Before the acclaimed 2013 video game, The Last of Us, entered development to be adapted into a television series for HBO, there were plans for the franchise to appear on the big screen. During the film’s early stage of planning, several high-profile actresses auditioned to play the game’s lead female role of Ellie, according to a recent profile on the development of the television show by The Hollywood Reporter.
Those actresses include SAG Award-nominated Maisie Williams, who starred on the premium cable network’s Emmy Award-winning fantasy drama series, Game of Thrones. Golden Globe-nominated Booksmart star Kaitlyn Dever also auditioned for the role of Ellie for the now-abandoned movie adaptation of The Last of Us. Williams and Dever were at the top of the list of actresses who were being considered to play Ellie in The Last of Us while it was being developed as a film. However, by the time the project pivoted to become a television show, they had aged out of the role and could no longer play it.
So when the series’ showrunner, Craig Mazin, saw the audition from Williams’ Game of Thrones castmate, Bella Ramsey, he said he knew that she should lead the HBO adaptation. “Bella felt so real,” Neil Druckmann, who created the video game series, also chimed in. “It was like Ellie realized in live action. It didn’t feel like watching an actor.” Druckmann said he’d spoken with Williams about having her play the role early in the movie’s development process. As early as 2014, Williams publicly stated her desire to play Ellie, according to MovieWeb. The news even fueled a fan campaign at the time to cast her in the role.
However, development on the film adaptation stalled, leading Dever to emerge as another popular candidate with the video game’s fans to play Ellie. The fans supported her because of her physical similarities to the character and her acting ability. In 2020, the Emmy Award-nominated actress told Collider: “Listen, I am a huge fan of the game, and I don’t know if a lot of people know that, but I’m saying it now; I am a huge fan of that video game. I’m not shutting it down, you know? I’m not shutting it down. I would absolutely love to do that. But I don’t know where it’s at yet. But I love The Last of Us.”
Dever came much closer than Williams to being cast in the role. Druckmann revealed that Dever had a table read for the unmade film. But as was the case with Williams, the movie adaptation took too long to get made, leading Dever to age out of the role. That ultimately lead Druckmann and Mazin to auditioning dozens of other actresses for what would become the HBO series. The duo were so happy with Ramsey’s audition that they cast her in less than a month, which is highly unusual. They noted that they felt her performance genuinely seemed like the video game version of Ellie perfectly transitioned into a live-action version.
The Last of Us television show, which is highly anticipated by fans of the video game franchise, will follow the events of the first game. If it’s renewed for a second season, it may also include content that’s based on the video game’s sequel. Besides Ramsey, The Last of Us television series also stars fellow Game of Thrones alum Pedr Pascal as the lead male character, Joel. The show’s supporting cast includes Gabriel Luna (Terminator: Dark Fate) as Tommy Miller, Nico Parker (Dumbo) as Joel’s daughter Sarah and Anna Torv (Mindhunter) as Tess.
The television series also stars Merle Dandridge (The Flight Attendant), who reprised her role from the video games as Marlene, the leader of a resistance group known as the Fireflies. The Last of Us show also features Jeffrey Pierce (Bosch) as Perry, Murray Bartlett (The White Lotus) as Frank, Con O’Neill (Chernobyl) as Bill and Storm Reid (Euphoria) as Riley.
The live-action television series was executive produced and co-written by Mazin and Druckmann, who also served as one of the directors. The upcoming show’s executive producers also include Carolyn Strauss, Naughty Dog President Evan Wells and PlayStation Productions’ Asad Qizilbash and Carter Swan. The Last of Us show a co-production with Sony Pictures Television in association with PlayStation Productions. The action-adventure game that the television series is based on was published by Sony Computer Entertainment for PlayStation 3 and 4.