NEW YORK, Jan. 15 (UPI) — Bella Ramsey says their character Ellie in the new HBO action-thriller series, The Last of Us, initially has a prickly relationship with their protector Joel because they are so much alike.
Premiering Sunday, the critically acclaimed video-game adaptation takes place 20 years after modern civilization has been destroyed by a mutated fungus that turns people into monstrous cannibals.
Ramsey’s fellow Game of Thrones alum Pedro Pascal plays Joel, the smuggler hired to escort teen Ellie — who might be the key to a cure — out of an oppressive quarantine zone and across the United States to a research facility.
Created by Chernobyl filmmaker Craig Mazin and writer/video game developer Neil Druckmann, the show co-stars Gabriel Luna, Anna Torv, Nico Parker, Murray Bartlett, Nick Offerman, Melanie Lynskey, Storm Reid and Merle Dandridge.
“In the beginning, they are resistant to each other and reluctant with each other because they clash so much,” Ramsey told UPI about Joel and Ellie in a recent Zoom interview with reporters.
“They are so similar. I think it’s very scary to see yourself in someone else,” Ramsey added. “They definitely clash and then that clash develops into this really beautiful, vulnerable, deep relationship and love for each other.”
The pair’s father-daughter affection never gets “soppy,” however, Ramsey emphasized.
“They express love for each other in a way that is so true to who they are as people. It never feels forced or cringey,” Ramsey said. “They just love each other and call each other assholes and that’s how they share their love.”
“We’re both assholes,” he laughed.
The actor said he was a fan of the game and knew Mazin and HBO would show respect and imagination as they turned it into a TV series.
“It’s that rare opportunity for an actor to be part of a production of this scale and know that it is going to be met with the highest expectations and pushed to its best potential and the gift of this experience is that it comes with these really really rich characters and so we have this very rich relationship in this grand-scale hellscape of an apocalypse,” Pascal said.
Having also starred in The Mandalorian, Pascal knows a bit about the baggage that can come with fan enthusiasm and criticism surrounding an already established story or character.
“The special thing about these kinds of projects is that they have such big fan bases and there are events built around being able to interact with these fans and feel the passion that they have for them, which really, ultimately, eliminates the other part which can really feel like a lot of pressure or a specific kind of expectation,” Pascal said.
“It’s a funny thing to navigate because it is essential that the love be there and that the love informs the adaptation or the creation of something,” he added.
“One wouldn’t exist without the other. It’s all based on a mutual love for the material and a desire on the creators’ part to satisfy and ultimately surprise and entertain the people that already love it and, hopefully, to find an even wider audience and deepen the love.”
Ramsey and Pascal spent time with Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, the artists who voiced Ellie and Joel in the games, but did not attempt to duplicate their portrayals of the characters in the TV version.
Ramsey described this move as “a conscious and strategic thing.”
“We can exist side by side as two of the same. It’s our Ellie and our Joel,” Ramsey said.
“To have their blessing made me feel a lot better. I’m in awe of both of them and getting to meet them on set was a very special experience.”
Pascal added: “When our paths did cross on set, it was really cool and surreal. To kind of stare into each other’s eyes, it was all kind of moving and unique. It was unlike anything I’d experienced before.”
One major difference between Pascal’s and Baker’s performances that fans may notice is Joel’s accent.
“Joel is from Austin, so a thick Texas accent isn’t technically applicable,” said Pascal, who emigrated from Chile to the United States and lived in San Antonio, Texas from the time he was 2 until he was 12.
“It’s a matter of what’s in my system already. What are the sounds and shapes of the words on the page? What harkens to something that is from the game and familiar to us already? What is the music of it all? A bit of a twang was definitely only part of it.”
Ramsey related mostly to Ellie’s love of puns and swearing.
“Ellie actually taught me how to curse and taught me how to do it well. She is awesome. I immediately felt like she was a character that — even from the first few scenes I was given for my audition tape — was a part of me already,” Ramsey said.
“She’s the best character I’ve gotten to play and I hope to continue to play her if enough people watch the show and we get more seasons.”