Y the Last Man‘s journey from acclaimed graphic novel to eventual television show took some time to happen. The epic story about the aftermath of a plague which kills every living creature with a Y chromosome, save one young man and his monkey, first defied multiple attempts at being adapted for film — and then, even as a TV show, had to contend with a change in showrunners, recastings, and a little ol’ real-life pandemic.
Showrunner Eliza Clark came onto the project pre-COVID to oversee the adaptation of the comics created by writer Brian K. Vaughn and artist Pia Guerra, knowing that a key aspect of taking on a story like this would mean updating the original material (with Vaughn and Guerra’s blessing) to incorporate a 2021 understanding of gender today. Below, in this one-on-one interview with Collider, she explains how she approached the story with that in mind, how many seasons she could see the show going, why she wanted Y the Last Man to work as an ensemble, and how those working behind the camera created their own definition of “the female gaze” to guide things.
Collider: So talk to me a little bit about how you came on originally?
ELIZA CLARK: I can’t really speak to what happened before me, but I’ll say that when I was brought on, I pitched my take on the material and FX and Color Force were excited about it. So, we started the writers’ room for Season 1 in July of 2019. And from there, I just felt like making a show. So many years before it, the many, many years of development of shows/movies, all the things that have come before me, I can’t speak to. But I’m very excited to be the one who gets to make it. Yeah.
To what degree was it a blank slate when you came on?
CLARK: It was a blank slate. I got to shoot the pilot in its entirety and I got to rewrite it from page one. I did a lot of casting… I had a strong sort of point of view about the material and I was only going to really do it if I could do my point of view on it. And they were excited about it.
It’s been so interesting to see how, even just in a relatively small period of years, the culture around everything we’re talking about here has changed. So for you, looking at the comic and looking at what you wanted to do, how beholden were you feeling to the original text?
CLARK: Well, I love the book a lot and I’ve loved it for 10 years. It’s my favorite comic book. And I think that Brian K. Vaughan is an incredible writer. I’m a huge fan of all of his work, and he has been so generous in saying, “I wrote this when I was 25 and it’s been 20 years, go and do your thing with it.” But I also loved the book. So I want to honor the characters and the relationship and the worlds that they go to and certain plot points, but I feel free to kind of play within that and update. And one of the things that I wanted to do and Brian and Pia were really excited about was updating the concepts… That the chromosomes are not equal to gender, and the world of the show is a much more gender-diverse place than it was in the comic book.
For me, the show is so much about identity and how people create identity and how systems conspire to inform our identities, white supremacy and patriarchy and capitalism — all these things like that we don’t even really realize are part of informing who we are, but they are. And so much of the show is about the way that human beings like to put things into boxes and binaries. To me, the show is about escaping from that binary.
That makes a lot of sense, especially given that what made the comic so fascinating, to me anyway, was the fact that especially when it came out, not only were post-apocalyptic stories like it not as common, but the premise also really examines gender imbalance in the world.
CLARK: Absolutely. Yeah. Which hasn’t changed that much since 2002 when the book came out.
Yeah. There are a few more people in the line of succession, I guess–
CLARK: Depending on who the President is at the time, but yes, yeah.
I was going to say, how important was it to make sure that the sitting President at the time that things go down was Republican?
CLARK: I think that Jennifer Brown, who Diane Lane plays, she’s a Congresswoman and a Democrat. And so I wanted to keep that. And I also thought… I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but there’s the line of succession in the world of Y the Last Man is extremely male. So it puts the whole world into sort of chaos and yeah. Anyway, it’s exciting. Stay tuned.
Diane Lane’s great in this, and there is this part of my brain that did think, the entire show could very easily just be, “What is Diane Lane’s character dealing with?”
CLARK: She is an incredible actor and yeah, what’s so exciting about the show is that hopefully, there are so many different worlds and so many different main characters and it’s a real ensemble. So you spend time with the character and you’re like, “You’re my favorite character.” Then you are surprised and delighted, hopefully, that you really liked this other story. At least that’s how I feel.
Of course. At what point in the process of developing the show and making the show, did it kind of really sink in that you would be making a show with an entirely… With a cast that is almost entirely lacking in the Y chromosome?
CLARK: It’s actually a really interesting thing when you’re writing and it’s not the main characters that gets you. It’s the Soldier Number Two, or like Senatorial Aid Number Three, and the fact that they’re all not cis men, and for them, at least in certain areas of the storyline, it’s majority women. I think it’s really exciting. It’s exciting. And it’s worlds you haven’t seen before, and we had an incredible female stunt coordinator named Shelley Cook. I’ve worked on plenty of shows with action, but I’ve never worked with a female stunt coordinator. And it’s just very cool. It’s exciting.
How was it different?
CLARK: We talk a lot about the, I think for want of a better term, the female gaze in terms of how we wanted to shoot the show and the style. And Louise Freidberg, the director of the pilot and Kira Kelly, the DP of the pilot, and Catherine Lutes, who DPed the even episodes — we came up with what that was to us, which was detail and subjectivity and point of view. I thought a lot about how I wanted action to be portrayed on the show and I wanted it to feel visceral and real, and with the exception of 355, you don’t have any characters on the show who are proficient in fighting necessarily, so I really wanted storytelling in the action. I wanted to see, how do people really, people who have never been in a position to hold a gun or fight or whatever, what does that actually look like?
By the way, Ashley Romans feels like a real find in terms of the casting.
CLARK: I mean, isn’t she just a star? She’s incredible. I think 355 is an interesting character because I think the show’s an ensemble, but in lots of ways, she’s the protagonist, but she is also a character who is very guarded about what she reveals about herself. And so it felt, it felt important to me, for the audience to get to know her. And, while I don’t always love flashbacks or dream sequences on shows, I actually think that getting inside of her subconscious is really interesting because it’s also creating… It’s a mystery. You’ll see what that musical number is. Basically teased out over the course of the season. And I think it is just exciting to get to see the inside of her brain because she’s a character who doesn’t talk about herself.
So, given the fact that the original novel was so plotted out, how much of a plan do you have beyond the season?
CLARK: I feel like the show continues beyond this season and I have an idea of how long I think it would be. The books are long because the story is long and the relationships grow and change over the course of it. And so, I don’t know exactly. I don’t have like the scripts written, but I feel like the show has longevity.
Sure. I believe the original series was five volumes in hardback — would it be a five-season story for you?
CLARK: I don’t know that the series follows so closely to the volumization of the book, although in some ways I would say, with regards to the first season, there’s quite a bit of the first book [there]. But I think five seasons is a pretty good length for a show.
Along those lines, one of the really exciting parts of the original novel was how well it chronicled the passing of time — do you think you’ll keep up with that pace or do you feel like you’re going to slow down or speed up at certain points?
CLARK: I think that part of what’s so fun about the book is that it’ll like pop you in a place and stay there for a little bit. And then all of a sudden you’ll move quicker through time. The passage of time feels like one of the devices that the book uses that I think the series could use as well.
So, I think that the events of the first season are a couple of months, in part because I felt like so much of what the first season is about is these characters, and who they were before. And by the end of the season, they are all different in some ways, some for good, some for bad. They’ve changed quite a bit and I wanted to see that change. But once we’ve seen that, I think we can skip time in interesting ways going forward. I’m excited to kind of explore that in the way that the book does.
To wrap up, we’re basically living in a now post-Walking Dead society, where apocalyptic stories like this are fairly are more common than they used to be on TV. What was important to you about making sure that this show stood out from them, especially right now when we’re still living in our own little mini-apocalypse?
CLARK: Yeah, I mean, A, I’m very grateful that this show is not about an ongoing pandemic. I don’t want to watch a show about COVID. I feel like I’m living… I want to be post-apocalypse right now. I’m ready for the post-apocalypse. So, this is an event that happens and then the aftermath is where the story takes place really.
And I think what sets the show apart is that it’s funny and it is optimistic about the power of people to change. And so I think it’s fun and it’s really rooted in characters and relationships and hopefully, while there are people in this world who are taking advantage or who are hurting other people, there are also just as many people who are trying to help and who think that the world is capable of change. And so, I think that’s what sets the show apart. It’s in Episode 7, but there’s a line where Yorick or somebody says, “why are you helping us?” This character says, “Well, maybe hell isn’t other people.” And I think that’s at the heart of the stories, that there is still good in the world.
The first three episodes of Y the Last Man are streaming now on FX on Hulu. Future episodes will be released Mondays.
KEEP READING: ‘Y the Last Man’ Review: FX’s Long-Awaited Adaptation Survives Development Hell to Deliver an Engaging Apocalypse Tale
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