Lounge Talk: Nuha Jes Izman
Your favorite group of cannibalistic misfits is back as Yellowjackets returns for its second season. It’s only fair to say, be prepared to question everything and everyone (again!). Making her first appearance this season is Crystal, whose musical singalongs and youthful persona become a source of warmth amidst the chaos… at least for now. While viewers will have to wait and see what becomes of our newest Yellowjacket, we can get to know Nuha Jes Izman, the one who brings Crystal to life. Bidding a farewell to her life in Malaysia to follow her acting dreams in The Big Apple, approaching the unfamiliar is not new to Nuha. Now, for her first major television role, she is ready to take on the Wilderness in an adventure of a lifetime.
As Yellowjackets is focused on surviving in the wilderness, you had to constantly look unkempt and disheveled in order for the audience to feel as if they were right there inside the cabin with you and the others. What was it like constantly filming outdoors and having to put yourself in the shoes of someone fighting to survive in the wild?
Actually, because this season takes place during the winter and we needed some sort of control of the weather (snow, snowstorms, etc) a majority of it was filmed indoors on a soundstage. Because of that, we really depended on the set & props department to bring us back into the world of the Wilderness. And they did such an incredible job. They built a replica of the cabin, got the exterior of the cabin to match where they filmed the first season, it was insane. It kinda played tricks on your mind cause you’d walk onto the soundstage but then it felt like you were right back outside because what they built felt so realistic. So that helped us a lot. Another shoutout I have to give is to the hair, make-up & costume department cause they really are such a big part of bringing us actors into the characters. Once you have all the dirt thrown on your face, your hair all messed up and you put the dirty, worn out clothes on, it’s not hard to feel like those tired, hungry, lost, girls who’s priorities aren’t on anything else but surviving out there. As for putting ourselves in the shoes of people fighting to survive, it was hard. Our wonderful writers really trusted us with some great material this season, and it was definitely emotionally taxing at times but everyone made a point to try and keep it light and crack some jokes and be there for each other in between takes.
Though this is your first major television role, you have been acting since age four. How did your background prepare you for this role? Between acting in the theater versus acting in front of the camera, what was the biggest difference you felt?
I think more than anything, all those years in theatre and training made me brave enough to step on set, and trust myself. I got the call that I got the job, and then I was flying out the next day to be on set working the day after that, so I didn’t have a huge chunk of time to prepare. I also couldn’t afford to use the time that I did have, to sit in self doubt, worrying if maybe somehow they accidentally gave the job to the wrong person. I had to really trust myself. My training and years working on smaller projects really was the thing that made me feel ready to be on that set the first day. Because I wasn’t walking onto set alone that day, I was walking onto set with the voices of every acting teacher I ever learnt from, every scene partner I got to work with, every friend and family member that came to my shows and told me I could make it to the big leagues one day. It was still really scary but I felt ready.
As for the differences working in the theater and working in front of the camera, for the most part the priorities are the same: breathing life and truth into a character and the circumstances they’ve found themselves in. The differences are all in the technicalities. The stillness, the size of your energy, size of your voice—I’m still learning to adapt to it, if I’m being honest. On camera, it feels a lot more intimate cause the camera really does catch every little eye twitch, smirk, and breath. It’s just about using different acting muscles but the goal is the same: storytelling.
As one of the newcomers in the Yellowjackets cast, were you scared for your first day on set?
I was nervous. It was like the first day of school… at a new school where everybody already knows each other. I mean it was like, these are the actors you admire for so long and then suddenly you’re supposed to stand next to them in a scene and hopefully not drown. It felt like a lot of pressure (that I’d put on myself). Also, they’d all done such an incredible job in the first season-they really set the tone for this incredible show and laid such a solid foundation for where the show could go, that I didn’t wanna come in and mess that up. But they were so nice and welcoming from the get-go and that made it a lot easier for me to come in and do my job. It was also incredible watching them act. Every single one of them is a pro at what they do, being on set was like attending a free masterclass in acting. They’re all just so good that I would find myself getting lost in their performances during a scene, which honestly made it easier for me to do my part. And Samantha Hanratty (who plays Misty) was the best scene partner I could’ve ever asked for. She was always down to try new things in a scene and just play and see where the scene would take us. She also made it feel really safe for me to do my work and make bold choices. I have a lot of respect for her. She’s taught me a lot. Samantha literally took me under her wing and held my hand through it all—it was like having a sister there to walk me through a ton of my “on set firsts”.
Like Crystal, who took a risk in bonding with Misty, you took a major leap in moving to New York from Malaysia (at such a young age too!). What is a piece of advice you have for people who want to pursue their dreams but are scared of taking the first step?
First I thought I’d say, it’s not lost on me just how lucky I am to be here in the city of my dreams, doing what I love to do. I’m in such a privileged position to have gotten here. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for literally every single encounter (big or small) I’ve had with the people who have passed through my life, so this isn’t an accomplishment I’ve gotten on my own.
As for taking that first step, I remember being very young and realizing we don’t get to live forever (a little dark but stick with me). I remember being obsessed with the fact that someday we all die, and that used to make me very sad because that meant that all our hopes and dreams and all the could’ve would’ve should’ves would die along with us. But after the sadness of that realization passed, it lit a fire under me to make it my life’s mission to always go after what I wanted. To always be in pursuit of happiness, no matter how difficult it gets, because at the end of the day, we all die but for right now, we’re given the gift of time to create the life we want. And that let me be brave enough to go after what I wanted each step of the way. The ups & downs are inevitable, life gets hard, and you’re gonna get knocked down—I would just much rather put the energy of getting back up, into a life that makes me happy instead of one that doesn’t. I go back to that every time I feel stuck or I’m faced with what seems like an impossible hurdle to cross (which honestly is a lot of the time). I want to be able to look back at my life one day and know that I tried my fucking hardest to go after everything I wanted. And I wish that for everyone who has a dream they wanna go after.
We don’t know much about Crystal at all. But, it is rumored that she will play a crucial role this season. Without giving away any spoilers, what is something you hope the audience sees about Crystal as her character develops over time?
I don’t know. I don’t really have any clue on how the audience is going to react to her. Crystal’s such a little kid still- It seems that when you go through the kind of trauma these girls do with the plane crash and being stuck out there, there’s something from the past/the “real world” that you hold onto. For some it was faith, others it was the social hierarchy, etc. For Crystal, it was her innocence. That was something that I figured out early on. Crystal’s holding on for dear life to her innocence and the (maybe childish) hope that ~everything’s going to turn out okay~. I found that really endearing and gave me, Nuha, a reminder that it’s okay to be hopeful and pay attention to your inner child when she calls to you. So I guess I hope Crystal can be that reminder to other people who need it, too.
What is a current song you have on repeat?
Right now, it’s ’21’ by Gracie Abrams. It’s been playing in my headphones on repeat while I do everything—I must’ve played it 20 times back to back while on my subway ride home.
If you were suddenly teleported into the show but only given 15 seconds to say something to Crystal, what would you say?
I’d tell her to ignore everyone else and sing all the songs she wants because it’s scary out there and life is short so do what makes you happy.
What was the biggest cultural shock when you moved from Malaysia to New York?
I don’t know if this counts as a cultural shock but moving to New York, there was such a strong sense of individuality in everyone. A freedom of being yourself. I never really had that back home so seeing everyone living their lives simply being themselves, helped me step into myself and really get to know ME. Up until then, I was living as this very meticulously crafted idea of the kind of person I thought people would like me to be. And it sucked, you’re never happy when you’re living life for other people. Coming to New York, I got to really know myself and let other people really know me too.
What is something you brought to New York (or on set) to remind you of home?
I love photography. I love taking photos of the people in my life. The one thing I still have with me from home (and I brought it with me to Vancouver where we were filming) is my old Polaroid camera. It’s like older than me, broken in some places, being held together with tape, very roughed up, but it was the first camera my dad ever got me when I was like 4 or 5 and it goes everywhere with me.
Who did you bond the most with on set?
Samantha Hanratty. It was so odd, the first conversation we had was instant fireworks and it felt like we’d been friends for years.
What is one thing in life you must do before you turn 25?
Cross-country roadtrip where we visit as many National Parks and all those silly roadside attractions like ‘World’s Biggest Gumball’.
If you didn’t pursue acting, what would you be doing right now?
I’d probably be trying to get into med-school.
What was your favorite class you took at Stella Adler Studio?
I, honest to god, loved every one of my classes. Cause I was just so happy to be there. Like we could be laying on the ground just breathing in & out for 40 minutes in our Voice and Speech class and I loved it cause going to drama school was like this big gift I never thought I’d be given. And it’s just so fucking silly sometimes. Like you’d wake up in the morning and see that what you had to do that day was pretend to be a baby sea monster in one class, practice scream crying (in a “healthy” way) in another, and then go and put up a Chekhov scene in the next. I had a great time in drama school, man.
You are part of the generation that went through Zoom University. How different was it taking acting classes through Zoom versus acting in person?
It was so silly sometimes. There was one time in a movement class where our teacher had asked us to take the shape of an inanimate object. And there I was, sitting in front of the little boxes on my laptop screen, looking at one of my classmates stand like a tree while whispering “river” repeatedly, and I all I could think was “what the actual fuck is going on right now. There’s a pandemic happening out there, but here I am in my room, watching this guy sway around like a tree, whispering “river” and my biggest responsibility today is whether or not I can convey being a ‘sponge’ through the camera.”. It let me feel silly at a time that was very scary.
What is a random fact about yourself that you think readers should know?
Uhm, I can fall asleep anywhere? I could be at a party, a picnic, in a waiting room and I’ll find a corner for myself to get some shut-eye.
If this next chapter of your life was turned into a movie, what would you title it?
I read this question out loud and went “I don’t fucking know” as a response, but I guess that would be the title of this chapter. “I don’t fucking know”.
If Crystal took the Myers Briggs personality test, what would her MBTI type be? (you don’t have to answer this one if you don’t want to!)
So, funny enough I do have an answer for this. I’ve actually taken the test as Crystal. Crystal’s is ENFP-A.