Note: This interview is a spoiler-free discussion of the February 10th episode of The Last of Us.
Part of the appeal of HBO’s The Last of Us series is how it adds to the story of the original PlayStation game upon which it’s based.
In one case, this meant dramatically expanding the love story between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) in the standout third episode, which was only hinted at in the original game. Elsewhere, this might lead to introducing new characters.
Nowhere has the latter been more apparent than in Episodes 4 and 5 of the show, in which creators and showrunners Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (the original The Last of Us game) introduce not one, but two new figures. Enter Kansas City revolutionary leader Kathleen (Yellowjackets‘ Melanie Lynskey) and her right-hand man Perry (Bosch‘s Jeffrey Pierce).
But for fans of both 2013’s The Last of Us and its 2020 sequel, Pierce is perhaps most recognizable for another role: Tommy, the younger brother of protagonist Joel. With Gabriel Luna (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) portraying Tommy in the series, Pierce has been given the chance to play a completely new character. It wasn’t always going to be that way, though.
“They actually had me read for a different part, and they had me read for it three times,” Pierce reveals to MobileSyrup in a roundtable interview. While he coyly declined to reveal what that part might be, he says Mazin and Druckmann soon presented him with the character of Perry.
“Ultimately, they came back and said, ‘Look, we’re never gonna believe you as a victim, which is a very gratifying thing to hear.’ And a week later, they called and said, ‘Hey, we got this guy that we think you’d be perfect for.’ So it was sort of a roundabout way back to the kind of casting that is really in my wheelhouse.”
Indeed, Perry is tough and resolved like Tommy, but with a unique wrinkle that sets him apart thanks to his relationship with Kathleen. Where Tommy leaves Joel (Pedro Pascal) to go off on his own, Perry follows Kathleen, who’s taken over as revolutionary leader from her brother, and serves as both muscle and advisor.
“I enjoyed Tommy for a lot of reasons, but Perry is the sort of iconic Ronin samurai who’s found his purpose, and what more could I ask for?” says Pierce.
For Pierce, the HBO series also presented a new way to experience a world he’s acted in for well over 10 years. In the games, he’d record in a studio with no resemblance to The Last of Us‘ post-apocalyptic world, surrounded by fellow actors in offbeat motion-capture outfits.
While he says the challenge of imagining everything through motion capture “takes you back to the roots of why you fell in love with acting,” he was still in awe of the experience of actually filming in real Alberta locations. With an estimated budget of over $100 million USD (about $133.7 million CAD), The Last of Us is believed to be the most expensive TV production in Canadian history, and it shows.
“Walking onto the sets that they built, especially for Episode 5’s climactic exchange — they built that entire neighbourhood. That was a parking lot, and they built it from the ground up,” he says, referring to the big battle between Kathleen’s forces and infected creatures that Joel, Ellie (Bella Ramsey), Henry (Toronto’s Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard) get dragged into.
“And if there’s any CG, it’s just the sky. Everything else is practical. And that was unbelievable. I mean, it’s got to be 15 to 20 houses that they built the skeletons of, and then the actual façades of, and then they’ve got one that’s burned down, and the only thing left was a chimney. And they did every single piece of detail in there. So to get to come to play on something that was given that much love and sweat and blood to build — you felt that you had to honour what they had done with your work. And that made it a really, really special experience.”
Also adding to his time on the show: Calgary.
“With COVID, I was kept pretty contained [in] downtown Calgary, which was still great. I’ve shot all over Canada, and the thing that I enjoy, regardless of where I’ve been, is the people. They’re just such a lovely bunch. And that crew in Calgary was amazing. This is another first experience, and I think there were probably 250, 300 people on the crew. And more than two-thirds of them took that job because they were fans of the game; [it] impacted their lives in such a way that maybe that’s why they got into production, maybe that’s why they got into TV and film. But they took that job specifically because it was The Last of Us.”
For Pierce, this all brought his long-running journey with The Last of Us full circle.
“Walking onto set the first day was like walking into my own living room because everyone knew me as Tommy from the game and were just so warm and welcoming and kind and generous. I think it was maybe my favourite experience filming because of that.”
The Last of Us is now streaming exclusively on Crave in Canada.
For more on the show, check out our interview with Pascal, Ramsey, Mazin and Druckmann, in which they also praise the Alberta crew.
Image credit: HBO