The 2016 Emmy race has begun, and Vulture will take a close look at the contenders until voting closes on June 27.
Will Forte's Last Man on Earth came out of the gate hot in its first season, with critics lauding it as tonally and structurally revolutionary. As the season progressed, some cooled, feeling that Forte's Phil became a too-difficult-to-watch villain. However, in season two the show came back mightily, maintaining all that was special about the first season while giving it a little bit more heart. It remains one of the most unusual, unpredictable sitcoms in recent memory.
The night the season two finale aired, Vulture's Jesse David Fox interviewed the Forte and his co-star Kristen Schaal at the Paley Center for Media. We are running an edited version of the conversation as we revisit this year's Emmy contenders.
I cried a few times while watching the season finale. There were somber moments, emotional moments. Going into writing it, what were you going for?
Will Forte: Certainly, the stuff with Jason was very special to me because he used to be in my life every day, and then I don't get to see him like that anymore. He’s like a brother. This was a very special experience and we really just wanted to give the end of this relationship its proper due. The tough part, of course, in telling a sad story is finding humor in it. Our writers have become really good at that.
The episode had like the saddest fart joke.
WF: When you think about it, every fart is sad.
Kristen Schaal: It’s the death of a poop.
Do you remember writing that arc of you having this jar of farts, and then it being this thing that he gives to you?
WF: I remember that the scene might have been like ten pages long. There was just so much to cover with fart jars. Some of our episodes can be ten minutes too long. When we’re shooting for 21 minutes, that’s a significant amount to touch. So, certain scenes, you go, "No, we’re not touching this one. We’ll get it out of these other ones." And with the fart jar we tried to save as much of as we could. I’m a gross person.
When Jason shaved your head, were you thinking Ghost?
WF: Definitely going into it, that was the thought. "This should be like the pottery scene in Ghost." We were going to have “Unchained Melody,” but it became very clear that “Falling Slowly” was our song. Jason and I do karaoke together all the time, and every time we do it, we do “Falling Slowly.” So this is just a glimpse into something we do anyway.
The other main story in the finale was the mysterious drone, and Melissa acting like a paranoid maniac. What was the decision to have her character be the person who seems to be the most reactionary to this drone?
WF: Well, it seems like she’s usually the most realistic. When the virus was possibly reintroduced, it was very clear she should be the person who was harsh. We knew the drone would be coming in and, at this point, we have enough to go off of how these characters would react.
Kristen, as Carol, you had the “This world can suck” speech. What was it like shooting that?
KS: She is the most optimistic one of the group. It was a tough scene for me just because there wasn’t any joke to hang on to. I had to be real serious and I had to look into January's gorgeous blue eyes. And pffft. It’s a lot. But it was good. It was really nice working with January because she’s really good at the dramatic stuff. She was so there and so down and just a great person to react to. And then when we were done shooting, I remember, “Oh, I'm really good. Why was I nervous?”
Especially with Melissa’s "We are the survivors" line, it was the first time the show almost felt like The Walking Dead or Lost in terms of a menace. Can you talk about the decision to have those guys at the end come with the guns?
WF: We always like to end with some fun cliffhanger, and this seemed like a very exciting turn of events. We had thought up Pat returning a while back and then decided it’d be a fun element to have two people who could be anybody. It really opens up this world of possibilities. We go into each season not knowing a ton about where it’s going to go. Going into the second season, we knew, okay, Gail’s going to start doing medical stuff a little bit, and then Phil’s going to get appendicitis and die because of her. That was basically all we had, and then we knew Jason was going to come, and then stuff just started falling into place. We have that amount of info to go on for the third season.
Let's talk about the decision to shave half your body. Do you remember how that came about?
WF: I just woke up one day and was like, Do a half and half. The whole moment was there, with Tandy waking up with a half shaved head and Mike saying, "Burn!" and then me saying, “Oh, well, the burns on you,” because that little section allowed us to have to keep it for a while. I couldn’t wait to do it. It was really exciting.
How long did you have that in real time?
WF: It was a month.
And you had to keep on shaving it because time didn’t pass?
WF: We knew it was going to be for that one episode, and then we didn’t know when I was actually going to shave the rest of it off. We were just trying to justify having it a little bit longer. It is the dumbest look. And then all of a sudden we just forgot about it and we would do these scenes, and I had the idea to shave it off in the last episode.
Do you have any stories from being a regular person walking around like that?
WF: The double takes that I got. It was an adventure that very few people get to say they had. By the way, Kristen really wanted to do it as well and we were trying to find a way to make that happen.
KS: I had the same haircut for 15 years. I just need a push.
Not even specifically with plot, but going into the season, just generally what were your hopes about what to do with the show?
WF: One of the things was we wanted continued growth for Tandy. At the end of season one, that was a big moment for us when she took me back. We thought, “Let’s make sure Tandy grows from this experience.” This was trying to figure out how we were going to do this and still have the Tandy character be funny. We realized, he doesn’t have to make a full shift as long as he’s trying — then we can still have him make mistakes all the time.
KS: The minute he decided that Carol was awesome was the minute he became someone that people trusted. He could be as goofy and stupid as he wanted once he had one thing to ground him, which was me. That’s my theory.
The first episode back from mid-season, with it being just Jason alone, was really special. Because you were back from break, were you hoping to reset the idea of someone being alone in the world?
WF: Yeah. When we were just starting out, we had no idea what the viewers’ appetite would be for a person wandering around. Looking back, we would have wanted to take a little more time with me just alone, and then with just the two of us, then when January came in. So, any time we can go back to that situation where you can see people in this very stark world, we try to do that.
Kristen, do you remember reading the script where it said the first time they were going to say "I love you" was when you were having sex with his brother?
KS: That scene was one of those great scenes where they told me at the beginning that that had been the plan. I was a little thrown when I heard it, but down for everything. Down F.E. Down for everything. And then once were in that scene, it took a few takes before it hit me how hysterical it was. It might have been the funniest scene I’ve ever done, but I had to be in the middle of it, literally, to figure that out. I was actually sad when we were done because I felt like I’d just clicked into to the rhythm of the threesome and I wanted to explore it more. I was like, "This could go so many places.”
WF: We’ll write some threesomes into season three.
KS: You know what I like.
Carol’s pregnant at the end of the season. Do you feel like these are people that would have wanted kids before the virus?
KS: The virus is definitely motivating it. She wants to create the human race. So that is part of it. Carol did want a husband, for sure, and a family before the virus, too, and nothing was quite hitting. Although Emily Spivey, who writes on the show, disagrees with me, I had been under the impression that Carol really started to thrive post–virus. Like all of a sudden she could have her own set of rules, but then Spivey is like, "No way. Carol was outgoing and had her nerdy friends," which we got to meet in the beginning of season two.
WF: The pregnancy stuff has been very interesting because we have a lot of debates in the writers room. I would think, "Oh, you would want to get the world back on its feet," and then some of the women in the writers room were like, "There’s no way I would bring a kid into that world." That’s why there are the competing ideas in the show.
This season also had the anti-love triangle, where you basically take what is a normal sitcom conflict and just make it work.
WF: That stuff was a big debate, too, just trying to figure out how it was going to affect people’s attitudes towards the characters. It could be a real shitty situation. One of the things that makes that story line really work is Mel Rodriguez. That moment he comes to the women! What could be a real weird story line, if people do go with it and buy it, it’s because of how he plays that character. I would get into a three-person relationship with him.
KS: He’s asked several times.
There was a lot of death in this season. Not only did characters die, but you see more bodies, and the fact that this virus happened is much clearer this season. Was that a hope to reinstitute the stakes of the show?
WF: We would hear a lot, "Where are all the bodies?" And, in the pilot, we had a scene where, when I go in the mansion for the first time, I go upstairs and I find this dead body of the previous inhabitant, and I take him outside and burn him with all his stuff. There was a big debate over whether we should show a dead body and we lost that. This season we thought this was a time we could finally address that.
I’ve heard you talk after season one about how much work it was. Do you feel like you got the hang of it this season or was it also hard?
WF: It was really hard. It’s like a full acting day, and then I can’t start writing until after acting. Then editing is on weekends. I love the show, so it’s worth it. I thought going into the second season, Oh, now we’ve done it for a year! And it didn’t turn out to be that way, but I think now, this third season, that's gonna be the one.
KS: I’ve never seen anyone work harder than Will Forte. And that includes working alongside Tina Fey, who was starring [in] and creating a show. I don’t mean to compare the two, but I remember she had Robert Carlock. Forte gives every ounce of himself into this thing. And for someone who works around the clock on this show, who rented an apartment where we shoot because he doesn’t have time to drive home to Venice — he’s never angry. He never snaps. He’s still incredibly kind. I do think he’s insane. Like, he’s definitely insane.
WF: I’m a control freak, but I’m trying to get out of that for the third season. We have an amazing group of writers and everyone on the crew is awesome. There’s got to be a way that I can mellow out a little bit, but I just haven’t figured it out yet. If I didn’t like the show, I wouldn’t spend all this time on it. We got a little family there. It’s really a delightful exhaustion.
This interview has been edited and condensed.