Showrunner Eliza Clark speaks to ET about the highly anticipated TV adaptation of the graphic novel.
Based on the popular Vertigo graphic novel series by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, Y: The Last Man is a post-apocalyptic series that follows the lives of several survivors, including a man named Yorick (Ben Schnetzer), who survive a mysterious event that wipes out every living creature with a Y chromosome. Rounding out the cast are Diane Lane, who is starring in the first TV series of her career as President Jennifer Brown; Olivia Thirlby as Yorick’s sister, Hero; Marin Ireland as former White House aide Nora' Amber Tamblyn as the former president’s surviving daughter, Kimberly' and Ashley Romans as the mysterious Agent 355.
The genre-bending series, which showrunner Eliza Clark describes as a western, mixes the character-driven focus of The Walking Dead -- another graphic novel adaptation -- with the lingering mysteries and jumps back and forth through time of Lost while establishing itself as one of TV’s must-see events with a story about identity in the face of upheaval.
“This is a story about identity and how our identities are formed,” Clark says of the series’ central theme, explaining that they ask questions like, “Is it truly who we are? And, what is imposed upon us by our families, by society and by systems of oppression?” And then following the event, what happens to those long-standing ideas and sense of self.
In a conversation with ET, Clark breaks down what audiences need to know about the series, including what questions they should or shouldn’t be asking themselves and why Lane is more than stunt casting.
The Graphic Novel v. The Series
Like many graphic novel or comic book adaptations that have come before it, there’s always a question about how loyal the series will be to the source material. While Clark is a “huge fan” of the original work, she says that Vaughan “was very generous in handing over the material” and letting her team add their own spin to it.
“He wrote it 20 years ago and so much has changed. So much of the conversation around gender has changed. Our political system and the world has changed drastically in the last 20 years,” Clark says, explaining that there were elements that needed to be updated while they let themselves be “guided by our characters.”
When it comes to the main event that wipes out everything with a Y chromosome, Clark wanted to make clear that gender and chromosomes are not equal to one another. And as a result, the series really explores gender (and sexuality) in a way that the source material did not. “Yorick is not the last man. He is special because he has a Y chromosome, not because of his maleness,” she says, explaining that the series features intersex, nonbinary and transgender people.
At the end of the day, Clark hopes that people who love the book will love the show. “The show’s in conversation with the book in the way that the book is in conversation with pop culture,” she says.
What Mysteries or Questions Audiences Should Be Concerned With
Like any great mystery-box series, Y: The Last Man is full of questions that viewers will be asking week to week. For instance: Where is Yorick’s fiancée, Beth, and will he ever find her? What organization does Agent 355 work for and did they know about the event before it happened? What caused the event and killed off everything with a Y chromosome?
Those are totally fair questions to ask, Clark says, before clarifying that she’s more interested in what kind of impact they will have on the characters. “How the questions about what may have happened affect our characters is way more interesting to me,” she says.
That said, “I don’t love mysteries that don’t get solved,” Clark says, differentiating the show from something like Lost. “One of the things about the book is that what’s more important is the factions and the belief systems that are created around what people believe happened as opposed to figuring out the mystery of what happened. I think that the same thing is true for those series. And at the same time, I don’t want to present mysteries without giving an answer.”
(Also, unlike Lost, Clark says there is a five- to six-season plan for this series. “Without giving anything away, the comic is a great template,” she tells Polygon.)
Why Yorick Is Not the Main Character -- Or Even the Most Interesting Storyline
While Yorick is the series’ titular “last man,” he’s not the main focus. “I feel very strongly that the show is an ensemble,” Clark says. “And the focus is a group of people who are surviving in this world.” And at the center of that, at least in season 1, is a family made up of Yorick and his mother and his sister, who all drive the story in very different directions.
Jennifer is a politician who has always wanted to be president. “And finally she gets what she wants, but under the most dire circumstances. And then she also finds out that her son has survived,” Clark explains. “And there are a lot of conspiracy theories about what might’ve happened and the fact that her son survived and she’s the president doesn’t look good for her.” So her desire to protect is partly why Yorick is sent off with Agent 355 in the hunt for an expert geneticist.
And then what Clark calls the “third rail” follows Hero, who is dealing with the pressures of who she is compared to her family. A paramedic in New York City, she is “dealing with a ton of guilt and shame” over events that happen in the first episode and really feels terrible about herself. So later, when Hero encounters a group of people “who tell her that it is OK to be who she is or that she could be somebody completely different, that’s really appealing to her,” Clark teases.
Clark also teases that audiences will “be rooting for a gay love story on this show, and I’m very excited about it.”
Ultimately, when it comes to what fans latch onto, there are plenty of characters and stories to choose from. “I’m hoping that you’ll be like, ‘My favorite story is Hero’s story. Hero is my girl.’ And then suddenly you’re in another story and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, that crazy Amber Tamblyn character, I can’t wait to see what that crazy person does.’”
Why Diane Lane Is Not Stunt Casting
Long after it was revealed that Lost wanted to cast Michael Keaton in Matthew Fox’s role and to kill him off early in season 1, many series have featured various versions of A-list stunt casting to hook viewers. The most recent was Jennifer Connelly in the first season of Snowpiercer. While she was a crucial part of the show and a welcome member of the ensemble cast, it soon became clear that she was there to set up the season 1 cliffhanger rather than stick around long term.
But when it comes to Lane, Clark says the actress is “a genius on many levels and has been an incredible partner on the show. You will see her in season 2.” And given the showrunner’s five-year plan, which is planning its own twists and turns separate from the graphic novel, there’s plenty of untold territory for Lane’s character to explore.
Y: The Last Man is now streaming on FX on Hulu. New episodes debut every Monday.