The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part II are video games stuffed with action, gunfire, and fungal zombies that make click clack noises to signal they’re about to eat you. But that’s not what makes the franchise stick in my brain. What makes it stick in my brain are the incredible characters — especially Ellie and Joel — and the incredible performances — especially from Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker. Now that we know the world of The Last of Us is moving to HBO as a show under Chernobyl showrunner Craig Mazin‘s vision, one big question remains: Who could take these characters on in a live-action space?
Collider’s very own Dorian Parks and Dennis Tzeng recently sat down with voice actor extraordinaire Baker as part of the Collider Games Podcast, and got to ask him who he’d like to see take on his role of Joel should he show up in the series. And while most of us would much rather see Baker himself play the role for TV, Baker himself feels as though he’s given the role everything he possibly could:
“All I want out of Joel, I have done. I have taken Joel as far as I can take it. I did the same in part one. Same in part two. That was my job, was to move that character as far forward as I could. What I’m excited about is finding someone that can give me a completely different side of Joel, and show me how far that character can stretch.”
Baker went on to sympathize with any actor hired to take on the part, given that his extensive career has included stepping into many iconic roles:
“Dude, I am no stranger to stepping into pre-existing roles. I’ve played Batman. I mean, Jesus, how many people have played Batman terribly and amazingly? The Joker, same thing. More people have walked on the moon than have played the Joker. And that is a cool, cool fact… that I probably just made up.”
So who, in Baker’s opinion, could stretch Joel to new levels? Many fans have openly sought for Josh Brolin to play him in an eventual adaptation, to the point where Brolin himself answered a Reddit AMA question about it (rather sardonically). But did you know that Baker himself once met Brolin… and openly pitched him on taking the role?
“I remember being at LAX [Airport] and Josh Brolin was there, we were in the lounge together, and I walked up. I was like, ‘Man, I doubt you remember this, but you and I were doing a movie.’ He was doing No Country [for Old Men], and I was doing a western. And I was like, ‘You and I met, we had drinks this one night, we had a good night.’ He was like, ‘I think I remember that,’ and I was like, ‘I doubt you do, because I know how much we all had to drink.’ I said, ‘There is a game that’s coming out. And I want you to know that, for me, so much of your work was very influential.’ And he really, really was. And I was like, ‘If you ever get the call for a character named Joel, I would be honored and I think you would be enriched to play that character.’”
So that’s that, right? The fans want him, the originating actor wants him, give Brolin the part! Well… not exactly. For as much as Brolin might be a perfect choice to replicate Baker’s work, Baker wants to see someone else give a new spin on it: “I think on its face, literally, Josh Brolin would be a knockout choice, but I don’t know if I would walk away learning something different about Joel.” That, to me, is such an insightful observation, and I would love for Mazin and his crew to listen and take a big, different swing with Joel. Why give us a similar-ish version to what Baker has already done when you can take him to new levels?
Ultimately, no matter how the casting shakes out, Baker will be happy: “I’m in a great position. Because either A) Somebody steps into that role. And [I’ll be] like, ‘Damn, dude, I never thought about that, wow, what an interesting choice.’ Or B) They suck, and people go, ‘Only Troy can play Joel.’ So either way I win.” Frankly, I’m just happy something about The Last of Us Part II approaches anything nearing “happy.”
Check out the clip of Baker’s comments below, and be sure to listen to the full podcast when it drops soon. For more on The Last of Us Part II, here’s our own Dave Trumbore’s sterling review.