Expanding on an institution as fiercely beloved as The Last of Us is a tremendous feat. It is a delicate and seldom attempted act, one successfully executed by creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann. Based on the post-apocalyptic video game of the same name, HBO’s The Last of Us follows Joel Miller (played by Pedro Pascal) as he’s tasked with smuggling and transporting young Ellie across the now-desolate United States. Debuting almost a decade after the video game’s initial release, HBO’s The Last of Us presents a storyline that both stays true to and expands upon the original plot of the game.
Tommy Miller, former soldier and younger brother to Joel, is played by the multi-faceted Gabriel Luna. In this new adaptation we’re re-introduced to Tommy and learn more of his character, both above and beneath the surface. “Tommy is kind of both lion and lamb, I'd say. I think within him is somebody who's very kind of gentle in terms of family and love. I believe that he is a social creature, someone who believes in teamwork, allyship and family—all of which become apparent when the audience sees how both he and his brother Joel react to the circumstances and to the environment” Luna shares.
Like his character, Luna was born and raised in Texas, and utilized this shared history to mold and shape Tommy. In the process of doing so, he went on to find that they share more in common beyond birthplace. “I think that we—the character and myself—we’re both sprung from the same dirt, and we understand what family means in my part of the world—that being Austin, Texas. I think that our skill sets are similar, there's a strength in Tommy, and a comfort in his ability that I think we both share. I think that there's a way of viewing the world, an approach to life, that is always looking for the most out of it.” Luna expands.
Tommy, for those unfamiliar, is a rifle-bearing, sharp-eyed survivalist. One who acquired these qualities both from his military background and as a result of his need to protect himself from the creatures and environment before him. Taking on such a role requires mental and physical preparation, both of which Luna tapped into. “There were the two and a half months I spent with the games and further exploring the world and the trials that we were all enduring,” Luna recalls, “I also had my own relationship with my brother to draw on. I feel that my previous work has given me a certain skill set that was applicable right away. I think that all my comfort with the weapons—Tommy of course being a former Army sniper—and being well-trained with an M24, and a Remington 700… Having all that experience was helpful. The combat experience and of course the weapons training.”
The Last of Us was shot in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and despite its distance from Luna’s hometown of Austin, Texas, the actor was able to find and establish a community within its borders. He says reminiscently, “I found it to be a very familiar place. It has a lot of qualities that remind me of home, remind me of Texas. I became very close with the Blackfoot Nation down in Southern Alberta. A lot of our stunt men and women were from the Blackfoot, and it was an incredible, enlightening experience to be with them and to learn more as an indigenous American—to learn more about myself through them.”
With the adaptation of any project, whether it be book-to-movie, or in this case, video game-to-series, there’s bound to be backlash from the fans and admirers of the original work. Luna dove into this role with an acute awareness of this, and spoke on his personal experience with the response to his casting. “There is a lot of love and a lot of support and a lot of people ready to participate in our story, and then of course there are many who are resistant and pretty set in their scope of what someone of my ethnicity or background is allowed to portray. I'd hear ‘He’s not Tommy,' or ‘ Tommy isn't a Mexican guy,’ and this and that or the other—and those are the more tame responses that I've seen. But I've seen it even just in the last month, people loosening or opening their awareness and opening their mind to this possibility. Opening their ability to receive the character, to receive the soul of the character, the mind of the character, and the essence of the character and find that it is aligned with their perception of the character and their love for Tommy.”
The highly anticipated The Last of Us airs Sundays on HBO, prepped to shake the world as vigorously as the game did a decade ago.
Photographed by Jonny Marlow
Styled by Avo Yermagyan
Groomer: Andrea Pezzillo