How to Get Cast on HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’

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Photo Source: Courtesy HBO

When Naughty Dog and Sony launched “The Last of Us” for PlayStation, few could have predicted that, 10 years later, it would become one of the biggest television series of 2023. Adapted from the video game, the HBO series takes place in a United States ravaged by a fungal infection that turns people into flesh-eating mutants.

The post-apocalyptic drama is also already getting a second season. Ahead of its third episode, HBO gave the green light for Season 2. This comes as no surprise since “The Last of Us” has been lauded by critics and fans alike, and its debut was HBO’s second-largest since 2010 (rivaled only by “House of the Dragon”).

If you’re interested in joining Season 2 of “The Last of Us,” we’ve got you covered. This in-depth guide will give you all the tools you’ll need to fight your way through the casting process so you won’t get eaten alive.

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What is “The Last of Us” about?

Based on Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley’s hit 2013 PlayStation game, “The Last of Us” was created by Druckmann and “Chernobyl” Emmy winner Craig Mazin. Set 20 years after a Cordyceps plague has turned much of the U.S. population into cannibalistic mutants, the series follows Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal), a smuggler tasked with escorting the teenage Ellie Williams (Bella Ramsey) across post-apocalyptic America. (Incidentally, “Mandalorian” star Pascal and “Catherine Called Birdy” breakout Ramsey are both veterans of another HBO genre hit: “Game of Thrones.”) Together with Joel’s brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna), and his smuggling partner, Tess (Anna Torv), our heroes must battle killers and cannibals as they trek across the barren landscape.

Who’s in the cast of “The Last of Us”?

The ensemble features a host of well-known names, including:

  • Pedro Pascal as Joel Miller
  • Bella Ramsey as Ellie Williams
  • Gabriel Luna as Tommy Miller
  • Nico Parker as Sarah Miller
  • Merle Dandridge as Marlene
  • Jeffrey Pierce as Perry
  • Anna Torv as Theresa “Tess” Servopoulos
  • Murray Bartlett as Frank
  • Nick Offerman as Bill
  • Melanie Lynskey as Kathleen
  • Lamar Johnson as Henry
  • Storm Reid as Riley Abel
  • Rutina Wesley as Maria Miller 

Joel and Ellie’s voice actors from the video game, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, also appear in small roles on Season 1.

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How were the stars of “The Last of Us” cast?

With a devoted fan base already in place, Mazin and Druckmann knew they had a difficult mission ahead when it came to casting their two stars. After reading the script Mazin sent him, Pascal told the Hollywood Reporter that he “wanted the part so badly it literally scared him.” However, the actor was concerned that his “Mandalorian” producers wouldn’t want him headlining a rival network’s series. Thankfully, they “very generously” allowed Pascal to take the role—and the rest is TV history.

As for Ramsey, it only took a month for her to secure an offer to play Ellie after her initial audition. Druckmann said that the team was looking for someone who could be “tough and vulnerable and wise beyond [their] years and also have a potential for violence”—and the young actor fit the bill. “Bella felt so real,” he added. “It was like Ellie realized in live action. It didn’t feel like watching an actor.” 

Mazin was all-in from the moment he watched Ramsey’s tape. “The only fear that I had was, because I watched her audition before Neil did, I was panicked that he wouldn’t like it,” he recalled, “and I would have to live for the rest of my life knowing that we couldn’t have the best Ellie ever. But happily, he loved her. And we couldn’t have done better. She’s just the most remarkable performer.”

For Ramsey herself, however, the decision to play Ellie was a more difficult one. The young actor told the Hollywood Reporter, “I seriously considered that maybe I don’t want to be famous, so I’m not going to do this show because it’s going to propel me to a place I don’t want to go to in terms of being seen and being known. I like to blend in and hide.” Luckily for fans, she decided to step into the limelight after all.

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When does filming for “The Last of Us” Season 2 begin?

On Jan. 27, news broke that HBO’s “The Last of Us” is indeed getting a second season. Druckmann told Variety, “I’m humbled, honored, and frankly overwhelmed that so many people have tuned in and connected with our retelling of Joel and Ellie’s journey. The collaboration with Craig Mazin, our incredible cast & crew, and HBO exceeded my already high expectations.” He added, “[n]ow we have the absolute pleasure of being able to do it again with season two! On behalf of everyone at Naughty Dog & PlayStation, thank you!”

The filming timeline for Season 2 is still to be determined; however, Mazin revealed that he already knows what the next installment will entail. And he’s got the source material for it in the form of “The Last of Us Part II,” a sequel game that dropped in 2020.

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Where can you find “The Last of Us” casting calls and auditions?

Currently, there are no open casting calls for “The Last of Us” Season 2. But in February 2022, the series’ CDs issued a casting notice with us. Production was looking for Black male talent, aged 8–14, to play the role of Sam. Filming took place in Calgary. (Newcomer Keivonn Woodard ultimately landed the part.)

If you’re interested in exploring similar opportunities, we recommend checking out these background, sci-fi, and streamer gigs that are hiring now. You can also check out our guide to auditioning for HBO Max. Keep an eye on this page for future casting information.

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Who is the casting director for “The Last of Us”?

Emmy-winner CD Victoria Thomas (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Watchmen,” “Insecure”) led the casting department on Season 1 of “The Last of Us.” A few years ago, she described what she looks for in the room. “I like people who are prepared. If you’re not and you need another minute, that’s fine. You can go out and take another couple of minutes; I understand. Sometimes, you come in and your mouth doesn’t work, and you just need to take a break and go outside. But it’s hopefully a relaxed atmosphere where [actors] can do their best audition and feel good going out the door.”

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What are the best audition tips for landing a role on “The Last of Us”?

  • Every actor knows that the business isn’t always kind. But “Yellowjackets” Emmy nominee Melanie Lynskey, who plays Kathleen on “The Last of Us,” says she’d tell her younger self that rejection isn’t a reflection of who you are as an actor—or a person. “I think a piece of advice I would give is: You’re OK,” she told us. “I try to visit my younger self sometimes and just go, ‘I’m sorry. You’re all right. People love you.’ I just felt very much like I wasn’t enough a lot of the time, in regards to my work and in a lot of ways. I didn’t get a lot of positive feedback that I was enough; and it makes me sad, you know? That’s one thing I’m trying to raise my daughter to know—that she’s absolutely perfect just as she is, and she’s very loved. And she’s so confident. The other day I told her she’s cute, and she goes, ‘And smart and funny.’ ”
  • Torv, who plays Tess on “The Last of Us,” cautions actors to avoid letting their career define their identity. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, she talked about her decision to take a break from acting after five seasons headlining Fox’s supernatural drama “Fringe.” 
  • “I love acting—it's all I have done, and I hope I work until I die; but it doesn’t define me,” she said. “I am myself whether I have a job or whether I don't have a job. And I’m always astounded to hear that actors who have worked consistently get scared of not getting another job—because it’s like: How are you not going to get another job in your life?”
  • If you really want an insider’s perspective on how CDs make their picks—and why certain auditioners stand out above the rest—Thomas suggests stepping behind the casting table yourself. “When actors work in a casting office, they learn a lot and are surprised by being on the other side of the camera and watching actors come in. I think they have a better sense of how to come into a room, or that when you’re coming into the room, we want you to be good. We’re not against you,” she told us. “They also have a better sense of why somebody gets picked over someone else, and it doesn’t have to do with a bad audition. Actors who work in a casting office are surprised at what they learn. I think it affects [them] the next time they go into a room to audition themselves.”

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