While a big draw in the drama world of late, the end of humanity doesn’t exactly lend itself to comedy—unless it’s in the hands of Will Forte, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. With The Last Man on Earth, the Saturday Night Live alum and The Lego Movie directors have turned a literal and figurative plague into a plethora of laughs since the series debuted on Fox. Renewed for a second season in April, LMOE features Forte as Phil Miller—an everyman who loves Star Wars, junk food, booze and sex and seems to be the last person left after a virus wipes out civilization. But, of course, things are a little bit more complicated than that.
At first glance, The Last Man on Earth doesn’t seem like a Big 4 series and yet Fox picked it up. Did that surprise you?
We kind of thought it was going to be more of a cable thing, so we thought that the networks would politely pass. When Fox was very into the idea, it made me a little nervous because I thought they were going to make us change it around into this or into that, but they were great. They were so supportive of what we wanted to do. This is the show we wanted to do.
Did you have all the moving pieces of the series in place from the start?
When we went in, we knew roughly the tone of the show. We knew that we wanted to have a long time where it was just me as Phil, but we also knew that we were eventually going to introduce other characters. The tricky part was just trying to figure out how often to introduce them.
Were there ways you wished you had done things differently growing Phil’s seemingly empty world?
Looking back I wish that we had spent a teeny bit more time on Phil alone. It’s such a unique place to be in with a show and a character, where it’s just one person for a while and you can really never go back. So we just took our best guess at what the viewers’ temperature would be and their patience level. I think they would have stuck around a little more and stayed with it if we had spent a little more time in those really early stages. But, ultimately, we would’ve gotten to the same place and we’re really happy with how it turned out. It’s just we always knew that more people like Kristen Schaal and January Jones were coming. It was really just a matter of when and where.
Was there a plan in mind coming off SNL in 2010 to do some comedy films but also dramas with Run & Jump and Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and now a series like Last Man?
This is the furthest thing from a grand plan, for sure. I never really plan anything; I have just been fortunate enough that these couple really amazing opportunities came my way just out of pure luck. Obviously, if you get a chance to be in Alexander Payne’s movie, you’re going to go for it or you’d be a crazy person. Definitely, I did not after SNL say, “OK, first I’ll go be in Alexander Payne’s movie.” I thought I might go back to writing, to be honest.
That certainly isn’t what happened—not only did you end up cocreating and starring in Last Man, but you were the showrunner for the first season. What was that like for you?
My god, it was so hard. I had no idea, because I used to write for sitcoms and I wrote at Letterman, That ’70s Show, 3rd Rock from the Sun—all these places where I got a taste of what it was like to be a part of a show and put together a show, but I was never in on any decisions. I had no idea all the stuff that my bosses back then had to deal with. I wish that I had some crazier bosses back then because the bosses I had were so wonderful and calm and good at what they did that they made it look easy. So I wish somebody had shown me how hard it was going to be.
Former The Office executive producer Dan Sterling is joining Last Man as the showrunner for season two. It might sound silly to ask, but are you going to miss that responsibility?
This was truly an eye-opening experience and one that I’m delighted to have had, but I’m looking forward to this second season where I’m able to use some of those lessons from season one and really just have a smoother process.
The final scenes of the first season hinted at some changes for the show, including the introduction of a long- lost relative of Phil’s, played by Jason Sudeikis, who is an astronaut brother of his trapped on the International Space Station.
Well, I guess I don’t want to give anything away. What we don’t want to do is settle into a predictable character introduction pattern—we want to keep people guessing a little bit. We definitely won’t have the same number of character introductions next season, but there might be some people who get de-introduced, you know? You never know, we want to keep people guessing. We will just keep trying to find ways to make it fun and keep it lively. We always like trying to keep people on their toes. But I will say that Kristen Schaal is not going anywhere.