In Y: The Last Man, the captivating TV adaptation of the popular Vertigo graphic novel series by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, Ben Schnetzer plays Yorick, the titular last man who survives a mysterious event that wipes out every living creature with a Y chromosome. While speaking with ET, the actor opens up about what’s next for the amateur magician and his pet monkey, Ampersand, and why he doesn’t want to be society’s savior.
[Warning: Some spoilers for the first three episodes of Y: The Last Man, which are now streaming on FX on Hulu.]
Despite surviving the event, living suddenly becomes more dangerous, as Yorick tries to remain undiscovered. Even his mother, the newly appointed President Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane), is forced to hide his presence from her closest political allies over fears how any of the remaining women will react and decide what to do with him. As a result, she and Agent 355 (Ashley Romans) decide that he must head to Boston to find a renowned geneticist, Dr. Allison Mann (Diana Bang), despite his desires to find his fiancée, Beth (Juliana Canfield), who left for Australia prior to the event.
ET: After the three-part premiere, what can audiences look forward to from Yorick’s journey in season 1?
Ben Schnetzer: It was important for us to let go of where Yorick ends up [in the graphic novels], forget about that, and really find this guy who he is before this event takes place and paint a portrait of a very unlikely candidate to end up in the position that Yorick ended up in. And so, I think, we want it to give Yorick a lot of room to grow and a lot of room to develop. And I think we want it to drop into the reality of what would happen if this situation occurred… And it’s heartbreaking and it’s funny and it’s unexpected.
Why do you think Yorick ultimately doesn’t want to be the last man or be a savior even though he may be the key to solving things?
For Yorick, it’s very difficult for him to -- particularly when we first meet him -- to step back and look at the bigger picture and to think about things globally. For Yorick, he’s very involved in the events that have taken place for him personally, when this cataclysmic plague hits, which is trying to reunite with his beloved and find Beth. That’s kind of his mission when we first find it.
One of the exciting things that we’ve done with the adaptation is we’ve kind of reframed it that Yorick’s less of a savior and more of a scientific anomaly. I think that the burdens that come with being a unique scientific specimen really get in the way when it comes to what he wants, which is finding Beth and reuniting with Beth. And in episode three, he says to his mom, “Maybe I’m not as ambitious as you are. I’m not cut out for this.” He doesn’t want the responsibility that comes with being the last cisgender man.
So when we first find him, he’s really rejecting that role. But I think as the story unfurls, we get to see his horizons broadening and we get to see him grow.
He’s determined to find Beth, who wasn’t so warm to his proposal. How much of Yorick’s search for Beth is going to drive him during season 1. Is there going to be a payoff to that or is this going to be kind of one of those lingering Lost-like mysteries, like, “Where’s Beth?”
I don’t think it’s going to be a lingering Lost type of thing. But it’s definitely, for Yorick, a driving factor. It’s not a red herring and I think that storyline will pay dividends for viewers. I think they’ll be intrigued and excited and not disappointed as to where that goes. But for Yorick, it’s a real catalyst and it’s a real driving factor for him.
One of the plot differences between the graphic novel and the adaptation is that Beth’s not in Australia yet when we meet them. So there’s a much more immediate possibility that Yorick finds her imminently rather than has to travel halfway around the world to reunite with her. And so that’s definitely fuel for him. And that’s a storyline I’m very excited for audiences to see where it all goes.
Initially watching the show, it’s easy to forget that there’s a family at the center of this, right? You have Yorick, his mother, Jennifer, and his sister, Hero. I am curious how much we’ll get to see of that family dynamic and if we’ll ever get to see all three of them together, whether it’s flashbacks or the crossing of paths?
I don’t want to tell you too much. But before we started filming, it was really important for us to ground this family dynamic and ground these familial relationships and really make them specific, really cultivate the flaws, and really paint a picture of a family that is imperfect and trying to do its best, but kind of moving in different directions.
And it’s exciting to see the disparate storylines of these three family members take place throughout the season and to see the invisible thread that connects [them]... That thread of family is one that is a very strong through line throughout this season. For sure.
And how was it working with Diane? Talk about a living legend.
I think Diane’s the most generous actor I’ve ever worked with. I remember we were doing a scene and I got a note from the director. They were like, “Hey, I want you to lean forward on this line.” And I remember it was a very technical note. It was for lighting or something like that. But they just wanted me to lean in on this line to punctuate a beat. The director did not give a note to Diane. And so we go to shoot the scene and we’re talking and the beat right before they asked me to lean in, Diane just breaks down. She just made a really different choice than she had made to the previous take and broke down and was very emotionally available. And it was a very organic impulse for me to just lean into her, to take her hand. And it wasn’t until after we did the scene where I was like, “Oh my gosh, she just played that note for me. She gave me every reason to make that a natural note.” And it was one of the most generous things.
It was so like, “Oh, that’s what the work’s about. The work’s about passing the ball to the other person. The work’s about serving it up so that the other person can throw it back and you guys can really play off each other and find something organic and generous and real.” And it was just great being on a set with her. She’s such a pro.
I love the chemistry between Yorick and Agent 355 that forms as they set out on the road together. And it seems like the stakes for them get higher and higher the further they move away from Washington, D.C. What can you tease about the dynamic between those two and what audiences can look forward to?
I mean, it only gets richer. It only gets richer and more complicated and deeper.
First of all, Ashley is so amazing in this show and is such an amazing person to work with. I enjoyed every second of working with her. And when you’re adapting source material, it gets to a point where you have to unknow the story before you can tell it.
And I think for Ashley, when we showed up and started doing our first scenes together, we really had to forget about where they ended up because we knew that we were going to basically share every scene for the rest of the season together. But in that first scene, we’re shooting, these characters do not know that they’re going to basically become the most important person in the other person’s life very soon. So there were scenes we were shooting where we would do a take and be like, “Oh, that’s 355 and you’re two episodes down the road. Like, we're not there yet.” We really still had to feel each other and get to know each other.
One of the exciting things -- and it’s a testament to the writing -- is that they’re kind of reluctant allies who are stuck in this situation together. And, you know, come hell or high water, they’re going to have to rely on each other and find a way to work together and put their differences aside. And for Yorick, put his ego aside and do a lot of learning.
That was some of the most fun I’ve had on a gig. It was so fun to work with Ashley and to tell this story.
New episodes of Y: The Last Man debut Mondays on FX on Hulu.