‘Yellowjackets’ Star Ella Purnell Recalls Being Pressured to Be Sexy at Age 15: I Didn’t ‘Have the Power to Say No’

"I’m thinking, 'Am I going to get cancelled? Am I not going to work again? Am I going to burn bridges?'"
Ella Purnell arrives at the 27th Annual Critics Choice Awards held at The Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles, CA on Sunday, ​March 13, 2022. (Photo By Sthanlee B. Mirador/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)
Ella Purnell
Sipa USA via AP

Yellowjackets” alum Ella Purnell has spent her career “trying to find the right balance” when it comes to her appearance onscreen.

“You can’t be too strong, you can’t swear, you can’t wear short skirts,” Purnell told The Independent. “You can’t be too sexy because they won’t respect you, but you can’t not be beautiful because then they think you don’t have value. We’re taught to hold our grudges inside because at the end of the day it’s still a man’s world and you’re trying to get paid.”

Yet Purnell, who made her film debut at age 14 in “Never Let Me Go,” was forced to grapple with being a woman in Hollywood during her teen years.

“I’ve gone into photoshoots when I was 15, and they’ve pulled out a bra and a pair of knickers for me to wear,” the “Army of the Dead” star shared. “As a 15-year-old, I don’t have the power to say no because I’m thinking, ‘Am I going to get canceled? Am I not going to work again? Am I going to burn bridges?'”

She continued, “It really becomes the job of other people to protect you. But you can understand how easily it can go the other way for anybody that doesn’t have that support system. There are not enough child protection laws around that.”

It was only until Purnell’s career took off with “Maleficent,” “Sweetbitter,” and “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” did she feel comfortable deciding to not take off certain wardrobe pieces: “The more well-known you are, the less people push you,” she added.

Purnell revealed that she was at first hesitant to join what she expected to be a “boys’ club” of Zack Synder’s “Army of the Dead” Netflix franchise in 2021.

“Being in your early twenties, that shit comes up all the f***ing time and you have to be really firm about it from the start,” Purnell said. “So I came in hot, saying, ‘I’m not gonna wear high heels! I’m not gonna wear a push-up bra!'”

To Purnell’s surprise, her character’s costume consisted of cargo pants and tops suitable for action sequences. But Purnell warned: “It would’ve been a different conversation 10 years ago.”

Even starring in the viral Showtime series “Yellowjackets” made for an unprecedented approach to female action stars, according to Purnell.

“It’s still very new to see a woman be violent in a way that isn’t fetishized or used for the gore tactic,” the “Star Trek: Prodigy” actress said. “In ‘Yellowjackets,’ we’re not these half-naked sexy cannibals. We’re just surviving, and you don’t see that often, so it’s interesting when you do.”

“Stranger Things” star Millie Bobby Brown similarly spoke out about growing up in the public eye, noting that she’s experienced a “difference” in fan interactions since turning 18.

“I believe that that shouldn’t change anything, but it’s gross and it’s true,” Brown said on the “Guilty Feminist” podcast. “It’s a very good representation of what’s going on in the world and how young girls are sexualized.”

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