Will Forte is known for being one of the kindest, humblest people in the business, and after interviewing him, I can safely say that’s all patently untrue. (Just kidding, he’s the nicest. I only wanted to throw you off for a second.) He’s also the star and creator of one of the best new comedies on television, The Last Man on Earth, which has made waves for taking risks previously unseen on network TV. Vulture spoke to the SNL alum about how he and his team came to make many of the decisions that have shaped the show, Sunday night’s episode, and why people should lay off Phil about that toilet pool.
[Warning: For people who haven’t been watching the show, there are spoilers ahead.]
Do you have to work on this Sunday morning?
I’m actually heading to work to do some postproduction right now. What a day today, though.
L.A. is very nice today.
When Last Man started, the audience knew nothing about what would transpire in this new world. There were no rules to Phil’s situation, and it was all very open-ended. Did you know pretty early on exactly what you wanted to happen throughout the course of the season?
We had a very general sense of what the arc of the season would be like, but of course, you get in there and find so many new elements you want to include. And you realize, with the network structure, you’ve got 21 minutes, and that’s the toughest thing as we cut these last couple episodes; we’re seven minutes over in the first cut, and trying to hang on to all the stuff we love the most. I think if we’re so lucky to get a second season, that’s the biggest thing I learned, is to tell the stories in a more economical way, because you have to cut things, and suddenly story lines don’t make sense anymore.
In recent episodes we met new characters Todd (Mel Rodriguez) and Melissa (January Jones). Todd was a fun surprise, because we’d been expecting this douchey guy in a sports car.
We had general ideas of how we wanted to introduce characters into the show, and for the most part, stuck to that. There are some small changes, but for the most part, we stuck to the basic structure we had mapped out. Mel [Rodriguez] I had worked with before, he came into audition and was just perfect. The Melissa character was somewhat trickier to cast. I don’t know, the casting process for a network show is interesting. There’s lots of people with so much say, lots of different ways to go. And then at the last minute January Jones came in and did this amazing audition, so it became a no-brainer.
As far as network shows go, this seems so outside of anything we’ve ever seen. Has Fox been supportive the whole way through, or have there been some clashes on content?
That was one of my fears going in, that they’d make these promises and then try to rein us in, but they’ve been really great. We don’t always agree on stuff, but they’ve trusted us, for the most part, and a lot of times they have great ideas that make the show better.
Do you think the show would be different if it were on cable?
There certainly would be elements — I don’t think we would make it as dirty as MacGruber, but there would probably be slightly more coarse language? I feel the general tone would be the same, and frankly, the stuff we could have done on cable might have hurt the show. I definitely wouldn’t change a thing about that pilot. Maybe it would have been fun to be able to go just one notch further, but the clean version might be the best version. Fox really let us make the show we wanted to make.
You still got to crap in a hole in a diving board into a swimming pool.
Yes, that would have been a deal-breaker, if we couldn’t do that. You know, that’s something you would have deal with in this kind of scenario.
Just the basics of how it would work, that’s one thing that just kept coming up: What do you do with the toilet situation?
Other characters give Phil grief for his toilet pool, but it’s a world with no plumbing.
In one of the earliest incarnations, we had everyone constantly moving houses. Then, in the recent episode, Carol talks about going in hotel bathrooms.
Right, Carol says she goes in “mid-range hotels.”
She goes from room to room in the hotel. When she’s done with one hotel, she just goes to the next one. And then we had a situation where one character would do it into a bag and fill up a helium balloon and send it off, but we didn’t end up using that. Maybe that was a little over the top.
As Phil’s obsession with Melissa reaches a fever pitch, he’s gotten a bit more … dickish? Maybe? Definitely much more unsympathetic that he had been.
Absolutely. Phil feels a weird sense of entitlement because he’s the one who originally put up the signs for people to come to Tucson, so he feels he deserves certain things. And he’s gone a little off the deep end. You know, he’s definitely a flawed character, and you get a lot of sympathy for him in the first episode because you’re following him around, and I think everyone can imagine what that sense of despair and loneliness would be like, being alone in the world like that. But it’s not like he’s a perfect person in those early episodes, either.
Do you think you’ll find out about a second season soon?
I don’t know. It’s so interesting. So far the ratings have been pretty good, but it’s also the nature of the show is such that it’s constantly changing, so I don’t blame Fox for waiting to see if people stick along for the whole ride. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that that wasn’t one of my concerns. I never like to do things the easy way. I like people never knowing what’s going to happen. It doesn’t always work out in my favor, but I’m hoping that as people see the unlikeable sides to Phil’s character, I hope they remember that there are positives to him as well, and he’s just working some stuff out right now. I don’t want to give anything away, but the plan was to have a series of events that happen that keep you always guessing, and as I watch these next episodes, I know what happens, but your allegiances will constantly be shifting.
So you’re saying Todd’s going to kill everybody.
I don’t know… [Laughs.] It’s been a fascinating process. There’s a bunch of very amazing writers, dear friends of mine, we all got together and worked on this, and just sort of made the show we would want to see. And hopefully people feel the same way.
You started your career as a sitcom writer, even before SNL. But showrunning is definitely a different thing.
Yeah, I never had this kind of control over the shows I worked on before. I would pitch jokes and write the occasional script, but never got to plot the whole course of a show like this.
It’s a lot of work.
It is the craziest amount of work. I had no idea what I was signing up for. Like, clothing decisions? I shouldn’t be trusted with clothing decisions. “What color should this wall be?” I don’t know, what color do people usually pick for walls? Every decision seems like the biggest deal, and it’s like, oh, gosh, I have to think about wall color? And I’m an overthinker, so I just drive myself crazy. And then when a big decision comes, oh … it was just a complete body and mind shutdown. I’m just hoping we get to do a second season so we can learn from our mistakes and have the same amount of fun we did in the first season, but just with less … mental torture. [Laughs.] It’s been the best experience, but man, I need a little vacation.