Get ready, America. Saturday Night Live veteran Will Forte has brought his off-kilter screen presence to films like the hilarious and underrated MacGruber and director Alexander Payne’s Academy Award-winning Nebraska, but we’re about to get a solid dose of Forte every week in the form of his very own sitcom The Last Man on Earth, premiering tonight at 9:00/8:00c on Fox. Created by Forte, and developed with executive producers Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the show finds the actor playing the cheekily named Phil Miller, the — so far — only living human after a virus kills off the planet’s population in the not-too-distant future. After searching all of America, can Phil find another survivor before he goes mad? I recently spoke with Forte about the show’s creation and his long-gestating plans for sequel to MacGruber…
NERDIST: How did you become the last man on earth?
WILL FORTE: Chris Miller and Phil Lord, I’ve been friends with them for fifteen, twenty years. So we were very excited to work together, and we kind of stumbled on to this idea. We had spent three or four days trying to come up with ideas. And once we stumbled on this, immediately stuff started pouring out of us, and a bunch of very fun things started flooding into us. At first, it seemed like more of a cable TV idea. Then Fox stepped up and really wanted it. They pledged to us that they wanted to do something new, and we thought, “Okay, let’s see what they have to say.” They’ve been so wonderful, and have really backed us up on everything, and really supported this very weird idea that we had. “Weird” is the wrong way to put it…
N: Well, for commercial television…
WF: It’s very different. But they’ve been so good to us, and really let us do the show that we wanted to do. It’s been great.
N: You’ve exhibited a tremendous knowledge of pop culture in your projects. Were there any particular TV shows or films that helped inform The Last Man on Earth?
WF: We didn’t want to copy anything. In fact, we kind of went out of our way to avoid that. Like, if there was something we were gonna do and someone said, “Oh, I Am Legend did that,” we said, “Oh, we can’t do that then.” It’s a situation that everybody in the world has thought about from time to time. It’s very relatable in a weird way. As far-fetched as this seems, it’s a concept that a lot of people have thought about, you know? What if you were the last person on earth? So we built from there. We started spitballing and just came up with so many ideas, we were very excited about the open-ended possibilities.
N: How would you describe your character, Phil Miller?
WF: We’re striving to have a kind of everyman. Essentially, I think most people in the world, if they were in that situation, they wouldn’t know anything about setting up electricity or fixing a plumbing problem.
N: [Laughs.] They’d be dead in minutes.
WF: Yeah, exactly. So we wanted to attack it from that angle. So our character is just a normal person, who doesn’t have any experience with any kind of tactical knowledge of how to survive in a world without people. Which is, I think, what ninety-eight percent of the people in the world would be like.
N: So he’s the anti-Mad Max?
WF: Yeah, yeah. That’s where we started. Then we started spitballing in different areas, and we came up with a lot of different ideas. The show is so much more than just the last man on earth. There’s so many different things, and it’s very exciting because it’s constantly changing and evolving. It zigs and zags all over the place.
N: What can you tell us about January Jones’ character?
WF: Well, don’t want to give anything away. Throughout the show there are many, many twists and turns and reveals. It is a constantly evolving show. And we’ve worked really hard to create plot twists throughout. So we want to keep everything very vague. But January is definitely a part of the show, and she’s a wonderful actress. So we’re very excited to have her on board.
N: You’ve also got Kristen Schaal on board, someone whose comedic skills are as offbeat as your own. How did she get involved?
WF: From the very beginning I knew that I wanted Kristen Schaal for this. There was never anybody else. Even Kristen’s character we’re trying to keep under wraps. So I don’t want to say too much about it, but she is such an amazing comedic talent.
N: Her abilities are difficult to put into words.
WF: That’s the perfect way to say it. You can’t describe her, she has this quality about her where she’s just funny. In every situation she is just flat-out funny, as funny as it gets.
N: Does she crack you up on set to the point where you need to stop what you’re doing and compose yourself before continuing to work?
WF: Oh, absolutely. There is a very specific example that I can’t really talk about because it’s a spoiler… But yes, it’s hard not to laugh at a person of her comedic caliber.
N: Are you still working on the sequel to MacGruber?
WF: We’re definitely planning on writing MacGruber 2. It seems like it’s more than ever a very possible thing. It has a realistic chance of getting made. We started working on an outline a long time ago. We haven’t started writing the script, but we have a very detailed outline. We still need to work out the third act, but we know what we want. And we’re all perfectionists, so we’ll keep writing it over and over and over again. It’s funny to use the word “perfectionist” when you’re talking about something that’s so full of dick jokes. But we want the perfect dick joke!
N: God bless you for that.
WF: We’re definitely still working on that, and that’s very important to me. I love that movie so much, and we are excited to see if we can do a second one.
N: Since MacGruber is, at its core, an action film parody, do you see the sequel taking that parody to the next level?
WF: Well it definitely would still be in the same genre. It’s definitely gonna be in the same vein as the first one, but further down the line. I feel like it will be something that people who like the first one will enjoy. We have some great ideas. It will be as pompously serious as the first one. We have a bunch of great ideas that we’re still working on.
N: Thank you so much.
WF: Thank you very much! It’s good to talk to you.
The Last Man on Earth premieres tonight at 9/8c on Fox. Will you be watching?