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Will Forte on His Unusual New Sitcom, The Last Man on Earth

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

About 20 minutes into my conversation with Will Forte, his publicist tells him it’s time to move on to the next scheduled interview in this particular brick of publicity for his new Fox series, The Last Man on Earth. I press for a quick quote but tell him not to worry if he can’t get back to me.

“Oh, no, you’re getting a callback,” Forte says. “Don’t even think you’re not.” Forte, who has a reputation as one of the friendliest and most engaging folks in Hollywood, calls back a few hours later, at the time he said he would.

The Last Man on Earth stars Forte as Phil Miller, a 40-something loser who finds himself alone on Earth in 2020 after a virus wipes out the planet’s population. The new series is the product of a partnership between Forte — who also acts as showrunner and writer on Last Man — and Lego Movie directors and old pals Phil Lord and Chris Miller. It takes an unconventional approach for a sitcom: Forte’s character is often onscreen alone for long stretches of time, and a lack of dialogue is accounted for by the show’s visual imagination. Vulture spoke with Forte about Last Man, MacGruber 2, and his SNL 40 after-party experience.

Did you happen to see that llama chase that went viral? Since The Last Man on Earth is set in Arizona, it made me think of the show.
I was doing a bunch of radio interviews today and they had that up on the screen, I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

I always like when, you know, ISIS is doing stuff and yet the llama chase is a huge thing.
They could be connected to ISIS. You never know.

Doing a sitcom like The Last Man on Earth seems like an interesting choice after your critically acclaimed role in Nebraska. Why was the timing right for The Last Man on Earth?
I don’t do a lot of strategizing, career-wise. I was approached by Chris and Phil, the guys who did The Lego Movie, they gave me my first job on Clone High. We’ve been friends forever, and they asked me if I wanted to write something with them. I came into this thinking of it as a writing project and nothing more. And then as we started developing it, I just fell in love with the concept and the character, and it was hard to think about giving it away. We initially saw it as more of a cable thing. But once we went to pitch the idea, the networks were just as interested, and ultimately the studio convinced us that Fox was the right place for it. I think we were initially nervous about it ‘cause it seemed so different. We were nervous that we would go in there and all these promises [that] were made about wanting to do something different wouldn’t be lived up to. But once we got in there, we were supported all along the way, and they let us make the show that we wanted to make. They didn’t make us make a pilot. We knew where the character was leading, and so it really helped inform the character.

This show is really visually imaginative. In the first episode, the scene where you’re in the bowling alley parking lot destroying shit is really fun and energizing. Also, the giant Jenga tower that Phil is building …
Going forward, Jenga plays a pretty big role in the show. That doesn’t seem like a huge selling point.

You do basically everything on this show — you created it, you wrote it, you star in it, you’re the showrunner. Does this feel like a sustainable way of working?
It truly was an amount of work I never knew existed. Seven days a week, minimum of 12 hours a day. Yes, could I burn out? Absolutely, but at the same time, there’s so many things I learned from this year that I feel like, with everything, with the staff, the writing staff, the editing process, there’s so many things that, if we were to ever get a second season, that would be much more shorthand. I think if we ever got a second season I would not burn out, because I don’t think I’d have to work as hard because I’d know how to do everything a little better. You get your sea legs. The harder the work got — you’d get pretty tired — but then I’d have to go in and edit on the weekends, and it would be so energizing to get to see these shows coming together the way I had wanted. I am so glad we’re to the end of the process so I can finally get some rest. I wouldn’t change anything about it. That’s not true — I would add a little more sleep into the mix.

What can you tell me about MacGruber 2? Have you started working on it?
A long time ago we started writing an outline and got about two thirds of the way through it. We were really excited about the outline, and we’ve just been so busy. Just as I was kind of launching into Last Man on Earth stuff, all my focus turned to that. John Solomon is working on the show, too, and Jorma [Taccone] has been doing his own stuff. Now we’re finally to the place we can start attacking it again, and it’s really a priority for the three of us. Nobody is paying us to write it or anything. We are really so proud of that first one — which sounds so odd to say because it’s a filthy movie — but we love it. We don’t want to do a disservice to it by just doing MacGruber 2 just to do it. Obviously we want to have fun with our friends and stuff, but we only want to do it if we feel like its a something that would do the first one proud.

What was your SNL 40 after-party experience like?
I always do this, I walk in and just start gabbing with somebody right on the fringes of the first level of the party. The main part of this party was upstairs, and people are coming down a little bit at a time and saying, like, “Oh, you’re really missing some cool shit upstairs.” And I’m like, “Okay, I’ll get up there eventually.” And then I get into more conversations. Then I get upstairs, and I’m on the outskirts of the upstairs room. Somebody is doing that Prince song, “Let’s Go Crazy,” and I’m still engaged in this conversation, and then all of the sudden I go, Wait a second it’s not somebody doing the Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy”; it’s Prince doing the Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy”. And I ran in, sure enough, there’s Prince up there, jamming out this amazing guitar solo. I got to see about a minute and a half of the performance, and then I’m like, Oh my God, what else is going to happen? He put down the guitar and they started doing DJ music, and then I heard all the things I missed. By the way, don’t feel sorry for me — these people I was getting a chance to have conversations with were like, heroes. I was getting to talk to Kevin Kline. That was so cool. And then I’m standing there and Steve Martin and his wife walk up to us, and then Dan Aykroyd walks up. I’m having the time of [my] life getting to talk to my heroes. It was a special night, and I will never forget it.

Will Forte on The Last Man on Earth