By now you would have watched the HBO series, The Last Of Us. Having premiered on HBO GO, the series is led by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey and is based on the critically acclaimed video game developed by Naughty Dog exclusively for the PlayStation platforms.
Like the game, the series takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting. The Last of Us takes place 20 years after modern civilization has been destroyed. Joel, a hardened survivor, is hired to smuggle Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, out of an oppressive quarantine zone. What starts as a small job soon becomes a brutal and heart-breaking journey as they both must traverse the U.S. and depend on each other for survival.
In addition to Pedro Pascal starring as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie, the series boasts an impressive cast. Lending their talents to bring the HBO series to life are Gabriel Luna, Anna Torv, Nico Parker, Murray Bartlett as Frank, Nick Offerman, Melanie Lynskey and Storm Reid.
With the first season of The Last Of Us officially wrapped up, interest in the series is at an all-time high. Going behind the scenes to uncover more about the series, Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey reveal more about the HBO series, the characters they play and avoiding The Last Of Us game during production.
Why did you want to make The Last of Us with HBO?
Pedro Pascal: At the start, I would have to say that it was Craig Mazin (Writer and Executive Producer) and HBO. I hadn’t heard of the game before I got the job. But the first couple of scripts were handed to me and I thought they were astonishing. It was very revelatory to find out that the source material was an immersive video game experience. Because of Craig’s scripts, meeting Craig, and knowing the level of quality storytelling that HBO is capable of, were the primary reasons. And then it was nothing but gift after gift.
Bella Ramsey: The scripts were the best I have ever read, and it became like a spiritual experience reading them. When new ones came out, I would have to be on my own in a place where no one could talk to me, and I’d just digest them. It was so good! It really felt like I was transported away for an hour and I think that will translate perfectly onto the screen. People will be transported watching it, and it was a really cool opportunity. I did a self-tape for my audition and about 98 percent of the time, I do an audition and forget about them. I develop a disassociation with tapes. But with this, it stayed in my mind. I really wanted to do it because it was such a cool story with such great creators. I was aware of the videogame although I hadn’t played it, and it seemed like a really cool thing to be a part of. It was great to work with incredible collaborators, including Pedro Pascal!
Bella, did you choose to avoid playing the video game because you didn’t want to be influenced by Ashley Johnson’s performance?
BR: Yes. In a Zoom call I did with Craig and Neil [Druckmann] (Writer and Executive Producer), they asked if I had played the video game. I said I hadn’t and they said, ‘Keep it that way,’ because they wanted to protect me and they didn’t want me to feel I had to copy the game and Ashley’s iconic Ellie. Also, I think there was an element of trust that they put in us. Craig and Neil have said that Ashley and Troy [Baker, who played Joel in the game] did not have a reference of how to be Ellie and Joel; they were just Ellie and Joel. I felt like Ellie was part of me already; she was one of my skins. I did disobey orders a bit and watch some of the gameplay because it was so good. With the game, they have created these amazing movies essentially and I thought they were fantastic. It was helpful to have that reference.
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Pedro, are you a gamer at all and, if so, have you picked up a PlayStation controller now you’ve finished shooting the season?
PP: I was under the same orders. Craig asked if had played the game. I said I hadn’t and he said, ‘Keep it that way’, to me, as well. But I went behind his back and asked to be sent a PlayStation by Naughty Dog! I attempted to play the game with my nephews and they lost their patience and took the console away from me. I don’t have the thumb-skill but I did love the experience and I am grateful to my lack of skill because I feel I wouldn’t leave the house, because it’s such an immersive experience — especially as the further you go, the more the story unfolds. I find that fascinating. For me, it was like studying any other source material although in a very unique way. I needed it to marry myself to the tone and to draw inspiration from Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson’s work, and also what Neil Druckmann and the team at Naughty Dog had achieved, visually and tonally. It provided essential puzzle pieces for me to go into this adaptation, which was so beautifully created.
Had you both watched the Planet Earth episode where Cordyceps invades the body of an ant?
PP: I remember that the first script I received began with the David Attenborough piece. And I remembered having seen that, and the way that it started with the power of the ants that move like a collective field across nature, devouring everything in their way, and the only thing that defeats them are the fungi. And it would use their bodies as hosts to continue spreading the fungi. It’s so clever to use that as a way to get into such a familiar genre.
BR: I’m not sure I’d seen that documentary but when we started filming I watched [Louie Schwartzberg’s film] Fantastic Fungi and found that incredible. I do remember the ant thing in the first script. It was so cool and scary.
How much did you enjoy shooting the action sequences, Bella?
BR: I love stunt stuff! I think if I weren’t an actor, I’d like to be a stunt performer. I like pushing myself, physically, so it was cool. At the beginning, I was told there would be some stunt stuff but not too much. Then it did turn into quite a lot and I loved getting to fight in a controlled environment where no one got hurt. It was the perfect situation. Actually, I did get a little hurt! I was very much thrown into it. There wasn’t a ton of training. For the set pieces we’d do a few hours of rehearsals before we got on set. But there were some instances where I was just told to do something and that was the best way for me because I wasn’t overthinking it. The delusional trust put in me was really helpful!
How important is the humour between Joel and Ellie to lighten the tone and to help bond their relationship?
PP: It’s a good job we’re not in the same room now because our ability to “corpse”, as the British say, is infinite! Maybe because the subject matter is so dark, the humour between the two characters is a softening of a very calcified character as the straight man. And for us, going into the subject matter we’re dealing with and living with, it was a way for Bella and I to bond — through lots and lots of laughter.
BR: There was too much laughter at times; it was painful! Ellie almost immediately starts chipping away at Joel and being sarcastic and trying to make him laugh and fails most of the time. She is relentless and the moment she does make him smile for the first time, that’s a great achievement, making this grumpy-guts laugh. It’s a really sweet part of their relationship.
What would be an especially fond memory of the shoot?
PP: For me, it is those attacks of the giggles. I start to think about what I hear being suppressed in Bella’s throat, like a fungal disease the contagiousness of the laughter was brutal. We’d be on a mountain, among corpses, among monsters…
BR: While talking about our characters’ dead family members! It would start as a little giggle and then would really grow! Another thing that comes to mind was one super long day — you weren’t there, Pedro — and it was physically and emotionally taxing. I loved it in a very masochistic way! That was one of my favourite days despite how tired I was. It felt so good to be satisfied with what I’d done.
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The Last Of Us streams exclusively on HBO GO.
(Interview and images courtesy of HBO)