Spoilers for The Last of Us HBO Episode 8 – When We Are In Need. Read our review of the episode here.
Troy Baker loves The Last of Us, and being such a vital part of the series there was no way he’d pass up getting involved with the hit HBO live-action adaptation. “I would be happy if I’d just been a clicker,” Baker tells IGN in a post-episode interview.
Well, Baker isn’t a Clicker in The Last of Us HBO series, he plays James, a member of David’s survivors in the penultimate episode of The Last of Us season one. “Neil and Craig came to me and said, “We have a role for you.” And Neil was like, “It’s James,”’ says Baker on how he first got involved with the HBO series.
“And I went, ‘Oh dude… who’s James?’ Like, ‘Oh, right, buddy boy, the guy with the hat.’”
Baker is one of the hardest working actors in video games, and despite playing characters like the Joker and Revolver Ocelot, no role is more linked to Baker than his turn as Joel in The Last of Us video game. Across two video games, and a special One Night Live stage production, Baker portrayed the post-apocalyptic survivor Joel. But he wasn’t fighting to get the role in the HBO show, he was looking to learn from someone new.
“The thing that I wanted more than anything was for whoever was going to play Joel to just show me something new about the role,” Baker tells IGN. “Was there something that I overlooked? Was there something that I missed? Was there something that I didn’t know?”
Luckily for Baker, HBO went with a choice he thinks is perfect. “The second that I found out that they cast Pedro, I was like, ‘Oh, well, we’re bulletproof now.’ Because obviously his pedigree as an actor is incontrovertible, but it’s also the fact that he has embraced this character with such loving arms. And I couldn’t imagine more careful hands for this character to be in.”
Baker embraces the changes The Last of Us HBO series is making, from casting to the story, because it expands the video game world he clearly loves. “we’re limited because we are telling the story of Joel from Joel’s perspective, or we’re telling the story of Ellie from Ellie’s perspective,” Baker observes. “And what the show allows us to do is be able to break away from those characters and spend time with a lot of the other characters that we glossed over in the game.”
One of those characters is Baker’s James who isn’t just “buddy boy,” but a wary survivor who might not be okay with what he’s doing. Throughout the episode, there are points where James seems clearly at odds with David, whether it’s about the way they’re surviving (spoilers: cannibalism) or the way David seems more obsessed with capturing Ellie than getting revenge for the murder of one of their own.
Baker says this is similar to another pair of characters who are newly introduced into The Last of Us universe, Perry and Kathleen from the Kansas City Quarantine Zone. “It calls back to the relationship that Jeffrey Pierce’s character, Perry, has with Kathleen, where there is a leader who has a right-hand person who is in some ways either sycophantically or sympathetically helping guide their decisions,” Baker says.
“James recognizes the evil that is inherent inside of David, but it’s better to be on the right-hand side of the devil than on the wrong side. And so, he’s very careful about playing his position, but he’s trying to also achieve his goal, which is, ‘Don’t let this girl in.’ And he uses pragmatism as his method. She’s just another mouth to feed.”
It was announced early on that Baker and his video game co-star Ashley Johnson, who voices Ellie in the games, were going to be part of the series, kicking off speculation on what roles they’d get. One early suggestion was that Baker would play David, but Baker said that decision would be too obvious.
“There was a lot of rumor and speculation that I was going to be playing David. I was like, ‘That would’ve just been too kitschy. That would’ve been too on the nose.” Furthermore, the decision to cast Scott Shepard is another example of something Baker loves about the show. It’s different.
“The thing that I love, that’s a departure from what Nolan did in the game by playing David, is that, again, this is a different representation of a character that people might be familiar with.”
Ultimately, Baker stresses that the show and the video game are two sides of the same coin and that both mediums help each other tell this story that has garnered so many fans each.
“I’ve told people, this is not a ‘either/or,’ an either play the game or watch the show. It’s a ‘yes, and.’ I’m excited for once people finish the series to either go back through and play the game again, or go back and play the game for the first time ever and participate in that conversation.
Matt T.M. Kim is IGN’s Senior Features Editor. You can reach him @lawoftd.
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Author: Matt Kim