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The Afterparty’s Ben Schwartz Always Makes His Scene Partner Look Good

Photo: Scott Kirkland/Picturegroup/Shutterstock

Spoilers for The Afterparty finale, “Maggie,” below.

Ben Schwartz relishes playing the delightful goofball — most recently a schmoozy PR director and a beloved anthropomorphic hedgehog — but Apple TV+ whodunit The Afterparty subverts that typecasting. As Detective Danner (Tiffany Hadish) narrows her investigation of who killed pop star Xavier (Dave Franco) down to gentle Aniq (Sam Richardson) and hothead Brett (Ike Barinholtz), Schwartz’s Yasper seems to fade into the background. But after seven episodes navigating differing perspectives on one harrowing high-school reunion and its after-party, Danner puts together the clues in the finale: It was the lovable wingman with his own ambitions of pop stardom all along.

Despite appearing as the least likely suspect, Schwartz always wanted his own version of the “I did it” moment, and The Afterparty creators Chris Miller and Phil Lord had him in mind for their culprit from the start. Here’s how he prepared for his big confession and kept his girlfriend from finding out Yasper was the murderer.

When did you learn Yasper was the murderer? 
Chris emailed me. He said, “I had you in mind for this character while I was writing it.” And I’m like, “I love murder mysteries. I’m in.” He said, “It’s a different genre every episode. Yours is a musical.” And I go, “This is going to be the most fun.” And he goes, “Even more fun, you’re the killer. Nobody knows this but you, and this email is the only time I’m telling anybody.” You know in all those movies, when they’re like, “It’s him!” And he’s like, “Okay, I did it!” I love that moment. I was like, “I get to do my version of that.”

So much of the series and the finale hinges on that moment. How did you prepare for that day on set?
I was very aware of the day I was going to confess, and I really wanted to be on my game. I prepared in my house — I did it a couple times when my girlfriend wasn’t around so she wouldn’t know who the killer was. If she was in the house, I would never rehearse that scene. I didn’t want to spoil that for her.

I was watching Zoë Chao while confessing, and she was tearing up every take. She would look at me like, “His life is over. He’s going to jail for the rest of his life.” It would make me cry. I tried to let that fuel the whole performance. There are takes where I was full-on crying and Chris was like, “Now try one where you’re really angry. Now do one where you’re a little unhinged.” He found a way to merge them all together. It was so tiring, and it was a blast.

There’s a real sadness to Yasper. He has this disappointment about his life not turning out how he thought it should have. Even though he killed someone, that feeling is very relatable. Are these things you considered when putting together the different versions of Yasper for each episode?
I 100 percent did that because I don’t think the killer can think they’re crazy. In my head, when I’m acting, it’s all justified: I birthed Xavier into the world. He stole my song. He wouldn’t let me back in. I’m just asking for this, and can’t you understand? Yasper seemed like the more talented of the two, and now Xavier is the one getting all the credit and his pop songs are garbage.

My last way of trying to get this is begging him: “Please help me out. Just be on a track.” And then being so turned down, so pushed away? In his head, Yasper is like, Come on man. You screwed me over. I have nothing and you have everything and you can’t do this?

There’s this balancing act of Yasper trying to prove Aniq’s innocence while also covering up his own crime. Was that difficult to keep track of? 
You had to remember where you were in the story at all times. When I was listening to the earphones, it played comedically. Zoe’s like, “Can I hear?” And I’m like, “I actually want to listen.” Then Aniq’s like, “Come on, man. Let her listen.” Yasper can’t make a big deal of it or else they’ll know. So I sneak up comedically to try to listen and Sam pushes me away and you can see me get pissed. I was trying to play all that stuff. When you watch it again, you’ll see these little things. If you rewatch that moment with the Private Eye movie poster, it’s me realizing I killed someone on camera and I’m going to jail. It’s like, Oh my God. Fuck. Oh wait, I don’t want anybody to know I just thought that.

How much room was there to improvise or experiment in scenes? 
Chris gave us so much room to play. There’s 55 minutes of me thinking of Walt’s names. There’s 20 different versions of me singing in the shower. We’d find room to play because then you don’t suspect me as much.

Chris is such a good director it feels like you’re collaborating. He would steer you in or he would let you go. He would tell you, “Come here or don’t go there.” Or “I love that.” Or “Try this or that one.” You listen to him because he’s the Homeland person connecting all the wires on the wall. You just have to hope that what you’re doing is helping. All I kept thinking about is, How can I make the show better? That’s an improv-y point of view: I’m always trying to make my teammate look better.

What was most fun about playing the murderer? 
Watching the cast all find out in real time was really fun. Also to know that when I’m doing things, I just fucking killed somebody. Imagine how bananas a person has to be: A couple hours ago I took someone’s life, and now I’m like, “So this is what I think are my four favorite songs.”

Sam mentioned your real-life friendship made your on-screen friendship feel natural and familiar. How long have you known Sam?Literally, I didn’t meet him until the first day we filmed.

I tried to work with him before but I hadn’t met him yet. We did three table reads through Zoom, so the first time I met him was the day we started filming. Because we’re from improv backgrounds, we worked so well together. It was immediate friendship. In between takes, when they say cut, we’d do these little bits and play games with each other and stay in the spot until they’d say action again. He’s playing the straight man in the show and he’s still so funny. It’s a perfect example of when I was talking about that improv thing: When I’m in a scene with him, anything I can do to make him look great is something that makes me really happy.

I used to watch Shitty Jobs and Hot Sauce back in the day. Did you miss performing improv in front of a live audience during the pandemic?
Every month I was doing Largo. Now I’m touring Ben Schwartz and Friends. My shows when I started were 99 people in small black-box theaters. With Middleditch and Schwartz, it got bigger. And then with Ben Schwartz and Friends, I sold out the Beacon Theater. It’s insane. My family gets to see me perform at the Beacon Theater. For someone who’s from New York, that’s such a big deal.

My first show back, when we had those two years off, was the first time I was nervous to do an improv show since I was a kid. I was really like, “Are we going to be any good?” There was me, Drew Tarver, a bunch of my friends. It was a blast. It’s a release I really need.

Ben Schwartz Always Makes His Scene Partner Look Good