‘The Afterparty’ Stars Ben Schwartz and Sam Richardson Discuss the Killer — and Dissect the Clues

The Afterparty
Apple TV Plus

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for “Maggie,” the Season 1 finale of “The Afterparty,” which debuted on Apple TV Plus on March 4.

The stars of “The Afterparty” have been lying to their families.

That’s because the comedic whodunnit, which hails from director-showrunner Chris Miller and executive producer Phil Lord, established a strict rule of secrecy from Day 1. But after Friday’s finale revealed the killer to be Ben Schwartz’s Yasper, the cast can finally come clean to their loved ones, and hundreds of Reddit detectives can hang up their investigative hats.

“I’ve been semi-playing werewolf with everybody,” Schwartz tells Variety. “I still haven’t told my parents. My dad thinks it’s Maggie [Everly Carganilla], the little girl. My mom thinks it’s Walt [Jamie Demetriou]. My agents and managers don’t know because Chris told me not to tell anyone, and I’m very good at keeping secrets.”

“The Afterparty” begins with pop star Xavier (Dave Franco) plummeting to his death, before each major character recounts their version of the night to Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish). Until the final episode, Schwartz’s character spends the season seemingly in the clear, thanks to the prime suspect status of his best friend Aniq, played by Sam Richardson. In fact, Lord and Miller didn’t even tell Richardson the truth at first. In the early days of shooting, he thought his own character might be the murderer, and he’s since enjoyed hearing others’ theories. “My dad specifically is certain it’s Mr. Shapiro [Christopher May], the high school teacher,” he says. “He’s certain, and he’s like, ‘I’m very good at solving mysteries.’”

It’s ultimately revealed that Yasper pushed Xavier off the balcony in a jealous rage related to his musical career. After killing him, Yasper steals Xavier’s phone to poach song ideas, which Danner ultimately discovers, prompting a gut-wrenching confession.

“The Afterparty” also marks a slight change of pace in both Schwartz’s and Richardson’s careers. Both are well-loved character actors — Schwartz for outlandish roles like “Parks & Recreation’s” Jean-Ralphio, and Richardson for his turn as Richard Splett on “Veep” — but here, they step forward as leading men. The show succeeds in large part due to their chemistry with one another, generated partly by their excitement to be working in the early days of the pandemic. “Sam was one of the first people I hugged outside of my girlfriend for, like, a year!” Schwartz recalls.

With the Season 1 finale out now, and Season 2 officially in the works, the pair spoke — in separate interviews — with Variety about secrecy on set and the show’s clever trail of breadcrumbs.

When did you find out who the murderer was?

Ben Schwartz: I got an email, and Chris said, “I wrote a character in a television show. And I wrote it for you. It is a whodunnit.” First of all, Lord and Miller asked me to be in their show? I’m in! Like, of course, they’re heroes of mine. I go, “I love whodunnits!” And then [the email] said: “Every episode is gonna be a different genre. Your genre is musicals.” And I was like, “Oh, my God. I get to sing and dance in this?” And then the next line is: “Also, you’re the killer. You’re the only one who knows this. Tell us if you’d be interested.” I said, “Can I call you on the phone?”

Sam Richardson: At the very beginning, I did not know who the murderer was. Just like Aniq is in the dark, I was too. Chris told me a little ways through, so I was certainly surprised. In some of those early interactions [with Schwartz] I’m just, “Let’s pal around and figure out this mystery,” not knowing who it was. Once I did, it was about trying to preserve that same energy.

What was your reaction when you found out it was Yasper?

Richardson: My reaction was, “Of course!” That’s the thing: The motive is there: If you’re looking for it then it’s obvious, but that’s what’s brilliant about it being him — if you don’t know to look for it, he’s just a person being silly. But really, he’s a person who’s overcompensating because he just killed someone, and also he didn’t expect Aniq to be the prime suspect, and he does genuinely love Aniq.

One of the things I love about the show is it’s not like some deus ex machina where there’s like a rat that was in the bathroom who bit Xavier, and that’s how he died. If you are trying to solve this, you can solve it.

Walk us through some of the clues embedded throughout the season.

Richardson: Reddit is all over this thing. Like every little clue and every hidden cipher, they solve it within hours of the episode. In every episode, there are “Not the” clues. So there will be a dot matrix in the background that reads “Not the skier” [Kelvin Yu’s Ned] or a board of photographs that, if you look closely, reads “Not the bear” [Zoë Chao’s Zoë]. It’s all there, and you can whittle it down. So people on Reddit are all over this, and they were suspicious of Yasper, and how everyone has him coming in one way and he has himself coming in the other way. They catch everything; it’s really remarkable.

Schwartz: There’s a bunch of them. My favorite one was at the end of it. At the beginning of Episode 3, there’s a camera in the “Private Eyes” movie poster. If you rewatch that scene now, you will see my character had the realization that he’s going to go to jail, that his life is over. He realizes, “Oh my god, there’s footage of me pushing [Xavier]. So I played it in shock. And then saw Aniq looking at me, so I tried to make it like the shock is about him. Like, “I can help you!” But if you watch it, the beginning of that is me realizing I’m dead. And then [realizing] he’s seeing me have this realization, so I turn it to him. I think it’s a really cute little moment — cute? I killed somebody — a fun little moment.

And then when I’m in the shower, if you slow motion it, there’s five frames where you can see [Yasper holding both his and Xavier’s] phones at the same time. Throughout the whole show, I had Xavier’s phone in my left pocket and my phone in my right pocket. There are times when, by mistake, I reach for my left pocket, and I have to pretend like I didn’t mean to, and go to my right pocket. But in that shower scene, [Miller] kept five frames of me where you can see both phones, which would mean that I have his phone. Why the fuck do I have Xavier’s phone, right? And also, anytime it looks like Aniq is going to be picked, I get nervous because I’m like, “I killed somebody and now my best friend is gonna pay for it?” It breaks Yasper’s heart. So when pressure goes to Aniq, I get very protective because I know he’s taking the fall for me, and he doesn’t even know he is.

Ben, you’re best known for playing loud, outrageous characters, which Yasper is, but that confession at the end is really quite painful. Can you break that scene down?

Schwartz: I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I wanted it to feel like his heart was breaking. I want people to be like, “Man! Fuck! It’s him! Shit! I was rooting for him!”

Here’s a great thing: The scene took too long. So basically, what [originally] happens is, I’m saying I’m not the killer. Tiffany goes, “Call [to see] if that phone is Xavier’s.” So they call, and the phone doesn’t ring. Then I have 60 seconds of being like, “I told you, I’m not the killer!” They all become sullen and feel terrible that they tried to put me in jail. Then Tiffany goes, ”Check his pockets. Turn the ringer on.” And [Detective Culp] goes, “The ringer was off. Call it again.” And then [the phone rings, proving Yasper’s guilt].

In the part where it finally rings, you can see it on my face that I know my life is over. And Zoë Chao — she’s hilarious, but also a no-joke dramatic, beautiful, wonderful actress — she played it so beautifully. She started to tear up every time she saw me start to lose my energy. So I would do the beginning of the monologue looking at her, and it would make me cry. We have takes where I’m crying really hard. Then Chris is like, “Amazing, now get really angry.” And we had some where I’m a little unhinged. He used a little bit of everything to include all these layers of who this person is.

Zoë being hurt was exactly the emotion I wanted to give off. Chris said one of the reasons I was cast as that character is because people wouldn’t think it. Some people just follow me for comedic stuff and don’t know that I do drama as well. I’m getting more opportunities to flex a little bit more. I don’t have to be Jean-Ralphio all the time. And I still get to play goofy characters and play with my friends. I realize how lucky I am. And also, I wonder how long this will last. So let’s have some fun with it while people care.

What are your hopes for the recently announced Season 2? Given the chance, would you like to reprise your roles?

Richardson: I would love to! That’d be great. I love this character and how he interacts in the show — he’s a mystery solver in a mystery show. And he’s such a fun character to play, with a fun comic energy.

Schwartz: To Chris and Phil, I was like, “Maybe we do an ‘Oz’ spinoff?” Or I pitched, “If there’s a second season, what if there’s a scene where the only way to catch a killer is by talking to a killer? And then you wheel me in like Hannibal Lecter. It’s me, being a killer, knowing how to kill somebody, trying to figure out the new case. In my head, I get wheeled in. I become a detective with Tiffany to help out. And then you find out that I’m the killer again. I’ve been killing from jail.” I literally pitched that and they all laughed and said, “I don’t think we’ll be doing that.”