Merle Dandridge earns the distinction as the only actress in HBO’s The Last of Us to reprise her role as Firefly leader Marlene from the Sony & Naughty Dog video games. Why is that? Let’s break down a few things. First, the original game was released in 2013, and Dandridge’s character is already an adult, not to mention the BAFTA winner still resembles her likeness in the game. Second, creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann had plans for original voice actors Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, and Jeffrey Pierce, who played Joel, Ellie, and Tommy in the games, in different roles for the live-action series. With the HBO series leads Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey, and Gabriel Luna respectively playing the roles, Mazin and Druckmann broke down how casting fell into place.
Merle Dandridge’s Return to ‘The Last of Us’
“I think Merle Dandridge was probably a bit younger than Marlene was in 2013,” Mazin told Entertainment Weekly. “Or at least Marlene had gone through the apocalypse. She was a little more weathered and [had] a little more grey in her hair.” Druckmann, who directed the 2013 game, remake, and its 2020 sequel across PlayStation consoles, credits the 47-year-old actress as an ageless wonder. “Don’t ever stand next to her in a picture,” he said. “It won’t do you anything.” “You look like dog s— next to her, I guarantee you,” Mazin added. “She’s also eternally youthful. It’s 10 years later [after the first game’s debut], and she does have this wonderful gravitas. So it was really a question of, ‘Hey, if we just wig her, I think we’re there.’ That was an easy one. It’s obviously not anything we could contemplate with, say, Troy Baker.” He noted both voice actors in Baker and Johnson are different physically from their counterparts in Joel and Ellie.
“Ashley Johnson is in her 30s and clearly not gonna play a 14-year-old girl, but it was important for us to find space for them [in the show] because they matter,” Mazin explained. “It’s not just about fan service. It’s a dramatic genetic connection between the game and the show. They needed to be there.” The series parallels the games following Joel, who finds renewed purpose in his life after losing his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) as the fungal outbreak reaches his hometown of Austin, Texas. Marlene tasks him and his partner Tess (Anna Torv) to escort Ellie (Ramsey), who has immunity to the plague. Baker will play James, a minor character from the games that will be expanded upon in the series. Johnson will play Anna, a pregnant woman on the run who must give birth under the most terrifying circumstances. Pierce will play Perry, a rebel in a quarantine zone. For more, including a clue Mazin references in the game, you can check the rest of the interview here. The Last of Us airs Sundays on HBO.