excited to see these new setups with their characters. The way Shauna’s [Melanie Lynskey] family with Callie [Sarah Desjardins] and Jeff [Warren Kole] is all coming together now, and to see how they are bonded through this. There are other things I’m excited for, but I am never not going to say that I’m not sad about Juliette. I am very sad.
Do you believe adult Lottie’s (Simone Kessell) version of events for Travis’ death, an apparent suicide?
As a viewer, no. As a viewer, I really believe in the idea of unreliable narrators. Because even older Natalie says that Travis never believed in any of this shit. And, it’s not true! He believed in a lot of things at certain times. And maybe that changes and things continue to change, but that was my first inkling of realizing, “Oh, we have a lot of unreliable narrators on this show.” And even the way Shauna describes events; they’ve never spoken exactly about what Jeff read. I’m intrigued about what was in the journals compared to what we’re being told happened. Something really interesting about the show is that you never really know if the future is telling us the truth, which is why the 1996 timeline is so vital, because it shows us what really happened.
It would be a double layer of tragedy if Travis didn’t kill himself, now that Nat’s death is going to be treated as a drug overdose.
Yeah. There’s a chance that if Travis’ suicide is a lie and it looks like Natalie’s death was just an overdose, then we’re talking about two characters who were fighting to stay alive who look like they weren’t; like they gave up. That’s just… they are so heartbreaking to me. Every time I hear the Ultravox song “Vienna” now, I just cry about it. The bookending that they did of that last season… I hope we get that bookend with Natalie and Travis one last time.
We have seen both Travis and Nat be self-destructive. How have these last two episodes filled in for you what they’ve been harboring in trauma and guilt?
I understand that Natalie’s connection with Travis is so much born from pain. And now this idea that, if she never told him the truth of what happened to Javi, there would be a part of her inside that would feel like she needs to make it work with Travis. That’s really kind of messed up, that there’s a side of her that feels guilty so she stays with him. I think they have this codependency where they feel like they’re saving each other. It’s a savior complex between both of them. He saves her when she was supposed to die, and I think that’s huge. The fact that we were going to go through with killing her [in the hunt in episode eight] — and we were, look at the scene — that sacrifice was happening, the knife was to Nat’s neck. So Travis changed the course of everything and that, in turn, led to his brother’s death. How do you live with that for the rest of your life? If he really did commit suicide in that moment, I think we know this is where it stems from. It’s watching his dad die right in front of him and then watching his brother be dead because of his actions.
I know you filmed some scenes that didn’t make the final cut that explained more about how they landed on their cannibalism sacrifice ritual. [Note: Season two was cut from 10 to 9 episodes after the season three renewal, per a source.] Is there anything you understand better now about how they get to the violence in the pilot episode’s flash-forwards?
This was the turning point. Because Jackie was an accident, it’s almost like they didn’t want to just let Lottie die. They started this because they were trying to fix previous mistakes. The problem is, it was the worst possible way to fix the previous mistake; to say, “We’re not going to let Lottie die, we’re going to sacrifice one of us.” And that’s what makes this story so interesting compared to all these survivalist stories, because it’s more Lord of the Flies where it’s adolescent teens making these choices; they’re so much more not logical than if they were adults.
And it’s really interesting to see them make choices and not question them. We’re just like, “Sacrifice somebody.” That’s crazy that’s where we went, but I get it. That’s what they thought was the right decision. And that’s why I don’t think we’re so far away from episode one. It takes a couple of bad things now to happen to get there. A couple of people pushing the envelope and deciding they know more than other people. We’re not so far away as survivalists as we think.
This season answered big questions, like the fates of Javi and Shauna’s baby. But it left questions around the wilderness and the existential. What have you come to better understand this season and what looming questions do you still have?
I have many, but because we are kind of in the know a little bit more, I know more than I can tell you! But there’s definitely this looming idea of what’s going on in their heads and what isn’t. That’s what I’m interested as a viewer to see. Because we did see a really common theme this season of a lot of things that were happening within someone’s mind that weren’t truly happening, with Coach Ben and Lottie thinking of Laura Lee [Jane Widdop]. And then in the future, we see Lottie seeing the blood and other hallucinations. What’s real? Now collectively, we’re seeing things that feel kind of out of this world to happen. So the question is: Are they collectively in this head space or not? I don’t know.
How deep do you go on Reddit? When you see theories and Lost comparisons, where the wilderness could be this middle place between life and death, have you been tipped off on that?
I think we kinda know a little bit about where we’re headed, but the show still has a lot of avenues it could go with all of this stuff. What I do know is that my favorite part about the show is this idea of questioning whether they’re just capable of this or not. Are they capable of doing these things, or is there something pushing them to do it? And I think that not only questions us with the characters, but also questions us as people and what we would be willing to do. That’s what’s creepily interesting about this show.
Season two introduced new people in the cabin. Have you heard about new characters joining for season three?
I haven’t heard anything, but we did have a few new characters this season. We do have a couple of extras that are on set at different points that people can kind of see. I’m not sure if we stay with this core group or if we expand a little more. I really trust the writers. I can’t wait until they get back to doing their thing, because I believe they’re such geniuses and they’ve come up with such an intricate story. I just want to go shoot season three.
What are you most looking forward to with season three?
I’m excited for whether we get out of the winter or not. I loved shooting season one in the forest. There’s something about that fresh air, it doesn’t feel like work. Vancouver, where we’ve been shooting the first two seasons, is so beautiful. So I hope we keep being outdoors and enjoying that weather more; the stage and then going into Calgary into the four-foot snow is a little different!
There’s been talk from Showtime about expanding the Yellowjackets universe and more than one spinoff idea is already brewing. Do you guys discuss spinoff ideas you’d like to see?
Once we get rescued and know what’s going on, I’d love to see a buddy cop Citizen Detective show in an alternate reality future of Misty and Natalie. A buddy copy show! (Laughing.) I’d also love to see a murder mystery-style cover-up with the teen cast after they’re rescued. I want to see the secrets. I want to see as much of them back in society as possible, because I think they’re going to be so damaged in so many ways. So, to see how they think they should cover up a murder? I would love to see that dynamic.
Are there any Easter eggs you can point viewers to in the season two finale?
What’s kind of cool and resourceful about the Yellowjackets is, there are a lot of insert [shots when they leave the cabin after the fire]. I’m not sure how many were included in the final edit, you have to go really slow to see. But, they were grabbing stuff coming out of that cabin. I really want viewers to see what we got. I assume in the writing it’s going to tie into how we’re going to survive outside of the cabin. We grabbed everything we could and this show is so symbolism heavy, there’s no way there’s not a reason why we took some of those things. They’re too sneaky. We had the Queen of Hearts in that deck of cards in episode four or five of season one, and they now came to fruition.
Javi pulled the Queen of Hearts first back in season one, right?
So technically, when we got there, there were no Queens in the deck at all. That’s what Natalie tells us. But we then see that there is a Queen when they get Javi. And so Javi gets it and brings it back. So technically, Javi was the one with the Queen before we ever pulled it, which is the weird symbolism there.
And now Nat pulled the Queen in the past, and died in the present.
Correct. And I think that was a huge parallel they played with. It’s almost like that was the death that was owed. And again, that’s so tragic and sad. And it’s sad because she didn’t get to live her life to the fullest in many ways, because she was hanging on to the past for so long. I may have shed a tear, or two.
I read that you all throw death parties for people who die. Did you throw two parties after the finale?
We do the younger timeline death parties. So we did one for Javi, that was so fun. It was such a good time. Luciano was wearing all black, and everyone dresses in black. That’s kind of how we roll. We’ll go out to somebody’s house. We did Jane [who played Laura Lee] last season, and that was where it all started. Jane created the first death party, and then we kind of kept it going since. It’s not a spoiler to say that I’m sure we’ll have more!
Anything else behind the scenes or about this finale to leave us on?
I want to give a big shout out to Karyn and how we dealt with these scenes. Karyn really made sure that I felt ready to do it. It was really, really, really tough, those few days that we shot the Javi stuff. No one was cheering or having a good time; kind of like episode six [the stillbirth of Shauna’s baby], where it was tough. And so I hope people see through the screen the pain everyone was dealing with. Because, we’re not just losing a character. We’re losing an actor, a friend. That’s the weird thing about acting; we lose both, our actor and our character. That was tough, but we had a good time doing it. And we’re thankful for Luc, a lot.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
The second season is now streaming and on Showtime on demand. Keep up with THR‘s Yellowjackets season two coverage and interviews.