Catching up with Bill and Frank

The Last Of Us stars tell how they took their characters and ran with them

Pedro Pascal and Nick Offerman in The Last Of Us. (Photos: HBO Asia)

After only a couple of aired episodes, HBO's latest post-apocalyptic drama thriller series The Last Of Us has already been called one of the best TV shows ever made. Indeed, the recently aired third episode brought the popularity of the show to a whole new level. Sure, it may be hard to fully judge a series without watching all of it, but according to IMDB, The Last Of Us is currently rated as the best TV show of all-time according to user scores. As for figures, the series has garnered 6.4 million viewers in total and ranks above previous smash hit shows like Breaking Bad and Game Of Thrones.

Based on the highly renowned PlayStation video game from 2013 developed by Naughty Dog, the The Last Of Us is set in a post-apocalyptic United States -- 20 years after the world's population has been decimated by a fungal infestation that transforms humans into aggressive zombie-like beings known as the Infected. The show is led by a survivor named Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) who lives in one of the few quarantine zones and is hired to escort a teenager named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) -- who is believed to be the last hope of humankind -- across wastelands to a safe area.

The latest episode of The Last Of Us, which aired on Saturday, is what's called a standalone episode that surprised many fans for being a beautiful yet heartbreaking romance-drama in a post-apocalyptic time. The episode features Parks And Recreation alum and funny man Nick Offerman who portrays Bill, one of the characters from the original game whom Joel and Ellie will meet along their journey. Bill is a gruff, gay survivalist who lives with his partner Frank, played by Australian Murray Bartlett, the Emmy-winning actor from The White Lotus. They are the last survivors in a town named Lincoln that has become overrun with zombies. Offerman and Bartlett deliver what are surely award-worthy performances in the episode that left many viewers weeping.

Life recently caught up with both Offerman and Bartlett in a Zoom interview to talk all about working together in a hit TV series as well as their experiences with video games.

Nick Offerman as Bill. 

The chemistry between both of you in the episode was incredible. So, I'm curious if you can remember a moment either during prep or the shoot where the penny sort of drops like, 'Oh, this is how I'm going to play this character'?

Bartlett: Well, there were many of those moments. I remember shooting the scene where my character Frank starts playing a piece of music on the piano, a wonderful Linda Ronstadt song. And then Bill takes over and I remember being there watching Bill do that and just like responding emotionally, sort of what felt like out of my control. To me, it just really felt like a great sort of connection with the dynamic between those two characters that just happened organically in that moment. It was such a beautiful script. And Nick was also very amazing. And we had such a great time that there were a lot of those moments where the penny just kept dropping. It was quite an extraordinary experience in that way.

Offerman: I mean, this was such a lucky script to be handed and it is clearly sublime writing. And so when I first read it and the sensibility of Bill, you know, a silent guy who's very competent, who takes care of business, especially when he has someone to protect, it just really clicked in for me. But the thing that then led to what Murray is talking about is it also was terrifying, because there are all these moments of vulnerability that I haven't gotten to do a lot of as an actor. And so that for me, that was also a no-brainer. I was like, I have to put myself in this terrifying situation. I have to sing a song in front of this gorgeous man [laughs].

It was such a romantic and beautiful episode, and I'm under the impression you quickly got into very intimate space between your characters. Especially for Murray, was it more difficult for you to play your character in The Last Of Us than your character, Armond, from The White Lotus?

Bartlett: Interestingly, before White Lotus, I'd always played characters that were closer to myself and a little bit less White Lotus. I mean, I don't feel like I've played a character like Frank before, but it didn't feel unfamiliar to me. I like to be able to go there and show the vulnerability of characters, which is one of the wonderful things. Even when it is a character like Armond in White Lotus, just to find those moments of vulnerability and place them in a way that makes them feel human, I think it is really fantastic. But it's what you hope for in, you know, with vulnerable scenes as you're paired with an actor who's up for the challenge.

Speaking of romantic elements in the episode, which scene did you find most beautiful or devastating about this specific element?

Offerman: For me in the narrative, so much mileage is achieved around that dining table. That's where everything begins. I think that's where the wooing begins when Bill serves his first meal to Frank. And the transaction with the wine and the cloth of mortality with the pills in the wine, where it's revealed that Bill is going to go with Frank to the other side. I think that's my favourite, a romantic peak in that story.

Bartlett: There's one moment that sticks out sort of later in the episode. Where Frank is not doing well. He's painting and Bill comes in from the garden and they just have this moment of sort of taking each other in. That's without words and it kind of speaks volumes for me about their connection. The intensity of Frank's illness and the intensity of this world, and that there are these moments of, you know, love and connection and lightness that are so powerful.

As this is an adaptation from a video game, I understand that the Bill and Frank story has been slightly tweaked for the TV show. I'm curious what it was like for both of you to take part in those changes which veered away from the story that fans of the video game are more familiar with.

Offerman: Well, the last video game I played was Galaga back in 1998. And when this whole thing went down, one of the first obvious questions was, 'Do I need to play the game in my preparation? Do I need to do research?'. And the writer Craig [Mazin] said this story isn't really in the game. So when people ask, 'Did you create a backstory or did you do all these actor preparation things?', usually, the better the writing, the less you have to answer that because what you're handed is a scene. There are two guys, one of them is in a hole. You know, and what needs to happen to move the story forward. And so, to this day, I remain blissfully ignorant of this game, and I think I'll continue to avoid it [laughs].

Murray Bartlett as Frank.

Bartlett: Yeah, the last game I played was probably sometime in the 90s, maybe even the 80s. However, I obviously did as much digging as I could about the game so I understood the sort of tone and the story and the characters. And I also have friends who are avid gamers who just adore this game so much, so I had conversations with them about why they do.

Nick, after watching the episode, I have to say I appreciate the long, silky hairstyle you wear for Bill's character. Was that your real hair?

Offerman: I don't believe we ever saw my real hair. It was two or three different versions of a wig. And also with the most incredible departments across the board. I mean everybody was so top drawer. But in this specifically, Connie was the key hair and make-up artist. The wig and the different beards and facial hair and ageing that they did. We were just the lucky canvasses for these Rembrandts. So, any hair above the neck is never my own. The hair from my shoulders down, particularly in the latissimus dorsi area, that is me and mother nature.

Playing a tune of Linda Ronstadt on a piano scene.

Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal in The Last of Us.

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