The Last Of Us Actor Troy Baker Didn't Want The Game Turned Into A Series

Voice and motion capture performer Troy Baker has played many roles in seminal video game franchises. Having played characters like Booker DeWitt in "Bioshock Infinite" and Sam Drake in the "Uncharted" franchise, Baker is best known for his role as Joel Miller in "The Last of Us." No one could play Joel as Baker did in Naughty Dog's survival horror video game — Baker imbued the character with the perfect amount of nuance and complexity, painting Joel as a morally-grey protagonist capable of both cruelty and compassion. For someone like Baker to be so intimately involved with "The Last of Us," and to be a part of a franchise that evolved and gained immense popularity over the course of a decade, a live-action series adaptation was bound to evoke complicated feelings.

Although Baker did not reprise his role as Joel (Pedro Pascal reinvented the character in beautiful, interesting ways), he was deeply involved with Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin's HBO adaptation from the get-go. Baker is the host of the show's official companion podcast, where he sits down for a post-episodic discussion with the creators to grant greater insight into behind-the-scenes stories and tidbits. Fans of the video game were also delighted when Baker appeared in the penultimate episode of the first season, where he played the role of "buddy boy" James, a reluctant follower in David's (Scott Shepherd) cannibalism cult.

While Baker couldn't be happier about "The Last of Us" series at the moment, he was initially unsure about Druckmann's decision to make a live-action adaptation when he first heard about it, according to an interview with Deadline. Here's what Baker had to say about his initial misgivings.

A story worth repeating

When Baker was first involved with the "The Last of Us" game, he knew he was a part of something special. "You never know if [a project] will be as good as you're hoping for it to be, but it was, and then it gets out in the world, and it just blows up and becomes this phenomenon," Baker told Deadline, in relation to his expectations of audience reception for the video game. It is one thing to hope for a strong, positive response, but to actually achieve it in a way that surpasses expectations is undoubtedly a special feeling, one Baker cherishes deeply given how invested he is in the world of "The Last of Us."

As a result, when Druckmann decided to make an adaptation, Baker was, in his own words, "against the idea of the show," as he was unsure whether it could match up to the critical acclaim that the game enjoyed. When he asked Druckmann why the game warranted a series at all, the latter said the following:

"Because I believe this story is good enough to get out to people who will never pick up a controller, and we need to bring this story to them."

Druckmann was right. As a first-person gaming experience, "The Last of Us" is uplifting, heartbreaking, beautiful, and harrowing all at once. There's something universal about a story centered on a hardened survivor tasked to protect a young girl who might be the key to human survival, wherein his reluctance gradually morphs into a fiercely protective brand of fatherhood with grave repercussions. The cordyceps-infected world feels especially poignant in the post-pandemic era and Druckmann recognized the potential of such a poignant tale as an emotionally resonant, high-stakes television series with a wider audience appeal. 

An adaptation that stays true to its roots

Baker has been open about his initial guardedness towards the adaptation in several interviews, but it's endearing to see how much he's grown to love and respect the series in its own right. Baker's misgivings were, however, not completely unfounded — there is no dearth of video game adaptations that have completely misunderstood their source material, leading to lackluster renditions that seem completely unrecognizable when compared to their roots. However, "The Last of Us" series has always been in good hands, as Druckmann's personal involvement ensured that the adaptation did not stray away from the essence of the games, while Mazin's creative ingenuity allowed the story to branch into new, but worthwhile directions.

In this interview with HBO Max, Baker explained how the relationship between the games and the series is not mutually exclusive, as both can be enjoyed as separate, yet shared experiences that enrich the world of "The Last of Us." He acknowledged that while the two are "retellings of the same story," there is beauty to exploring the games and the series separately, although the show does not actually require any foreknowledge of the games. This allows newcomers to discover a rich, layered post-apocalyptic world, and if they're willing to expand this experience as a gamer, they are welcome to. Conversely, fans of the video game can always have their playthroughs, but the series can be a source of newfound wonder for those who would love to see their favorite characters come to life in a different way.

Ultimately, Baker came to the conclusion that the HBO series "is the most accurate, truthful adaptation" of the original, while also saying that Pascal's Joel taught him truths about the character he had previously missed. Now, that's all the endorsement that matters.