We've been seeing a lot of Kristen Schaal these days -- and we aren't mad about it. Few in the business have a comedic voice as distinctive as Schaal's, and her quirky charisma and offbeat energy infuses every role she takes: Mel on "Flight of the Conchords," Hazel on "30 Rock," Louise Belcher on "Bob's Burgers," her many years as a "Daily Show" correspondent, and on. And now she's found yet another singular part to make her own: As Will Forte's rule abiding, craft-loving (ex) wife Carol on "Last Man on Earth," a remarkably unusual FOX comedy about the survivor(s) of an apocalyptic virus. We caught up with Schaal to talk about last night's major episode, getting divorced from Phil and fun on-set with pubic wigs:
Carol and Phil’s relationship took a big turn last night — they got divorced, but there also seems to be some sort of newfound spark emerging. Are you rooting for them as a couple?
I sort of am! Obviously they’re both flawed and I kind of like that about the pair, I think there’s a slow burn that’s sort of fun to ride along with for the two of them. I think they see each other for who they really are. And it’s kind of like — they instantly get each other, and they were instantly turned off because they knew exactly what the other person was. So there’s something about that that’s pretty intimate and cool, and I do think they care for each other and I am sort of rooting for them.
What does she see in Phil despite all his lies and bad behavior?
I mean she said it, like, the first time she met him, that deep down under all of the grossness that he’s protecting himself with, there’s a good person inside of him and she’s going to find it. She’s zeroed in on the fact that beneath it all theres a really nice guy in there, and she’s kind of made it her project to find that guy. So I feel like she’s definitely been pushed to the point where in order for Carol to keep any of her dignity she’s like, okay, the marriage thing is over. She’s not going to hold on to that anymore, and she lets it go. But I think there is a chemistry between the two of them that might have existed if maybe Carol hadn’t pushed the wedding thing so hard at the beginning.
Have you imagined a backstory for Carol before the virus, how she became the person that she is?
I imagine that, like Phil gets to have, especially in the pilot, you get to see him have all this wish fulfillment of all the things he would do if no-one was around, and I think in a different way Carol got to have her wish fulfilled by being married. I think she’s someone who, in the old world, may have been stressed about getting married and having a husband, and I can also relate to that because as old-fashioned as it is, as a little girl growing up I was like “I’m going to hopefully have a husband someday and I’m going to be married,” and it was something that I sort of longed for. It took a long time to meet the right guy, but! And I think she was sort of perpetually lonely, and she sees this guy and it’s just her and him and it’s like, well, you know what, I’m going to get what I want, and I want to be married and I want to have this epic story after such an apocalyptic fallout. It’s the story that I write and I’m going to write it this way. And she’s in a place to get Phil to go along with it, for better or for worse.
And she can make it exactly as she wants.
Exactly, there’s an interesting sort of a power play that i think was fun to watch, because we’ve never really seen it before, and it’s sort of like, like whoa, we’re starting from ground zero, completely fresh — who’s going to call the shots? And what's good about the show is you kind of see both of them going back and forth calling the shots. Carol's just a little bit better at it.
I know we heard a bit about it, but how did you imagine Carol spending her time alone before we met Phil?
In one of the early versions — and I wonder about how many times I refer to early versions, but I love trying to use every scrap I can get, she was saying how she traveled the United States and “visiting all her favorite landmarks, like the quilting museum and, you know the Baseball Hall of Fame? They have one for softball. So I went there.” All the things that Carol would go to that nobody else would go to, she went to visit.
How much was the Carol character informed by your comedic voice and how much was already on the page?
Definitely nothing was changed in the first episode that she’s in. She is that person. I remember struggling, being like, “Who is this person?” when I started to get my teeth into it. I don’t know how much of it is me — I’m definitely allowed to improvise. I’m allowed [laughs]. They’re open to improvising and Will Forte completely trusts any opinions I have and is open to collaborating in any way, which is so nice. And maybe it’s a mistake on his part, too. We have a really trusting relationship about the show.
Are there any moments that we would have seen so far that came as a result of that improvisation?
I don’t want to say! [Laughs] The whole Cake Boss bit back and forth is just us improvising. Oh — but that wasn’t even in it! They take it out, they take it out. But you can see it online. All the outtakes usually, the stuff that didn’t make it, or extended scenes, all the extended scenes are the improv that I do that doesn’t make it in, that’s not official to the plot line [laughing]. So yeah, I do improv but that really just wastes time on the show.
The show in general really pushes viewers, in the sense there’s a huge twist that changes the show in a major way every week.
I don’t think that the show does change so much week to week. I think the heart of the show is still there and the theme of the show is still intact, of loneliness. And just sort of the bare bones, very humanness of people that stripped down once you take away all of society, and what happens when society sort of slips back in, how you handle it. I never felt like every episode I was on a different show or that it was totally changing. I think they did a good job of keeping the tone of the show intact. I think when you turn on “The Last Man on Earth,” I don’t think people are like, “Well this is a completely different show.” I think you know exactly the show that you’re watching.
Carol has a strong personality, but one that strikes a perfect balance between lovable and annoying. How do you find that balance when you play the character?
I guess it’s like: She just believes everything completely. And I think that even if the character is doing something that’s annoying, if they just believe in it so hard and just believe that this is the right thing, hopefully that will come across. Anything that they say is justified by the character. So, especially with Carol, nothing she’s doing is menacing in any way. It’s all just like, well this is how we should do it to make it right. It’s misguided, but it’s coming from a good place. I think even though it’s annoying, you know that they’re doing it from whatever heart they have and I think that makes them lovable.
I watch the talk-show bit where you joked about farting during a sex scene. Any other enjoyable bloopers to share?
Let’s think. It’s always so fun to work with him. He’s such a great guy. There was one embarrassing moment where, because he doesn’t break [character] I was trying to figure out how to get him to break and just this one time, but when I present myself to him after the wedding, I had just a tube top on and boxer shorts, but then the wardrobe assistant was like, “Here, put this merkin on for one of the takes.” So I took this giant pube hair thing, I had these huge pubes, and I was like, “Your presence is requested in the bedroom.” And I take off my robe and I’m just standing there with these giant, giant pubes. And again, he just looked at me and just in character like, he expected that. It was actually so embarrassing, I was like ah, never!