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How The Last of Us 2 co-writer's Westworld connection gave us the perfect Dina

(Image credit: Naughty Dog)

The Last of Us 2 blew our minds when we played it last week, and seeing hero Ellie falling for her friend, new character Dina, gave us all the feels. Dina is played by actress Shannon Woodward, who from what we've seen so far is either the perfect fit or using some sort of dark magic in her performance, but it turns out that it was a personal connection that helped Naughty Dog find the perfect Dina. 

"The girl who plays Dina, Shannon Woodward, I knew from working on Westworld with her, together," explains The Last of Us 2 co-writer Halley Gross. "When she found out I was working on this game, she reached out to me and said, 'I want to audition. I'm willing to do anything. I will audition, I will learn the lines, please put me in there.'"

Clearly, Woodward got the part. One glimpse at her Instagram will show you she's got gamer credentials, whether she's scoring a Fortnite victory or checking out Cyberpunk 2077 at E3. 

"I think actors and Hollywood talent, just like the rest of us, are getting incredibly excited about the narratives coming out of video games, and they want to be a part of the action," adds Gross. 

The Last of Us 2 is Gross' first gaming project, but as she mentions, she was a writer and story editor on Westworld. She's also worked on Nicolas Winding Refn's epic Too Old to Die Young, and her Twitter bio suggests she's involved with the Snowpiercer TV show due in 2020. She's also an actress, and Broad City fans may have spotted her in season 4 as Parker Luxton. 

"I would say that the first year was both the most familiar and also the most alien," she says of making the jump to games. "On the one hand, when Neil [Druckmann, Naughty Dog's VP] and I were breaking this story, I was structuring it as like a 10 episode television show in terms of scale. So I put cards up on the board, because that's what I was familiar with, and then you have these turns that you follow."

"But at the same time, I started to sit in on beats meetings and on layout meetings, and I had to learn this entirely different language, which was fucking Greek to me. I was like, 'what's an occluder?' and 'tell me about fail states.' I knew nothing. And so I would come home at night and just melt."

Three years later and Gross is hooked on the collaborative nature of the game making process, and has a deep understanding of the integration between narrative and gameplay. 

"Games have all the complexities of film and television narrative, but on top of that, they have this added layer, this beautiful challenge but also bonus of integrating gameplay, and thinking about the person's experience in the moment-to-moment that's unlike anything else and the best puzzle in the world to solve every day."

The Last of Us 2 will be released on PS4 and PS4 Pro on February 21, 2020. For more on the game, check out our Last of Us 2 hands-on preview.