Photography by Juco. Dress by Diane Von Furstenberg. Shoes by Michael Kors, Styling by Jessica and Kelly. Hair: Steven Mason at Exclusive Artists management. Makeup: Gillian Whitlock. Dress by Karen Millen.
It's a sweltering August day in Hollywood, and the air is thick. It's the kind of thickness that drowns out the noise and forces the city to slow down --
a kind of uncanny thickness that makes one consider the end of the world.
"I'd raid the jewelry stores -- just get a big wardrobe going," says Kristen Schaal, contemplating doomsday on a porch behind L.A. Studios, where she records her voice-overs for Louise Belcher, her character on Fox's animated series Bob's Burgers. She pauses. "But I've brainstormed this a lot, and who cares if you have the nicest clothes? You'd be dripping in diamonds, but no one's there to look at you."
She's referring to her other hit Fox series, The Last Man on Earth, the post-apocalyptic sitcom in which she stars as Carol Pilbasian, the eccentric, type-A foil to Will Forte's ne'er-do-well, Phil Miller. In Last Man's first season, Carol's unflagging practicality and often maddening optimism (not to mention her sick knitting skills and talent for fake-vomiting chunky soup into houseplants) quickly made her the jewel not just of the scant community of survivors gathered in a Tucson cul-de-sac, but also of the show itself.
"They're not going back to Tucson" is about all she can say of the new season, which returns September 27. Phil and Carol have hit the road to nowhere after a series of lies and schemes led the planet's remaining inhabitants to excommunicate Phil. Season 1 wrapped with Carol, being the better person, picking him up and saving him, announcing she prefers him to a group of people who'd shoo a man into the desert to die.
Schaal possesses that same sort of stubbornness. For the better part of two decades, she's forged her own bizarre path, even if it meant audiences and critics frequently misunderstood her shtick, confusing elaborate, painfully awkward bits for actual meltdowns. "If I was going to do comedy," she says, "I was going to do what I loved: Andy Kaufman weirdness. I definitely knew I'd never be a mainstream comedian, but I'm still proud of the pieces I did, even though they are so alienating to most people."
Case in point: her and comedy partner Kurt Braunohler's legendary "Kristen Schaal Is a Horse" segment for the BBC's Never Mind the Buzzcocks, in which Braunohler sings, "Kristen Schaal is a horse / Kristen Schaal is a horse / Look at her dance! / Look at her go! / Look at her dance like a horse!" over and over, getting louder and more hysterical each time, while Schaal dances...like a horse. It's so absurdly brilliant that it earned a spot on WNYC's science show Radiolab, on an episode about repetition. "People keep bringing it up," she says. "[They film their] 2-year-olds watching it. It's definitely one that's going to last forever."
While her self-described "surreal whimsy" didn't offer an immediate payoff, it certainly has now: Her offbeat style has established her as the kind of actress for whom roles are created. Forte wrote the Last Man pilot imagining Schaal as Carol, and she recently appeared in the movie A Walk in the Woods opposite Robert Redford and Emma Thompson because director Ken Kwapis's assistant lobbied to cast her.
Now it's rare to catch her in a quiet moment like this one on the porch. In addition to Bob's and Last Man, she still does voice-overs for the Disney show Gravity Falls and co-hosts Hot Tub, her long-running weekly stand-up night with Braunohler. The day after we meet, she'll head east to film the final episode of The Daily Show, on which she's been a frequent contributor, before host Jon Stewart hands over the reins to successor Trevor Noah.
Last Man is special, though, because for Schaal it's an upgrade. She has finally leveled up from her bread-and-butter oddball niche, embodied by standout roles like her obsessive fan Mel on HBO's Flight of the Conchords and her unstable NBC page Hazel on 30 Rock. She's now a leading lady.
"My TV characters have always been characters people aren't happy to have around," she says. "I love to play [the annoying] character, but it really does get exhausting. Everybody is really happy Carol's there, which is refreshing."
She stops for a second, seeing the irony in this, before addressing it in her signature morbid deadpan. "I know: The only way I could be well-loved on a show is if everybody else was dead."
Season 2 of Last Man on Earth premieres Sept. 27 on Fox. Watch the trailer below: