Photo: Jason LaVeris/Getty Images
Did Will Forte create The Last Man on Earth, in which he plays humanity’s worst living representative, because he is in fact the best dude on the planet? Talking to his friends and spending a couple of hours eating breakfast burritos and strolling around Venice Beach with him for a New York Magazine feature certainly gave this reporter that impression. More stray observations and stories emerged than could fit in the printed piece, so in honor of Last Man’s finale last night, please enjoy the many things one learns about Will Forte from spending time with him (and talking to a bunch of people he knows), including just how nice he is, what happened when he stuck his hand in Andy Samberg’s urine flow, and what it was like having Val Kilmer as a roommate.
1. Will Forte is the most polite man in Hollywood, according to everyone I interviewed and probably a lot of people I didn’t. His MacGruber director, the Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone, takes it further: “He’s the most polite slash generous, almost to a fault, human I’ve ever met.” Taccone tells me Forte took all of his per diem for MacGruber and gave it to the crew as a thank you when they wrapped. When I met him, he paid his own parking meter, then turned around and handed the rest of his change to the guy in line behind him. When a fan approached, Forte took a selfie with him, asked him about his hometown (Austin), talked about how great the music scene was there, and made sure to get his name. “Eric? Will,” he said, shaking his hand, as if the guy didn’t already know his name. “Will Forte.”
2. Taccone says he tries to French-kiss Taccone’s wife every time he sees her. “I don’t know if that’s what I’d describe as generous,” he says. “We have pictures of him at our wedding trying to touch tongues with her. He’s committed.”
3. He’s a gentleman, sort of. Kristen Schaal had to eat beans in one scene on Last Man and then lie on top of Forte for a sex scene right afterwards. “I farted on him,” she says. “And he very gallantly told the crew that it was his.” He also killed a giant water bug for Rachel Dratch when they were next-door neighbors during their time on SNL. “He was my handyman and my friend, and when I saw this giant water bug in my apartment, I immediately called him and he came over and killed it, and I was so glad. But in true Forte style — I’m so grossed out by water bugs — after he killed it, he had it in this paper towel and he was chasing me around with it and threatening to wave it in my face. I was screaming, like, ‘You don’t understand! This is not funny to me!’ That’s a good spin on Will Forte. He will kill the water bug and then slightly threaten you with it.”
4. He often puts his hand over his heart when talking sincerely.
5. He says, “Break a leg!” to his fellow actors before every take on Last Man, according to Schaal. And he can’t leave any set without saying good-bye to everyone. This was true for SNL, and Will Arnett remembers it from when they did 2007’s Brothers Solomon. So Arnett started doing this thing where every night, he says, “I would try to slip out right before they’d call ‘wrap,’ and I would get in my car and I’d drive, like, 30 feet away, and then I’d open the window and I would say, ‘Bye, Will!’ And he’d be like, ‘No, wait! I have to say good-bye!’ And I’d go, ‘No, I have to go!’ And I’d drive away and he’d run after me. It was sort of like, ‘No, I’m not going to live on Forte time, where he has to say good-bye to everybody.’”
6. He was in Santa Fe, my hometown, while this article was closing, and gave me a daily accounting of the meals he ate, with rave ratings, like, “Delicious! Thumbs up for the Shed, the Tesuque Village Market, and Pascale’s Café.” And if you’re looking for a breakfast burrito in the Venice Beach–Santa Monica area, try the Flyin’ Jalapeño or Shoops, where Forte likes to get a wrap with grilled onions and fine jalapeño.
7. “Who doesn’t have a weird Will Forte story? He loves to be strange!” says Kenan Thompson, who fondly remembers Forte being the only person who’d bring wigs and odd props to table reads at SNL and would stay totally in character even when cameras weren’t around. Andy Samberg refers to Forte’s SNL office with writing partner John Solomon as “his obsessive den with no windows.” Like all offices on the inside wall of the 18th floor of 30 Rock, it had no windows, but, says Samberg, “For some reason, Will’s office seemed like it had the least windows of all the offices with no windows.”
8. That was also his actual butt and hairy, sweaty chest you saw onscreen in MacGruber. “My man Forts doesn’t do ass doubles,” says Taccone, who admits he maybe thought that Forte was more comfortable being naked than he actually was. “There were times when I didn’t quite close the set as much as I should have because I didn’t realize that he still had, like, a sliver of self-respect for himself. And then occasionally he’d be like, ‘What’s going on? Why are there so many people here?’ I’d be like, ‘I didn’t know you cared, man. I really didn’t.’”
9. Val Kilmer crashed in Forte’s guest bedroom while trying to sort out a new house in Malibu. It was meant to be a couple days and wound up being a couple months. Forte was a big fan of The Amazing Race and convinced Kilmer to watch it with him. “I wouldn’t say that he got sucked into it, but he was fascinated by it,” says Forte, “and we were even thinking about trying to enter ourselves into the next Amazing Race. We even both checked with our agents to see if they would let us do it, and both agents were wildly against it. We both really wanted to do it. We almost said, ‘Oh, well, screw them.’ But we got busy.” One of Forte’s fond memories of that time was how sometimes he’d come home at night, he says, “and all the lights would be out and I’d see a little light coming from his room, and I had gone to Burning Man once, so I had one of those weird miners’ lights, a headlamp, and I would come into his room and he would be reading with just the headlamp on his head. It was so fun!”
10. Every person who told me about Forte and Kilmer as roommates wishes they’d thought at the time to turn it into a reality show. In fact, if Forte hadn’t come up with Last Man (along with Phil Lord and Chris Miller), their next-best idea was to do a show kind of like The Odd Couple, based on Forte and Kilmer living together. “I love that guy with all my heart. I want him to move back in!” says Forte.
11. Forte grew his impressive Last Man beard for six months, then shaved it off in episode four. For those months, Forte couldn’t sleep on his stomach. “My head wouldn’t fully hit the pillow in the same way that it used to,” Forte says. It also made bicycle riding dangerous. “When I turned my head a little,” he says, “the beard would catch the wind and start pulling my head over.”
12. He’s been a committed prankster since he was a kid. Dratch remembers him telling her how one year he asked his dad what he wanted for Christmas, and his dad said he’d be happy with anything but a bathrobe. “So Will went out and bought like 12 bathrobes and put them in different-size boxes so it didn’t all look like bathrobes. He [put] one in a little teeny box and one in a giant box,” so every time his dad thought he was getting something different, he got another bathrobe. Forte confirms it: “Never tell me there’s something you don’t want for Christmas, because that means for sure you’re getting that, and not just that but a bunch of them, probably.”
13. He’s a momma’s boy and proud of it. “I’ve got a great mom!” he says. His mom Patti appears in MacGruber as Colonel Faith’s wife in the wedding at the end. When I spoke to him on the phone from the Santa Fe set of The Ridiculous Six, she was visiting him, too. The hardware store in Last Man carries Patti’s maiden name, Stivers. And when Forte shaved off his beard, he gave it to his mom for an art project. “The jury’s out on what’s going to happen with it,” he says. “I think she’s going to paint a painting and then glue the hair on the painting as a beard.”
14. His other experiments with body hair include shaving an arrow in his chest hair pointing down to his crotch for an ex-girlfriend who pretty soon afterwards became an ex, and saving all his hair clippings for a year to make a wig to give to John Solomon, along with a mustache made out of, says Forte, “an unconfirmed different type of hair.”
15. He has a bag full of fingernail clippings he’s planning on giving his agent, Matt Rice, for some special occasion. “We went to a Clippers game, and I am a fingernail biter when I get nervous, and so I bit off one of my fingernails, and as a joke I just kind of casually put it on his sweater, and he took the fingernail off his sweater and put it in his mouth, and then the Clippers scored a 3-point basket, so we said, ‘Oh my God, that’s hilarious. My fingernail in Matt’s mouth is good luck.’” Then after halftime, when the Clippers were down again, he bit off another fingernail, Rice put it in his mouth, and the Clippers came back and won the game. The magic worked yet again when they were watching a Patriots-Steelers game that Rice had bet on the Patriots to win. “I bit the fingernail off and I hand it to Matt, he put it in his mouth, and I’m not joking, we looked up, a pass was in the air, the Patriots intercepted it and I think ran it back for a touchdown,” says Forte. “It was like this jaw-dropping moment of this fingernail-saliva thing. Totally cemented it.” Soon after, Rice proposed to his girlfriend, and for a year, whenever he’d bite off his fingernails, Forte would save them in a bag to give to Rice as a wedding present for luck. But he forgot to bring the bag to the wedding. “So now I have this disgusting bag of fingernails,” says Forte. “I’m going to wait for a major anniversary and give it to him.”
16. Among the more pervasive Forte stories from SNL was the Tuesday night when writer Eric Slovin was waiting hours for takeout food and being very complain-y about it, so when it came, Forte promptly threw it out the 17th-story window. This is true, Forte says, but he was provoked. “I forget what happened, but for some reason I had a $20 bill out, and [Slovin] took the $20 bill, opened up the window, and dropped it out the window,” says Forte. “So he’s watching this $20 bill flutter down to the sidewalk, and as his head is down there, he sees, very quickly, a meal surpassing that $20 bill, and I think his dinner hit the ground before my $20 bill did. I think he regrets it. I think I got the best of that deal.”
17. Why did he put his hand in the path of Andy Samberg’s urine flow in the SNL bathroom? “Just because. Because he’s Will,” says Samberg. “At SNL there’s big communal bathrooms, like any workplace, and a row of urinals. I think he’s done this to John Solomon as well, and then who knows who else. I’ve never polled him about it. But, yeah, more than once I was at the urinal peeing and he walked up behind me and got down low and put his arm up underneath between my legs and put his hand in the path of my pee.” Did the pee then splash on him? “Nope. It just kind of sort of falls to the side. I mean, your question is not wrong. When he did it to me the first time, my response was, “Why?!” And then he went, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s good,’” Samberg says, imitating Forte; everyone has a Forte impression that sounds like a cross between Frances McDormand in Fargo and Gollum in Lord of the Rings — “and then he ran to the sink and washed his hand. Yeah, he’s a special friend, a special, special friend.”
18. He started off doing comedy as graphic art, making a comic book called 101 Things to Definitely Not Do If You Want to Get a Chick, about being an inept man. One of those things was “Never Take a Gravy Bath With a Girl’s Father.” That book got him his first job writing for Jenny McCarthy’s sketch show, then landed him at David Letterman, where he was briefly a writer in 1997. “I think the reason I was asked to submit a packet was the cartoons,” he says. “And that was the most exciting thing because I’d heard that Dave had seen them and liked them, and Dave was one of my heroes. In terms of comedy inspirations, it was SNL and Letterman and Steve Martin and Peter Sellers. Those were my big four.”
19. The Last Man producers’ greatest struggle with Forte might have been during a scene in the pilot when his character tries to walk across the bathroom full of empty water bottles and beer cans he’s been using to fill his toilet tank. Lord and Miller realized there were sharp objects throughout the pile and insisted he wear flip-flops, and Forte complained, arguing that the scene was going to be far funnier and more awkward if he went barefoot. “We said, ‘Look, I can’t have you go to the hospital and stop shooting. I know you don’t care if you, like, cut an important artery in your foot, but we’re going to lose our day if you do that,’” says Miller. Forte finally agreed. Then the minute the cameras rolled, he kicked off the flip-flops and did the scene barefoot anyway.
20. He’s aware that audiences got turned off by his Last Man character, Phil Miller, “getting a little scheme-y,” he says. “We created this character whom you’re sympathetic towards because of the situation he’s in, in the very beginning, and I think people didn’t want to see that kind of turn around and have some jerkish qualities.” That was part of the plan, “to have you switching your allegiances with the different characters and never know from one show to the next who you’re really rooting for,” he says. But looking back, he’s not sure if they accounted for how much of the characters’ backstories they’d have to cut out to make the episodes 21 minutes, or how viewers would feel about Phil’s increasing asshole-ish-ness when taken in one binge-watching chunk, or how to space out the introduction of new characters. “I definitely don’t want to make the show just a thing where you’re constantly introducing new people,” he says.
21. The cow on the show is named Kat, she’s from the Chick-fil-A commercials, and she is not housebroken. “That’s for sure,” says Forte. “There’s this awesome dude who hangs around it with a bucket and just stares at its tail and butthole all day. The moment there’s a movement, he’s right in there, but still you can’t catch everything.” Does that mean there’s cow shit everywhere? “All I’m saying is don’t lay down in the floors of our sets.”
22. Rachel Dratch remembers two key pieces of art in his New York apartment: a large blown-up school picture of a very awkward 13-year-old girl with braces, and an oil painting of a grey-haired CEO. “And when you’re like, ‘Who are these people?’ He was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I just got them at a flea market.’ He had random pictures of strangers on his walls!”
23. He regretted leaving Saturday Night Live and still misses it. “It took a long time to get over not being there,” he says. “And, you know, it was my decision. I could’ve come back, but I was 40 and I’d been there for eight years and there was no guarantee of anything, but I had to at some point leave there. And I had just gotten a chance to do the MacGruber movie. It just seemed like the right time to go.” He figured that if acting didn’t work, he’d go back to writing. “It was a hard decision to make, but then once the season started, it was just devastating,” he says. “You know, you’re seeing all your buddies who are still doing it. It was just a very emotionally trying period.”
24. You may have already seen the footage where Forte gave a speech at Seth Meyers’s wedding as his inappropriately sexual, white supremacist character Hamilton. Well, he did the same thing at Andy Samberg’s wedding a few weeks later, at Samberg’s request. “Hamilton is one of my all-time favorite Forte characters, and he was so damn funny at Seth’s wedding, I was like, ‘Is it weird to ask him to do it again at my wedding?’ And it turned out it was not weird, and I did ask him,” says Samberg.
25. Forte didn’t repeat a single joke from wedding to wedding. “He obsessed over all of them,” Taccone recalls, “and the morning before the speech, he ran through the entire thing, and then hilariously, all the most offensive jokes that people were like, ‘Well, I don’t know if you could do that,’ those were, like, what he led with.” The best part was that for much of the speech, it seemed unclear if Samberg’s relatives realized that Hamilton was Will Forte in character. “Which was in a lot of ways the desired effect,” says Samberg. “That’s the dream scenario, that people don’t know it’s a bit and they’re like, ‘Whose friend is this?’” Forte, of course, finished his speech and walked through the entire party to get snacks and loitered around as Hamilton for a while. “I don’t think he dropped out of character until he was out of the sight of view,” says Samberg. “Like, no one ever saw him drop character, which is sort of the Forte insanity in a nutshell.”
Additional reporting by Renata Sellitti.