Y: The Last Man Star Ashley Romans Talks the Catharsis of Playing Agent 355
After a wait of more than a decade, Y: The Last Man has finally made its way into live-action, with a television series that initially made its debut earlier this year. The series follows the survivors of a mysterious global apocalypse, which killed every mammal with a Y chromosome outside of Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer) and his pet monkey, Ampersand. The fight for survival — and for figuring out what caused the pandemic — particularly affects Agent 355 (Ashley Romans) a secret agent who has been tasked with keeping Yorick safe, while also juggling her own trauma and past. Romans, whose filmography includes NOS4A2, Shameless, and Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis, makes the role of Agent 355 uniquely her own, with a performance that has quickly turned her into a fan-favorite.
ComicBook.com recently spoke with Romans about her role on Y: The Last Man, and about the experience of filming the pandemic-heavy show during an actual pandemic. We also spoke about the final two episodes of Season 1 (which might now be the final two episodes of the entire series, as it has since been cancelled by FX on Hulu but hopes to find a home elsewhere), the world of comic book adaptations, and more.
ComicBook.com: To start things off, what has it been like for you see the fan response to Y: The Last Man? It seems like people really love it, and love your character, in particular.
Ashley Romans: Oh my gosh. Let me tell you, it's such a shocker. It was fun, because when I was doing it, I was really cut off from what I've known. We moved to Toronto to film for ten months, and the city was shut down, and all I had were just the source material and other really awesome TV to watch. I didn't really have anybody else's brain or voice in my head, telling me what I should do or what I shouldn't do. It was interesting getting the fan response, because I've never known the internet to be like a supportive or kind place. But it's cool to see people gather around and really rally behind something they believe in and they enjoy. It's such an honor to be a part of that.prevnext
What was your familiarity with the Y: The Last Man graphic novel? Had you read it beforehand, or did you just dive in once you signed on?
I dived in once I signed on. Actually, I dived in during the audition. I remember I got the first round on a Thursday, and it was due on Monday. I really had nothing else to do that weekend, I just happened to have a really free weekend. I heard it was part of a graphic novel, and I always told myself I wanted to read a graphic novel. I hadn't been a fan of them, or read many graphic novels before that. So I went around the corner and I bought the first volume, and ended up finishing that within a few hours. It was so good. And then I got the second one, and I read the entire series in a weekend, basically. And I also watched a whole YouTube series discussing the graphic novels panel by panel, so that was cool.
I submitted my tape for the audition — and honestly, I think every actor can relate. You submit these audition tapes and you don't even expect to hear anything back. I barely expect anyone to even watch it, to be honest. I didn't hear anything back for weeks, so I just thought they didn't care for it, and then I ended up getting a test. And the second round, I spoke with Eliza Clark and what she was bringing as the showrunner to the world was so cool and so updated and so socially responsible. I was super excited to be a part of that.
That's amazing. I totally understand the reading comics in a whole weekend and watching YouTube videos about comics. That's how I spend the majority of my free time, so I totally get how you feel.
Oh, good. Thanks for saying that. My boyfriend thought I was crazy.
You're not, you're absolutely not. If you're crazy, then we're crazy together.prevnext
Y: The Last Man the show updates the source material in some major ways. For your approach to your character, what was the balance of lifting from the comics, while also building out Agent 355 and making her your own?
Honestly, it was about trusting myself and trusting the people I was in partnership with, like Eliza Clark and Louise Friedberg, in terms of developing the character. It was honestly about trusting, and leaving the source material behind a little bit, and understanding that that informed certain specifics about the character. I had to move beyond that, because whenever you're changing anything from one medium to another, you're going to have opinions in your ear about how it should be done. It's about trusting yourself and knowing that if it resonates for me as true, it's going to be true to another human being. So the process was a lot about trust, freedom, exploration, and play.prevnext
I can assume filming a story about a pandemic during in a pandemic takes on a whole other context. How did that impact the storytelling, and your place in it?
It's so interesting, because it informed the experience so much more, and the experience became really cathartic in a lot of ways. Thankfully, what our show is about is — it's not about an ongoing pandemic, right? It's about an event that happens and it's about the aftermath of that. The apocalypse happens very fast in our show. It's not this ongoing 18-month struggle of trauma that we've all been going through. But then also, in a lot of ways, our show is the most cathartic. You're going to see in [episodes] 7, 8, 9, and 10, the back half of this season, the show is really clairvoyant. The writers are pretty clairvoyant about what's happening in our world. You would think it was written last week, not twelve months ago.
Filming during a pandemic, honestly, when we were in Toronto the city was shut down and also the border was closed. It felt like a weird sense of claustrophobia with a closed border. You never really think about that, until you realize you really can't leave the country, even though New York is only a hop, skip, and a jump. You can't go see your family or a friend or whatever. We really started to lean on each other, and we became like an intense theater ensemble. It felt that way and it was super special. It also really allows your focus to be all on one thing, on what you can control, the work and all the other things happening in the world that's draining your energy. But filming during a pandemic actually wasn't as dramatic as you would think it would be in the show. The show makes it very dramatic, but as you and I have experienced in real life, the apocalypse sometimes just feels like hanging around the house in your pajamas and waiting.prevnext
355's dynamic with Yorick is just so fascinating to watch every week. I think you guys just have such a great rapport. What was it like to find that with Ben? It feels like the center of the show in a lot of ways.
Oh yeah, for sure. That relationship is definitely the heart of the show, the heart of the series for me. Especially with Diana as well, the trio. It's a dynamic of people coming together who are vastly different in a time that is vastly different than anything they've ever experienced. They have to be there for each other, and they're each other in ways that none of them really want to change. It's really fun to see how that character has grown with Ben, and how I've grown as an actor working with Ben. He's such a fantastic teammate, and he brings so much to the character of Yorick.
And Diana is such an amazing teammate as well, and as an actor, I'm so in awe of her because I never know what she's going to do moment to moment. She's so fun, and they're such great sports. Specifically, it's so interesting, because I know the character of Yorick right now is getting a lot of sh-t online and I'm thinking, "God, he's doing a great job." If you ask me, Yorick, to be the last person on earth with a Y chromosome, I think he's handling himself very well. Way better than I would handle myself in that circumstance. It's fun to watch that character grow. And the dynamic with the whole cast — it's super awesome, because we are such a tight ensemble.prevnext
What would you say has surprised you the most about working on this series?
I honestly was surprised by how much fun we had. I was surprised, I guess in my head, I always thought a series of this magnitude would be really stuffy and really serious and take itself really seriously. I was surprised by how much input I had, and how hungry the higher-ups and creatives were for my insight on this character. In my career, going from co-star to guest star to series regular to a higher-up series regular – in my previous experience, I'm usually told what to do. And I was really shocked by how much of a collaborator I was on this project, and with the character and character development. It's actually quite an honor. It's something I'm super proud of and I'm really grateful for, to be working with such a playful and curious and inclusive team.prevnext
I was curious what you can tease, if anything, about the final two episodes of the season, and how your character fits to all of that? What can fans expect?
[In Episode 8] You guys are going to be spending a lot of time with the Amazons. I really love — I mean, that's one of my favorite episodes, personally, because as an actor, I'm not watching the screen through my fingers. I'm not thinking about myself, I just get to think of these amazing performances from Elliot Fletcher, and Olivia Thirlby, and Marin Ireland, and Missi Pyle, and all the other amazing Amazons. That one is super special to me.
In Episodes nine and 10, you're going to see a lot of worlds colliding. A lot of I's get dotted and T's get crossed, in terms of the world at the Pentagon and with the trio, and with the Amazons as well. A lot of worlds collide. I guess what you could expect is — people are going to make some choices. The characters you see by Episode nine and 10 are not going to be anything like the characters you saw in the season premiere. That's when the ball's going to start rolling, really, in terms of who these people are, and who they're choosing to be in this new world. It's going to be mind-blowing.prevnext
Since Y: The Last Man is the graphic novel space in and of itself, is there another superhero character, or some sort of genre franchise that would be your dream?
Somebody sent me a character that I've been looking up. She's a villain, specifically. It's definitely a world. I feel like this is my chance to pitch myself. Are you familiar with Joanna Cargill?
I have limited knowledge about her, but just from the drawings alone, I mean, she's striking. I'm curious to read whatever universe she's a part of. I'm embarrassed to say I don't know. Is she in the X-Men Universe?
Yeah, she's an X-Men character. Yeah, she's in the Marvel Universe.
Oh man. Out of all the universes that have really struck me, X-Men, I think, is just the coolest. I was reading this book about speed reading with Jim Kwik. Jim Kwik has a really a great book about expanding your mind and all that, but he has a really great chapter where he talks about how he wants to be an X-Men, and it was just such a beautiful chapter. And then I started getting into X-Men and God, yeah. That's my answer.
New episodes of Y: The Last Man debut Mondays on FX on Hulu.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.prev