Being plunged into – and remaining indefinitely in – a sudden and unexpected disastrous global event that forever changes politics, science and overall society around the world isn’t just occurring in real life with the current years-long COVID-19 pandemic; it’s also relatably occurring on the new post-apocalyptic television series, ‘Y: The Last Man.’
The action-adventure drama is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which a cataclysmic event decimates every mammal with a Y chromosome except for one (cis) man and his pet monkey. The survivors of the event struggle with their efforts to restore what was lost and the opportunity to build something better.
‘Y: The Last Man’ was developed by Eliza Clark and is based on the comic book series of the same name by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. The show is currently airing its first season on FX on Hulu.
In ‘Y: The Last Man,’ Congresswoman Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane) rises through a decimated line of succession to become President of the United States. Jennifer assembles a dedicated team of women to rebuild the country, but her plans are upended when she learns that her son Yorick (Ben Schnetzer) survived the event.
Facing massive unrest fueled by widespread conspiracy theories, Jennifer teams up with covert operative Agent 355 (Ashley Romans) to keep Yorick’s survival a secret and transport him to Dr. Allison Mann (Diana Bang), a top geneticist who may be able to discover how he survived.
However, Yorick has other ideas. An old school romantic, he’s desperate to find his missing girlfriend Beth (Juliana Canfield). As Yorick and 355 hit the road in secret, Jennifer’s political rivals circle, led by Kimberly Campbell Cunningham (Amber Tamblyn). Kimberly senses that Jennifer is hiding something and tries to uncover the truth in order to bring her down.
Meanwhile, Jennifer’s daughter Hero (Olivia Thirlby), an EMT harboring deep shame and a dark secret, works with her best friend Sam (Elliot Fletcher) to find safety in this post-apocalyptic landscape. They join forces with Nora Brady (Marin Ireland), a political advisor struggling to keep her young daughter alive.
Together, they encounter a well-organized and ideologically-driven group of survivors led by Roxanne (Missi Pyle), a former homicide detective who has become a cult-like figure. As the group becomes more violent and dangerous under Roxanne’s leadership, Hero and Sam’s friendship is tested while Nora begins to see a different path for herself and her daughter.
Eventually, these worlds collide as old alliances crumble and new ones form. The survivors grapple with the identities they clung to before the event, struggling to reconstruct a sense of self in this new world. As they start to cast aside old rules, norms and traditions, they slowly begin to realize that the old world is gone and never coming back.
Schnetzer, Romans, Bang, Canfield, Tamblyn, Thirlby and Fletcher generously took the time this weekend to talk about starring on ‘Y: The Last Man’s first season during New York Comic Con 2021. Among other things, the actors and actresses discussed that they enjoy and embrace the sense of community that has been built amongst the show’s cast and crew members, and particularly appreciate that the story is being told specifically from the female gaze, both in front of, and behind, the camera.
Question (Q): Seeing where the writing is going as actors, did you find yourself being very flexible and changing with the characters throughout the season?
Diana Bang (DB): I feel like when I first arrived, since I showed up halfway through the season, they all had their grooves. I felt for myself, as well as Dr. Mann, I felt like, I’m going to mess everything. I mess up the dynamic between 355 and Yorick, as well as Ashley and Ben.
Q: Elliot, since your character is more of an addition for the show, how do you feel about your place in it?
Elliot Fletcher (EF): I feel great. I know that Sam wasn’t in the graphic novels. Not to toot my own horn, but I think he was a great addition to the show. There’s a tremendous community on the show that isn’t featured in the comics. So to bring that community into the show has been great. I really enjoy the position I’m in and the relationships Sam has with the other characters. So yes, I’m really loving it. I love Sam.
Q: What was your impression of the story the first time you read the graphic novel series?
EF: I’ve been going to San Diego Comic-Con just because I am a nerd since I was 12. I remember the finale of the graphic novel series coming out at my first Comic-Con. I think at the time I didn’t understand the concepts. So I read it when I was youngerm and I think it sort of went over my head, but I was so impressed by it.
Now reading ‘Saga’ by Brian K. Vaughan, I think he’s a master. So in comparison to the show, I think it’s great it’s keeping some of the original content and also updating some of the new story, and bringing in new things. Ryan is so cool about the show and loved it. So it’s been a really awesome process to be a part of that.
Q: Olivia, when the television series opens, the hero’s character is struggling so much with her mother and brother. Do you feel that as the series goes on that she’s going to let some of that guilt go as the world shifts gears?
Olivia Thirlby (OT): Well that’s really her journey through this series; it’s not just the trauma of what happens to the whole world. It’s her own personal trauma and the way that that compounded the ways that she was already struggling with her sense of worth and identity. I think that’s the journey she’s going on.
The question is if she can learn to move on and forgive herself before she destroys everything that she loves in the process of hating herself so much. I hope that’s a question that the series answers as we take her on this journey and see the way that she chooses both well and very, very poorly how to navigate her own trauma and the aftermath of what can be chalked up to just a very, very big mistake.
Q: The last 10 minutes of the pilot is so amazing, particularly the way that it was filmed. When you watched the episode, what was your reaction to that?
OT: It was definitely nerve wracking to film it. It was one of those situations where, as an actor, you just have to completely trust the people around you.
Luckily Louise Friedberg directed that episode. It was DP’d by Kira Kelly, who is completely brilliant. We were shooting in this tiny space. It was a real ambulance where they had cut out sections of the wall so that they could put the camera in, because the camera couldn’t be in the ambulance.
It was stunt heavy, so there was a lot of choreography, and there was a big prosthetic that was involved with it, so it was a lot of moving pieces. It’s hard as an actor to really tell what you did or what you’ve got, so I was nervous about it.
Then when I saw it put together, it was a sigh of relief. I give a really big applause to Louise.
Q: Ben, your character wasn’t the nicest person in first episode, but gradually took on responsibility. What was the experience of creating the arch of your character?
Ben Schnetzer (BS): I wanted to give Yorick a lot of runway. It was very compelling to me that he’s not a willing participant; he’s a reluctant figure, and he sees the position he finds himself in to be a burden. The concept of someone having to work against himself was very compelling for me.
In the writing, they didn’t shy away from exploring the very unheroic elements of Yorick. I thought that was really brave and really fun. And it was very exciting to lean into the fact that he’s pretty self-centered and privileged. So to give him room to find a world bigger than himself and give him these lessons was amazing.
Q: What was your collaboration process like with Diane Lane?
Juliana Canfield (JC): She’s fabulous and such a star, in terms of her personality, not just in terms of her career. She’s there to work, and has tons of ideas. She knows her way around a camera and she helps everybody on set, and not just the actors; she’s always looking out for us and for the crew.
BS: I cannot say enough good things about her. She’s one of the most generous performers I’ve ever worked with.
Q: Are there any episodes that stand out for you?
BS: There’s a moment in episode three, where I got a note from the director that said, “Hey, Ben, I’d love for you to just, reach over and take Diane’s hand on this line.” I said, “Okay, sure.”
So we go to do the scene and the beat right before, the director said, “Diane, we’re doing a take,” and she breaks down. So organically, I just had an impulse to reach out to her and take her hand. The note wasn’t to her – the note was to me – but she heard it and just played like she passed me the ball. That’s a very generous thing to do for your fellow actors.
Q: Ashley, did you have a background in athletics before you took on the role of Agent 355?
Ashley Romans (AR): Yes, I would say I was pretty athletic. In high school I did rugby for a few years. That was a good time. I never thought I would use rugby, but I learned I had to tackle a few people in episode 6, so that came in handy. I also worked at a yoga studio for about five years when I was in L.A. That was basically the extent of my athletics.
Q: Because of COVID-19, the shoot had to be moved from summer to winter. What was the challenge shooting in winter in Toronto?
AR: Winter in Toronto was intense, specifically during the fight scenes and any outside scenes. Like in episode 2, I’m walking in the snow, and we filmed that the morning of a blizzard. So there was a blizzard in Toronto that morning, and we still went in.
I thought they were going to call it and say, “Hey guys, we can’t film, as we have to have a snow day.” But no; they said we were going to show up anyway.
It ended up looked really good because there was that cool drone shot where the snow just looked untouched. That was completely worth it.
By episode 4, it was still a little chilly, so my body would get stiff if I had to fight. But for the most part, they were pretty good at keeping everybody warm.
Q: What’s amazing about this show is that it’s not just mainly women working in front of the camera, but also behind the camera; a lot of female staff was involved. What was the female empowerment moments like on the set?
AR: Yes, it was wild. I had never worked with two female DPs or with this many female producers before. It was such an inclusive experience. I’ve been really lucky in my career that I’ve gotten to work with really awesome people.
It’s so interesting when you see things specifically from the female gaze. Violence is treated differently. I think nudity is treated differently on this show. The conversations in the writer’s room wee just really expansive. It was quite the treat to work alongside these people.
Q: ‘The Walking Dead’ has made a lot of changes from the source material of the comic books to its television adaptation. Were there any changes from the ‘Y: The Last Man’ graphic novels to this show?
Amber Tamblyn (AT): Oh yes. I don’t ever really read the source material, but just because I want to come to it fresh. In the beginning, in book one, there’s a lot of the women in the Pentagon who are fighting with Jennifer Brown, and you see a lot of the conservative women.
So I looked through the first book a little bit and I told myself that Kimberly was one of those characters that was drawn in the background without a line, and who was sort of voiceless. I think that’s a really great metaphor for her existence in the show, at least how you first see her. Then she morphs into a much more terrifying and complicated person later in the season.
Q: Amber, your character of Kimberly Campbell Cunningham is someone who, like some people in the COVID pandemic, had to stick to their normal routines. Why was it important for you to show that throughout the series?
AT: That was one of the fun things to bind with the character, too, just because there’s an apocalypse. When there’s a giant trauma that happens to the world and a huge aftermath, it doesn’t mean that women stop being women to a certain degree, and especially women like Kimberly.
She reminds me of some girlfriends I had in high school in Orange County, in Los Angeles, who would wake up and before they even brush their teeth or have coffee, they put heavy eyeliner on. They always had acrylic nails, and they would not be caught dead without their makeup on in any situation. Kimberly is kind of part of that, which I think makes her some of the very morbid comic relief of the show; she;s stuck in the past and a lot of that is going to create a lot of problems for her.