Anyone who has read the Y: The Last Man comics or watched the recent TV adaptation can probably agree on one thing: Agent 355 is the best character. The mysterious and badass super-spy entrusted by the President to protect her only son, who just happens to be the last man on Earth, is capable, vulnerable, and just all-around awesome. Actress Ashley Romans has been all that and more in season one of the show and io9 got to speak with her just as the first season of Y: The Last Man came to a close.
We talked to Romans (who you might have also seen in another io9 title: NOS4A2) about the events of the finale, what they could mean moving ahead, and that huge, unfortunate cloud that’s hanging over the show because FX on Hulu didn’t renew it for another season. “It still doesn’t quite feel done,” Romans told io9. “It feels like we’re going to get another shot at this.” Read more of her thoughts on that, the finale, 355's mentality throughout the first season, favorite scenes to shoot, and a whole lot more. (If you haven’t seen the finale yet, there will be some spoilers but we’ll warn you when.)
Germain Lussier, io9: So the finale has some really solid, great cliffhangers, but FX on Hulu has decided not to pick up season two. You have this great story that you’ve told, a great story that’s still left to be told, and now you might not get the chance to do it. So coming out of the finale, just how are you feeling about everything right now?
Ashley Romans: As you said, you know, it’s such a good show and we still have so much left to say. It feels a little like when I hear people say something like they might get a limb amputated, they still feel like that limb is there, and I’m not sure, but it still doesn’t quite feel done. It feels like we’re going to get another shot at this. And I think because the show has already gone through so many layers and obstacles, with the pandemic delaying it, the changing of the showrunner, changing of scripts, they filmed a pilot and then they filmed another pilot, the recasting. There have been so many things thrown at us. We’ve kind of been dodging it, and it doesn’t quite feel like we’re going to be done to me yet. Maybe I’m just in denial, who knows.
io9: In the last few episodes before the finale, we got a bit more into 355's mind about her handlers, the Culper Ring, and how she felt about them. Now at the very end of the episode, we see that it seems like they want to help her somehow. Do you think she trusts them and should she trust them at this point?
Romans: So it’s really confusing because in that moment, there’s so many layers, right? Do they want to help? I don’t think 355 does trust them because they have been watching her and they haven’t reached out. And I think for her, there’s a little bit of that denial of who they really are and the way they play with her when they drop that tracer at her windowsill. In that moment, it’s almost as though 355's guard, she just put it down, right? She had a lovely night with Allison, and then they start playing with her head, I think, but when she’s strapping on her shoes with the tracer before the gunshots she’s planning on confronting them. Finding them and confronting them. And I don’t think she trusts them one bit.
io9: The other big revelation is we finally learned about 355's past. What do you think made her open up to Yorick in the silo? And do you actually think we, the audience, can trust what she said about her family?
Ashley: Yeah, I think that was from a really sincere place, actually. Yeah, I think that was the truth that we’ve kind of been seeing bits and pieces of in her most vulnerable moments. And she couldn’t help but open up because she saw so much of herself in him in that moment, right? I think what’s special about 355 that makes her a little different from the rest of the characters is that this level of grief she’s already been through, right? Like the apocalypse, the big event dying, it’s almost happened to her for a second time. So in that way, the grieving is like she’d been on the other side of it, and that’s what she had to offer him at that moment. Also, too, I think 355 is learning as a leader that she can’t relate to Yorick as a soldier. He’s just a kid, and so is she. And she needs to be compassionate for him the same way she needs to be compassionate for that part of himself. So I think that was all a huge learning moment and level of vulnerability. I think the audience can trust that. Maybe it might be one of the first times we see her tell the complete truth.
io9: So how do you get into a character like that? What about her is most like you and what about her is the least like you?
Romans: Oh man, it’s really cool getting into this character and her thoughts because you can’t help but get into her habits as well and also her opinions about things. It was really interesting because she’s such a loner and we also filmed it during a pandemic, the city was shut down. I think I really got to tap into that solitude and how that changes your brain and your relationship with people. So I think what’s most like me is we both really like to avoid sleep. Anyone who knows me actually knows that I could fall asleep anywhere, and also, I try and avoid sleep. I used to work an overnight shift, and I have really weird issues with sleep. Actually, I had this thing where I would sleepwalk in anxiety. Like I would just get up thinking I have work and get dressed. So I guess we sleepwalk—that’s how we’re like each other—and I have a terrible sense of direction. I’m not like her at all in that way. She always knows where people are going at all times. She always knows which way north is—I have a terrible sense of direction.
io9: You mentioned how Y has had a long, long road to the screen so when exactly did you come in on the process and what kind of conversations, if any, did you have with Brian K. Vaughan or Pia Guerra once you got the role?
Romans: So first part, I came on to it actually pretty late in the game. I was one of the last people cast. I was cast in September 2020 actually. So it’s a year turnover almost exactly. I didn’t really have any conversations with Brian and Pia, they were pretty hands-off, which is really fun. They always made themselves available to, like, reach out to in support or questions, but I had so much source material to work off of. And yet I didn’t really even touch that or refer back to it mostly. My main source were the writers and honoring this medium of TV because it’s not going to be the same as in the comics, obviously.
io9: What drew you to the character most as you were reading the comics and what were you most excited to kind of make your own?
Romans: The part I was most excited to make my own was her sense of humor and also her vulnerability. I think what I most identify with her in the comics is that she’s about Yorick’s age, yes, but she’s lived so much life. She has such a different outlook and surprising moments of vulnerability. Also [when] I was really excited was [what] I spoke to Eli [showrunner Eliza Clark] about in conversation, I was really excited to see the take the show has on gender and how responsibly we would talk about that. Eli was very passionate about it and I was excited to be part of that conversation. And specifically the conversation of prison abolition. I was really excited to hear what Eli’s take of Marrisville was because that’s actually what drew me to the comics. I was really struck by how political the comics were and I was excited to see how the show would riff off that.
io9: In your mind, what do you think 355 is motivated by? What does she really want?
Ashley: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think there’s a few things. I think she’s really motivated by guilt. When the first President dies... she’s never not really been good at her job as she identifies so much with her job, and when she doesn’t have it anymore, [that’s a] huge identity crisis. So I think she’s also motivated by finding her identity. She went right back to the President in episode two and said, I want to be of service to be Jennifer Brown. I think she’s also really motivated because she’s afraid that the Culper Ring had something to do with all the men dying and if they did that, then they’re not as good, which means she’s not as good. So she’s very motivated to prove how good she is.
io9: You mentioned that you came into the process pretty late, so what was it like developing a chemistry between you and Ben Schnetzer? Because it’s great on the show and doesn’t feel like two people who just met and said “action.”
Romans: It was really fun. Ben is so easy to work with. I mean, the chemistry is great and people always say kudos to us, but Ben is such a good actor he can have chemistry with Ampersand. [Laughs] That is such a strong relationship in the show and we used the CGI monkeys, so... I think it’s just a testament to how great of an actor Ben is. Also how much we enjoy working with each other and the environment that we cultivate as a team as a whole onset. And that really starts with Eliza Clarke, from the top down. And also, me and him have been on the same page, we really enjoyed the comics and we really want to honor the show. That’s everything we ever did on set was coming from that place of trying to honor the source material and also make our own world.
io9: Do you have a favorite scene or episode that you shot?
Romans: I do. I mean, I really enjoy seeing that dream sequence in episode four. [That] was a lot of fun, but also episode seven was a lot of fun. We really enjoyed shooting that, specifically the prison cell [with Allison Mann, played by Diana Bang].
io9: Just by the nature of the show, you don’t always get to work with all the actors who are in the credits. You do more than most, actually, but at some point, who would you like get to work with a little bit more?
Romans: I mean, all of them, really. But hopefully season two, there’s some scenes with me and I guess Marin [Ireland, who plays Nora]—I mean, Marin is one of my favorite actors—but everyone. I fangirl over everybody on set all the time... I would love to have a scene with Beth [played by Juliana Canfield]... there’s so many options, there’s so many different places the story is going to go.
io9: Speaking of that, if we do get to see more seasons, what from the comics that’s still to come are you excited to either be part of or see how it’s visualized?
Romans: Maybe the astronauts? I’m excited to see how they visualize that. And also, Paris. That whole time in Paris. I want to see how global we get because we’re going to get pretty global.
io9: Last thing. Obviously you want the show to come back. I want the show to come back. But on the awful, awful chance that it doesn’t come back, what has it meant to you to be a part of this show?
Ashley: Oh man, it’s meant so much to be a part of this team and to meet these souls. I just feel so terribly grateful, like if God doesn’t do another thing, she would have already done so much when she gave me this opportunity. I feel so full and nourished as an artist and as a professional—it’s been invaluable.
The full first season of Y the Last Man is now on Hulu. You can read our recaps at this link.
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