[SPOILER ALERT: This story contains plot details from the midseason premiere of The Last Man on Earth, “Pitch Black,” that aired Sunday, Mar. 6. Proceed only if wearing a hazmat suit.]
Sunday night on The Last Man on Earth, it was Miller time.
But not for Phil Miller. It was actually Mike Miller time, as we watched Phil’s astronaut brother (returning guest star Jason Sudeikis) plummet back to Earth, crash-land on a boat at sea, imagine a conversation with a preteen Phil (played by Jacob Tremblay), and meet a very creepy, very bearded scavenger/seaman/government conspiracy theorist named Pat (Sons of Anarchy‘s Mark Boone Junior) who believed he was in fact “the last man on Earth.” After creepily observing Mike while he slept, Pat took Mike to shore in Miami, showed him a lot of dead bodies, bested him in a game of hazmat tennis, and then knocked him out a few times before Mike escaped and — having seen (what he didn’t know was) Phil’s “Alive in Tucson” graffiti on a billboard — hightailed it out of Florida and drove off toward Arizona. Did we mention anything that happened to Phil (Will Forte) and his friends in this episode? No, we did not because they were nowhere to be found in it. (You can read our recap of “Pitch Black” here.) EW spoke with Last Man creator/star/exec producer Will Forte about the crafty, entertaining premiere — and what to expect from the Miller brothers moving forward.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Room star Jacob Tremblay pops up in Mike’s hallucinations as a young Phil Miller. I believe this may be the first TV show to call America’s new favorite child actor a “dong.” Congrats.
WILL FORTE: Oh, he had it coming! No, I’m kidding. He’s the nicest, sweetest kid. It’s been so fun to see him getting so much attention for Room. He’s so good in it! If people have not seen that movie, they should go see it. So we’re the very lucky recipients of the attention that he’s involved with the show. People have very correctly fallen in love with this kid because he’s a sweetheart and an amazing actor.
How did you settle on Jacob? Had he seen the show?
We knew that there was going to be a young Tandy character in this episode. We didn’t know how we were going to cast it, and then I saw the movie Room. When they had gotten this list of potential people and he was on the list, I was like, “Oh my God! He would do it???” And we lucked out because his parents watched the show, so they were okay with him being involved and using the word “fartface” and “turd.” I did feel a little guilty because he is the nicest kid. But then again, I didn’t feel that guilty because when I was a kid that age, that would have been the biggest treat in the world, like, “Mom, I have to say this word. It is my job to say this word.” So we gave him a hall pass for some foul language. I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to scar him for life.
Is the door open for his return?
The only bummer about having him play a young Tandy is that now he couldn’t come back as a permanent character because he’s only young Tandy. We definitely have talked about scenarios in which we could include him again because it was such a treat having him. He’s just a little ray of sunshine.
Did he study you at all? Did he want to meet with you to talk Tandy?
No, he came in — it was so much fun — we were just all horsing around. I certainly didn’t give him any notes on how to be like me. Just using the word “fartface” is connection enough, you know? (laughs) “Okay, he’s young Tandy.” Any kind of acting note I would have given him would have made him less good than he already is. He doesn’t need any help from me.
Mark Boone Junior guest-stars as Pat, who thought he was the last man on Earth. In terms of that casting, did you start at the facial hair and go from there?
It was not a facial hair decision. I had gotten to work with Boone on this movie called Life of Crime, which was an Elmore Leonard book, and he just seemed like the ideal person to play that character. I just enjoy him as a person and an actor, so it was a no-brainer.
Any chance he reappears?
With anybody involved in the show, there’s always a chance of a reappearance or an instant death. We seriously talk about killing me sometimes, and I’m the Last Man on Earth. We’re thinking about whatever twists and turns that you wouldn’t ever expect. I don’t think that one’s going to happen, but we talk about it. And it might happen someday.
A fun twist of this episode is that Phil is not in it; it’s all Mike. What was Fox’s reaction when you told them that the star of the show and his co-stars were not going to be in it?
Well, if it was up to them, I think they would have the whole cast in it. I mean, there were discussions about trying to do that, and we thought that it was more the style of the show to try something like this that was a little different. Ultimately they supported us because that’s what they do all the time. They certainly speak up when they have an issue with something, and if we feel strongly enough about it, they’re very good partners in supporting us…. A lot of times when they’ll raise different points, it’ll be something that makes us really think through whether we’re heading down the right path. Sometimes we change course because of their thoughts and concerns, and sometimes it makes us realize how badly we want to try something. And in this case, it made us realize that we really wanted to give this a shot — and they were cool with it.
Did you set out to echo the pilot with this episode by focusing on Mike’s solitary-at-first journey?
The reason we did this show in the first place was because we found it so fascinating — the idea of a person thinking they’re alone in the world. In the pilot, Carol [Kristen Schaal] comes in shortly after the viewers meet me. Then Melissa [January Jones] comes in, and soon there are a bunch of people. It’s still an empty world, but it starts to be more about the relationships of these people in that empty world. Once there are a bunch of characters introduced, there’s no going back. We really loved that emptiness of the pilot and we’re always thinking that there’s a way to get a crack at doing some of the emptier stuff. When we came back at the beginning of the second season and it was just Tandy and Carol — there’s something really different about an episode where you don’t have anybody else to cut to. There are no B stories, and it lets you experience the isolation a little bit more. So this seemed like a good opportunity to go back and experience somebody else’s initiation into the world. And Mike has a totally different set of experiences than any of the characters, and we thought it would be a great way to get to know the Mike character in case he were to ever to find the group in Malibu. But the chances of that are super slim. It’d be crazy… But there’s always a chance. He’s a smart dude. He’s an astronaut.
We certainly were aware that we had a person wandering the world alone in the pilot, and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t do too much crossover with that and that he had a different set of experiences. Ultimately it’s just a totally different version of the show, but at the same time it’s very much the tone of the show because the setting of isolation, the same brand of humor, but just coming from a different person. It was very easy to give over the reins to Jason because this is a guy who’s one of the funniest people on the planet. And I think over the coming years, people will really, really get to see that he is what I’ve known all along, but he’s just a really gifted dramatic actor. It’s fun because he has to do a little bit of all that stuff in this episode… And it was so fun to get to address some of the things that we always wanted to address. In the pilot [script], there was a dead person that I stumble upon in the house that I move into. And in talking with Fox about it, it was decided that maybe we don’t show a dead person in the pilot. I think people always wondered, “What happened to the dead people?” We didn’t mind; we were never planning on hitting it very hard. But we got a chance to explore that here, which we were always intending to do, but were just waiting for the right time.
And we learned a bit more about the virus. I was guessing maybe two, three, even five orifices would be bleeding — not all of them. That was an important detail.
Yes. Yes. Boone hammers that home. (laughs)
Later in the episode, Mike sees the “Alive in Tucson” on the highway sign and drives off. What can you tease about his journey the rest of the way there, and how soon we will see his reunion with Phil in Malibu?
There might not be a reunion. You never know. It’d be a shame. I guess my hint about whether there’s a reunion or not is: We have been taking in a lot of Clippers games together, so he’s been in Los Angeles for some reason over the last couple months. He does an amazing job in the first episode, so if that’s all there is, then I would be happy as a viewer. But also, as a viewer, I would want to see him more… What I will say is these first couple of episodes back are really fun stepping stones to stuff that I am so excited for people to see. It’s some of my favorite stuff that we’ve ever done. Everything in this show happens for a reason and usually pays off. If he doesn’t show up and find Tandy and the group, there’s a good reason for it. But if he does, there’s a good reason for that.
What other types of other survivors or obstacles might Mike meet along the way?
It’s a very cinematic ending to the show that he’s in. That might be it! He might have gotten into a car crash 10 minutes after that. He’s probably got really old, worn-out tires on that ambulance… No, there is tremendous stuff in the future.
What can viewers expect when the show returns us to Phil & Co. back in Malibu? We left off with Phil 2 [Boris Kodjoe] seemingly dead and flatlining…
I think we talked about this before, and it was not looking good for Phil. We are dealing with the remnants of that major, uh, situation. Whether Phil  makes it or not, it’s a very traumatic situation that they’ve gone through, and there are a lot of things that they have to deal with. Our staff has gotten really good at writing stuff that can be dealing with very serious subject matter but finding ways to make it funny. I was really excited about how our last episode turned out, dealing with Phil 2 [being] sick, and we’re still finding ways to make it funny.
What challenges lie ahead for Tandy?
Whether Phil  makes it or not, he’s a vital part of this group, and he is the one person who really gets stuff done. So to have him incapacitated — or [if it is] just the ultimate incapacitation — that would just really put a major stress on the entire group to fill that void, both from a survival standpoint and an emotional standpoint. Certainly they’re going to be dealing with a totally different set of circumstances that we’ve ever seen them. Obviously all of our survivors have seen every person in the world die, but this is a potentially new spin on it. This is the first time we’ll see them deal with it — if that were to happen.
Finally, can you give us a hint about why you have that crazy half-shaved hairdo and beard?
There is a very organic set of circumstances that leads to this hairdo. We’re trying every single possible hairdo known to mankind — and some that aren’t. Somehow, something happens in the show which leads to it. I don’t want to give any part of it away. In fact, I wanted to not go to the awards show and the TCAs, [but when] I had to go to those, we just said, “Aw, screw it, I might as well just suck it up and do it.” But for awhile, it was like, “Oh, do I cover half my face in a sheet?” After that, it was like, “Okay, whatever. I’ve already went out. The cat’s out of the bag.” So I’ve just lived as normal a human existence as you can have while only having half the hair on your body.