Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin discuss ‘The Last of Us’ Episode 3 – Deadline

Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin discuss ‘The Last of Us’ Episode 3 – Deadline

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains the details of season 1, episode 3 of HBO’s The last of us.

After watching Sunday’s stellar and heartbreakingly tender third episode of The last of us, it’s not hard to see why one person might consider it one of the best bits of television this year. And that’s hardly an exaggeration. Written by Craig Mazin and directed by Peter Hoar, Episode 3, named after Linda Ronstadt’s ’70s love ballad “Long Long Time”, goes far beyond the scope of the original game to offer audiences and eagle-eyed gamers something special. It’s a 75-minute character study that beautifully captures the essence and beauty of a life well lived in the gloom of the outbreak through the eyes of two lovers named Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett). Under Hoar’s direction and Mazin’s pen, Offerman and Bartlett deliver career-defining performances that are so vulnerable and visceral, it’s as if the camera almost doesn’t have to be there. How did Mazin and video game and series co-creator Neil Druckmann create such a rich episode? We’ll let them explain themselves.

Here, game and series creators Druckmann and Mazin talk about changing the original narrative, finding their episode leads, and creating an opportunity to explore ideas of “permanent love” and peace.

DEADLINE: Whose idea was it to weaponize Linda Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time” against us for this episode? Such a beautiful song that ties into the theme of the episode. Which of you is to blame?

NEIL DRUCKMAN: It’s neither. [Laughs]. Craig, go ahead.

Craig Mazin: I’ll tell you exactly who to blame. I knew there was this moment when Frank would play a song and he would butcher it, and then Bill would play it and Frank would be blown away. And also, he was just deciding, “OK, I think I’ve held back long enough. I know who you are, Bill, and here’s how it’s gonna go. And the song was supposed to be about nostalgia and that kind of endless unrequited love that lasts a lifetime. A feeling of sadness and futility that you will always be alone. And I wanted a song that wasn’t overplayed or overly popular, but I also didn’t want a song that was so obscure it almost felt like we created it ourselves, and I couldn’t not find her for the life of me.

I had struggled and struggled. And so, finally, I gave up and texted my friend Seth Rudetsky, the Sirius XM Broadway host and musical savant, and listed all the things I needed. And seconds later, he texted me and said, “Linda Ronstadt, ‘Long, Long Time’.” And I played it, and I was like, “Oh, this is it.” And that was it. Seth Rudetsky is the man to thank and blame for your tears. [Laughs].

DEADLINE: Can you talk about the casting process here? Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett are such good choices. But obviously they are no strangers in the industry. So how did they end up on the show?

DRUCKMANN: Along with Murray, he was kind enough to audition for us, and this addition moved us to tears. It was so good. We’re looking for this very specific character who just has a passion for life and has to be a handsome man who makes Bill feel really insecure – and Murray had it in spades. [Laughs]. Along with Bill, it was Craig’s idea to contact Nick Offerman. I got excited about the idea because of Nick’s performance in Developers; I felt like he was the best thing in this show. Every time he was on screen he just stole those scenes and was so captivating in a serious role. And then imagining him doing something different than what we’re used to seeing him do before was really exciting.

MAIN: The only correction I will add is that I want to take credit for Nick Offerman, but it was Carolyn Strauss who gave me the idea. So Carolyn, our partner in crime and executive producer on the show, is the one who said, “What about our homie, Nick?”

Liane Hentscher/HBO

DEADLINE: What was it like working with them on set? Was there a lot of improvisation? There are some great comedic one-liners balanced with heartbreak.

MAIN: These guys were remarkably on the script, which I appreciate as a writer. It’s not always the case. But they were incredibly respectful of it. And we, with Peter Hoar, the director, who did such a great job, certainly gave them space to play. And I’m not behind the camera saying, “Oh, you changed my words.” But they were both phenomenal. I think because the play is quite structured and so intentional, and because we weren’t trying to be comedy so much as just allowing comedic moments to happen, nobody felt the need to get away from what was there. What they did in the best possible way was to execute the lines well. They’re both very funny and they’re really smart actors. They know how to sell a joke. They know how to minimize things. They just did so well. So, I was thrilled to see them do what they did.

DEADLINE: I don’t know if “risk” is the right word, but I can’t imagine the immense pressure you two had to create this adaptation. Specifically, by expanding and creating a new narrative for Bill and Frank that is so different from the source material. What was going through your mind? And why did you feel the need to tell the story this way?

DRUCKMANN: I’ll give you a bit of my perspective, which was if you were to ask me before I met Craig, would I be willing to take on one of gaming’s most iconic characters and change his fate? I would have been like, surely not. It has to be like the game. And it is like that for a reason. But at that point, I worked with Craig on the first few episodes, and then we started talking about this one and what we could do with it. And there was just the idea of ​​taking a break because the last episode was so intense, and we lost Tess. And then presenting a counterpoint of, well, we saw what you stand to lose and what you gain?

And then there was also taking advantage of a very different medium from games to change perspective. We don’t have to stay with our two heroes the whole trip, and we don’t have to stay at the same time and place. We could actually jump in time a bit. And that gave me the opportunity to tell this kind of story. So when Craig introduced it to me quite fully, it evolved over time, but it was mostly there. And again the faith of the character is 180 degrees different from what happens in the game. It was so beautiful and moving and kind of hit the mark as far as themes and raising the stakes for Joel and Ellie in an interesting way. Even though we deviated so much, I felt completely comfortable saying, “Absolutely, let’s do this. This is a great idea.”

DEADLINE: This episode is already critically acclaimed as one of TV’s best. But when did you know you had something substantial during the creative process?

MAIN: Well, we felt really good with the script, and we felt really good with our cast, and we felt really good with our director. But I felt good with the scripts, actors and directors before, and sometimes the soufflé doesn’t go up. And with this one, being there every day and watching the episode take shape, I felt pretty good. But it wasn’t until I saw the director’s cut that I knew. Peter Hoar did his editing with our editor, Tim Good, which was quite lengthy. When they sent it to me, I think it was almost two hours or something. So, I was like, oh, that’s probably not good. And I sat down, but I was like, “OK, I’m going to watch the two-hour version of this episode.” And I cried so hard that at one point I said out loud, “Ouch.” I’m serious hurt. I cried so hard; it hurts. And I thought “Well, if these guys can do this to me and I wrote this fucking thing, then I think it might work very well on other people” Now we’ve been working really hard to , but we knew we couldn’t release a two-hour version of this stuff, but HBO…

DEADLINE: OK, wait. But you could. It looks like we need a painful, longer cut. We could see more of Bill and Frank falling in love with each other…

MAIN: We didn’t quite have the luxury of that, I think. [Laughs]. But HBO was kind enough to give us some time. And listen, I never want to overstay my welcome. I always want to leave people wanting more. But it’s a longer episode, and what’s really interesting is that, although I think it’s about 73 minutes long, so many people who saw it said that hour flew by . And I’m like; it was only an hour. It was 1 hour and 12 minutes. And so that is, I think, a real achievement. But it was really when I saw Peter and Tim’s haircut that I was like, ‘Wow, this one got me here.’ [Mazin places his hand on his chest].

DRUCKMANN: Well, I think because I was further away from that episode, I was more confident than Craig was to begin with. When he sent me this script, I said, “This is one of the most beautiful scripts I’ve ever read.” And I felt this joy that he emerged from the foundation that was there in the game. It was just really cool to see that. And then to see it come to life and to see the performances of these two incredible actors, I’m incredibly proud to be associated with it. It’s just awesome.

Liane Hentscher/HBO

DEADLINE: I have to ask you about that last incredibly serene shot at the end of the episode, where from Bill and Frank’s window we see the curtains rustling in the wind as the camera rolls down from their bedroom to watch Joel and Ellie leave town. Was this an indication that their spirits were watching over them? It’s very peaceful. What was the intention – if any – of that last image?

MAIN: I think you might be onto something there. There are a few interesting moments when Joel arrives at Bill’s house and the door closes from [gust] wind behind him. I mean, I’m not a big fan of ghosts, but there’s definitely still that vibe of their energy [being] the. It was their home and they still watch [over it]. But there’s also this other thing, which is the visual theme of the window, which is something that we took directly from the game. I mean, it’s something that as a player I always liked the splash screen in The last of us, looking at that window and how peaceful it was, even though the world isn’t peaceful, and what’s happening to these characters isn’t peaceful. And it seemed like a good place for us; there is an opportunity to show both the idea of ​​this permanent love that will always be there in this building, in their house, but also just the theme of this window being the embodiment of peace in the world of The last of us.

The last of us airs every Sunday on HBO.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]

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