The Last of Us took the video game world by storm, and is now blowing up all over again as a live-action HBO television series. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian 2023, Joel (Pedro Pascal) is tasked with smuggling Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a little girl with a big gift, across what's left of the United States. Along the way, the pair encounter horrors beyond their wildest imaginations – and, despite being hardened by loss and the devastating sadness of the world around them, learn to enjoy each other's company.
GamesRadar+ and Total Film sat down with actor Jeffrey Pierce, who originated the role of Tommy in The Last of Us video game and plays Perry in the HBO series, to talk mutant mushroom zombies, seeing Gabriel Luna take on his video game part, and stepping into a different role entirely.
Warning: Spoilers for The Last of Us episode 5 ahead!
Total Film: Can you tell me what it was like to be asked to join the show, but instead as a totally new/written just for the series character?
Jeffrey Pierce: I told [co-showrunner Neil Druckmann] early on, I was like, look, I'll come and carry a spear and stand in the corner if there's anything that I can do to help support telling the story of the game – you know, count me in. And the fact that it turned into Perry is kind of one of those [laughs]. He sent me the scripts and I read him. I was like, oh shit: this is gonna be so much fun. He is one of the most lovely, talented, decent human beings going, and he is so good at his job that when he hands you writing, you just know how to make it fly. And this was one of those moments.
Was it a completely different mindset to sort of play a ‘villain’ in this universe – even though it wasn't for a long time?
I think that that ‘villain’ is not something people think about in their actions. It's very difficult to do any of the awful things that Perry is asked to do if you think you are a villain. To me he is driven by his love for Kathleen and for her brother and his commitment as a sort of a professional to their cause.
And so he doesn't question what he's being asked to do and does feel a sense of righteousness in the idea of making Henry pay for what he did. Okay. That doesn't make him a hero, but I think that one of the underlying themes of the games and one of the underlying themes of the series is that a lot of the most awful things that people do in the world are done out of a sense of love. I think that that definitely holds true for Perry and Kathleen.
Going off of that: I wish we would've seen more of Perry and Kathleen's relationship. I thought the dynamic was kind of fascinating and the way Perry looks at her every time she speaks, or when she's just standing in the bedroom. I was like, ‘is this man in love?’
It’s different dynamic that Bill and Frank have in terms of when is one of the protector, because Perry is obviously better at violence and his life before was dedicated to understanding violence and applying it. And that after the fall of, you know, humankind, that's how he stayed alive. And then he has applied all of those skills to helping Kathleen's cause. So in some sense he is her protector, but he is also willing to subordinate his will to hers because she has been the one who led them to victory. So it’s a wonderful, complicated dynamic. But at its core is the perfection and, and love that he feels for her.
Perry versus the Bloater. Did you know that your character was going to go out like that?
[laughs] I love it for a lot of reasons. I love it because I sort of imagined that the way that I would want to conceive Perry is this sort of, you know, samurai who lost his cause and then found it with Kathleen. And then he gets this absolutely objectively honorable death where he sacrifices himself to try to give her the time to escape. So on, on that note alone, I'm all in, but I also like the idea that this guy who's carrying an M-4 and a 45 and a Beretta and a Gerkin knife and two bayonets, that no amount of skill, no amount of guns [matters] when it's your time there, there is no sort of magic bullet here with all of these gear and all these guns.
And so the idea of fetishizing weaponry as some sort of panacea for what ails you in the world is laid to rest by the Bloater. That part of the mythology really appeals to me because we usually we sort of paint the gun as, as the sort of like the savior and in this case, no amount of guns were gonna save the day.
That's a really beautiful way of putting it, of getting your scalp ripped off.
[laughs] It takes courage to stand there in the breach and I think it's important that people are willing to stand in the breach, but boy, you better make sure the cause actually is righteous if you're gonna give your life for it.
How do you feel about Gabriel Luna as Tommy? Has it made you see the character differently or in a different light?
I absolutely love his performance. I feel like he took such great care to honor what was there, and then brought all of his talent and all of his skill and all of his sort of charisma and strength to it, and, and really, absolutely shines. The second I saw him on, on screen, I saw some stills and I was like, yeah, fuck yeah, that is all Tommy right there. That's everything that I could ever have hoped to do and may not have been able to achieve.
In the games, the moment that belongs to me is the moment on the stage with the, you know, with the dots on my face and the dots in the suit, that's my moment. But before that, they've already conceived of what the character's gonna look like, and after that two or 300 artists are gonna go through and create that performance. And so, yeah I get to live in there organically, but Tommy is not mine.
Tommy is not me. It’s a wonderful sort of combination of a lot of people who have put a lot of care into it. So I've never felt protective of somebody taking the role away. And what he did is he took everything that we did to create Tommy to begin with, honored that, and then brought himself.
How spot on do you think the series is in terms of like recreating the game's essence? In terms of tone, spirit, the melancholy that kind of hangs over, etc.
It all starts with Neil and what he did and then what Naughty Dog, and then what the games became. Because that had a profound impact on [co-showrunner Craig Mazin] as a game that came into his life. And he thought, I wanna make this into a show. And there was probably at the time, no way he could. And then he goes and makes Chernobyl and proves that he could handle this type of material better than anybody going. But 13 years ago, 10 years ago, the first game came out, and [Eben Bolter], who's the DP for episodes three, four, and five, is a massive, massive fan of the game.
And almost the entire crew of 300 people on set, they all came to that job because it was The Last of Us. They committed a year of their lives, 16 months [of] their lives because of what the game meant to them. So everything that was done on that set from the building of the sound stages to Boston, to the QZ, I mean like that whole concrete exterior in the QZ zone, they built that!
It was unbelievable, but it was done out of love for the game and how it had impacted their lives. And man, what an incredible thing to get to have been a part of.
In relation to the games, let's say we do actually get a part three. What are your thoughts on where Tommy kind of left off, injured and separated from Maria? What would you maybe want to explore like within that?
I think one of my favorite things about Neil and the culture of Naughty Dog is that they've said very clearly, if we can't find the compelling stories to tell within that world, we don't care how much money it would make, we're not gonna do it – which in this sort of day and age is just about unheard of.
There’s a lot of potential for what Tommy would try to do, but he's also pretty severely handicapped by the time the second game is over in a very realistic fashion. So his ability to exert force in any way is certainly compromised. I'd be really interested to see how Neil, if he wants to tell that story, how he handles it, how he develops it, and what it grows into. I think if they do something, it'll be great. And if they don't, then I think it's put to get put to bed still as the most powerful game that's ever been done.
I completely agree. Despite the rumors surrounding the renewal, I don’t think TV audiences are ready for Part 2 just yet.
I got an early copy of Part 2 and I sat down and played through it, and it just destroyed me over and over and over and over again, even though I knew what was gonna happen. You saw the people freaking out about episode three, and on the one hand, what a disgusting show of humanity.
On the other hand, those people need to be upset and they need the opportunity to understand that [the reason] they're upset has nothing to do with two men falling in love. They're upset because of an interior struggle that they need to resolve and they need to come to the other side. And I think that the second game does an incredible job of bringing to the forefront all kinds of things that we need triggered in as human beings.
The Last of Us is currently airing on HBO. Check out our The Last of Us release schedule to stay up to date on when you can watch the next episode.