Y: The Last Man’s Ben Schnetzer Explains Why Yorick’s Road Trip Will Be So Transformational
[Warning: The following contains slight spoilers for Y: The Last Man Episode 4. Read at your own risk!]
From its beginnings, Y: The last man significantly broke with the established framework of its comic book source material, which was launched with a narrower focus on its sole surviving Y-chromosome holders Yorick Brown and his monkey sidekick Ampersand. Instead, the series adaptation has broadened its scope to include a much larger backstory chronicling the mysterious onslaught of genetically wiped out male mammals disaster around the world and deepened the roles of the rest of the characters in the saga.
But with the fourth episode, “Karen and Benji,” the series began to echo more closely the path Yorick and Agent 355 traveled in the original story as they embark on an epic trek through the radically altered American landscape.
Actor Ben Schnetzer joined TV Guide to find out how to play Yorick while settling into role models more familiar to longtime fans of the book while simultaneously opening up the mythology to a whole new audience. Along the way, Schnetzer reveals how he connected with the reluctant heroism of The Last Man and why he regretted – and ultimately not – that he didn’t have the chance to work with a real simian co-star rather than a CGI capuchin.
One of the things about it that sets it apart from the graphic novel is that the other characters have a lot more play than Yorick. What do you think are interested in slower burn to reveal to the public who exactly Yorick is?
It’s fun, I think, because when you get a slower burn you’re able to dig a little deeper, which is really nice, and once you’ve really taken your time, laying the groundwork, I think you are able to reap the rewards on the road. I think there’s a degree of nuance and specificity that you can achieve when you really take your time, and it’s fun.
When I first read the script, I hadn’t read the graphic novels yet. And so, my first introduction to Y: The last man was through [showrunner] Eli [Clark’s] first episode, which for me … It was a very strong ensemble piece from the jump, that’s a bit like what I was introduced to. And then it’s really fun to go back and read the source material and have so much Yorick-centric material to draw inspiration from, and put it to the service of the whole that’s at the center of it. ‘TV show. So it’s been fun, but I think you can take it a step further and extract new textures, when you take your time, like we are.
We are entering what has been one of the main axes of the graphic novel: the journey through the country. Tell me what has been challenging and exciting for you to take Yorick down this path; we really see him at point A of his story, so what’s in it about defining the initial blueprint for what Yorick will be?
Schnetzer: That’s exciting. I mean, Ashley [Romans] is such a great performer and such a great actor, such a great teammate, and it’s been such a gift that during that first season we got to share so many scenes together … been so awesome fun and such a great learning experience. And it’s exciting to explore the origins of this relationship which in the graphic novel becomes such a central relationship through the narrative, so that you can really explore how it begins and where it begins.
And I think when it starts, these two characters are very suspicious of each other. They are both forced into this partnership. None of them really want to be there. There is a lot of skepticism and a lack of confidence, and they feel really bad. And it’s always fun, I think, to look back and see how these things start. And so I think for Ashley and I it was fun trying to let go of the expectations and preconceptions that we had about this friendship and this relationship, and start to really exploit it from there. zero and build it from the ground up.
And Destiny Ekaragha, who directed Episode 4, the first episode that Yorick and 355 really got going together, she’s a huge fan of the graphic novel, and it was very exciting and very fun for her to explore what kind of sparring that takes place between these two characters through this episode. And at the end, have a little bit of travel on the episode, so that at the end, they’re in a very different place than they are at the start of the episode. And there’s a real kind of intimacy in that last scene that the two share and I think it’s really won over by the end of the fourth episode, which I’m pretty proud of.
We can also see you in the early stages of the frequent cover-ups and disguises Yorick is stuck with for much of his journey. Tell me about acting through gas masks and balaclavas.
Schnetzer: Yeah, Yorick’s cape and hood! [Laughs] The technical aspects always make for fun stories, that’s for sure. We’ve had a lot of different screen tests with, for example, what kind of gas mask is this going to be? What will the visor look like? There were also different gas masks for different lighting situations. I mean, one of the biggest challenges with the gas mask was how the hood stays in place with the gas mask? So the accessories and wardrobe department at this show were just phenomenal. They ended up putting magnets in the hood and also in the gas mask, so that it didn’t fall off every five seconds.
One of the tough things during episode 4 was like, I think it was February, and we were filming Toronto, and needless to say, it was a little quick! And so what would happen is the gas mask would fog up very quickly. But it turned out to be a really fun obstacle for Yorick and somehow added to his naivety. Having trouble seeing really added a bit of fun.
And there’s a scene where we walk into this kind of market – it’s like a makeshift flea market where people sell their wares, and we ended up in trouble in that scene, and 355 is sort of guiding Yorick through it. And I think it’s in the cut, I kind of hold onto 355 as we walk through it, and that was all just because I couldn’t see where we were going and I was holding onto Ashley. , because I was like, “I’m totally lost here!” But I think we ended up leaning into it, and it ended up being a really fun dynamic. Yeah, again, just a tip of the hat to the show’s props team and wardrobe department, because I think they did such an amazing job creating this world.
We get our first real glimpses of Yorick’s inherent reluctance and the fact that he is not by nature a man of action and decision, and how dangerous it is going to be for him in the new real world.
Schnetzer: Yorick is so short-sighted in his focus, in that he wants to find Beth and it takes a long time for him to come to terms with and understand and really metabolize the overall impact of what happened. And I imagine in a world where once that event happens very soon after, cell phone towers go down, power grids start to shut down, the means of communication become so limited. And so, it’s so hard to get a feel for what’s going on beyond Yorick’s little sphere. He’s very involved when we meet him and it was really fun to take this character on a journey and really give him a place to go.
Yorick has such a good heart and such a big heart, but he’s immature and he’s a little bit solipsistic, and he’s a little self-centered, and he’s pretty insecure. And so he doesn’t start this journey on a noble streak, truly wanting to sacrifice himself for the greater good. It’s kind of a reluctant push on him. And so a lot of his efforts on paper that would be more heroic are really kind of against his own better judgment. He doesn’t think that’s the thing you should be doing. But in doing so, he may discover a nobility he didn’t think he had, or a bravery he didn’t think he had. And so, it’s fun.
For me, the kind of unlikely heroes, the anti-heroes, interest me more and more. As exciting and deep as the archetypal kind of your hero going on a hero’s journey, as exciting and cool as those characters are, to me, what has always been the most exciting has been the guys who go. ‘are in a way embedded there. They find themselves in a situation like this by the circumstances, and then have to make the most of it. And that’s one of the things that really excites me about Yorick as a character and the circumstances he’s in.
In this episode, we see the first real meaning of the bond Yorick shares with Ampersand. You can play it without the benefit of a real monkey by your side. Or maybe with the benefit of not having one, if you asked David Schwimmer about his experiences with Marcel on Friends–
Tell me what interested you about building that onscreen relationship with something that’s a CGI creation.
Schnetzer: It’s such a fun, exciting and engaging exercise of the imagination. In these relationships, you want to find specificity and a sense of honesty, and this relationship is so important to Yorick. And I think there are things you can get away with in the vibrant panels of a graphic novel when it comes to having a pet capuchin that doesn’t read as well or quite as honestly on film. . And I think Eli and the team did a great job translating that relationship organically so that Ampersand feels like a real presence that you believe in. You think this guy has a pet, but he doesn’t come in the world to be too cartoonish.
And so we kind of wanted to honor that relationship and honor the friendship that they have. Again, it’s an age-old archetypal relationship between man and beast that is truly noble and fun. And I think at first I was a little disappointed that we weren’t going to have a real animal on set. And then after thinking about it for two seconds, I was like, âOh, actually, that would be so much work. Especially the locations we shoot in and the amount of action stuff we have to do, I think each episode would take twice as long to film, so that was a real joy. And the VFX team on the show is so awesome.
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Also, if you had a real monkey, you never know what kind of attitude they would take, depending on where they are on the call sheet.
Yeah, what kind of attitude the monkey is going to bring, and also, I know with every take, the only takes they would useâ¦ It would be like, “Basically you do the scene until the monkey gets it. good.” And then you’re like, “Damn, this is the take they’re going to use. Sure.” So I think we hit it off.
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