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An Inside Look At Y: The Last Man with Ben Schnetzer, Olivia Thirlby, And Executive Producer Eliza Clark

The stars and showrunner explain how the series will differ from -- and expand upon -- the trajectory of its source material.

by | September 13, 2021 | Comments

The comic book Y: The Last Man, by writer Brian K. Vaughn and artist Pia Guerra, opens with an idea that is simply expressed but complex in its meaning: What if all but one man suddenly died? Debuting in 2002, the series explored that idea for 60 issues, reaching an interesting conclusion. But even before the final issue was published, the comic book was on its way to becoming a film. Nearly 15 years later, that film has not materialized; instead, FX on Hulu’s adaptation, also called Y: The Last Man, debuts today.

In the decades since the comic’s debut, its basic question has become an even more complex notion. As showrunner Eliza Clark told Rotten Tomatoes, it is as much about “identity and the way that oppressive systems conspire to inform our identities” as it is about observing the last “man” on Earth as he searches for a way to continue the species.

Nevertheless, we also spoke to star Ben Schnetzer about playing Yorick, the titular man in a world where maleness is determined by more than the Y chromosome. We also chatted with Olivia Thirlby, who plays Yorick’s sister, Hero, about her journey, the tough bonds of family and, along with Clark and Schnetzer, the scope of Y as a television show.


A World Of Browns

Y the Last Man

(Photo by Rafy Winterfeld/FX)

As much as the series is about its provocative premise, it is also about the Brown family: mother Jennifer (Diane Lane) and her children, Yorick and Hero. Jennifer is a tough and seasoned US Senator, and Yorick and Hero enjoy a certain amount of luxury as children of privilege. Before “The Event,” which utterly changes the world, they both live in New York. Hero gets by as a paramedic while Yorick teaches magic and prepares an escapology routine he expects to be his ticket to fame. And, as viewers will discover, they are typical siblings. “They are angry at each other a lot of the time,” Thirlby said. “But they’re sort of bonded in this shared experience of being Jennifer’s kids. I don’t think there’s a very big margin of error when you’re Jennifer’s kids, so they always had to look out for each other in a very specific kind of way.”

Then, The Event happens and all mammals carrying the Y chromosome – except Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand – drop dead. Jennifer ends up in charge of preserving the US government while Yorick and Hero (who is unaware her brother is alive) set off on very different journeys.

Y the Last Man

(Photo by Brendon Meadows/FX)

According to Clark, the three viewpoints were inspired by the early issues of Y, which also split its time between several characters in different parts of the world. But by centering on Jennifer, Yorick, and Hero as the major viewpoint characters in the television show, an opportunity to “see inside these worlds a little bit more deeply” presented itself.

“It’s a large ensemble,” added Thirlby. “It’s about many stories unfolding simultaneously. It’s about people who don’t know that they’re in a TV show, so their understanding of their own world is pretty complete.” In her view, part of the fun for the audience is keeping in mind the characters’ certainty in the face of severe knowledge gaps; it leads to a lot of tension for the characters and the viewer.


The Escape Artist

Y the Last Man

(Photo by Rafy Winterfeld/FX)

Though it is an ensemble — which includes Amber Tamblyn as a Washington insider (despite the character’s own protests to the contrary), Ashley Romans as a secret agent tasked with keeping Yorick alive, and Elliot Fletcher as Hero’s traveling companion Sam – the show is called Y: The Last Man. Therefore, Schnetzer’s character is primary thanks to his Y chromosome. That said, fans of the book may be surprised by the Yorick they meet in the first episode.

“Yorick’s kind of guileless, disarming humor reads in a particular way, beautifully, in the panels of a graphic novel,” the actor said. “But we wanted to make him a little more vulnerable, and a little more human, in a way that would read in the three dimensions of a series on screen.” The initial innocence (and obliviousness) of the comic book character gave way to something a little more, well, privileged. “I wasn’t thinking consciously about it when we were filming it, but definitely, there’s a part of him that is spoiled, and it is very privileged,” Schnetzer said. “[It’s] the idea of Yorick being a really unlikely candidate for the role he finds himself in… There’s no nobility going into it. We wanted to give him a runway to discover that through the trials of the show that lay before him.”

Yorick’s introduction may present him as somewhat unpleasant, but Clark said the hope is that viewers will still “like him even though you’re like, ‘Ugh, this f—ing idiot.’”

Y the Last Man

(Photo by Rafy Winterfeld/FX)

“I really love Yorick and want him to succeed,” she continued. “And I think the story needs you to like him in spite of the ways he really has so much growing up to do.”

Part of his journey to maturity will be his travels with Agent 355 (Romans), an element fans will recognize from the book, though Schnetzer felt it was important to “un-know” that aspect of the story so he and Romans could build the rapport between their characters in an organic way. “It was really important to understand who these people were before they knew each other,” he said of the preparation. It proved to be a tightrope, as some takes would end with him wondering if the characters were too familiar for an escape artist and secret agent at the start of their journey across the ruins of America. Nevertheless, he felt the early episodes provide “a bit of an origin story for this relationship,” which will lead to a “Butch and Sundance” dynamic.

They will also meet a third traveling companion, Dr. Mann (Diana Bang), along the way. “Her eccentricity and her sense of purpose bonds 355 and Yorick,” he teased, also suggesting that Dr. Mann may create some doubt about 355 in Yorick’s mind. “It just adds a whole different flavor to things,” he said.


The Wanderer

Y the Last Man

(Photo by Rafy Winterfeld/FX)

Perhaps for more than any of the other Browns, Hero’s story is one of survival – even before The Event. “[It’s about] her capacity to navigate her own traumas,” Thirlby said. “But also asking the question, does she have the strength and the capacity to have the will to survive, given some of what she’s experienced and the way that she’s coped with that?” That question will lead her on a very different path than Yorick’s, much of which we can only tease, as it greatly redefines the state she is in when comic book readers first met her. One thing we will mention: she has little interest in meeting up with Jennifer. “Her relationship with her mother is a little bit too fraught,” she said. And whether or not that relationship is examined more closely later in the series, the Hero who prepares to leave Manhattan after The Event “does not want to continue her role as a daughter in this world.”

Instead, she strikes out into the wide world with Sam, a trans man who is an entirely new character for the series. “They love to be their own little unit and look down on everyone else around them,” she said of their dynamic before The Event. “I think [when] they met, it started instantly with their shared eyeroll about the larger social circle that they happen to be sitting in.”

Y the Last Man

(Photo by Rafy Winterfeld/FX)

Of course, the world after The Event will test their bond and prove it is more complex than a shared sense of superiority. “Their friendship is really unusual,” she said. “It’s many things rolled into one. It’s a best friendship. There’s a deep intimacy that they share. There is the desire to be drawn together, romantically and sexually, that I think they both resist a lot of the time for totally different reasons.” To Thirlby, the malleable nature of their relationship is one of the show’s strengths as it examines “the way that people connect outside of the normal confines of what we’re used to seeing.”

“There’s a lot of love there, [but] I think there’s a lot of toxicity too,” Clark added. “They enable one another.” One thing that is solely Hero’s motivation is a sense of shame for something she does just prior to The Event. “She’s looking for consequences… and they get into dangerous situations because of Hero’s shame,” she explained. It may be different from the comic book, but Clark felt it was important to strongly define who Hero was before The Event in light of “who she becomes.” Readers of the book will have a pretty good idea what that means, even if the show approaches the concept from a different angle.


The Commander

Y the Last Man

(Photo by Rafy Winterfeld/FX)

Meanwhile, Jennifer remains in the Pentagon trying to maintain a semblance of a working government. It represents some of the program’s most harrowing post-apocalyptic moments because they are so close to reality. “Our [real] power grid is poorly constructed and needs constant maintenance. It’s a patchwork of random systems,” Clark said. “Same is true for our infrastructure. It is crumbling now.” Then add the historic gender inequalities in the workplace and Jennifer faces a situation where she has, potentially, a single woman running a hydroelectric dam. “There might be a woman who works at the dam – she might be one of two – can she handle it entirely by herself? Maybe her talents might be better used at a different kind of emergency,” Clark said of the problems just with maintaining electricity after The Event. At some point, Jennifer, who is aided by a dynamic and diverse staff also dealing with the personal aftermath of The Event, is pretty much just “putting her finger in the dam.”

“The extent of the problems just gets bigger and bigger,” she continued. Nevertheless, part of expanding Jennifer’s role in the story verses the comic book was to illustrate a situation in which “people who really are super capable” try to patch the holes left in society after The Event.

Y the Last Man

(Photo by Rafy Winterfeld/FX)

Complicating the patch job is a continuing political opposition represented by Tamblyn’s Kimberly. “She is a person who has aligned herself with the patriarchy and gotten basically all of her power and her identity from her proximity to men,” Clark explained. In the wake of The Event, and Jennifer assuming power, Kimberly is left grasping for the old ways and reinforcing the binary roles she understood. The character could easily lend itself to caricature, but viewers will find Kimberly is a surprisingly complex (and compassionate) foe. “[It’s] Amber Tamblyn like you’ve never seen her before,” Clark said.

And this is all before Jennifer can contemplate sending a rescue unit for Hero or even dare to hope Yorick is alive. But once it becomes possible that her son is the last Y chromosome-carrying human on Earth, she will be forced to view it through the lens of her political liabilities. “She’s had to compromise from the beginning, and it puts her in a gray moral area that is, I think, super interesting to watch,” Clark said of the problems any reunion might cause.


The World Of Y

Y the Last Man

(Photo by Rafy Winterfeld/FX)

Of course, the Brown Family represent just a part of Y: The Last Man’s world. There is Jennifer’s staff — some of whom absolutely steal scenes — the unique challenges Sam faces on the road with Hero, and one re-imagining of a comic book character we can only reference in the broadest terms. But perhaps, for now, it is best viewers begin the journey alongside as Jennifer, Yorick, and Hero and discover the world of Y for themselves.


Y: The Last Man premieres on FX on Hulu on Wednesday, September 13, 2021.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

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