'Last Man on Earth' guys give thanks to Kurt Russell, Tom Hanks, Nicolas Cage...
Will Forte as "The Last Man on Earth"
This year, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller unloaded a double-barreled blast of pop-culture-laced hilarity with "The LEGO Movie" and "22 Jump Street," films with gags upon gags spittooned out with the breakneck pace and meta-awareness of a Chuck Jones cartoon. A LEGO sequel is in the works—"I can tell you, there is a kind of 'Mad Max' flavor to that one," says Lord—but first they’ll tackle the Fox series ''The Last Man on Earth.'' Will Forte, who created the show, stars as the final XY-chromosome carrier in a post-apocalyptic Tucson, Ariz. “There’s a craziness to it,” says Miller, who executive-produces and directed the pilot alongside Lord. “But it’s emotionally grounded, and it’s unlike anything else you've ever seen.” We asked the dynamic duo to share some of their many inspirations for the show.
It’s not just the Arizona setting that Lord and Miller borrowed from Joel and Ethan Coen’s brilliantly harebrained comedy starring Nicolas Cage as a hopeless recidivist and babynapper. "It’s a touch point for us in terms of the tone, the pace, and the oddity of it," explains Lord.
When it comes to depicting one man’s utter solitude, 2000’s "Cast Away" is an obvious reference point "for its appreciation of one’s descent into madness," says Lord. Does that mean Forte might befriend some sporting goods? "If you like inanimate companions you're going to love this show."
"The Omega Man"
"The Last Man on Earth" also happens to be the name of a classic Vincent Price movie based on Richard Matheson’s oft-adapted novel "I Am Legend." But it’s neither that film nor the Will Smith vehicle released decades later that stuck with the directors, but rather the 1971 version starring Charlton Heston as a survivor fighting a post-human society of mutants. "I’m a big 'Omega Man' fan," says Lord, "because of how insane he seems, just driving around in that car really fast. It has, like, a very strange tone to it."
"Life After People"
The History channel’s series was a haunting imagining of what the earth will look like if—or, to be honest, when—humanity finally gets shrugged off this big blue marble. The show’s staying power comes from how strangely beautiful it is to see the ruins of modernity being swallowed up by flora and fauna—and that’s something Miller and Lord hope ''Last Man'' will capture in the long run. "One of the things we talked about very early on was how everything's dead," says Miller. "But by episode 100, you might start seeing everything grow back. We've always thought of it as an interesting arc for the series, that the world might get better after a certain point."
If you’re looking for tips on physical comedy, you can’t do better than the Great Stone Face, who similarly battled the elements in movies like ''Steamboat Bill, Jr.'' and ''Our Hospitality.'' And with ''Last Man'' in such an empty world, the show can’t exactly rely on dialogue. "Will is, I think, the best silent comedian since Keaton,” says Lord. “He’s got those eyes that are so soulful, and empathetic, and we wanted to use him to do a lot of visual humor that you don’t get to see from television all the time."
Talking Heads' "(Nothing But) Flowers"
The 1988 Talking Heads song is a postapocalyptic ballad, but this one mourns the loss of Pizza Huts and 7-Elevens once nature has reclaimed those relics of humanity’s consumerism. "It’s kind of got a Randy Newman flavor," says Miller, "where it’s, you know, from the perspective of somebody who’s living after the world’s ended, and he hates all of the trees and grass that’s grown back, and misses the old world."
Obviously the pair’s biggest inspiration for the series is the creator and star of "The Last Man on Earth," Forte. They
first worked with the comedian more than a decade ago when he lent his voice to Lord and Miller’s short-lived cult animated MTV series "Clone High" (he voiced teenage Abe Lincoln), and they knew they would want to work with the ''SNL'' alum again. "So much of Will’s talent is about taking the audience to a very extreme place, and usually, with a character who has a lot
of quiet desperation," says Lord. "And that’s exactly what he does here."
Kurt Russell's Beard
Forte’s bushy beard is one of impressive magnitude, and for that they turned to Russell’s paragon of facial hair in John
Carpenter’s "The Thing." "Right now it looks kind of like an 1890s prospector," says Miller. "It’s wider than it is long."
One thing "Last Man" won’t have? Extras wandering around in the background. "In 'Catch-22,' Mike Nichols took all the extras out and it has this really strange feeling," says Lord. "You realize, 'Oh, gosh, I’m used to seeing the mailman walk through this shot'."