Based on the 2013 hit video game of the same name, HBO’s The Last of Us has big shoes to fill.
With the video game’s well-established fan base comes high expectations from viewers — a fact that isn’t lost on the show’s co-creators and co-writers Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin.
“You have to wall yourself off a bit,” Mazin told The Hollywood Reporter at Monday’s Los Angeles premiere of the incoming audience reaction to the show. “The fan energy around us is enormous — and I’m a fan of the game too, I know exactly how they feel. I understand their nerves, their excitement, their trepidation. At some point, you have to wall yourself off a little bit because you can kind of drown in a million opinions.”
“I’m fascinated by seeing these kinds of fan-based experiences expand,” added star Pedro Pascal, who plays the show’s protagonist, Joel. “You’ve got Game of Thrones and then Star Wars, and the whole gaming world was sort of new to me. Being held by [Mazin’s] incredible writing was really the best thing that I could ask for.”
With a budget reportedly higher than most of the Game of Thrones seasons, The Last of Us is also said to be the largest TV production in Canadian history.
“This is a much bigger scale,” says Mazin of taking on The Last of Us after the critical success of his Emmy award-winning show Chernobyl. “Chernobyl obviously was received really well, and it won lots of things. There’s no way to really orchestrate that again — you can’t calculate your way to winning things. The thing I was looking for was the feeling I had when I was writing Chernobyl, which was, ‘This is the right thing to be doing.’ I didn’t have to drag myself to the computer every day. It was the wind in my sails.”
As for partnering with a Hollywood studio like HBO, Druckmann said that collaborating with Mazin was a key component of getting the show off the ground.
“It’s incredibly hard to give that creative control to someone else,” Druckmann, who created the video game, said of the adaptation. “That’s why I think my relationship with Craig was so important because I can work on the show, but only so much. At some point, I had to relinquish more and more control. But I built this trust and camaraderie with Craig that I felt, ‘OK, I’m trusting you more and more, and at some point, I have to walk away for a while. Please don’t mess up my baby.’ And having come out on the other side, Craig is a pretty good co-parent.”
Pascal — who also appeared in season four of Game of Thrones as fan-favorite character Oberyn Martell, and stars in Star Wars series The Mandalorian — acts alongside fellow Thrones alum and Catherine Called Birdy star Bella Ramsey, who plays Ellie in the show. Set in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-ridden world, the series follows Joel, who is tasked with smuggling Ellie across the U.S.
“It was incredible,” Pascal said of working with Ramsey. “So lucky. We were both really nervous. We know that the story is very dependent on the connection between these two central characters, and there was no way to really know how that was going to turn out.”
And while video games are notoriously challenging to adapt, there’s no one more discerning than the Last of Us team themselves.
“The nice thing about my relationship with Neil Druckmann, Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey — and everybody who worked on the show — is we don’t pat each other on the back,” Mazin added. “We’re always pushing to make it better: ‘What about this? What about that? Is there a way to improve this?’ So we never, we never rest on any laurels. We never take anything for granted. We just work as hard as we can to make it as good as we can… When it’s over, I hope people have long discussions about it in bars and coffee shops, and disagree and agree and all those things.”
The Last of Us premieres Sunday on HBO.
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