This story about director Peter Hoar and “The Last of Us” was first published in TheWrap Awards magazine’s Drama Series issue.
For pure emotional impact on the latest season of television, you need look no further than “Long, Long Time,” the third episode of HBO’s “The Last of Us.” Deviating from the main journey of a lonely man and the fungus-resistant young woman in his care (Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey) navigating zombie-strewn roads, the series set up for a decades-long romance between two older men, Bill and Frank. (unforgettably played by Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett), which resonated with his universality and refusal to reduce the duo to dreary stereotypes. If your heart didn’t break watching these men make peace with their life decisions through shaky ages, you simply haven’t and never had a pounding in your chest.
“I would have said yes to an episode full of zombies getting shot in the head and probably would have been very excited,” said director Peter Hoar. He had been a devotee of the video game on which “The Last of Us” is based, but he also knew a thing or two about depicting the ravages of a plague on humanity, having just made the remarkable AIDS-era miniseries. “It’s a sin.” a few years ago
“I was just a geeky fan of the game. I played him, he loved me and he destroyed me. And I knew HBO had a version of that. He had never done an HBO show and he was like, ‘It won’t come to me.’ But then they asked me if I would be interested and I immediately said yes. So I had no idea what it was, and then they sent me the script. And that’s when I said, ‘Oh, maybe there’s a reason I was the one they asked.'”
Offerman’s character Bill, the hairy, survival-paranoid half of the couple, appears in the game in a truncated form and is even briefly referred to as a male companion, although that person is never seen alive. His was the most difficult role to cast: English actor Con O’Neill was originally signed to co-star with Bartlett, but dropped out due to a scheduling conflict with “Our Flag Means Death”; Offerman, a friend of co-creator Craig Mazin, was offered the pitch.
“I’m always very interested in doing an authentic cast, for many reasons,” Hoar said. “But when we talked about who Bill really was, there was a slight disconnect. Bill’s language is not modern and he doesn’t know who he is. He finds out who he is when he meets Frank and he doesn’t have a label for it. He falls in love with a human named Frank. That’s what I love about him, he just so happens to be a guy.”
According to Hoar, Offerman drew on Bartlett’s experiences as an outspoken gay man to allay his doubts about bringing authenticity to the role. “Bill and Nick have a lot in common because Nick is a master of survival – he knew all the tricks and pieces of equipment everywhere and he knew a lot about props. He was perfect for Bill because he has a big heart. Nick looked to Murray the way Bill looks to Frank for guidance.”
One of the most praised elements of this harrowing hour is the amazing shot of the crane crashing through Bill and Frank’s open bedroom window at the end of the episode. The shot is a visual take-off of the game’s loading screen.
“When the game loads, there’s this image of a window and it’s all rotten and dilapidated and there’s a breeze,” Hoar said, noting that while much of the filming used actual locations, that shot had to be manipulated and built a certain way. truly capture the angle of the crane at the most vital points. “It really made you understand the world that people had left behind, because everyone in the cities in these apocalypse stories is always loading up on, like, an ‘Avengers’ level scale. Most of us in the world do not live there. We live away from all that. And you always think, ‘What would I do in the middle of nowhere?’”
Another clue is the episode’s soulful title song, a 1970 Gary White ballad made famous by Linda Ronstadt that becomes a common thread for all the characters, including Pascal and Ramsey. “Long, Long Time” was chosen after much debate over what would be the unifying song, with a shortlist even including multiple tunes. Mazin enlisted the help of friends (notably New York sideman and SiriusXM radio host Seth Rudetsky, who gets a consulting credit on the episode) to come up with the perfect tune.
“Linda Ronstadt is well known, but this particular song was new to many, many people,” Hoar said. “And those lyrics, that longing, that waiting for something, that realization of how fragile everything is, was felt in a single female voice.” Ronstadt’s original version shot up the iTunes charts immediately after “Long, Long Time” aired, as did Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” after it was used in “Stranger Things” last year. . Bush’s song, coincidentally, had previously been used to haunting effect in “It’s a Sin”, directed by Peter Hoar.
“She emailed us the most wonderful email about how important it was, and she said she would be absolutely honored to have it used,” Hoar said of his dealings with Bush in that limited series. “And she also mentioned me by name. I said, ‘Oh my gosh, Kate Bush knows what I do for a living!’”