More than a decade after the series concluded, Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra's Y: The Last Man has finally been brought to life for FX on Hulu, a project which has been in the works in a variety of ways for years. Initial reports date back to the 2000s, which would have been for a feature film, only for recent years to pivot towards a TV Series. Even once FX officially moved forward on the project, it went through some creative shifts, but despite those long delays and fan anticipation for the series to finally be realized, Ben Schnetzer was more excited than apprehensive to bring the beloved Yorick Brown to life for the new project.
A drama series based on DC Comics' acclaimed series of the same name by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, Y: The Last Man traverses a post-apocalyptic world in which a cataclysmic event decimates every mammal with a Y chromosome but for one cisgender man and his pet monkey. The series follows the survivors in this new world as they struggle with their efforts to restore what was lost and the opportunity to build something better.
ComicBook.com caught up with Schnetzer to discuss his connection to the source material, the key to bringing Yorick to life, and how to maintain the precise tonal blend for the series that makes the narrative so compelling.
ComicBook.com: It's a few days after the series has officially premiered. How are you feeling now that, not only can fans finally watch it and see that it's an actual, real show that exists, but also seeing the feedback, the reaction from fans who are checking it out?
Ben Schnetzer: I'm digging it, man. It's been great. It's such a buzz to be part of something like this, to be part of something that's got such a great and exciting fan base that's preexisting. And to share it with the fans of the graphic novel, and also to share it with a new audience, it's just been a thrill, man. We worked really, really hard on this and it's just been such a great opportunity to collaborate with the team. The team is so killer on this show. It's been a joy, man. It's been pretty awesome.
Turning back the clock a few years, did you feel any apprehension knowing how beloved this has been for 15 years? And how the production, various stars had been attached, there were various filmmakers attached, there was going to be a movie earlier on, did you feel any anxiety or pressure about getting involved in the first place?
No, man. I hadn't read the graphic novels before getting cast. I had heard of them, obviously, and I was aware of the prestige and the aura around them. I also knew that there was a series in production, or in pre-production, but I hadn't read them, and so my first introduction to the world of Y: The Last Man was through Eliza Clark's script. That was my introduction to these characters and to this team. There's always pressure when you take on any job, and, of course, there's going to be more pressure when there's a built-in fan base, or there are these external expectations. But I think, as actors, usually nobody externally is going to put more pressure on you than you put on yourself. In navigating that, you've just got to try and let it go and trust that you're there in service of the vision of the storytellers, and in vision of the creative team. You're there to show up and do your job and help realize the vision of the showrunners, and the directors, and the writers.
As soon as I spoke to Eliza Clark, as soon as I had my first meeting with her, I was just totally sold. I mean, I was sold when I read the script, because it was so good, and then just meeting with Eli and getting a sense of what her vision is was just so inspiring. If anything, I think you can look at that stuff, you can look at the preexisting hype, I guess, around something and you can either look at that as something that can make you nervous or you can also take a lot of inspiration from it. I chose to do the latter. Then, at the end of the day, you just got to let it all go and show up, and do the thing. Just have fun and tell the story.
I think the biggest difference between the books and the TV show is, sure, Yorick is an important part of this story for the series, but the show reminds you he is a tiny little piece of the world, merely trying to exist, as opposed to the comics, where he's on basically every page.
So once you got more familiar with the series and you were shooting it, would you look back towards the comics when you felt like you needed some inspiration for Yorick? Were there active choices you made to differentiate your Yorick from the comic or did you just focus on bringing the scripts to life?
For me, when you're doing an adaptation of anything, whether it's a book, or a graphic novel, or a video game, or another movie, it always begins and ends with the script that I'm working from. Everything else beyond that can be a really useful tool there, in service of the script, but at the end of the day, it's the vision of the showrunner or the director that you're there in service of. So I definitely looked to the graphic novels for inspiration. I think there are things that read, and really pop, in the panels of a graphic novel that might not translate as well on screen, and vice versa, just because the mediums are so different.
I think it was one of the things that excited me a lot was that Eliza Clark, she didn't shy away from the rougher edges of Yorick and leaned into the fact that there is a lot going on with this guy. She didn't shy away from the darkness in the adaptation, which I think was really exciting. But at his heart, I think there's still this big-hearted, generous spirit that exists in Yorick. It's just been a real honor to be part of this project and to play that role.
In the comics, witnessing things from Yorick's perspective, he's aloof so there's a lot more absurdity and ridiculousness as he's witnessing things unfold around him. With the series, since he's a smaller part of this bigger world, there's fewer glimmers of his lightheartedness. The series has some comedy, but also drama, horror, sci-fi, and almost fantasy. Did you have a core mantra for Yorick in keeping your character grounded, as to not tip too far into embracing one tone for the series? To not get too somber but also not get too silly?
Dude, that is such a good question. When we first started shooting, Louise Friedberg, who directed the first two episodes, said something to us as a cast. She was like, "This is just what I think in approaching this. This is how I'm approaching it, and I want to hear what you guys say. I don't think these characters know they're in a TV show." I thought that was a really awesome hook, in going into work and in telling this story. Because I think when you're doing a first season of something, you are exploring, you're like, "Where are we going to pitch this? How comic-y is it going to be? How out-there and farcical is it going to be? How dark is it going to be? How gritty is it going to be?" You're all trying to pitch it. So, for me, there was an idea of really wanting to maintain Yorick's ... Maintain the levity and maintain the fun in the character, but also stay in the world of the show.
So I think there were times when we were exploring ... We would do a few takes of something and would really vary like, "All right, I'm going to do one that's very 'splashy comic book adaptation.'" Like a real goofball, all over the place take. Then do one that's a little bit more ... that's less aware that this guy's in a television show, and we'll see what lands and we'll see where it comes together. It was important for us to find the note of making sure that Yorick is still going through the tragedy that everybody else is going through, but isn't totally consumed by it so that his behavior is totally unrecognizable and uncharacteristic. To make it believable, to make it that this dude is ... At the end of the day, when you're approaching a character that you're very familiar with, on game day you've got to be like, "He's just a guy." He's a guy trying to survive, and he has got a particular personality that comes through more, and more, and more, and more, the more time we spend with him.
Again, in the graphic novel, there's a sense of self-awareness in his humor, that's really, really becoming and charming. I wanted to pick our moments for that in the show. For me, it's also very funny the times when he's not self-aware. When he actually takes himself very seriously, I find those moments to be quite funny. In the first scene, in the pilot, when he gets fired from his student. He takes himself very seriously as a magic teacher, and I think therein lies some of the comedy, for me.
But that's a really good question. It's finding these larger-than-life characters and finding a soil that feels organic for them to grow in. It's the same thing with 355, that I think Ashley Romans has done such a great job of, is taking this larger-than-life character and giving her a really authentically, three-dimensional personality. She's got doubts, and she's got fears, but she also is ... The intelligence of the character really comes through. So I think that was a real journey and an exciting challenge, and opportunity, for us all to undertake.
Looking forward, I know Eliza has said she'd like to see the series run five or six seasons, is there a particular storyline from the comics that you're most looking forward to bringing to life?
Dude, that's a really good question. That's a very good question. Fingers crossed, that would be awesome. I think that would be a really fun amount of time to track this arc over. There's a few, I mean, there's some ... I don't want to give anything away, but one of my favorite storylines in the book actually gets realized in the first season. So that's a really fun throughline. Hopefully that's not a spoiler, but that was very exciting to dive into.
There are a few ... I don't know, I'd have to think about it. The story in the book, it takes him all around the world. There's a little part of me that's like, "It might be fun to go to some fun locations, and explore some of the more exotic locations". I don't know, man. It's so fun to work with writing this good, so I'm like, "Wherever the writers take us, I'm following."
New episodes of Y: The Last Man premiere on Mondays on FX on Hulu.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.