Will Forte no longer has the shaggy long beard he grew for his new Fox comedy The Last Man on Earth. When he came to meet the Television Critics Association in January, he was clean shaven. That’s also where he credited his producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller with giving him his first acting job, as a voice on Clone High.
The show opens with Forte’s character, Phil Miller, some time after the viral epidemic killed everyone else, and he hasn’t seemed to have shaved since. Phil Miller is trying to find other survivors, and some other cast members to the show have been announced, but we don’t know exactly how they’ll fit in. So far he’s taking a cue from Cast Away, but the first episode does include a flashback to Phil’s past life with a crowd of friends, and a clean shaven Forte. The Last Man on Earth premieres Sunday, March 1 on Fox, and I spoke with Forte one on one at the TCA party for Fox.
Nuke the Fridge: My favorite part of movies like I Am Legend are when the survivors go around looking for supplies. Did you have specific ideas for how you’d riff on those I Am Legend moments in The Last Man on Earth?
Will Forte: No, I mean, we had seen that. We’re not trying to copy anything we’ve seen. Specifically, there are times that we’ll have an idea and it’s like, “Oh, that’s been done in I Am Legend.” Like we wanted to do a thing where I’m golfing at buildings, and somebody said, “That’s directly from I Am Legend.” So it’s like oh, okay, we’ll not do that. We’re trying to blaze our own path and do our own thing, but I really do love those movies. That’s why we’re interested in this idea. It’s because of how much we love movies like that, but we’re not trying to copy them at all.
Nuke: I was surprised to hear Clone High was your first acting gig. Is that because SNL wasn’t SAG?
Will Forte: No, it was way before I got the job on SNL. I was writing at That ‘70s Show and I had gone to the Aspen Comedy Festival. Chris and Phil had the same agent as I do so he hooked us up thinking that we would all be friends. We got along so well and loved each other. They came to see a Groundlings show and then asked me after that show if I would do a voice on Clone High.
Nuke: I love that your character is watching Cast Away. I would never run out of movies to watch if I was the last man on earth.
Will Forte: Oh yeah.
Nuke: Did you ever feel like Wilson the volleyball was a little bit of a cheat, that they wouldn’t do a movie where Tom Hanks didn’t talk to anyone?
Will Forte: Oh, I thought it was a brilliant move on their part. We obviously stole a little bit from them.
Nuke: It’s a loving homage.
Will Forte: Yeah, we pay homage. It was so cool that they let us use the footage from that movie. That was really awesome, but a lot of times you won’t get that permission. It meant a lot that Tom Hanks had to sign off on it. It was really cool because a very pivotal thing in our show is Cast Away related.
Nuke: Is Phil Miller ever going to build a Mad Max car?
Will Forte: You’ll have to tune in and see.
Nuke: Did you shoot the flashback before you grew the beard, or after you’d taken it off?
Will Forte: After I had taken it off. We actually had several flashbacks that we shot, and then I thought the show is better without the flashbacks. We wanted to try to do something different and I felt like including flashbacks was kind of a cheat. I wanted to live with the character in this new environment and I like it way more without flashbacks because you’re along for the ride. I felt like the flashbacks were a little bit of a cheat and also took you out of the character’s despair. And I felt really bad because my mom played my mom in one of the flashbacks. She’s still in that flashback scene that you see, but she had a speaking part and I had to take my mom’s flashback away. She did a great job so I felt bad, but I felt very strongly that we’re trying to do something a little different. I didn’t want to immediately start out with a flashback.
Nuke: Does the beard come off during the show?
Will Forte: Yes, it does. I don’t want to reveal the reason, but yes. There is a point during the show in which I shave the beard and it’s a story point.
Nuke: Is that really how you pronounce “masturbatory?”
Will Forte: I don’t believe so. I did fudge “mastURbatory.”
Nuke: We know Phil Miller is named after Phil and Chris, but is Carol really not named after anyone real?
Will Forte: I’ve always loved the name Carol. We stuck on Carol and then somebody in the room made up Bilbagian and we loved it.