When FX’s comic-to-streaming television adaptation of Y: The Last Man dropped in September, I was immediately struck by Ashley Romans. As a secret agent known only as 355, Romans is responsible for bringing one of the comic’s most beloved figures to life, effortlessly balancing a sardonic wit with a deadly special set of skills. She needs both of those things as she helps to protect Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer), the only person with a Y chromosome left alive after a mysterious global event. Romans is the show’s breakout star—a captivating talent who commands the screen anytime she’s in a scene.

Now that Y is more than halfway through its first season, Complex caught up with Romans for a wide-ranging chat, including how she almost didn’t audition for 355, channeling Eartha Kitt and Jessica Rabbit, how she picks her roles, online reaction to series, and much more. If you haven’t watched Y yet, let this interview—and the pure joy Romans has for this role—push you to do so.

How has it been to watch the response to the series so far?
It’s been overwhelmingly positive. I was just telling my partner the other day that I have never known the internet to be a kind or supportive place. That’s never been my experience of the Internet or the experience I’ve witnessed other people experience on the internet. But the internet has been super supportive [of the show]. I wish I could respond to everybody—but I hope they know I see it, and it means a lot that people are enjoying the show. Cause whenever you’re switching mediums [from comics to television], there’s always going to be that expectation people have, but I dig everyone’s courage to just say, “You know what? Forget my expectations. Where you took me was really cool.”

Can you talk about the audition process?
So around the beginning of August of last year—it’s so funny, I told my reps, “I never wanna play another cop again. Ever. Like if it’s a cop, don’t even send it to me.” I was attracted to the fact that this character [355] wasn’t quite a cop [laughs]. There’s never any assumption that she’s a fantastic, good human being. There are so many complexities within her.

So reading it on the page was already cool. Then I found out it was a comic book, and I said, “Okay, how about I go and get it.” And the artwork and what Pia Guerra and Brian K. Vaughan did with the whole story, I was like, enlisted. I was just enthralled, really quickly. I went out and read the entire comic book series in one weekend with zero expectation of even getting a callback or even anyone watching [my audition]. I think every actor can actually relate to the fact that you send in self-tapes, and you have to let go of any outcome because they might not even watch it. But the blessing I got was reading great source material and a great script.

And then talking to Eli [showrunner Eliza Clark] on the second round of callbacks, I was enthralled because she has such a specific vision of this world. It’s cool to be a part of that process. I came in—I think I was one of the last people cast, actually—me and Olivia [Thirlby] were some of the last people added to the cast. So I understand that for everybody else, it was very long. But I was on board immediately. 

Ashley Romans
Image via Kelly Balch / Hair: Sophia Porter / Make-up: Renee Loiz

How do you balance what you want to bring to the character as an actor versus the source material versus what Eli has in mind? How did you work to craft 355 from all these different threads?
Eli and Louise Friedberg—the director of episodes 1 and 2—they were essential to the conversations we were having about the character. It was a lot of me bringing my own feeling of what the character and her backstory is and the specificity of the detail. Louise Friedberg actually sent [the cast] a questionnaire where we answered questions about the specifics of my character—how she sees the world, how she feels about certain things like sex, politics, parents, memories, all of that. 

Eli had a specific vision that I slowly started massaging into my brain. I would bring my own stuff, and she was always willing to take onto it or play with it or develop from that idea. I remember the first episode—my character, how she goes undercover—was a lot of my idea. They were so on board with it and so supportive. They were like, “Okay, great, let’s make this happen. What days do we have to move? What do we have to do?” It was fantastic.

Speaking of Eli being supportive, was the dance sequence in Episode 4 already on the page, or did the two of you come up with that together? I’m sure that scene made for an atypical day at the office.
[Laughs] It’s never a typical day at the office. We’ve done blizzards and heat waves—it’s never typical. Or never in an office!

Eli brought that. Because there was so much delay, I had the luxury of having six episodes available to me immediately. And when you have six episodes available—that’s very uncommon in TV—and it did feel like I had four months to rehearse a play. Or more like five months to rehearse a play because we shot in Toronto for a while before we even got to Episode 6. So that was a lot of fun. Getting to see that arc of “Okay, where does this character end up roughly? Where does she start? What’s the longest emotional runway I can give myself so this character can end up here? What are the specifics in between that moment and that moment?” Eli did such a good job because each character has that emotional catalyst that changes them episode to episode. It is incredible.

So the dance sequence was already on the page before I even got the role. Eli was telling me about it. Honestly, I love the singing and the dancing. To me, at the time, that felt like the series finale for me. That filming of that whole day felt like my wedding day; it was so much fun. I got to work with Elaine Overholt and Gina Saputo, who were terrific voice teachers, and Amanda May, who was a fantastic choreographer. It was honestly a dream come true. I grew up loving musicals. I did musicals in school, and I was never the star, but I got to kind of explore that fantasy in this episode.

So what I’m hearing is you’re angling for a musical episode of Y: The Last Man?
Oh, it’s in the books [laughs]. Every show should have a musical episode.

Was there a certain performance you wanted to channel or convey when crafting 355?
I got different sources from different times and moments. So specifically for the singing and dancing scene, the source I was trying to tap into was Eartha Kitt and Jessica Rabbit. [Laughs] It’s so funny because 355 has so many different colors inside of her and contradictions. What I love about this character really is, for me, the vastness of what the human experience can be. 

Honestly, for a lot of the scenes with Yorick—I saw this adorable video that went viral. I shared it on my social platforms—it’s with Ava, this little girl, just denying she has marker on her face. She’s like, “I didn’t do it.” She’s so defiant. It’s no small exaggeration that I based a lot of the character on that small, one video. I hope everyone looks it up now because the video is adorable. I hope that little girl is doing very well [laughs]. The source material was so strong. A lot of what the character is based on is just the source material and all the complexities of that. Her voice is so specific in my own head.

Did you have an opportunity to talk to Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra and ask questions about 355’s backstory? Or did you just want to go off of what’s in the script?
I’ve never spoken to Brian or Pia except through social media, actually. But they are incredible in this whole process. They kind of gave the producers and Eli the reins and said, “Do with it what you will.” For me, connecting to the source material was essential. I’ve heard Elliot [Fletcher] and Amber [Tamblyn] mention they hadn’t read the source material because their characters aren’t in the source material. Just seeing how the source material has grown so much, how we’re dealing with the truth of this gender spectrum we live in today. 

I decided my own name for 355 for my version [of the character] and what it means to me. I’ve heard Brian’s idea about it, but the reason why I think an actor needs to take ownership of that part of it is because if you try to make someone else’s answers work, you’re never gonna find the truth of where the character lives inside of you. I think all creatives understand that, which is why Brian and Pia have been so awesomely hands-off. Even Eli, to an extent, has been hands-off with personal details [about the character]. Because the character has so much mystery around her, I need to feel like I have that mystery. A lot of the character is—and it has evolved—is from me. But I know I can go to them with any questions.

Speaking of Amber, the two of you look like you have a fun relationship on Twitter. How did that come about? Especially since the two of you didn’t share a lot of scenes together in the early episodes.
Well, because we filmed during a pandemic in a city that was essentially shut down in Toronto, we all had these kinds of traumatic bonding experiences. [Laughs] I know the world was in trauma or mourning—also, the border was shut down, so you couldn’t leave or do any other job or meet anyone. So we were—I don’t want to say stuck together—but blessed to have each other. Eli did a great job in cultivating this really supportive environment for us. It felt like a family.

And you’re so right; we don’t have many scenes together. We only had one scene together, and it was so disappointing. But Amber is so fun and fantastic. We felt like a close ensemble. 

Being in this post-apocalyptic world, I feel like you learn how to do a lot of things on set, like learning how to suture a wound. Are there any other survival skills you’ve picked up throughout filming?
I think the coolest thing I’ve learned—and you’re right, I have learned a lot of different things. Singing and dancing [laughs] or doing a dance or whatever was fun to learn, but I already kind of knew how to do that before. But I would say: siphoning gas. 

Oh, wow!
Yeah! That is actually not that hard. I’m so glad I know how to do that, especially since while we were filming, there was a gas shortage in LA. Even though we didn’t experience that in Toronto, I was like, “Oh, this is survival number one.”

Between this and NOS4A2, do you like working within genre stuff? Are you actively seeking these kinds of projects out?
I don’t think I seek these things out, but I think the target attracts the arrow. I do want to play characters that require me to step into the best version of myself. That’s kind of what I was praying to God for before I even got this audition. I would say one of the things that attracted me about this character is that she is so confident, so decisive, and in a lot of ways, the best version of a human being. I also got to explore the worst parts of myself that I have in common with this character. I don’t actively seek any of these awesome projects, but that’s what I need for the advancement of my consciousness at that time. I’m super lucky and super blessed.

What can you tease for the remainder of the season?
You’re trying to get me in trouble, William! [Laughs] What I’ll tease is worlds are going to collide. How about that? A lot of worlds are going to collide. People are going to come back that you forgot about. Love is to be had—and made. That’s what I’m teasing. [Laughs]