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The Last Of Us’ Gabriel Luna On Having The Same Hometown As His Character, Tommy

The Last Of Us based on the critically acclaimed video game of the same name developed by Naughty Dog exclusively for the PlayStation platforms, is written and executive produced by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann. The series is a co-production with Sony Pictures Television and is executive produced by Carolyn Strauss, Evan Wells, Asad Qizilbash, Carter Swan, and Rose Lam. Production companies: PlayStation Productions, Word Games, The Mighty Mint, and Naughty Dog.

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.

The cast includes Pedro Pascal as Joel, Bella Ramsey as Ellie, Gabriel Luna as Tommy, Anna Torv as Tess, Nico Parker as Sarah, Murray Bartlett as Frank, Nick Offerman as Bill, Melanie Lynskey as Kathleen, Storm Reid as Riley, Merle Dandridge as Marlene, Jeffrey Pierce as Perry, Lamar Johnson as Henry, Keivonn Woodard as Sam, Graham Greene as Marlon, and Elaine Miles as Florence. Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker also star.

Courtesy of HBO Asia, we were lucky enough to be the only Malaysian media to participate in an interview with Gabriel Luna, who plays the role of Tommy in The Last Of Us. This article has been edited for clarity.

HBO / HBO GO / Jorge Bispo

How did you prepare for your role? Did you play The Last Of Us and what do you think of them?

Gabriel Luna: So, as far as my preparation goes, I had a little experience with the game already before I got the job. I played the original game back in 2013 very briefly at a friend’s house who had a PlayStation and had the game. I was able to experience the first 30 minutes of it and I loved it. I thought, how cool was this, that you could choose what you’re looking at.

You know, you see everything through Sarah’s eyes and you get to choose, I’m the kind of guy who likes to get into Photo Mode, especially in these beautiful games and compose my own images. It was nice, almost like you’re your own cinematographer. I thought that was really innovative, I was really fascinated by it, but I never really finished the game until I got the job and got to play the game for work.

At the setup panel in Brazil, I got a big laugh but it’s true, you know, I got to sit there and my wife would come in and yell, baby, I need you to unload the dishwasher and I’m like, yeah, I’m sorry, I can’t do it, I’m working right now.

So, you got to do that, absorb Jeffrey Pierces’ performance, his performance capture and his voice, to hear that. And then, having done that, realise how similar we are, and knowing that the character is from Austin, I can draw on a lot of my own personal experience of having been born in Austin, Texas. So, I tried to really trust myself and trust what it is and the people I know, and I kind of modelled the voice off of myself really, but there’s really a lot of my cousin Adrian’s spirit in there. He unfortunately passed at 44 a few years back and in a way, I kind of honoured him in how I incorporated him into Tommy.

I would just draw on my previous experience with combat training, weapons training. I consulted with Jack Nevils, who was our military consultant on Terminator Dark Fate. He is an army sniper himself and trains army snipers, so he was able to fully give me confidence in the way I was handling the weapon, the way that I was slinging the rifle and firing on the move, how one holds his weapon and handles the scope at rest. All these little details that Tommy would know obviously as an army sniper.

And then it was just to get with Pedro and try to find the common threads. He’s a beautiful person, man, a great actor and a really collaborative guy. We started to find how they can relate, the qualities of the brothers.

What did you look forward to the most to film from the game?

Gabriel Luna: For me, this was ten years of built-up anticipation, because as I mentioned, I played that first 30 minutes of the game back when it originally came out nearly 10 years ago. I would have to say that it’s the end of the prologue, which is also the end of the first episode. It was originally the first episode but I think we combined them.

The scene where we lose her (Sarah), where our family, our very small tiny family becomes tragically even smaller in the blink of an eye and if only I had gotten there a split second earlier, maybe it doesn’t happen, right?  It was a scene I was really looking forward to and of course, had it circled on the one-liner in the schedule, but it was also one that I was kind of dreading.

I think I operate best when I’m in survival mode and that being a place where I’m somewhat trepidatious and somewhat fearful, it keeps the nerves raw and it keeps you on edge. So, I think it was that scene in particular was one I was most looking forward to both in anticipation of what I could bring to it and the emotional depth that it required and then of course, being a fan of the game, and knowing how heavy that hits so early in our story, I wanted to do it justice.

What was it like working with Pedro Pascal?

Gabriel Luna: We were able to get on level ground with each other fairly rapidly, I would say. We started by, we just got each other’s contact information, we started face timing and just simply speaking about our families, speaking about our family history. It was then that I learnt that I knew that he was of Chilean descent, that he was born in Chile, but what I hadn’t realised was that he moved to San Antonio when he was 2 years old.

San Antonio, Texas, is a short drive down I-35 for me, someone who was born and raised in Austin. Joel and Tommy, born and raised in Austin, Texas. So, we both knew it, we both knew Central Texas, we both knew the people, we knew what the cedar trees looked like and smelled like, we knew what the blue bonnets and the Indian paintbrushes looked like on the side of the highway. We know these feelings and we know this place.

So, we were able to talk to each other and come together on that and we’ve both been able to have roots in the place where our story starts. Beyond that, we wanted to make sure that the voices were there, we had some information from the games. We also wanted to bring it back into something a little bit more neutral place because my accent is there but it’s not super, super heavy. But he likes the music in it, the way it sounded, and wanted to try to match it in a way.

So, he gave me a passage by Cormac McCarthy from Blood Meridian and I just read it. He used that to come towards me in the way the voices were sounding and I observed him very closely. His body, his mannerisms, so that we could share a common geometry in the way our bodies moved. All that is to say that he’s a wonderful person, a very giving actor, and I’m really proud to call him my brother. Still very proud to call him my big brother. I don’t have a big brother, I’m the eldest in the family, so it’s nice to have one.

HBO / HBO GO / Jorge Bispo

What was it like to film during the pandemic? Is it scary how realistic and probable the science in the show can be?

Gabriel Luna: That’s what makes the threat in our story so different but also very relatable. You mentioned the science, the scientific element of it, the fact that these Cordyceps, this fungus. Fungus, as we know, is scientifically very important to turn dead things into living things, it’s the way that nature heals itself, enters into that cycle of renewal.

Also, I saw the National Geographic that it’s based off on many, many years ago about the zombie ants. The zombie ants, I think it’s part of the intro to the show. I always thought that was pretty gnarly, man, and kind of insane, this idea that this fungus could supersede your own motor functions, your own will, and then force you to do this, become this monster. So, that is how it differentiates itself from other stories in a similar genre.

In regards to your question about the pandemic and how it affected us, we were living through it. We were shooting it and living through the pandemic in the moment, in the same overlapping moment. We were wearing the mask, we were testing three times a week, we were very much still plunged into the pandemic. So, it helped quite a bit for us, as much as a global, you know, shutdown, it helped to know what it is, to feel an impending invisible threat from afar and to know it’s inching closer towards you.

I think it’s going to help us give the audience a docking point to our story to have had this experience, for all of us to have had this worldwide shared experience. So, I keep saying it, because I think the concern could be that people are fatigued, do they want to have a story about what we just lived through. But I think that’s what television does, what storytelling does, in cinema, when you see your experience on-screen and you can relate, that’s what we’re there for. In many ways, it can be a healing type experience. Also, I think that familiarity works to our advantage and we’d have to go back to 1918 and no one will have had the experience. No one would know what it’s like to have a global pandemic, but now the entire world does and can bring their personal experience to our story.

What would attract those not familiar with The Last Of Us to watch the HBO series?

Gabriel Luna: I think we’re going to get a lot of the people that trust and believe in the quality and prestige of HBO television. I think most people will set their calendars to Sunday night. We do that, we’ve done it for years, we’ve done it with True Detective, which I was fortunate enough to be a part of. We’ve done it with Game Of Thrones. Going back to The Sopranos, the original prestige television show, so HBO is destination TV on Sunday night, so I think we’re already going to get a lot of those folks.

And then, of course, we’re going to bring in millions and millions of fans, our gamer fans, whether just through genuine excitement to see their favourite game on-screen to the morbid curiosities of those who want to see another Pixels or another Super Mario Bros., the Bob Hoskins adaptation, you know what I mean. We have those.

But how will they find their way to our story? I think we’ve met the mark and are going to entertain them, frighten them, break their hearts, and that’s what they end up staying for. Just a really well-unravelled tale, or a really well-woven tale, I should say. But unravelled somehow feels more accurate, in the nature of our story.

I think we’re going to bring in a lot of everyone and those who are gamers are going to be able to travel to other pockets of the story, chambers of the story you weren’t able to visit previously because of the first-person linear style of storytelling that the game experiences and then obviously, you’re going to have people who, which is Neil’s dream, folks who have never played the game in their lives. Just love the show so much, and love the story and want to step into the world themselves. A full-reverse experience for us, to jump back into the game after seeing it in live-action, which is always great because you find more details and experience the characters on your own terms.

During filming, did you meet Jeffrey Pierce? And how is your version of Tommy different?

Gabriel Luna: During filming, no, I didn’t meet Jeffrey. I met Jeffrey only via the Internet. We’re Internet buddies and we’re each other’s biggest cheerleaders, which is so kind and gracious of him. To fully embrace me right from the jump and support me, and I’m a huge fan of his. So that’s a big love-fest going on online between he and I. He was so generous in some of his comments and he’s very protective of the character and it was important to him once he saw what I was doing, once we got to talking a little bit to relieve the concerns of the people who love the character, Tommy, and love the game, who are a little shocked at some of the different ‘visual’ differences, right?

It’s silly sometimes. Gabe’s got black hair and Tommy’s supposed to have blond hair, but Jeffrey was really quick, he jumped and said, he has my full support, and I know he’s going to succeed, so I was very thankful for that. He was kind to say, you know, he went up there and did his bit, and sent me a message that said, hey, man, that crew up there loves you and they couldn’t stop talking about you and what you’re doing.

And I was like, man, they love you, because we were talking about you on the steps of the truck, just talking about our experience with the game and what a marvelous job you’ve done. So, a big love-fest, man, back and forth, me and Jeffrey Pierce.

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