The Last of Us star says Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal bring a "different twinkle" to Ellie and Joel than the original voice actors

Merle Dandridge as Fireflies commander Marlene in The Last of Us
(Image credit: HBO)

The Last of Us star Merle Dandridge has opened up about how she approached her character "in a new way" for HBO show – and explained how Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal bring a "different twinkle" to beloved protagonists Ellie and Joel.

In the 2013 game, Dandridge lends her voice to Marlene, a leader within the Fireflies, an underground terrorist organization, while Troy Baker plays her gruff-voiced pal Joel Miller. Early on in Part I, Marlene tasks Joel with smuggling Ellie (Ashley Johnson), a young girl with a potentially life-changing secret, out of their quarantine zone, across the United States. A mission that's not so easy, considering the world has been ravaged by a violent fungal infection which turns some of its host into mushroom-headed monsters. The series follows that same story, though it expands the world, and a whole bunch of characters' arcs, significantly.

"There was a lot of building on what I had done because the core knowledge of who this person stays the same, but how she works and acts and interacts with all of that might adjust a little bit, especially working opposite people looking at those characters through a new lens," Dandridge, who reprises the role of Marlene in the small screen adaptation told Collider (opens in new tab).

"Bella and Pedro’s Ellie and Joel have a different twinkle than Ashley and Troy. It was an absolute privilege to be able to open my eyes, open my spirit, and let Marlene experience and breathe them in, in a new way. I was able to walk out scenarios in her life and her experience that had only existed in my imagination, having built the character 10 years ago, and that was a true delight."

During the interview, Dandridge also noted what a collaborative experience making the show was, and how she would often be tweaking things alongside co-showrunner Craig Mazin (Chernobyl), who wasn't as immersed in all things The Last of Us as his partner, Naughty Dog's Neil Druckmann.

"I had so many questions, and Craig was right there with me. He was like, 'This is what I like about this, and this is what I think we can adjust,' and he was FaceTiming with Neil, the entire time, so that we were all in this conversation, making sure we got it right."

The Last of Us is set to premiere on HBO and HBO Max in the US on January 15, and Sky and NOW in the UK the following day. While we wait, check out our guide to the most exciting new TV shows coming our way in 2022 and beyond.

Amy West

I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things TV and film across our Total Film and SFX sections. Elsewhere, my words have been published by the likes of Digital Spy, SciFiNow, PinkNews, FANDOM, Radio Times, and Total Film magazine.