Warning: This article contains spoilers for “The Last of Us” Episode 5
Jeffrey Pierce has become well known for originating the role of Tommy in “The Last of Us” video game franchise. But the 51-year-old actor told TheWrap that he initially auditioned for a completely different character in Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed 2013 action adventure.
“I went in and I met Neil [Druckmann] who was at the time not directing it, but just this young, very focused and excellent writer. And I auditioned for Joel and I thought I knocked that thing right out of the park,” Pierce recalled. “Troy Baker apparently walked in about 20 minutes later and was Joel and he was perfect in the part…he embodied it so perfectly that there was no other way that that role could have been cast.”
But Druckmann was so impressed with Pierce’s audition that they called him six months later to offer him the role of Tommy, Joel’s younger brother.
“I walked in and I sat down at the table across from Troy and I was like, ‘That’s interesting casting,’ and just like he did for Neil, he opened his mouth and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s it, that’s Joel’ and that’s how we began,” he continued. “The next day, we went and shot Sarah’s death scene and just sort of knew in that moment that this thing was going to be lightning in a bottle. It was such a powerful moment for all of us that you couldn’t help but feel that this was going to connect. And two and a half years later when the game came out, that scene floored everybody.”
Following the popularity of the first game, Pierce returned with the rest of the game’s core cast for a sequel, “The Last of Us Part II,” which was released in 2020. As of December, “The Last of Us” franchise has collectively sold more than 37 million copies globally.
When Pierce learned HBO was making a live-action adaptation of the game, he immediately emailed Druckmann.
“I said, ‘Look, I know it’s not Tommy, but I’ll come do anything that’s going to help push the story forward and let me know if there’s a way that I can sort of serve this.’ And so they had me audition for a different part and I think they had like three different sort of takes on it over the course of a few days and they came back and said ‘Look we’re never going to believe that you’re a victim, so we’ll see if there’s something else down the road.’ And maybe two weeks later they called and said ‘Look, we got the perfect thing’ and they sent me the two scripts and I was of course overjoyed. And they said, ‘Don’t cut your hair and we’ll see you in January, February.'”
That role was Perry, a rebel in a quarantine zone in Kansas City who works closely with Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey), the ruthless leader of a revolutionary movement who is seeking vengeance against Henry (Lamar Johnson) for selling out her brother Michael to FEDRA, resulting in his death.
“The sort of hints in the script were that he was in the military and that when the firefight begins he is a professional. So I wanted him to be somebody who had seen a career in the military, out of high school into the military, and then up through the ranks and then into the warfighter tier. And then the world collapses out from underneath them and his skill set is what allows him to survive in the wild until he ends up in Kansas City.”
Pierce said Perry was inspired by a “Kurosawa samurai ronin looking for his purpose.”
“For me that was a very clear archetype that I could draw from and that sort of devotion, falling in love with Kathleen, having the sort of love and respect for her brother and being able to say, ‘OK, this is gonna be his purpose now’ is why he would do the things that he does after they succeed in toppling FEDRA,” he explained. “He’s on this course, he’s chosen his side and he’s gonna follow her. He’s gonna give her the best advice that he can, but he’s gonna trust her to be his reason for being and really Melanie and I just fell into the relationship from the first time they said action.”
He called the process of working alongside Lynskey a “joy.”
“It was so easy that it doesn’t make any sense that it turned out so well,” he added. “She’s the best.”
While audiences would assume Kathleen, Perry and the rest of their rebel group are villains, Pierce argues that the characters in “The Last of Us” are much more complicated than that.
“The parallel for me is what they did to Mussolini and his mistress after World War II, a sort of lynch mob mentality. Nobody in that crowd felt that what they were doing was wrong and maybe ultimately it was not wrong, but in terms of human on human, it is an incredibly vicious thing to do,” he added. “We need to ask ourselves these questions: What is good? What is evil? Is there any good or sort of evil, or is it all shades of gray? Ultimately, I think that’s what the exploration within the story is…and that’s what I think Neil and Craig [Mazin] want us to wrestle with across the board.”
Ultimately, both Perry and Kathleen fall victim to a horde of infected at the end of episode before the latter can enact her vengeance. Perry goes out fighting after being ripped apart by a gigantic infected character known as a Bloater.
“You could not ask for a better, more heroic ending except that his sacrifice does not serve the woman that he loves. What he does, he does out of love for [Kathleen] and it is an honorable and unselfish act that she chooses not to honor and chooses to pursue her vengeance instead,” he said. “But in terms of Perry and his last chapter, it’s exactly how he would have wanted to die if it’s going happen. Let me do this in service of something greater than myself. So just in terms of the mythology that I had been looking at, in terms of him, it felt perfect.”
The latest episode of “The Last of Us” comes as the post-apocalyptic drama series has received rave reviews from fans and critics alike and seen strong viewership growth since its premiere, earning a second season renewal from HBO.
“To see something that began more than a decade ago echo out into the world and strike all of the chords that you could ever hope to strike as an artist is incredibly, ridiculously gratifying,” Pierce said. “And the idea that 20 million people a week are embracing this experience… it’s everything that I could have hoped that it would end up being.”
“The Last of Us” Episode 5 is available to stream early now on HBO Max. New episodes air on HBO and stream on HBO Max on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.