[WARNING: The interview above and following story contain spoilers about the Season 1 finale of “The Afterparty.” Read at your own risk.]
Ben Schwartz is not only a gifted comedian and actor and an Emmy-winning songwriter with the voice of an angel (no question mark), but he’s also a highly proficient secret keeper. And he put those skills to good use for “The Afterparty,” the Apple TV+ murder-mystery comedy from creator, director and executive producer Christopher Miller and his creative partner and executive producer Phil Lord in which Schwartz’s character, Yasper, turned out to be the killer.
“I’m very good at keeping secrets. I didn’t tell my girlfriend. I didn’t tell my agent or my manager, who help put the deal together. When it finally came out, they were like, ‘Well, we know it’s not you because throughout the process we would’ve found out. But I was just very, very good. My dad didn’t know. My dad thought it was Zoe [Chao] and Ike [Barinholtz]’s kid the whole time. ‘It’s the kid, I’m telling you, it’s the kid,'” the actor tells Gold Derby (watch above). “I had done so many comedies that it was so exciting to be in a show that had a through line every week. People were texting me, like, ‘Oh, my God, I noticed this. Do you think this is something?’ And it was building to this big, climactic whodunnit, so it was very, very exciting.”
The fact that his own father didn’t suspect Yasper not only speaks to the savvy choice by Lord and Miller to weaponize Schwartz’s comedic credentials as the fun-loving, ebullient Yasper that you wouldn’t immediately think he pushed pop star Xavier (Dave Franco) off the balcony, but to Schwartz’s calibrated performance as well. An A/V installer who dreams of music superstardom, Yasper is the life of the (after)party who, at first blush, seems like the best BFF you could ever ask for as he tries to help clear Aniq’s (Sam Richardson) name. But once Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) cracks the case in the finale, you look at many of Yasper’s actions in a whole new light and see how Schwartz’s performance works on multiple levels, never revealing or hiding too much. Yasper wasn’t only eager to exonerate Aniq but to protect his own butt too. Case in point: His reaction to the ‘Private Eyes’ poster in Xavier’s bedroom that has a built-in camera.
“When we realize there’s a camera in the ‘Private Eyes’ poster, Yasper’s reaction is ‘Oh, my God, I’m dead, I’m gonna die.’ And then he sees Aniq see him and he has to make it feel like it’s not about that. So throughout the whole thing, I played with levels of ‘Oh, my God! I killed somebody! How do I hide this?’” Schwartz states. “Any time I’m reminded that I could be caught, I made sure that my character gets scared. And also a lot of the big goofiness or the jokiness is him hiding the idea that he’s trying to hide that he’s killed somebody, which is fun. The incredible part of it is I get my own episode of this musical and during there and it’s my point of view of what happened and it’s like the world revolved around me for the whole day. I think everything is the most exciting, happy, everybody’s happy, everything’s going well. It’s me pushing hard on that, but not too hard where you’re like, ‘Is this guy up to something?’ So it’s really fun to play with the acting levels, and then in the last episode I basically get to do a dramatic episode, which is very exciting.”
Yasper’s POV episode — every episode is told from a different character’s perspective in a different genre style — is one of the season’s standouts. Little did anyone know (except for maybe Miller, who wrote Yasper with Schwartz in mind and asked him a week after offering the role if he could sing), the star has some, uh, killer musical chops. He raps in “Two Shots,” sings and dances in “Yeah, Sure, Whatever,” and is heartbreakingly mournful while strumming his sad guitar in “Three Dots from Stardom.”
“The hardest to do live was ‘Yeah, Sure, Whatever’ because there’s so much dancing and singing and so many moving parts in it. But we shot ‘Three Dots from Stardom’ in three one-shots, so it’s like a oner and a oner and a oner. I think that’s what he did,” Schwartz shares before having a realization. “Oh, my God! Did I just realize that? That he shot it in three shots? I think he did it in three shots because Chris is just brilliant.” The “Parks and Recreation” alum can’t choose a favorite tune, but agrees that “Three Dots from Stardom” — about the elliptical tease and interminable wait for someone’s text — is the most relatable. “I think that one hits the hardest because everybody knows that dot, dot dot, and you’re like [rubs hands] and you’re just waiting for something, and Yasper never got his something.”
Schwartz — who, like every character on “The Afterparty,” has trouble spelling “diarrhea” in our interview — is no stranger to satirical songs, of course. He won an Emmy in 2009 for co-writing Hugh Jackman‘s opening number at the Oscars with Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, John Kimbrough and William Ross. The “Frost/Nixon” duet with future “Les Miserables” stars Jackman and Anne Hathaway was all him.
“We’re writing the thing and then Hugh Jackman’s producing partner said, ‘We’re looking for a way to get Anne Hathaway involved in the opening.’ I was like, ‘God, that guy’s lip is so sweaty all the time. I gotta write that,'” Schwartz says of the Ron Howard film. “I said, ‘You know, what we do at UCB is we pull people up from the stage and we plant these audience members, but we do it in these weird ways.’ I said, ‘It’d be really funny if we do ‘Frost/Nixon’ and she’s right next to [Frank] Langella and you think we need him, but we pull her up and she does the whole thing.’ I actually wrote that whole bit, which is very exciting because Dan Harmon and Rob did a lot of heavy lifting on that thing. Schrab created all the props. He created them! He’s a genius. And Dan is just — his mind is incredible. We all decided it should be this recession musical opening and Dan is just a machine. Ideas were just flying out of his head.”
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