'The Afterparty': The Killer Speaks!

This post contains full spoilers for the season finale of Apple TV+’s The Afterparty, particularly the identity of the killer.

Sometimes, actors in serialized mystery shows don’t find out they’re the killer until late in the process. With The Afterparty, Ben Schwartz found out right away, in an email pitch to take the role, written by the show’s creator, Christopher Miller. Schwartz was excited to work with Miller and his partner Phil Lord (of the 21 Jump Street and Lego Movie franchises, among other things). As wannabe music star Yasper, Schwartz would not only get to make a big, dramatic confession in the finale, but he would get to sing several songs in the Yasper spotlight episode earlier in the season. It was an exciting challenge, but also a daunting one for an actor best known for sillier roles like Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Recreation, or voice work in things like the Sonic movies or DuckTales.

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On Wednesday night, Schwartz spoke about the finale via Zoom, from the hotel room where he’s filming a supporting role in the Nicholas Hoult-Nicolas Cage Dracula movie Renfield.

Hi, Ben. How are you?
It’s going great. I heard that you watched the finale of the television program The Afterparty.

I did watch the finale.
Do we want to talk about the comparisons between Tony Soprano and Yasper yet, or no?

Sure, let’s start there. Who’s the more ruthless killer?
Oh, come on. You know it’s Yasper. Tony has too much heart. He’s going to therapy, he’s working on himself. You don’t know if Yasper’s working on himself yet. Tony has a kid! Tony has family! He has support. Yasper doesn’t have that system. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?

What was your first reaction when Chris Miller reached out to you about doing this show?
The only time I got to work with Lord and Miller, I played a banana in The Lego Movie. Chris emailed me and he said, “Hey man, I wrote this role with you in mind for a TV show.” So I’m already in. I love Lord and Miller, I loved their animated stuff, I love their live-action stuff. Then the email says it’s going to be a murder mystery, and I’m like, “I love Knives Out, I love Columbo, I can’t wait.” Then he said, “Every episode’s gonna be a different genre, and yours is going to be a musical.” Now, oh my god, I was so excited, but also terrified: “Oh, I have to sing and dance, and I have to do it well. Not as, like, a cartoon character pretending to do it.” And then the email ended with, “Also, you’re the killer. Hopefully that makes it more exciting, so tell me what you’re into.” We get on the phone, and I said, “I’m so excited. My favorite parts of those whodunnits are the confessions: [old-timey, Jimmy Stewart-esque voice] “I did it! Yeah, it was me!” And I got to do that! And I dropped all these things throughout the show, I wanted you to not think it was me, and then to see a real dramatic turn, to get in his head. My favorite villains are the ones who don’t know how delusional they are. So Yasper is like, “This is why I did it! Can’t you see?!?!?” I loved that moment.

Schwartz and Richardson in ‘The Afterparty.’

Aaron Epstein/Apple TV+

How conscious were you throughout of playing it so it would make sense that you were the killer, but without tipping your hand too much?
There’s a couple of big moments I did. At the end of the second episode, beginning of the third episode, I tell Sam Richardson [who plays Aniq] that there is a camera in the Private Eyes movie poster. But if you rewatch Yasper in that moment, it is me realizing, “Oh my god, there’s a video of me killing somebody!” And then Aniq looks at me, and I have to make it look like I’m reacting to him. But if you go back, you can see me blow my cover and try to save it. This is very nerdy, but throughout the whole show, I had Xavier’s phone in my left pocket and Yasper’s phone in the right pocket, and sometimes you see my character by mistake start to go for the phone on the left and then quickly pull out to pick up the right one. And Chris Miller is a genius. When I’m in the shower, I sing a little song [singing]: “I’m just a boy in the bathroom…” And Chris kept in just five frames of both phones being in the thing, so if you paused it, you could see that.

Have you encountered many people over the last few weeks who have told you who they think the killer is?
I’m in a hotel right now, so I’m barely seeing anyone. Occasionally, the people outside my hotel will be like, “Watched Episode Four. I think it’s Walt!” But mostly, I get texts from friends being like, “I think it’s Walt.” Chris told me not to tell anybody. My parents don’t know. My agent and manager don’t know. My manager literally said, “Well, I know it’s not you, because we would have known while you were filming.” So tomorrow night’s going to be really fun. I’ve been basically playing werewolf with all my friends for the past few weeks. I’m pretending that I’m not the killer. But it’s been fun to be a part of a show where people are talking to me and it’s not just about the comedy, but them being really into what comes next and who did it. It’s been really exciting.

You’ve sung before as Jean-Ralphio or as Dewey on DuckTales. Why was this different for you?
All my stuff before is “What’s a fucking animated duck sing?” Or, “What if Jean-Ralphio is sing-songing?” But he’s not a singer. But Yasper thinks he’s great and the one to crush it. So we got a vocal coach and a choreographer. Fiora Cutler was my vocal coach, and Jon Lajoie, who you know from The League, wrote these incredible songs with Jack [Dolgen] and Chris. And then Kat Burns, who did all the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend choreography, did our choreography, and I recorded the songs in a real studio. I’ve never done choreography before. In high school, I was in the school choir, but that’s it. And I have songs on iTunes and Spotify now, which is insane. It’s a whole different thing from when I’ve sung before. When I do Dewey, I can get away with murder; it doesn’t matter. Or when I’m doing Comedy Bang! Bang! with Scott [Aukerman], it’s just me being foolish. I don’t have to be on pitch all the time. So this was the first time ever where I really wanted it to sound like I’m nailing it, and I wanted to hit those choreography moves.

The song “Two Shots” owes a lot to Hamilton, and you’re friends with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Did you consult with him at all on this?
I had texted Lin, but I think he was literally directing tick, tick… BOOM! and writing Encanto songs at the same time, so he didn’t get back to me. And for the rock song, I texted Alex Brightman, who [was on Broadway in] School of Rock and Beetlejuice, and he went over the songs with me and helped me rehearse. And then as the show was about to come out, I texted Lin, “Hey, just so you know, there’s a song that parodies Hamilton.” And he goes, “Really?” And I said, “Yeah, I rap it.” And he goes, “Oh my god!” I was texting him and [Hamilton composer] Alex Lacamoire. I have not heard back yet! I hope they love it. I think [Lin will] be very proud of me, because he’s so supportive. But he’s doing so much that he has no time to watch a television program. But I’m so excited for him to watch it when he can.

Your most famous roles tend to be comic relief, but you have a sincere motivation and a pretty serious confession scene here. Was that appealing to you?
It was very appealing to me. I [have gotten to do some drama, but] one of the cool things Chris said was, “People won’t see it coming. They’ll just be assuming you’re a Jean-Ralphio goofball.”

I think it’s going to be such a fun turn when you break it down a little bit. That scene originally was longer, and Chris and Phil made a great choice to cut it down a little bit. Originally, Tiffany’s character accuses me of having Xavier’s phone, but when she tries calling it, nothing happens, and I then go off on everybody, in real anger. Like, “I can’t believe you tried to do this to me! Aniq, I tried to exonerate you this whole fucking time,” etcetera. And then Tiffany’s character goes, “Check his phone, see if the ringer is off,” and they see it’s on vibrate, and that’s when you get to the moment that’s in the show. And there’s a version where I looked at Zoë Chao, and she’s almost in tears when they say I’m the killer, because she knows I’m going to jail. I would look at her and get emotional and start to cry at the beginning of that scene every time, because she’s such a good actress, and she is playing it like my character’s life is over. So we had takes where I’m crying the whole way through. And some where I’m angry the whole time. Chris mixed and matched them together to make a beautiful little edit. I was so excited, and was counting down the days for it. I wanted to make him proud, because I love that guy.

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