Eli’s actors, Ashley Johnson, sequels – variety7 min read
[SPOILER NOTE: There are no spoilers for “The Last of Us Part II” below, beyond what was already revealed in trailers and pre-release gameplay footage. However, the ending of the first “The Last of Us” is discussed in detail.]
That being said there was a lot of pressure on “the second part of our finale” officially released on Friday, it won’t be reduced.
Following a game that inherits “our latest” is not an easy feat – not to mention, a consequence that most fans find more than satisfying. Also, Eli takes the stage in the center of “The Second Part,” so there’s good reason why his voice actor Ashley Johnson will feel so much pressure.
“The Last of the Part II” discovered Eli as a 19-year-old, and five years later he and Joel traveled around the country to find a way to use his immunity to cure a viral infection that engulfed the United States in a post-apocalyptic state. The consequences of Joel’s decision to save his life (and later lie about him) instead of allowing doctors to use his immunity have also been traumatic.
Diversity How Johnson and the writers dealt with that trauma, what it felt like to return to the sequel with Eli as the main character, and why he was as defensive to fans as the “The Last of You” series.
“The Last of Us” is very popular and especially the last one has been seen by many as the best video game ever. What was your reaction when you first heard there would be a sequel?
Okay, I know they’re going to make a sequel soon after we finish shooting the first game. I knew for a really long time, but of course I fought it, like everyone else. When we were making the first game, you know, if there’s anything, you expect what you’re making, people will respond positively, or they’ll like it, but I don’t think any of us really thought it was his reaction. You have the fear of making a sequel: how can you meet it? But when [writer/director Neil Druckmann] Sitting me down to tell the whole story of the second game, I flew quite a bit, and I think I’m very excited to go on this journey and tell this story and add to the story. And Neil has even talked about it. He said, “I certainly don’t think it’s a sequel. The story goes on and it feels like the next progression. I’ve lived with this character for 10 years now, and of course it’s a lot heavier than the first game, but I can get there.” Really interested.
As you mentioned, you can’t predict how well the first game will go. With that in mind, have you felt any different pressure on the sequel title?
Absolutely. I think with the first game, it was my first motion-capture video game and really, for the most part, a video game that I’ve ever worked on and I learned a lot from Troy. [Baker, who voices Joel] And from blue and it’s a completely different kind of set. Everything is different. And what I’m learning from this experience and capturing motion is whether it’s a medium I like to work with because the possibilities are endless. It’s like a theater. And I got nervous, obviously, for trying to create a sequel that resonates with optimistic people but basically just because of playing the main player character. It made me nervous, and I worked a lot with Troy and I leaned so much on him during the shooting of the first game. It scared me to be that person around this time. Knowing that the game fans have as much right as I have, I want to do something that can tell the story.
Since Joel is the playable character in the first game, did you get any advice from Troy?
Troy is one of my best friends and I cherish him and we have been such good friends for the last 10 years. He gave me a lot of confidence in that place, and I learned a lot from him, but [working on the first “The Last of Us”] It was the perfect starting point, because I was nervous and ready to go. And I was encouraged to tell this story and play this character and get people to know more about him. I was excited and nervous, but ready.
When we find Eli in the “second part,” it’s been a few years, and he’s grown up. Where is he now, how did you get to his sensitive growth?
When we meet Eli in this part of the story, obviously, it’s five years later and he really made a place for himself in this community Jackson. And he’s patrolling, and he’s learned a lot from Joel, and we can see that he’s very capable and this time we feel the tension between Joel and Eli, because we know the end of the first game. Throughout the story, we learned how that decision affected Eli and we chose him here. And Eli had already jumped a lot, in this moment of life, knowing that he had this immunity but was not able to do anything with it. And you feel the weight of someone who really cares, that they lied to you, in the end and trying to find an idea of purpose in this world that is hard for someone to do, let alone during the epidemic, which seems appropriate right now[[[[Laughter]- It’s too much and I think as he gets older, his weight and it’s carrying with him, that’s where we start playing with him. Of course, it was tough to be in that place uninterruptedly during the shooting of this game for five or six years, but I love this character, I like working with these actors, I like working with Neil and him. [writer Halley Gross]. It can be such a collaborative and fun place considering the theme of the game.
Eli is obviously working on a lot of things – his lot of trauma, PSTD, the culprit of survival. And the game is very tough, but basically arrived in a very honest way. What kind of conversation did you have with Neil and Haliti about portraying Eli’s trauma?
I think a lot of it was talking to Neil and Haley … how can we tell that story and tell the story so that people can relate to it and understand how to deal with anxiety or PTSD? And it was important for us to get it right. And we had a lot of discussions about it, a lot of stuff that I don’t know if I feel comfortable talking to[[[[Laughter], But you know that it was really important for us to get it right, because a lot of people deal with anxiety and PSTD. We have worked hard to get it right.
I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people who have played it, like, “It’s very hard to see Eli get out of here and read in this situation.” The funny thing is how, in the first game, there are some similarities between the experiences that Joel goes through. But it’s really hard to make a decision similar to that of a 19-year-old.
One of the things that is constantly raised in the reviews and coverage is that there is no black and white in the ethics of these games. There are many shades of gray.
Yes there. And I think for myself, I’m very excited to be a part of this story that continues to take risks. I feel like naughty dogs they have taken risks and they are not trying to please everyone. And I think in order to move to a medium, sometimes you need to risk people and be like, “Yeah, it’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s a story we’ve decided to tell.” Exciting and I am incredibly proud to be a part of it.
And with Eli being a lesbian and for her to be the protagonist of this huge, AAA game – which she sees as an important step towards LGBT representation. What do you think it means to be represented on a large scale in this game?
It is really exciting to me and it feels very appropriate and exciting especially since the game was released in the month of pride. But when we have representation in any media, you have more people who can be connected to the story, and isn’t that the point of storytelling? I mean, you guys want to connect. You want to be related to them or at least learn something new from a new perspective. And we know it – we know representation is important, it’s nothing new. But I love that this character is an ordinary teenage girl who is significant and in the AAA game title. I don’t know, it just feels special. And I know I keep saying it, but I’m so incredible that I’ve been able to play this character and be a part of that representation.