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“The Last of Us” could have had a very different Hollywood star in the leading role of Joel.
Pedro Pascal has been outstanding as the man responsible for securing Ellie’s safety and security in the hit series, but it sounds like HBO almost went in a different direction.
Jeffrey Pierce, who voices Tommy in the video game, revealed the initial talks were with Mahershala Ali.
“But that was a long time ago and a lot of white beard in the past. So… I think initially they had talked to Mahershala Ali about playing Joel, which is an obvious cue that I’m not gonna play Tommy… And when they cast Pedro [Pascal], I knew like, yeah, that was certainly not going to happen regardless, I’m older than Pedro Pascal. So I was not under harboring any illusions about that, for sure,” Pierce explained when talking about how casting went and how he knew he wasn’t going to end up playing the same character as he does in the video game.
Pierce did appear as a Kansas City militia leader Perry in a pair of episodes.
Would Mahershala Ali have made sense in “The Last of Us”?
Let’s get some stuff clear right from the jump. Mahershala Ali is an amazing actor. He’s not just a good actor. He’s untouchable.
His performance in “True Detective” season three was only outmatched by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in season one.
In the “True Detective” universe, he’s a lock for the third spot. He’s a star, but would he have worked for “The Last of Us“? For me, as someone who has never played the video game, he would have. Without a doubt. Joel being black instead of white like in the game wouldn’t matter to me a bit. Millions of other non-gamers probably feel the same way.
However, people attached to “The Last of Us” canon would absolutely have cared if Joel’s race was swapped. Granted, Pedro Pascal is hispanic, but he can still pass for the same character as the one in the video game.
This also isn’t speculation. We have a proven track record of diehard fans flipping out when the origins story is changed at all. Hardcore fans of “The Last of Us” review bombed the episode with Nick Offerman as Bill because it more or less invented large chunks of the gay backstory that weren’t ever in the game. HBO took some creative licenses and the gamers weren’t overly pleased.
More than 26% of the reviews for that episode on IMDB are 1 star reviews. That’s how your most dedicated fans react to source material being changed.
As a non-gamer, I thought it might have been the best episode of the series. That’s the difference. We’ve also seen it happen with James Bond. It’s been floated for years that 007 should be a woman or a non-white man. Making the English spy a woman is comically stupid, and while I don’t care about the race, it’s not what’s in the origin of Bond. That’s why people hate the idea. It has nothing to do with racism. It has to do with changing source material fans feel attached to.
If Ali had been cast, you would have seen a split. Non-gamers like myself wouldn’t have even noticed. Those connected to “The Last of Us” game likely would have flipped, just like they did about episode three.
The good news is Pedro Pascal has crushed it as Joel. So, there’s no real need to wonder what could have been. “The Last of Us” is great and TV’s latest hit. That’s all that matters at the end of the day.