He might not have gotten the role he intended for when he auditioned, but somehow, American actor Jeffrey Pierce can always count on the hit video game The Last of Us to change his life in ways he could not have imagined.
Back before the release of the 2013 video game, the 51-year-old actor auditioned for the role of game lead, Joel, but didn’t get it. Instead, game creator Neil Druckmann was so impressed by his audition that Druckmann offered the role of major supporting character Tommy, Joel’s brother, which Pierce took and reprised in the 202 sequel. That year, Pierce was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Performer in a Supporting Role in what would be his most famous and well-known role to date.
And a decade later, Pierce would be one of the few voice and motion capture actors from the game to make the leap from video game, to the live-action series adaptation of the game for HBO. Actress Merle Dandridge, who voiced the role of Marlene in the original game, is the only legacy actor from the original video games to play the same role in the HBO series.
“One of the things that I’ve talked about a little bit before is that before I came in and read for Tommy, I auditioned for Joel in the game and I was great but Troy Baker came in and he was Joel! So when they called me in to play Tommy, that was something completely different and I loved every moment of crafting that character, sort of almost in response to what Troy was doing,” said Pierce in an interview with Geek Culture.
Actor Gabriel Luna now plays the role of Tommy, across Pedro Pascal’s Joel, in the HBO series The Last of Us, whereas Pierce has returned to play an original character, Perry. Introduced in episode 4 ‘Please Hold to My Hand’, Perry is an ex-militant who together with, Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey), had overthrown the Kansas City branch of FEDRA, aka the Federal Disaster Response Agency, regarded as an antagonistic faction in the franchise.
Truth be told, Pierce was hoping he would be able to play the role of Tommy when he first heard news of the adaptation, since it’s a character he holds dear to his heart. But after witnessing Luna’s take on the character and seeing how well Luna and Pascal worked together, Pierce could not find a more perfect pairing.
“They were looking at Mahershala Ali to play Joel at one point. I was like ‘Well then there’s no way I’m playing Tommy’ and when they cast Pedro, it’s like ‘Yeah, there’s definitely no way I’m playing Tommy’,” said Pierce.
“But you know, 20, 30 people gave feedback on Tommy before I saw any of his lines and after I got off the stage 2 or 300 people at Naughty Dog took my performance and digitised it and repainted it, so Tommy belongs to a lot of people before he belongs to me, and Gabriel took all of those different facets and brought them to the show. I don’t think you’re going to find a handsomer, more charismatic Tommy, so I’m honoured by his performance. I get to sit back and say that I was part of his creation of that character.”
Pierce added, “But as soon as [The Last of Us] was greenlit, I told Neil ‘Anything, I’ll stand in the background with the spear. It would be my absolute joy to help this thing come to life in any way!” shared the actor.
“And then I got to be this character who to me is every iconic thing that I would ever want to do in a role, and then gets his great ending, it is just sort of perfect.”
In the series, Perry and Kathleen might be new characters, but the duo have established an important presence in the show. His relationship with Kathleen isn’t as drawn out as viewers, nor Pierce, would’ve liked but the recent new revelations have certainly caused a stir and mass interest, especially with the recent release of episode 5 too.
“I know that Perry is absolutely in love with Kathleen, and we never talked about whether or not their relationship had any sort of consummation but in terms of what his feelings are for her, they’re as deep as you can go for another person. In one aspect, she is in charge but in terms of capability and capacity for violence, Perry has a lot more of that inside of him and a lot more experience with that than she does,” shared a passionate Pierce on his take on the duo.
“He is physically, I think in many ways, her protector. The idea that these things that you do for love are not necessarily positives and that the worst things that we can do as human beings are often done for love as well is very much alive in Perry and Kathleen’s story.”
For Pierce, it was important to him that his portrayal of Perry would be like a playable character in the game. After all, the actor is a fan of the Naughty Dog games, having played both The Last of Us and its sequel multiple times, and would love to be able to play Perry and Kathleen’s story in a video game format should the opportunity arise.
“If I could do something from the series in the game, I would want to play Perry and Kathleen’s story. I would want to know what happens in Kansas City that led to the overthrow of the FEDRA government. That would be an amazing story. It’s 12 or 15 hours of gameplay right there that I would really enjoy playing,” said the 51-year-old actor.
“When I thought about Perry I thought about him from a practical level and a character level. I also wanted to honour what he would be in a game so when we talked about his wardrobe, when we talked about his weaponry and talked about what he would carry with him, I wanted it to be a character that would be a playable character within the game.”
Given the positive response he has had from fans of the game and series, Pierce is grateful for the opportunity, even claiming that his role of Perry helped him fall in love with the craft of acting once more. The actor also has fond memories of shooting the action scenes and working together with Lynskey.
“In many ways, doing The Last of Us and then doing the games that I’ve done, has helped me fall back in love with the craft of acting because it demands more of you than just you know, a standard episode of television. My heroes growing up were the classics of De Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis and Marlon Brando, and being able to do that level of work on the HBO stage… I should retire now,” joked Pierce.
“Every moment with her (Lynskey) was amazing because there’s a life and uniqueness to every take that she does. Being able to sort of ride that wave was amazing but my favourite thing was sitting in the warming tents and just chatting about life and our kids, and getting to know her as a person. She just is such an extraordinary person.”
Perhaps, the biggest takeaway for Pierce in his years of voicing Tommy in the video games and now, playing Perry in The Last of Us, is that art – be it film, games, or a painting – should leave an impact on the world and inspire change in its audience.
“I hope that like all great art, The Last of Us holds a mirror up, that it moves people, that it upsets people because I think that art has to do that. We have a lot of things that we need to solve as a species in order to get to a place where we’re actually going to survive. The metaphor of the apocalypse is an apt metaphor because we’re looking down the barrel of it. We can’t get past racism and misogyny and clash of religions. If we can’t get past those things, we don’t deserve to keep going and I think that stories like this, give us an opportunity to look in the mirror and change,” said Pierce.
“I hope that kids who were 12 years old when The Last of Us came out are in their mid-20s and that story is part of the way they look at the world. When I meet fans of the game who have had their lives impacted by it, it’s impacted the way that they think and the way they look at the world and I think that the idea that 20 million people a week are going to have that same opportunity to be affected is really really important.”
When asked what he would need to survive a zombie apocalypse Pierce gave a simple answer.
“A fast motorcycle,’ he smiled before adding in all seriousness, “Our connection to other people.”
Don’t judge a book by its cover, for behind all this makeup, is a geek just like you. To simply put it, superheroes, Star Wars, Harry Potter and all things gore and creepy makes this girly girl swoon.
The post Geek Interview: Jeffrey Pierce On Returning To ‘The Last of Us’ As Perry, Gabriel Luna’s Tommy, & How The Show Reignited His Love For Acting appeared first on Geek Culture.