How ‘The Last of Us’ Got Cast: In the Room With CD Victoria Thomas

Article Image
Photo Source: Courtesy HBO

HBO’s “The Last of Us” has taken video game adaptations to a whole new level. Not even halfway through its first season, the post-apocalyptic series—based on the hit PlayStation game of the same name—is receiving raves from critics and fans alike. And to no one’s surprise, it’s already been renewed for a second season. Co-created by Craig Mazin (“Chernobyl”) and Neil Druckmann (the writer and creative director of the game), the show is top-notch on every level, from the writing to the fungus-zombie special effects. 

What really sets the show apart is just how well the cast, led by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, brings its stories and relationships to life. Here, “The Last of Us” casting director Victoria Thomas explains how the sensational ensemble came together and offers audition tips for those interested in landing a role on Season 2.


How the casting team brought on Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey

The Last of Us Liane Hentscher/HBO

Thomas says that it was vital to find lead actors whom viewers would “want to return to watch every week.” Before auditions began, the creators and casting team knew they wanted Pascal for the central role of Joel Miller, a smuggler tasked with bringing his teenage charge, Ellie (Ramsey), safely across an America swarming with cannibalistic mutants. Unfortunately, the actor was unavailable at first; but Thomas “swooped in” as soon as Pascal’s schedule opened up. “He read it over a weekend and was in from the get-go. So we really lucked out there,” she recalls.

When the team was looking for the right actor to play Ellie, Ramsey stood out because she was “fierce…. She was the right age, young but mature, and she came in and did a great reading.” The CD can’t remember whether Ramsey and Pascal ever read together during the audition process. “You just sort of hope that, OK, he looks good, and she looks good. They are great actors…and you hope that great relationship and that chemistry develops between them.”

How “The Last of Us” honors the original video game characters

The Last of UsCourtesy HBO

Thomas wanted to ensure that she did right by fans of the game and its sequel by staying true to Druckmann’s original vision of the characters. “We didn’t [want] to just completely abandon any connection to the game in casting,” she says. She also credits Druckmann and Mazin, who created a “nice balance between an exploration of new ways to see the characters [while] also honoring who the fans know [from] the game.” 

At the same time, she adds, “we didn’t want to be ruled by it. I think the goal in casting the show was not to be afraid to either introduce new characters or interpret them, maybe in a way that wasn’t interpreted in the game.”

The key to casting Tess and other impactful supporting parts

The Last of Us Liane Hentscher/HBO

As with any post-apocalyptic show, many characters in “The Last of Us” have a short run. However, Thomas took extra care when casting the series’ most impactful supporting roles; she was on the hunt for actors who had a “presence” about them. “If they’re not going to be around for 10 episodes [where we] get to know them or get attached to them, you’re just looking for people who are vivid and charismatic,” she explains.

The CD says it was particularly difficult to cast Joel’s smuggling partner, Tess Servopoulos. “We talked about a lot of actresses. It was a back and forth, and no one quite fit. She’s a tough lady, but there is a heart there.” The role ultimately went to Anna Torv, who Thomas says “checked all the boxes…. In the end, she combined the best of all the qualities we were looking for, agewise and toughness-wise.”

How Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman made Episode 3 so special

The Last of Us Liane Hentscher/HBO

The storyline shifts away from Joel and Ellie on Season 1, Episode 3, “Long, Long Time,” which mainly focuses on doomsday prepper Bill (Nick Offerman) and his partner, Frank (“White Lotus” Emmy winner Murray Bartlett). 

When casting these roles, Thomas needed to find two actors who could work well together emotionally while also being polar opposites. “Just in the writing of the two characters, they were very different. Murray’s character is a little more emotional and less gruff, and Nick’s character is obviously more gruff,” she explains. “Casting chemistry is a hard thing to quantify. Nick and Murray are…two great actors who are opposites, [and they portray] emotions in different ways. Murray wears it on his sleeve; Nick is a little less wearing it on his sleeve.”

The CD knew that Bill would need to be played by an actor with solid comedy chops. “Obviously, the humor that Nick brings is helpful in a show about a post-apocalyptic world,” she says. “We were looking for someone who was off-kilter. We just sort of started throwing some names out and thought, What about Nick? [We wanted to] try to think about different choices.”

What “The Last of Us” creators didn’t want to see in the audition room

The Last of Us Liane Hentscher/HBO

Though the voice actors’ performances in the games are iconic, the CD says she was looking for actors who brought their own point of view to the roles. “We weren’t looking for an imitation thing here. Be prepared, and make a choice coming in. But also be open to being able to shift and move if someone says, ‘Try a little bit of this or a little bit of that,’ ” Thomas advises.

Why the cast works so well together

The Last of UsShane Harvey/HBO

In the end, what makes or breaks a TV show is how well the actors mesh emotionally. “The relationships between these people are important, and they are meaningful,” Thomas says. “I feel it from Pedro and Bella, and I feel it from Pedro and Anna. There’s just sort of an emotion. They are really good actors, and they had really good material to work with. They created these relationships. The writing helped, [but] the two go hand in hand.”

How to get cast on “The Last of Us” and other HBO shows

The Last of Us Liane Hentscher/HBO

For those interested in joining the ensemble, we have good news: Ahead of its third episode, HBO renewed the series for a second season. When production begins, it’s likely we’ll see some casting notices trickle in as we did for Season 1; in February 2022, Thomas’ team posted a call for the role of Sam on Backstage.

To stay up to date with the latest opportunities for the show, bookmark these go-to resources:

More From In the Room


More From Actors + Performers

Now Trending